2000’s Damned in Black marked the beginning of the end for Immortal. It was dull, innocuous, generic and commercial. Both the production and the songwriting were subpar from start to finish. It looked as if Immortal was out of ideas and was content to cash in on their image and the increasing popularity of black metal. For the most part, that’s exactly what happened; however, Immortal still had a few more good ideas left up their sleeves, though not nearly enough to create a whole new album. The result is 2002’s highly inconsistent Sons of Northern Darkness.
Sons of Northern Darkness fixes a few of the basic problems that plagued Damned in Black. The most notable upgrade is in the production. While Damned in Black sounded overly processed and one dimensional, Sons of Northern Darkness has a more layered sound, closer to that of At the Heart of Winter. As a result, Sons of Northern Darkness creates a much better atmosphere. The textured sound works well with the epic nature of the compositions. On the downside, Abbath’s vocals are overly modulated, making him sound like a cyborg lizard.
Sons of Northern Darkness is a strange one. While there are three truly excellent songs on this album, the rest of the tracks are total snoozers. The title track displays excellent songwriting, shifting between the biting tremolo of the verse, an unforgettable chorus and the solemn and epic bridge. “Tyrants” is a dark, mean and groovy beast with awesome chant along lyrics. “Beyond The North Waves” is a sweeping epic that vividly depicts vikings traversing the frigid northern seas on the way to battle. All three of these tracks are lively, inspired and energetic. The drumming is sharp and solos are killer. These three songs are on par with anything on At the Heart of Winter.
However, the quality of these three songs makes it all the more strange that the rest of the album is so bland. The other five songs are as flat and unimaginative as anything found on Damned in Black. Most of the songs are bloated with plodding choruses, dragged out bridges to nowhere and stale guitar solos. Three of the songs drag out to the seven minute mark, even though they have worn out their welcome within the first four minutes.
To make matters worse, the lyrics are some of Immortal’s poorest. While Demonaz was never exactly a poet, he did provide some powerful, image-laden lyrics on the early albums. On Sons of Northern Darkness, Demonaz has been reduced to talking about coldness and darkness over and over. He could at least have used a thesaurus. The words “dark”, “cold” and “black” are used in almost every song. Seriously, did Demonaz commission the lyric writing duties to a twelve year old fan? “Antarctica” talks about how cold and icy Antarctica is, but a kindergartener could have told you that. It ends with the hilarious line, “Antarctica, its drama will unfold!” What drama happens in Antarctica? Penguins trying to keep their eggs warm?
While there is enough quality material on Sons of Northern Darkness to create an excellent EP, it is a pretty pedestrian full length. Far too many of the songs lack quality riffs or melodies. The fact that Immortal seem content to drag out the songs well past their expiration date makes the album all the more tedious. Though this is an upgrade over Damned in Black it is still one of Immortal's weakest releases.