Abbath‘s approach to black metal is a very particular one. To him, black metal is not necessarily the crusty, hardcore-drenched primitivist extension of early death metal nor is it some weirding, ecstatic, esoteric spirit. One gets the sense, given his records, that he enjoys a number of those albums, incorporating as he does both blast beats and more progressive structures and textures, but the central core to Abbath is and remains an extension of primal rock ‘n’ roll. He wears his influences on his sleeve in interviews, citing Van Halen, AC/DC and Kiss (the clear and obvious nod to Gene Simmons in his corpse paint made text) as some of his biggest influences. Black metal, at least as it is in Abbath’s hand, is not some abstract force you should sit and wax philosophical about; it is blood, sweat, tears, rock and roll, the movement of bodies and euphoria of youth.
This was true on his solo project’s self-titled album and it is true as well on Outstrider. (And, thankfully, given the presence and quality of the last Immortal record, we need not retread that ground.) Outstrider draws ever more from the brief side-project named, in great frustration to all editors and proofreaders, I. That group took the slightly prog-tinged blackened thrash of Immortal’s work and infused a great breathe of classic rock into the proceedings, both in terms of the pacing and the approach to the electric guitar. He would, of course, still give a great and ripping frostbitten passage, but the focus was placed more and more on guitar heroics, really letting his accomplished and animalistic lead guitar work shine through. Outstrider pushes these instincts the farthest they’ve ever been, showing Abbath straight-up shredding, performing hi-tech arpeggios and ripping leads that could sit alongside figures like Marty Friedman and Ihsahn.
It’s true that, for those black metal faithful, Abbath’s solo work in general and Outstrider in specific will be less fulfilling than the continuance of Immortal without him. But Outstrider also thankfully answers that question in an amicable way; if this high-power, heavy rock ‘n’ roll, itself more a child of Judas Priest than of Mayhem, was what was in Abbath’s heart and not Demonaz’s, then this split is for the best. The production also leans into Outstrider as more a hard rock album than a heavy metal one, or if heavy metal then more of the type produced in the ’70s and early ’80s. The vocals are clear and laid gently atop the sonic bed, with twin guitar tracks forming a thick body with drums punching through and a warm, rich bass producing more a bodily affect than something discrete and audible. Leads slice through the music, faded and mixed perfectly to feel almost more like a Megadeth record than a black metal album. All of which rings as a testament to his backing band, which has been wholly turned over since the last Abbath record, a fact you would not have known without looking it up. They lock in and deliver the goods. He’s surrounded himself with a set of players who understand the roots of heavy metal lay in rock and roll and if you can’t channel Lemmy, you probably didn’t write a very good riff.
The fortunate aspect of the album is that every song is good, has energy, punches and slams and then departs. Abbath has made proggy epics before but this album, wisely reading the room of its own tones and timbres, decides to eschew that mode for something more direct. The solos compel and the energy is closer to the sonically full-bodied mid-paced thrash of later-day Immortal. The downside, of course, is that this leaves very little to punch up out of the murk as necessary listen. It is hard to imagine anyone being displeased with Outstrider, and in terms of producing an album you can just throw on and drink beers and fantasize about fighting your enemies with axe and orcish violence, all great pastimes of heavy metal fans since days immemorial, it will deliver the goods. However, for those expecting or desiring a transcendent record, they will be disappointed. Still, the effortlessness with which this album seems to have been produced, coming from a mind in Abbath that understands both rock and metal in superlative genius fashion, it stands as a testament to a rightfully now-legendary figure in black metal history. Sure, it may not be quite as endlessly compelling as contemporary work from Ihsahn or Darkthrone or Ulver, but for an old black metal dude who’s surprisingly kept his nose clean through the entire storied history of the genre, Outstrider is a blast. It’s hard to imagine any serious fan of rock or metal not having a good time with it.