This is without a single doubt in my mind, not just a great improvement on Immortal’s previous offering, Blizzard Beasts, but the band’s best album to date. I’ll go even further to say that I feel that this is not only their best, but one of the best albums of the black metal genre. I’m not the type to call it the best the genre has to offer; I don’t think that anyone has a right to decide such things, but if someone did have that right, I’d put a wager on At the Heart of Winter.
Troubled times surround the creation of this album, guitarist Demonaz had to pull out of his guitar duties permanently because of an injury, but he stayed on as Immortal’s manager and lyricist, and with frontman Abbath handling all the music writing, they have produced the album of Immortal’s career. It’s a slight departure with their traditional sound, bringing in a much better production to their music, and including more elements of traditional metal. There are more actual grooves within the guitar riffs (now played by Abbath) and they are topped off by Horgh’s monstrous drumming. The style of the album could even be considered blackened thrash metal. At the Heart of Winter is fast, catchy in a black metal sort of way, but still brutal, and still black metal, and even more amazing than before. This album deserves all the high praise it can get.
The standout songs here though are easily Withstand the Fall of Time, Solarfall and the title track, At the Heart of Winter. Immortal unashamedly include a very long synthesiser intro on the latter, and slower sections appear on this album more often they on previous releases by Immortal, giving a much needed variety to At the Heart of Winter that I feel was needed to provide the new sound with more depth. It’s even progressive in parts, with Abbath not being afraid to throw in an extra riff here and there to make song structures more unusual. His playing of both the guitar and bass is excellent. He may not be known for fast soloing, but his rhythm work more than makes up for it.
Abbath’s vocals are very strong on At the Heart of Winter too. Blizzard Beasts saw him taking on a style closer to death metal at times. At the Heart of Winter sees a 100% return to the black metal growling style, although he does sound distinctly different on Where Light and Dark Don’t Differ, it is still black metal. It is however this track where I have my only complaint about At the Heart of Winter. It has a guitar solo, but it gets drowned out by the rhythm section. It's still a good song, but I think the mix could have befitted from a little tweaking here.
(Review originally written for Heavy Metal Haven)