The cover art to early Norwegian black metal albums say so much about the music within. Immortal’s debut Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is perfect example of this; the cover is obscure and esoteric. There is a voyeuristic aura, as if we’re spying in on some dark, secretive ritual. The figures are kept anonymous through the brightness of the flame and the darkness of the shadows. What a contrast to the next three Immortal albums, all of which contain straight-forward mugshots of the band members as they make the grimmest and most macho faces possible!
The difference in the album covers encapsulates what distinguishes Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism from the three records that follow it. In contrast to the dominating, chaotic, full frontal attack of the next three recordings, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is an unsettling and mysterious experience. Despite the difference in mood, Immortal’s capacity to create an environment is already evident. In the same way that albums like Battles in the North make you feel like you’re stuck on the tundra in the middle of a blizzard, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism feels like being lost deep in the woods late at night.
This is a much more low-fi manifestation of Immortal. This recording is fairly raw, with the guitars having a somewhat muddy tone; while they could use a little more edge, they still have sufficient clarity. The riffs express haunting inflections of sorrow, depression and fear. The bass is solid, clear and bouncy. The vocals are wild and uninhibited, leading to Abbath’s best vocal performance. In contrast to the somewhat mechanical tone he has on most albums, here he sounds like a wild mountain lion hissing and snarling at its prey. There are also numerous moments of watery acoustic guitar, whose gentle melodies are pretty, yet devious, as if some dark secret lies behind the soft tones.
The songwriting is quite varied, with most of the songs traveling through a variety of riffs and tempos. “Cryptic Winterstorms” does an excellent job of interweaving plucked acoustic guitar into a harsh black metal landscape. “A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland” is one of the most riveting songs in the entire Immortal discography. After beginning with somber acoustics, it travels through long stretches of strained and anxious riffs, all building toward an absolutely spine-tingling keyboard crescendo, which combined with Abbath’s tortured cries is simultaneously terrifying and beautiful. It’s as if the ritual has reached its climax; you stand there in awe as a portal to an alternate dimension opens before you. Simply brilliant.
Though Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism the only album Immortal released in this darker, rawer style, it still managed to leave quite an impact. Numerous stylistic dimensions of this album were picked up by other bands in the Norwegian scene (most notably Satyricon, whose debut is quite similar): the gentile acoustic passages, the cathedrals of synths and the woodsy aesthetic. Furthermore, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is the best showcase for Immortal’s songwriting skills. The next few albums are focused more on purity of concept and expression and thus employ relatively uniform song structures. Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism demonstrates that Immortal’s skills are more diverse and dynamic than many might expect. Ultimately, this is one of the better and more unique moments in Immortal’s discography.