Immortal Biography by John Serba
Norwegian black metal band Immortal stand apart from the legion of genre bands by refusing violence and misanthropy and sticking close to the dark fantasy, occult-inspired vision of the original scene. The Bergen group eschewed their peers’ classical structuring and progressive experimentation in favor of blackened purity and raw power. The trio’s three earliest albums, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism (1992), Pure Holocaust (1993), and Battles in the North (1995), stand as iconic BM recordings. 1999’s At the Heart of Winter and 2002’s Sons of Northern Darkness (2002) added an acclaimed thrash element. Immortal disbanded between 2003 and 2006. They reunited to tour and release 2009’s breakout All Shall Fall. Following a major change in membership in 2015, the group returned for 2018’s Northern Chaos Gods and several tours. 2023 saw the release of War Against All.
Brothers in pseudonym only, vocalist/bassist Abbath Doom Occulta and guitarist Demonaz Doom Occulta formed Immortal in Bergen, Norway in 1990. Abbath was originally a member of Old Funeral, a death metal garage band that also included Varg Vikernes, who would later gain notoriety not only with his own project, Burzum, but for murdering Mayhem guitarist Euronymous; Demonaz had split from fellow Bergen scenesters Amputation. Inspired by the robust Norwegian forests and bitter cold climate, Abbath and Demonaz conceived the fictional, demon-and-battle-filled realm of Blashyrkh, a foundation upon which Immortal’s lyrical journeys would rest on future releases.
The duo recruited drummer Armagedda and, briefly, second guitarist Jorn Inge Tunsberg, who left the fold after Immortal cranked out two demos, Suffocate and Northern Upins Death. Preferring to remain a three-piece, the band recorded the “Unholy Forces of Evil/The Cold Winds of Funeral Frost” 7″ for French label Listenable Records in 1991, which eventually led to Immortal’s contract with another French imprint, Osmose. Their debut full-length, Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism, was released in 1992, and proved a more atmospheric, slower-tempo release than the majority of Immortal’s contemporaries. When Abbath and Demonaz began incorporating more blastbeats into their songwriting, Armagedda quit, forcing Abbath to perform all the drum tracks on Immortal’s next two highly influential albums, 1993’s Pure Holocaust and 1995’s Battles in the North. However, drummer Grim was pictured on the Pure Holocaust album cover and would perform on Immortal’s first full-fledged European tour in 1993 prior to being fired. Mayhem skinsman Hellhammer temporarily filled the drum seat for the band’s live commitments and the home video Masters of Nebular Frost, until full-time sticksman Horgh could be permanently added to the lineup.
Following their 1997 album Blizzard Beasts, Immortal were dealt a serious blow. With an acute case of tendonitis in his arms, Demonaz could no longer play guitar with the speed and intensity the band required, and was forced to leave the lineup as a full-time member, although he continued to provide the group’s lyrics going forward. Abbath switched from bass to guitar, and the group filled its bass slot with several bassists over the years beginning with Aeturnus four-stringer Ares for touring duties. Demonaz’s absence left the band’s songwriting burden primarily on Abbath, who began penning more progressive, dynamic, and epic pieces set to Demonaz’s lyrics.
Abbath would perform all instruments except drums on 1999’s globally acclaimed At the Heart of Winter full-length; it marked the beginning of the band’s relationship with producer Peter Tagtgren (singer/guitarist for Hypocrisy), who recorded Winter and its two follow-up albums at his soon-to-be-legendary Abyss Studios. Bassist Iscariah was added to the lineup that released Damned in Black in 2000, and led to Immortal’s first full-fledged North American tour, with fellow Norwegians Satyricon. In 2001, the band, looking for better U.S distribution for its albums, severed its longtime relationship with Osmose and signed to Nuclear Blast, which released their highly regarded seventh album, Sons of Northern Darkness, in 2002, which is now regarded as a genre classic.
By the following year, things had begun to fracture, and in the summer of 2003, Immortal announced that they were disbanding. After only two years, Abbath, Demonaz, and their early drummer Armagedda formed a new project with Gorgoroth bassist King ov Hell and Enslaved guitarist Ice Dale called I. This black metal supergroup issued a single album, 2006’s Between Two Worlds, before Abbath, Demonaz, and Horgh announced that Immortal would reunite to play a string of tour dates in 2007. With Demonaz still acting as lyricist, Abbath and Horgh were joined on-stage by incoming bassist Apollyon, who also appeared on the comeback album All Shall Fall. Released by Nuclear Blast in September 2009, All Shall Fall was a major critical and commercial success for Immortal, making strong chart placements in Norway, Finland, and Germany, and even cracking the Billboard 200 in the U.S. The following year, the audio/video package The Seventh Date of Blashyrkh was issued, culled from the band’s 2007 reunion tour at Germany’s famed Wacken Open Air Festival.
In early 2015, it was announced that Abbath, a founding member who had shepherded the band since its inception, would leave Immortal. Abbath entered into a legal dispute over the band name with his former bandmates, but lost in court. He formed his own eponymous band. Demonaz replaced him as guitarist and singer, though he had not played guitar on an Immortal recording since 1997’s Blizzard Beasts. Following a 2017 tour with bassist Apollyon, Demonaz and Horgh, with longtime producer Peter Tägtgren covering the bass duties, issued Northern Chaos Gods in 2018, followed by tours of North America, Europe, and Pacific Rim nations.
In 2020, Demonaz and Horgh entered into their own legal dispute over the band’s name after the guitarist attempted to patent it. The drummer felt it should be owned jointly since the brand was built collectively. The guitarist countered it should belong to him exclusively since he was the only original member. In 2022, the Norwegian Patent Office ruled that the rights to the Immortal name belonged to the band, not its members.
Demonaz carried the band on alone. He recorded 2023’s War Against All by playing most instruments but was assisted in the studio by Ice Dale (Enslaved’s Arve Isdal) on bass and album production, and Kevin Kvåle (from Gaahls Wyrd) on drums.