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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 18 November 2010
Immortal have always been a mixed bag for me. When they get it wrong, it goes horribly wrong but when they hit the nail of the head, surely they're the forefathers of cold, icy atmospheric black metal? I first discovered Immortal, like a lot of people, within the first few months of my expedition into the black metal minefield. Unfortunately, I discovered them through the notorious ANUS website at the age of fifteen or so. The ANUS site has a well documented list, which has remained unchanged ever since I first saw it, detailing the "best ever" black metal albums. Immortal's `Pure Holocaust' comes second on that list and therefore I decided I'd check it out since, surprisingly at the time, Immortal's discography was readily available at my local music store, one that normally sells lots of commercial junk. `Pure Holocaust' was really what got me started on black metal, alongside some other notorious albums from the second wave, but it was Immortal's `At the Heart of Winter' which really stuck with me over all these years and how better to break the winter months in than with this old school classic? The thing about albums like this is that, yes, whilst they're cold in certain aspects, I find that some of the melodic riffs, despite their distorted textures, emit a really warm feel, like sitting beside a log fire during a harsh wintry blizzard. Whilst your vital organs remain warm, your hands and feet are as cold as ice. So, whilst the backbone to this album is cold as hell, the riffs are deceptively warm to me.

`At the Heart of Winter' is an album which can be set apart from the others in Immortal's discography. Although `Pure Holocaust' is still good for the occasional session when I'm feeling aggravated, `At the Heart of Winter' is an album which is far more accessible than their other albums simply due to its infectious, intoxicating melodies. There are many reasons why I probably should have hated this album from the very first moment I laid eyes on it but that only reiterates the point that this album is deserving of the "timeless classic" status that so many are unjustly given. As far as Immortal's discography goes, or even the entire second wave movement, I've always felt this album was, and probably still is, rather underrated in terms of the entire genre back then. Back when I first discovered black metal, I had an odd aversion to anything overly melodic and am still not quite schooled in the ways of early thrash metal. Despite all this, `At the Heart of Winter' stuck with me and no matter how many times you play it in a single day, it never grates on my nerves and never ceases to amaze me. Take the main riff on the self-titled song, for example. It never fails to send shivers down my spine as its cold, harsh ways set into skin. This, accompanied with the underlying bass and the flawless drumming, songs like this, which are perfectly conceived and crafted, force me to hold the band in high esteem regardless of whatever faults they've had since then.

As I touched upon, a lot of the material here is rather thrash orientated, like a lot of early black metal. The tempo changes, the chord progressions, the amount of diversity on offer on this album is incredible, even today, a whole eleven years after its initial release. To me, this period of Immortal's discography is a bit of a sore point. I wasn't keen on `Blizzard Beasts', despite loving the wintry essence and vibe of the content. I could never get into those short songs and the riffs didn't feel anywhere near as memorable. So much so I really couldn't pinpoint what I dislike about it because every time I hear the album, I repress it. It doesn't click with me. Neither does `Damned in Black', though I do tend to enjoy that album more so than `Blizzard Beasts', possibly because it touches upon some of the ideas used here - such as the heavily melodic content of the riffs - albeit not to the same extent. This era of Immortal highlights exactly what has made me view the Norway legends are hit-or-miss. With `Blizzard Beasts' coming soon after the enigmatic `Pure Holocaust', an album which really set the tone for Abbath, in particular, it did nothing to ignite the flame of my passion for the band and instead extinguished it.

So, as you can imagine, coming into this album, I was more than a little apprehensive but it delivers spectacularly and in ways I didn't even imagine were possible for Immortal at that time. The imagery, the conjuration of wintry landscapes, icy kingdoms and cold weather is superb. It's one of the major themes of this album which made it such a treasure over the years. Abbath's typically charismatic vocal approach is brilliant, despite the comical reputation he has since garnered for his over-the-top performance in Immortal's iconic videos in the woods. It's easy to forget what he achieved with this album which was almost entirely his doing. Aside from Horgh providing the drumming, which he does magnificently, Abbath controls the bass, guitars, vocals and the synthesizer, which is used exceptionally well on songs like the self-titled, a particular hit on the album, alongside `Solarfall'. I often like to listen to the introduction of the self-titled song for the first two minutes whilst glancing over the wonderful artwork. They go hand-in-hand ever so well. The spectacular kingdom amidst the icy landscape whilst the music itself is portraying the same thing, simultaneously, is marvellous. The samples of subtle howling winds may seem clichéd today but they're ever so affective on this particular album. Especially alongside that symphonic synthesizer, an aspect of the album which is probably unfairly overlooked due to its sparse inclusion. Regardless of that, this album will always be regarded by myself as an old school classic. One that is truly deserving of that acclaim.
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on 11 December 2000
After the departure of the most excellent lyricist and guitar player Demonaz, people wondered what Immortal could do. The answer was let Abbath do both the guitars and the bass, with Demonaz providing the lyrics. The result, one of the best albums of 1999. The songs are so massive that there's only 6 on the album, taking up a mighty 45 minutes. The longest Immortal release, with the least tracks!! Battles In The North had 10 tracks on it, and that is half an hour long.
The riffs are really black metal on this, with majestic keys and some excellent drumming. A very cold sounding release again, and so it keeps in with the others.
Withstand The Fall Of Time, and Tradgedies Blow At Horizon, along with the title track are the best, with the others not far behind. The recurring lyrics about Blashyrkh were greatfully received by me, and i just love the many changing songs.
Not much else to say but buy this or you won't have lived!!
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on 24 July 2013
Let me make this quite clear: Immortal are going to Riff Mountain. And they are travelling by way of Riff Valley, Riff Forest, crossing the Riff River and including a stop at Riff Castle, which I assume is depicted on the front cover of the album. There are, it would seem, a lot of riffs on this album.

The fact that my personal favourite riff is finished a minute into the first song (the colossal 'Withstand the Fall of Time') doesn't really take away from the powerful journey that the album takes the listener on - that introduction is merely a statement of intent and you will know right away whether or not you like 'At the Heart of Winter.

For those searching for grim black metal or the more aggressive style of Immortal's earlier work there might be some disappointment or confusion, since AtHoW combines the frosty tremolo riffs and blastbeats of traditional black metal with a more dynamic and varied use of guitar styles drawn from thrash metal, power metal and, occasionally, folk metal. Vocals are not a focal point: I'm not convinced Abbath is that sure what he's growling about (I'm certainly not) and the vocal sections are quite short considering the lengthy songs, so at least they never get boring. Leads and clean sections crop up a few times, mostly towards the end of the album, and are all well-judged and welcome changes of pace, especially the more thoughtful parts of the title track.

But really, we're here for the riffs.There are little ones, BIG ones, fast ones, more considered ones, long ones, catchy ones, headbanging ones, verse-type riffs, epic riffs, aggressive riffs, and so on. By the time 'Years of Silent Sorrow' ends, we have well and truly arrived at Riff Mountain.
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on 25 September 2004
The following review was written by me for The Metal Garage [...]
Instantly this album scores some points with the album cover. It's the only one the band have released which doesn't include them in a hilarious pose (though the album sleeve is full of them). And with the new style of cover comes a change in Immortal's music. No longer are the band playing their ultra fast black metal, and instead have gone for a mid tempo pace for the majority of the album, though it does have it's occasional fast section. Perhaps this is due to Demonaz no longer playing guitar, which he had to do because of a problem in his wrist, though he still wrote the brilliant lyrics for this album.
'Withstand the Fall of Time' kicks the album off. Some great guitar riffs and superb drumming along with some interesting tempo changes makes for a great song. It changes speed frequently, beginning at a rather slow pace, before launching into ultra speed and then switching to mid-pace and continues to do so for the duration of the song. Despite all the tempo changes, the song still flows smoothly, as does the rest of the album. Occasionally, the band throws in a keyboard passage, like on 'Solarfall' (one of my favourite black metal songs ever), which gives the album variation, depth, and added emotion.
The production on 'At The Heart Of Winter' has a cleaner sound than previous releases, which is a huge benefit as the superb guitar riffs can be heard much more clearly now, instead of being full of distortion like before. The album has more melody too, making it catchy at times, like on the chorus of 'Where Light and Dark Don't Differ' where you'll probably find yourself singing along, and during the main riff of the title track, which will get stuck in your head for ages.
'At The Heart Of Winter' is simply a stunning album, and comes highly recommended to any black metal fan.
Darren Morrison
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on 17 September 2015
Ok, that probably sounds bad. But this album is as incredible as my other half (don't tell her I said that).
Immortal are an odd bunch. And not just because of their snazzy stage gear. Their music and albums are either amazing or terrible, resulting in huge love affairs or sacrificial CD burnings. I was hesitant to buy this but (already being the proud owner of various Darkthrone, Emperor, Mayhem and Gorgoroth albums) I decided to buy this......because no Black Metal collection is complete without Immortal.
But, as I said before, their music changes more than a chamelion's colours. So, a "lucky dip" seemed satisfactory. Would I waste my money??
I typed in Immortal albums, scrolled, and clicked one. Turns out it was "At the Heart of Winter".
The day came when the album arrived. I put it in my player, cranked up the volume and lay back.
Since it arrived, it is all I have listened to and (although I love my girlfriend to pieces) Metal is my mistress......and I have just gained a new love!
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on 5 December 1999
This album is brilliant, punishing and atmospheric black metal as heavy as it is melodic. Fans of Cradle of Filth or Emperor should check these guys out. Great concept aswell.
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on 17 June 2004
Immortal are probably the best old-school black metal band around, and this is probably their best album. Production is excellent, songwriting is pure Immortal and the performance on disc is nothing short of phenonemal.
Like your metal? Then get this.
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on 16 July 2006
This is completely different from earlier Immortal releases, in that is a cleaner and a more melodic album. But still keeping the 'Black Metal' feel to it and keeping the corpse paint as always, but now MUCH longer and progressive songs... The voice is much like the previous album, and better than PH and BITN.

All are standout tracks. But the best is probably 'Solarfall'...

Buy this if your an Immortal fan! Thats a MUST. But also BUY if you want to get into this band... As it is much more melodic and a cleaner sound, but remember this IS different from earlier releases!
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on 26 July 2000
Ok, on browsing the booklet in the CD a lot of people get the impression that Horgh has not only eaten all the pies, but is blissfully unaware of what he looks like.
But despite the Geisha/Suma crossbreeding this album is one of Immortal's best ever. Superb production, with a chorus sound on one or two of the tracks that I would LOVE to have, as well as a great guitar sound overall. (Check out the intro to Track 5 - "At The Heart Of Winter")
For anyone who has not heard Immortal before, i'd describe their sound as a normal heavy metal sound primarily, with an load of double bass drumming and blast beats, and trem picking from hell! And they seem to have a thing for the cold... :) Better than Blizzard Beasts (because of the much better production), and with a smaller line up than previous Immortal incarnations (due to a guitarist - Might be Demonaz, can't remember - getting tendonitis in his arms due to extreme cold and not warming up and stuff) but still an excellent and highly recommended album.
Recommended for fans of Emperor, Cradle Of Filth, Borknagar, all the usuals... :)
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on 22 April 2006
Just brilliant. Five-hundred miles an hour, and a singer who sounds like Popeye in a bad mood, but the music is actually very tuneful, despite being viscious and over-the-top. Unlike much black metal, this is very accessible and you can get into it on the first listening. Highly recommended. Oh - and the pictures in the sleve notes are hilarious.
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