With “Sons of Northern Darkness,” Immortal have created a truly eclectic and forward-looking slab of metal. While they maintain the dark atmosphere and grim vocals that characterize black metal, Immortal also show some influences of power metal and thrash. With its precise musicianship and touches of melodic accessibility, “Sons of Northern Darkness” even displays some elements of the classic metal of pioneers like Iron Maiden. If there’s one aspect of this album that stands out immediately, it’s the guitars. Aided by an exceptionally clean production that pushes it to the forefront, the guitar work on this album expertly balances precision, heaviness, and melody. In contrast to the vast majority of black metal albums, “Sons of Northern Darkness” is full of riffs that are heavy, memorable, and even (gasp!) catchy. If the explosive opening riff to the title track doesn’t light a fire under your posterior, chances are nothing will. Now, one could argue that with all this clean production and guitar work, this isn’t a black metal album at all. However, although I’m not an old Immortal fan (this is my second album of theirs, after “Battles in the North”), I think most black metallers could find a lot to like here. But I digress. Along with the guitars, what I think really elevates this album above the heap is the songwriting; each track is fully realized and stands out on its own. The title track and “Demonium” take off at about mach 3, with fearsome drumming and vocals. The crushing “Tyrants,” which never fails to get my head banging, uses a slower tempo to really drive the heavy riffing home. The eight-minute epic “Beyond the North Waves,” with its lengthy and majestic instrumental conclusion, was a perfect choice for the album closer. And although I’ve singled out these songs, all are no worse than solid. Although, as I’ve already said, this album can’t really be called black metal, Immortal have done an excellent job of updating the traditional black metal sound without deviating too far from its roots. By incorporating new elements, they’ve simply created an album that I think fans of any type of metal can enjoy. If this is a sign of the direction that black metal will take in coming years, I’ll be pretty pleased.