Of all the Norwegian black metal bands, Immortal has, arguably, stuck the closest to the mystical, occult-inspired vision of the scene: the bandmembers kept the evil-Kiss makeup throughout the band's existence, rarely experimented outside of the traditional guitars-drums-bass instrumental configuration, and never revealed their real names. Brothers in pseudonyms only, vocalist/bassist Abbath Doom Occulta and guitarist Demonaz Doom Occulta formed Immortal in Bergen, Norway, in 1990. Abbath was originally a member of Old Funeral, a death metal garage band that also included Varg Vikernes, who would later gain notoriety not only with his own project, Burzum, but for murdering Mayhem guitarist Euronymous; Demonaz had split from fellow Bergen scenesters Amputation. (Notably, Immortal always willfully separated itself from Mayhem's oft-felonious black metal "inner circle" scene in Oslo, and downplayed its relationships with its members.) Inspired by the robust Norwegian forests and bitter cold climate, Abbath and Demonaz conceived the fictional, demon-and-battle-filled realm Blashyrkh, a foundation upon which all of Immortal's lyrical journeys would rest.
The duo recruited drummer Armagedda and, briefly, second guitarist Jorn Inge Tunsberg, who left the fold after Immortal cranked out two demos, Suffocate and Northern Upins Death. Preferring to remain a three-piece, the band recorded the Unholy Forces of Evil/The Cold Winds of Funeral Frost 7" for the French label Listenable Records in 1991, which eventually led to Immortal's contract with another French imprint, Osmose Records. Their debut full-length, Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism, was released in 1992 (distributed in North America by JL America); a more atmospheric, slower-tempo release than the majority of Immortal's contemporaries. When Abbath and Demonaz began incorporating more blast beats in their songwriting, Armagedda quit, forcing Abbath to perform all drum tracks on Immortal's two highly influential albums, 1993's Pure Holocaust and 1995's Battles in the North. However, drummer Grim was pictured on the Pure Holocaust album cover, and would perform on Immortal's first full-fledged European tour in 1993, prior to being fired (he would go on to play drums for Gorgoroth and Borknagar, eventually committing suicide in 1999). Mayhem skinsman Hellhammer temporarily filled the drum seat for the band's live commitments and the home video Masters of Nebular Frost, until Horgh could be permanently added to the lineup.
It was after the 1997 album Blizzard Beasts was released that Immortal would be dealt its most serious blow. With an acute case of tendonitis in his arms, Demonaz could no longer play guitar with the speed and intensity Immortal required, and was forced to leave the band, although he remained the group's lyricist. Abbath switched from bass to guitar, and the group filled its bass slot with Aeturnus four-stringer Ares strictly for touring duties. Demonaz's absence left the band's songwriting burden purely on Abbath, who began penning more progressive, dynamic, and epic pieces. Abbath would perform all instruments except drums on 1999's highly acclaimed At the Heart of Winter full-length, which marked the beginning of the band's relationship with producer Peter Tagtgren (singer/guitarist for Hypocrisy), who recorded Winter and its two follow-up albums at his soon-to-be-legendary Abyss Studios. Bassist Iscariah was then permanently added to the lineup, which put out Damned in Black in 2000, and led to Immortal's first full-fledged North American tour with fellow Norwegians Satyricon. In 2001, the band, looking for better U.S distribution for its albums, severed its longtime relationship with Osmose and signed to Nuclear Blast Records, which released Sons of Northern Darkness in 2002. ~ John Serba