Battles in the North, Immortal's third razor-caked candy bar, is considered by many to be one of black metal's defining moments. Like its highly regarded, slower, and slightly less-focused predecessor, Pure Holocaust, Battles in the North is a furious, somewhat under-produced, unrelenting assault of blastbeats, demon-reptile vocals, and buzzing guitars assembled for one reason only: to unleash the misbegotten souls of frozen Norwegian landscapes into glorious battle against all things remotely commercial or accessible, taking no prisoners. The result is ten blurry tracks of hyper-tempo blackness that somehow corral melody within a constant rhythmic pummel, especially on bona fide classic cuts "Circling Above in Time Before Time" and "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)." Never before had such anti-production benefited an album's theme, the sometimes indiscernible wash of guitars and blasting drums invoking visions of whiteout blizzards, with only vocalist Abbath Doom Occulta's creepy croak -- spewing startlingly effective and poetic English-as-a-second-language war imagery -- able to permeate such dense instrumental storms. Oh, and the title track may just be the most devastating, skin-filleting shriek of black metal pain ever to emanate from Scandinavia's wintry clime. Snicker at their frowny-faced corpse-paint makeup if you must, but Immortal are all business, all metal, all the time, and undeniably so; if a demented grin creeps across the listener's face, it's more from the realization that these painted Norwegians are truly off their rockers, hopelessly devoted to their unwavering creation. Battles in the North is an album that sets Immortal apart from their black metal brethren, boasting a consistency of theme and an instrumental efficiency matched by few within the genre, never bowing to pretension (see Emperor's keyboard-ridden classical influences) or pointlessly kowtowing to the ridiculous mores of the "true black metal" underground (see Darkthrone's nigh-unlistenable, garage-tape-quality catalog). Immortal had invented their own frostbitten niche, devoting their mortal soul to metal, and after Battles in the North, there was no turning back.
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AllMusic Review by John Serba