Black metal icons, Immortal descended upon San Antonio’s pre-summer heat like an avalanche from a Norwegian mountaintop. The near capacity crowd that gathered outside Backstage Live’s doors proved the extent to which Immortal’s icy tones have touched Texan metal heads. Being the last stop on a six-date tour, many fans were content to drive several hours to witness their only performance in Texas.
Since the group’s full tour supporting Manowar in 2002 as part of the Sons of Northern Darkness tour, Immortal has embarked upon similar, small-scale, headlining tours. This trek across America brought another rarity, Absu. The two groups were labelmates on Osmose Records in the 1990s—a time neither band made many live appearances. Both artists made tremendous career decisions upon changing record labels. Immortal made the move much earlier, moving to Nuclear Blast at the turn of the century. Since signing to Candlelight Records just a couple of years ago, Absu has made more live appearances than the majority of their time on Osmose.
The anticipation for this Titanic metal attack was so thick it practically materialized. For attendees waiting to buy a ticket, the anticipation lasted for a good 45-minutes. Those carrying tickets were ushered in first, while cash-in-hand buyers formed a line that ran near to the next county. The club sold out of premium beer, and the incessant heat and flood of water in the corner were signs of a broken air conditioner. Too bad Immortal didn’t possess the magic to make their Arctic soundscapes a reality.
Most likely channeling the power of this ancient magical symbol, Absu’s Proscriptor McGovern’s pyramid-adorned headband made the front man resemble a 1970s basketball player. Because McGovern drums and partially handles vocals, the group placed his kit up front. Proscriptor once made his way to the finals auditions for Paul Bosteph’s vacated drummer spot in Slayer, but his swift drum rolls and blasts confirmed Kerry King’s alleged statement of his playing too hard and too fast. Playing too hard and too fast is a compliment for a black metal drummer.
The group blazed through a set list culled throughout the band’s career. Absu began their set with “The Coming of War,” a Morbid Scream cover taken from the 1995 album The Sun of Tipareth. The Dallas-area group included classic tracks “Swords of Leather” and “Highland Tyrant Attack” from their following album The Third Storm of Cythraul. They even played a track from their full-length debut Barathrum: V.I.T.R.I.O.L. “Night Fire Canonization” was a highlight from the self-titled album. “Four Crossed Winds (Spell 181) and “Manannán” represented material from Tara. The crowd emphatically applauded set closer “Never Blow Out the Eastern Candle.”
Besides treating the crowd to neck-snapping thrash and diabolic black metal, Absu’s set showed why the group wears the title Mythological Occult Metal. Proscriptor traded off screams, howls and growls back and forth with new bassist Ezezu, repeating words and phrases that appeal to the gods of Mesopotamia and ancient Ireland. I swear I could “hear the thunder roll,” as the group summoned “Manannán” from the Celtic realm of the dead.
Immortal risked a let down in crowd energy after Absu’s dynamic performance. That was not the case, though. The band definitely stepped down the speed, but cranked up the volume. Horgh’s drums shook the venue like a breakaway iceberg. The fact that the majority of fans were there to see Immortal also helped, and while the numbers were not available, but the number of people inside this club was at least close to capacity. Possibly the large numbers could be contributed to this being the only Texas show, but it surely says something about Immortal’s popularity - they are possibly one of the top five most popular black metal bands in the world.
Abbath was in fine form. Proudly wearing his Kiss/King Diamond-like corpse paint, Abbath knew exactly which buttons to touch to get the crowd energized. His voice sounded as good as the group’s recordings, which was a marked improvement over the robotic sounds that emanated from his throat at their ’02 show in L.A. opening for Manowar.
Joined by bassist Apollyon (Aura Noir, Dødheimsgard, Gorgoroth), the group performed a set focused mainly on the later, “heavy metal” era. Songs from The Sons of Northern Darkness dominated the set list. Said record proved a milestone for the band, and the reaction from the crowd reaffirmed it as their crowning opus. The title track and “One By One” took the crowd by storm with destructive speed, but the mid-paced, galloping riffs were what registered the most. During the pause point in “Tyrants,” the group took an especially long break to let the crowd soak in the anticipation of the coming music. A sea of horned-formed hands ebbed and flowed with this track’s slow, hypnotic swagger.
“Damned in Black” and a couple of tracks from Immortal’s newest album All Shall Fall comprised the rest of their new-era material. One must expect a set list of mostly new material, particularly from a band with eight albums. Immortal played at least one track from six of the eight albums, though. “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” and “Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms,” Immortal’s first two music videos, represented material from Battles in the North. The group closed its set with “The Sun No Longer Rises” from Pure Holocaust. The slower tempo of “Blashyrkh” seemed fitting for the new fangled Immortal sound.
These older tracks were somewhat disappointing. Abbath didn’t let forth the groan before exclaiming “Mighty Black Raven Dark,” and the band chopped up the rhythm of “Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms” to make it more like the newer material. They made a major statement with the reworking of this track, showing the necro black metal days of Immortal have been buried by time and dust.
Besides the updated unsatisfactory renditions of early material, Immortal put on a great performance. February 26, 2011 was a special night for metal. Immortal and Absu are two of the best black metal bands in the world, and this rare performance made the legions of dark metallers salivate even more. Due to a short tour, both groups remained in good playing shape and assured selling large amounts of tickets. Let’s hope next time, though, that whatever tours each of these bands book will bring exposure to more regions throughout the States.