At the Heart of Winter marks the beginning of Immortal's second incarnation, paring the band down to the duo of Abbath Doom Occulta and Horgh after the departure of guitarist and founding member Demonaz Doom Occulta due to severe tendonitis in his arms. Thus, Abbath alone took over six-string and songwriting duties (although Demonaz still contributed his trademark fantastical war- and winter-themed lyrics), and Immortal progressed beyond their blurry, hyperspeed, under-produced past into muscular metal maturity, melding frostbitten Norwegian black metal with the intricate riffing and tempo changes of German thrash. Which isn't to say the group abandoned blastbeats or Abbath's throaty reptilian croak; within the lengthy, creatively arranged epics "Withstand the Fall of Time," "Years of Silent Sorrow," and "Tragedies Blows at Horizon" lies a balance of battle-ready blitzkrieg and grandiose, anthemic melodies only hinted at in Immortal's previous output (see "Mountains of Might" on the preceding album, Blizzard Beasts). The material lends breathing room to the drums, with skin-pounder Horgh adding to the album's majestic feel with a diverse, organic performance. At the Heart of Winter also found Immortal forging their relationship with head Hypocrisy honcho/producer Peter Tagtgren and his Abyss Studios, which gives the album a thick, weighty mix that complements the group's inspired songwriting. The result is a clarity and focus that few purveyors of the genre succeeded at finding, a painstakingly organized assemblage of black metal's base elements into a disciplined purity of metal that prefers the power of the almighty riff instead of the occasionally overblown classical structuring of much-lauded stalwarts Emperor and Cradle of Filth or the strange experimentation that Mayhem and Arcturus would undertake. At the Heart of Winter should sway even black metal naysayers into the Immortal camp, provided they can look past the bandmembers' gimmicky face paint and silly posturing in the CD booklet photos and embrace the majestic metal within.
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AllMusic Review by John Serba