Author: Brendan Blake
- Artist: Abbath
- Album: Outstrider
- Year of Release: 2019
- Country: Norway
- Label: Season of Mist
- Format: Digipack CD Boxset
- Catalogue Number: SOM 517B
Now, this is far more like it! Abbath (the man) and his previous band Immortal have always been unashamedly influenced by the late, great Bathory, and have often been at their best when making this influence overt. The self-titled predecessor to this album was largely made up of songs originally destined for the follow-up to Immortal’s (then) final record All Shall Fall, and as such showed a fairly logical progression from that album, with straightforward black-thrashing riffs and a fine production that mirrored the direction Immortal had been heading in for some time. In that sense, Outstrider represents both a welcome retrograde step to earlier, classic black metal, while maintaining the production values and song-writing nous that Abbath has been crafting throughout a 30+ year career.
So, nearly a complete line-up change from the first album, and one can’t help but feel that Abbath felt the need to up his game with the recent Demonaz’ Immortal release, and this competition (real or imagined on my part) has benefitted everyone involved. This is a real tour de force, recalling both the best parts of latter-day Immortal and classic mid-period Bathory. The songs have a confidence and swagger lacking from the self-titled debut, providing a product that is both punishing and catchy, with welcome melody and – perhaps surprisingly – some excellent use of classic rock/NWOBHM soloing that lifts this to another level of pomp and majesty. Abbath’s vocals are recognisable as his usual croak, but he has expanded his range to incorporate elements that recall Attila Csihar, which works incredibly well. The drumming from Finnish (relative) newcomer Ukri Suvilheto is superb throughout, beautifully aiding the mix of thrash and black elements on display here. The production here is somewhat thinner than the previous record, in keeping with the album’s overall theme.
As with the debut, Outstrider ends with a cover version, in this case ‘Pace ‘Till Death’ from Bathory’s landmark Blood Fire Death album. It’s a perfectly serviceable cover, and as with the previous record seems to highlight what was foremost in Abbath’s head when he recorded Outstrider.
This represents a step-up from its predecessor, and a gauntlet to the floor for Demonaz’ Immortal. A top-drawer modern black metal release for 2019, nodding to the genre’s illustrious past, whilst embracing modern production and keeping its eye on what its voracious fanbase is looking for.
A note on editions: I have the box set edition of this album. There has always been a hint of visual gimmickry associated with Abbath (who can forget the awful/awesome photo shoot around the time of At the Heart of Winter, that has been the subject of so many internet memes since?), but he appears to have embraced rather than run from this, by including not just another patch, but sponge and black/white make-up so that you can yourself look like a black metal panda whilst listening to this record, as I am now.