Album Review: Abbath – Outstrider
There are some people for whom Abbath is a joke. A novelty. A human meme in corpse-paint and studded armour, whose true value lies in gurning faces, comedic machismo and a sense that he isn’t being entirely serious. Admittedly, the video of him in full battle gear spectacularly coming a cropper as he ran along the front rows of a European festival didn’t help dispel the allegations that the man born Olve Eikemo is an oaf of the highest degree. But while he is, actually, a very, very funny man, it should never overshadow the fact that he is one of the most important, creative and influential figures in the history of black metal. As frontman with Norwegian demons Immortal, his icy riffs and sense of the epic perfectly reflected the snowy Norwegian mountains from which they came, while as a solo artist, he has proven that his spirit is as fiery as his music is cold. And though he has grown and twisted over the years, he has never actually deviated from his path, instead standing tall and proud on a road defiantly of his own making, rocky as it may sometimes appear. Think of him as a black metal Lemmy.
And so we have the aptly-named Outstrider, Abbath’s second solo album and first since his former Immortal bandmates released their unexpectedly vicious Northern Chaos Gods album without him, under a cloud of acrimony and middle-fingered anger. As ever, here the man presents a musical world entrenched in eternal winter, where mighty lone warriors are lashed by the elements, as enemies on all sides attempt to rob them of dignity, life, and the freedom to do whatever the fuck they like. This is all brought to the fore on thunderous opener Calm In Ire (Of Hurricane), with his signature frosty guitar crunching and slicing away vigorously, while a foreboding backdrop of vast dread darkens the skies behind. Bridge Of Spasms sees the first blizzard of blastbeats engulfing the music – an overpowering, unstoppable blur – while Harvest Pyre is a glorious battle hymn that stinks of blood and creaking old leather. Elsewhere, Land Of Khem is like compressing an entire Lord Of The Rings marathon into five minutes of windswept black metal, and the title-track is a wonderful paean to the power of only ever going your own way and doing as you please, with Abbath’s signature, croaking vocals sounding defiant and threatening to anyone who might try to instruct him otherwise.
Where 2016’s excellent self-titled debut prickled with the energy of a man reasserting himself, here there’s a more steady confidence; a knowledge on Abbath’s part that he is assuredly the king of all he surveys. It gives an extra layer of muscle to the album, and a greater feeling of depth and darkness – two attributes it is vital not only to utilise but to tame when making music of such sinister vastness as this. Not only that, but this stuff is in Abbath’s blood. Well, that and the hefty influence of Bathory’s sweeping, heathen grandeur and the battery of Slayer.
Yes, Abbath can be a knowing silly-arse who will happily goof around in photos (a fully painted-up man eating a giant hot dog, anyone?), live out childhood KISS fantasies onstage, or dress as Lemmy in his fantastic Motörhead tribute band, Bömbers. But while the metal world laughs with him, it should also never underestimate the musical abilities of the man behind the make-up. Because even after almost three decades at the black metal mill, Abbath remains as dominating and creative a force as ever he has been. And that’s no laughing matter.