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Soulside Journey (1991)
 

The band that would become Darkthrone formed during 1986 in Kolbotn, a small suburb of Oslo. They were a death metal group by the name of Black Death, and its members were Gylve Nagell, Ivar Enger and Anders Risberget. In 1988 the band changed their name to Darkthrone and were joined by Ted Skjellum and Dag Nilsen. During 1988 and 1989 the band independently released four demo tapes: Land of Frost, A New Dimension, Thulcandra, and Cromlech. As a result, the band was signed by Peaceville Records.

Early on, they appeared to have ties with some members of the Swedish Death Metal scene, as Tomas Lindberg (of Grotesque / At the Gates) assisted in the creation of the Darkthrone logo and Uffe Cederlund (of Entombed) was present in the studio during the recording of their debut L.P., Soulside Journey, in 1990. The album was produced by Tomas Skosgberg, in Sunlight Studio (known for such albums as Sumerian Cry, Left Hand Path, Dark Recollections, et cetera). This is the only Death Metal album that the band recorded, as they went for a primitive Black Metal style, not long after this was released.

Soulside Journey begins with a brief, horror-inspired intro before the song "Cromlech" comes thundering in. To those not familiar with the band's origins, it may sound strange to hear technical Death Metal from these guys, but here it is. One of the first things to notice is the fast tremolo riffs. This style was already somewhat common in Swedish Death Metal, yet Darkthrone utilized these riffs far more efficiently. This goes to show that the band didn't change so drastically, with the albums that followed this. As for differences, Nocturno Culto's vocals are deeper, yet not too deep, and Fenriz is quite active behind the drum kit, showing his high level of skill.

"Sunrise Over Locus Mortis" continues down the same dark path as the first song. There are a lot of tempo changes on these songs and quite a bit of doomy atmosphere created during the slower sections. In those early years, it didn't seem to matter what Darkthrone did. Whether they were playing Death or Black Metal didn't make a difference, as they excelled at both. Honestly, there wasn't much of a reason to continue with the same musical direction after this album as they had accomplished something great.

The opening moments of the title track sounds pretty close to what the band would be doing a couple years later, beginning with cold tremolo melodies and fast drums. Of course, the speed does not remain the same as there are so many different riffs and tempo changes. Even on the instrumental track that follows this, "Accumulation of Generalization", it is clear that the riffs are the most important thing to this band, despite Fenriz's technical prowess being difficult to hide. The atmosphere, throughout the album, is one of horror and doom, as one can easily gather from the opening moments of "Neptune Towers". When keyboards are used, it is very sparingly and only to add to the dark atmosphere, like a horror score.

"Sempiternal Sepulchrality" is, possibly, the most energetic and thrashy song on the album. This is filled with riffs and is one of the faster and more aggressive songs found here. This is counteracted by "Grave With A View", which returns to the doomy atmosphere and features a nice part in the beginning, with some chorus of demons calling from beyond. This song also features a brilliant solo. Nocturno Culto truly excelled when it came to lead solos, far beyond many of his peers.

As "Iconoclasm Sweeps Over Cappodocia" plays, one cannot help but think that Soulside Journey features more use of the freezing cold tremolo riffs than many of their other albums. They are separated by many doom riffs and even some thrashier moments, yet they are all over this album. Songs like "Nor the Silent Whispers" and "The Watchtower" display influences that range from old Slayer and Kreator to Death and even Black Sabbath.

The album concludes with "Eon", a brilliant instrumental that features some use of keyboards to accentuate the dark and foreboding atmosphere, possessing a sinister and twisted feeling quite similar to the score of a 70s horror film. There is also a very noticeable Death influence found here.

There is some debate as to what subgenre this belongs to, as the lyrics and atmosphere, as well as many of the riffs, seem to belong to Black Metal. However the percussion and the song structures, despite the unorthodox timing, belong very much to Death Metal. The vocals also lean more in this direction, as well. Whatever way you wish to classify this album, you must appreciate the music

For those who seem to think of Darkthrone as terrible musicians because of the primitive and minimalist path that they chose after this, you really need to give this a listen and realize that it was, indeed, a choice. Many that wish to emulate them simply hide behind the low-fi production and primitive musicianship because that is all that they're capable of. The members of Darkthrone are masters of creating dark atmospheres, regardless of the way in which they set about achieving this.

This is recommended to those wishing to see the early days of this band. Also, for anyone into the early Swedish Death Metal bands such as Tiamat, Entombed, Carnage / Dismember, Unleashed, et cetera, this will probably appeal to you, though this has as many differences as similarities with the early albums from those bands. This is actually far superior to most (if not all) of them.
 
(1 Apr. 2008)

 
A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992)
 
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In 1991, while working on their second album for Peaceville Records, Darkthrone abandoned the path that had been cleared for them and wandered into the desolate forests. They achieved a decent amount of success with their debut album, Soulside Journey, and they were soon to follow it up with another brilliant Death Metal album. Truth be told, as a Death Metal band, they crushed the majority of their peers in Scandinavia. However, three of the four members felt that a change was needed. Inspired by the ancient ones that had gone before them, such as Bathory, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Mayhem, they scrapped the material for the Goatlord album and began creating something primitive and dark.

From the frozen landscape of the bitter cold Northland, A Blaze in the Northern Sky took the metal world by surprise. It met with some resistance, before it was even released. Bassist, Dag Nilsen, was not pleased with the change in musical direction and was unceremoniously expelled from the band. However, since he did have a hand in the songwriting, to some degree, the other members felt that it was only right that he play on the album as a session musician. Once it was completed, Peaceville seemed displeased in what they heard, since they were expecting a Death Metal album. They showed no understanding of Black Metal and wanted the album to be remixed because it wasn't heavy enough. Even the aesthetics were completely different. Rather than a painting for the cover, they used a grim photo of Zephyrous in the cemetery, during one of their nocturnal rituals. Real names had been abandoned in favor of pseudonyms. Perhaps taking inspiration from Dead, who had killed himself just months earlier, they now wore corpsepaint. They were no longer the Death Metal band that Peaceville had initially signed. Darkthrone remained firm in their convictions and knew that if Peaceville didn't want to release the album, they could fall back on Euronymous and his label, Deathlike Silence Productions. Not wanting to lose a recently signed band to some tiny label, Peaceville agreed to release the album as it was, and the second wave of Black Metal was officially unleashed.

The album begins with "Kathaarian Life Code". The intro starts out with a low drone, and a thundering bass drum, followed by a slow and ominous chanting in the background. The atmosphere that is created by this has to be heard to be truly understood, words do not do this justice. Soon after Fenriz’s tortured vocals come in over this in something of a spoken word form, filled with hate, yet giving the impression that he is being strangled.

The song erupts with furious violence, guitars extremely fuzzy, drums creating a violent wall of sound. It is quite reminiscent Vader's Necrolust demo. As for the vocals, Nocturno Culto emits some of the most demonic sounds ever recorded. He sounds possessed by the forces of evil. His vocals are much more raspy and grim than on the previous album. The song does not maintain the fury for too long before going into a more mid-paced Celtic Frost-inspired riff. The tempo changes aid in ensuring that such a lengthy song never becomes repetitive. Already, one gets the feeling that this could have, easily, been released five years earlier. This is total primitive Black Metal, the way it was meant to be. The final guitar melody of the song is about as cold as it gets.

"In the Shadow of the Horns" is next, and this continues the Celtic Frost worship. But this is much uglier than anything on Morbid Tales. The brief solos on this album remind me a bit of some old Bathory, though Nocturno Culto says he was greatly influenced by Death's Scream Bloody Gore. However, that may have been only in regard to Soulside Journey. The song really shows its brilliance as it speeds up, with the tremolo riffs and blasting drums accompanying Nocturno Culto as he channeled the voice of the night, itself. Most people really enjoy the mid-paced parts, but I think the fast melody is the best part. Late in the song, an acoustic guitar is played over everything else, and the effect is perfect.

"Paragon Belial" opens with riffs worthy of an old Bathory release. Not long into the song, riffs from the aborted Goatlord session bleed in. They try their best to play these horror Death Metal riffs in a Black Metal style, but they certainly stick out. However, the later part of the song more than makes up for this, with a somewhat mournful and epic vibe taking over. As the song slows down, Nocturno Culto's tortured voice howls:

"My flesh yearns...for the tombworld."

The slow, somber riffs that end this song are very memorable and create a dark and gloomy atmosphere. It feels like a good song to die to.

"Where Cold Winds Blow" is another fast, freezing cold Black Metal song. The main riff seems to have the purpose of hypnotizing the listener and preparing them to be possessed. As the tempo changes from blistering fast to somewhat mid-paced, the hatred in Nocturno Culto's vocals flows out like venom. Musically, there is a strong Bathory and Mayhem influence on this song, with this track best representing the sound that would soon become identified with the Norwegian scene. As the pace picks up a bit, the melody is very memorable and inspires one with a sense of dread, before the thundering drums and droning guitars return. There are a few instances where the guitars are left alone, with no drumming or vocals, which does well to really convey a sense of frozen solitude. So far, this album isn't just paying homage to the old Black Metal bands, it's killing them slowly while setting a new standard.

The title track continues in much the same fashion, opening with a venomous fury before settling into a Bathory-esque mid-paced Black Metal riff. That's not to say that the album is nothing but Bathory and Celtic Frost worship. They take a good deal of influence from the old bands, while also infusing that with their own creative direction, which is what makes this album so special. This song already existed during the Goatlord sessions, but it was adapted for this album with the Black Metal opening. The slow melody, near the middle, creates a dark and eerie feeling as a morbid voice calls out:

"The next thousand years are OURS!"

The song ends with a perfectly placed guitar solo, which adds to the atmosphere. The end is near.

"The Pagan Winter" brings things to a proper conclusion, starting with a bitter dismal riff that has a gloomy feeling, before transitioning to something more inspired by Bathory. Brilliant, freezing cold melodies, perfectly timed tempo changes, excellent vocals and a hellish guitar solo make this quite a memorable song and a good way to end the album. This song possesses an epic feeling and produces mental images of traveling through a desolate wintry landscape, in the light of the full moon, on the way toward a cold grave. The Celtic Frost riffs near the end are well done, also.

The ominous chant that began the album now returns, thus ending this masterpiece of Norwegian Black Metal. While Mayhem, Burzum and Immortal were all working on albums, Darkthrone was the first to release anything and were responsible for unleashing the fury from the north that would soon spread across the world, like an ancient plague. 

(7 Sept. 2008)

 
Under A Funeral Moon (1993)
 
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After releasing the classic A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Darkthrone began working on the follow-up, taking their time to perfectly craft every melody, every note; to create nothing less than pure, freezing cold Black Metal. While Fenriz mentions the presence of "fucking Death Metal riffs" that crept into the previous album, due to time constraints, this is where the band completed the dark metamorphosis. Under A Funeral Moon is one of the most grim and morbid recordings ever made. The Celtic Frost vibe seems absent here, replaced by even more Bathory worship. (In one interview, Nocturno Culto actually mentions taking Under the Sign of the Black Mark into the studio to give the producer an idea of the sound they wanted.) However, to imply that this entire album is simply derivative of what came before would be an error. Darkthrone came into their own, in many ways, on this album. While their influences are still obvious, there is a lot on this album that is neither Hellhammer nor Bathory, but rather pure Darkthrone.

This is raw and minimal, like nothing before. A Blaze In the Northern Sky was primitive yet very powerful and thunderous. The drum work on Under A Funeral Moon is quite different. Despite being exceptionally talented (as was certainly displayed on Soulside Journey) Fenriz showed a deeper understanding of what Black Metal is supposed to be and toned it down. The drums are basic and also lower in the mix than on the last album. They are there only to keep the song going forward. The focus here is on the guitar melodies. The guitars are much thinner and the bass is actually audible, maintaining a doomy feeling throughout much of the album. Despite the fuzzy guitar sound, everything is remarkably clear. Every note can be heard. Nocturno Culto's vocals are supported by a healthy amount of reverb and he sounds like he has just risen from a grave.

"Natassja In Eternal Sleep" is a fast paced song, with a mournful and repetitive tremolo melody that is accompanied by hauntingly sorrowful lyrics. The mood is evil yet also mournful, as the lyrics tell the story of a dead witch. Musically, this is a perfect example of, what would become known as, the typical Darkthrone sound.

"Summer of the Diabolical Holocaust" continues on at full speed, until midway through the song. This is when the bass becomes quite audible and the listener is overcome with a morbid grave lust. The eerie solo is very reminiscent of Bathory. This slower section of the song has a similar feel to Mayhem's "Freezing Moon".

What follows this is one of the most morbid riffs, as "The Dance of Eternal Shadows" begins. Nocturno Culto truly sounds as if he is calling out from the grave. The song begins very slowly, before picking up with the fast tremolo melodies. The song slows down again, near the end, as the feeling of death fills the air. As life fades, hell awaits. This song is very chilling, to say the least.

"I am ready...for the god below"

"Unholy Black Metal" is very fast and serves to bring a bit of life back to an album otherwise steeped in death and morbidity. The somber atmospheres and mournful melodies take a break and the listener is able to pull the knife away from their throat and let go of it for a moment. This song is very minimal, and could not have been more appropriately named. The old Bathory vibe is very clear, particularly in the brief solo. But this influence would get much stronger as the song ends...

"To Walk the Infernal Fields" has to be seen as a tribute to Bathory's "Enter the Eternal Fire", borrowing some riffs. This is the longest song on the album, and returns to the mournful and depressive atmosphere that prevails elsewhere on Under A Funeral Moon. Much like "Enter the Eternal Fire" this song is midpaced, with subtle melodies underneath the main riff. Late in the song, everything slows way down and it feels like a funeral march, with thunderous drums and cymbals leading the way to the nocturnal graveland. As you gaze into the abyss, certain of your own doom, the main riff returns and pulls you away from the edge.

“With my art, I am the fist in the face God”

The next song erupts from the darkened abyss like a horde of demons. "Under A Funeral Moon" possesses some of the best riffs on the album, as well as lyrics that are absolutely perfect for the atmosphere that is being created. If it is possible for one song to embody everything that is great about an album, this would be the one. The Bathory-esque solo is bone chilling and the vocals could not sound more deathly and demonic. The slower section in the middle is brilliant and really takes the listener down, deeper and deeper. The story being told is that of a nocturnal ritual, leading through the gates of death and beyond. There are some very cold riffs here, foreshadowing what is to come on the following release, but this album fills my mind less with imagery of Winter forests and more with grim cemeteries, funeral torches and an overpowering lust for death and Hell.

"Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn" is very repetitive and feels less inspired than the rest of the album. It is not bad, but simply not as interesting as the other songs. There are some tempo changes, but there is something lacking from this one.

"Crossing the Triangle of Flames" really feels like it is dragging you down to Hell. The fast tremolo riffs and hateful vocals dominate the song, while Fenriz employs some interesting variation with the drums. Then the song slows down, and the guitar is nearly alone with only sparse drum fills. The riff is actually similar to something that one would find on a Burzum album and definitely has the trademark Norwegian sound. As cold winds sweep over the desolate graveland, Nocturno Culto snarls:

"I am Lucifer!"

Then the bells begin to toll. A slow, morbid riff repeats as the album fades out, leaving only the chiming of the funeral bells. With the funeral moon illuminating the cold landscape, the nocturnal rituals have been performed and the listener now finds himself face to face with his dark master, leaving all traces of life and light behind. This is Black Metal. This is the feeling that it is meant to convey.

(7 Sept. 2008)

 
Transilvanian Hunger (1994)
 
 
In the Winter months of 1996/1997, I learned of a college radio show that played Black, Death and Doom Metal, called "The Haunted Mansion". I listened to this show, regularly, and recorded a lot of music. It was on a dismal Winter night that I heard my first Darkthrone song, "Over Fjell og Gjennom Torner". It was unlike anything I had ever heard. At this point, the darkest music I listened to was old Slayer, Hellhammer and Venom. None of the Death Metal I was listening to at the time, such as Altars of Madness by Morbid Angel, came anywhere close. This was something altogether different. After two and a half minutes, the song ended just as abruptly as it began. In those two and a half minutes, I was changed forever. Musically, I had lived a very sheltered existence. With this one song, the walls crumbled and I was left in the fiery abyss, alone in the light of the flames. I didn't fully comprehend what just happened, but I kept going back to the tape and I listened to the song again and again.

Some time later, one October night, I acquired Transilvanian Hunger on cassette. The first time I listened to this masterpiece, the experience was quite similar to when I'd heard that first song. The music was bleak and minimal. The Necrohell production job was shocking. The odd silences between the songs built tension. The hypnotic melodies filled my mind with visions of a Medieval castle deep within the frozen forest, inhabited by a creature of darkness, lusting for the blood of mortals. I listened to this tape over and over again, all night. The sorrowful melodies and despairing vocals continued to haunt me, long after the cassette had been put away. Each day, I went back to it and had to listen to it as many times as I possibly could. Never before or since has an album had such a profound effect on me.

The year was 1993. Within the span of a few months, Under A Funeral Moon was released, Burzum released Det Som Engang Var, Mayhem completed recording of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Euronymous was murdered and Varg Vikernes went behind bars for murder and church arson. Into the Autumn months, Immortal released Pure Holocaust and Darkthrone went into Necrohell Studio to record Transilvanian Hunger.

Transilvanian Hunger forever remains Darkthrone's ultimate masterpiece and one of the strongest Black Metal albums ever recorded, Norwegian or otherwise. It is the single most influential record from this entire subgenre. The all embracing minimalism and hatred evoked on the album has made it the definitive work of any Black Metal band and has inspired legions of followers to try, in vain, to recapture the black magic of this grim art. With Transilvanian Hunger, Darkthrone reached the level or progression (or regression) that they had been seeking since embarking on the dark path that they had taken in 1991. Everything that Under A Funeral Moon was striving to be was captured here.

Realizing that which many others seem to miss, Fenriz embraced pure minimalism in his drumming technique, resorting to fills only when absolutely necessary; filling almost every song with simplistic, pulsing drumbeats, continuously alternating bass and snare. The fact that the drums are so low in the mix also helps to enhance this atmosphere, creating a much more internal, visceral feeling. The real key to this album is the guitar work. The guitar melodies are the most important thing. The dark and sorrowful harmonies stand out, and convey a depressing and hateful feeling. Riff-wise, this may be one of the most important albums for Black Metal. Needless to say, it's minimalist; a series of notes will revolve around one chord for any given amount of time, before switching to another riff of the same nature. All of the playing is based upon mid-paced, tremolo-picked chords. However, each song has its own identity.

The title track remains one of the greatest Black Metal songs ever created. It takes the listener on a journey through cold mountains and forests of Transilvania, toward an evil castle to face the dreadful bloodlust of the morbid count. The imagery created is that of cold stone walls, torches lighting the shadowy halls, bats and cobwebs. This is pure horror, yet it feels all too real. As with most music, this is best when listened to in the dark, illuminated only by the light of candles. The song is indicative of the whole album, creating a freezing atmosphere of darkness and sorrow.

"Over Fjell og Gjennom Torner" is the shortest song on the album, but it is just as memorable as the rest. It is doubtful that any other band could create such an epic feeling with so few riffs and such little time, but Darkthrone achieved this with no problem. Despite sounding hateful and evil on the first song, Nocturno Culto's vocals sound even more sinister reciting the Norwegian lyrics.

"Skald Av Satans Sol" is noticeably different from the first two songs, and yet the same. Words can hardly do justice to the brilliance contained here. The guitar work here is absolutely perfect and the vocals could not have been done better. There's even a brief solo at the end of the song, before everything fades to white noise.

"Slottet I Det Fjerne" is next and features the most sorrowful melodies on the whole album. The title translates to "Castle in the Distance" and the song tells the tale of blind people living in joy and peace, unknowing the dark fate that awaits them and the torment that they will soon suffer. From the grim shadows, the dark ones are consumed with hatred for these people and await the time when they shall rejoice in their pain.

"Graven Tåkeheimens Saler" is next and it is no less impressive than the previous song. The freezing harmonies and spiteful vocals tell a tale, written by Varg Vikernes, filled with sorrow and inspired by Norse mythology. Since he was incarcerated, Darkthrone allowed Varg to contribute lyrics to their album as a means of letting him speak from beyond, so to speak.

"I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjød" is very straightforward, yet contains one of the few changes in tempo, throughout the whole album. A slight bit of Hellhammer influence creeps in, briefly. Up until this point, their influences were much less pronounced than on A Blaze in the Northern Sky or Under A Funeral Moon. The style on Transilvanian Hunger is all Darkthrone.

The next song is very repetitive, droning and hypnotic. "As Flittermice As Satans Spys" seems to take the idea that was attempted with "Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn" and perfected it. There is no lack of inspiration or feeling here. This song creates a lot of tension as the album is heading toward its inevitable end. The bitter cold harmonies freeze the very blood in your veins.

"Unholy he who burned the face of god...with the eye of our master."

At the end of the song is a back ward message that says, "In the name of god, let the churches burn."

"En Ås I Dype Skogen" is tied with "Transilvanian Hunger" as the best song on this record. Sometimes, it is difficult to decide on a favorite song, but this one contains my favorite riffs and vocal lines on the whole album. Much like the rest of the album, the song is fast-paced. The melodies are mournful and cold. The tension from the previous song has carried over and has continued to build up to the climax of the entire album, as the song progresses. At this point, the cold steel is pressed against your flesh, waiting... just waiting. The time is near. The melody continues and the blade begins to penetrate your skin. The moment is now at hand to be released, to open your veins. A possessed scream is followed by the line:

"...ut av den dype skogen"

The blood flows from your veins and turns the snow red. The song winds down. Your spirit has been released and is now free to wander the endless depths of the forest. It's all over, and you will never be the same again...

(7 Sept. 2008)

 
Panzerfaust (1995)
 
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After becoming completely obsessed with the Transilvanian Hunger cassette that I obtained, I managed to wear it out to the point where it didn't play as well. Mind you, this was no cheap copy but rather the actual cassette. As a result, I began looking for the CD version. It took a couple months to find but, in the meantime, I stumbled across Panzerfaust, making it the first official Darkthrone album that I owned on CD.

Panzerfaust was recorded in Necrohell Studio, in the early months of 1994, and was the final of the classic Darkthrone albums. While not belonging to the 'Unholy Trinity', it is certainly still part of that era. This was the first album that they released on Moonfog Records, having severed ties with Peaceville after the previous recording. The cover features Nocturno Culto in a snowy forest, with the moon in the night sky above. On the back reads the words: "Evig er Krigen Mot de av lyset." This translates to, "Eternal is the war against those of the light." The production is still very lo-fi and ugly, but the sound is a bit different from its predecessor, most likely due to the variation in tempo and the prominence of the vocals.

The album begins much as one would expect it to, as "En Vind Av Sorg" would not be out of place on Transilvanian Hunger. It would seem that the band found their distinct style on that masterpiece and this would be a continuation of that brilliance. The tremolo-picked melodies are freezing cold and the drums blast away in obscurity. Yet the first thing one notices is that the vocals are much higher in the mix than before. Perhaps, they are a little too high, but this is a minor complaint. In a sense, this serves to make the song that much more harsh and unwelcoming. The mournful harmonies create an atmosphere of sorrow (appropriate, since the title translates to "The Wind of Sorrow") yet the vocals are as hateful as they are anguished. The main riff is one of the best Black Metal riffs ever written. As the song ends, drums and vocals fade away, leaving only the sorrowful guitar melody.

The next song, "Triumphant Gleam", came as somewhat of a shock, being total Hellhammer/Celtic Frost worship instead of following along the expected path. This is very raw and primitive Black Metal, yet energetic and thrashy as well. The double bass came as a bit of a surprise. As the song slows down, the dark and evil atmosphere begins to surround you, but it isn't long before the song speeds back up.

"Hordes of Nebulah" is an absolute monster. Stylistically, this owes a lot to Celtic Frost. The riffs are slow and filled with doom. Nocturno Culto's vocals are dripping with hatred and sorrow. If Hellhammer was what happened when you slow down Venom, this must be what it's like to slow down Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. However, this is not mere imitation. The presentation of the song may not be that original, but it is easily identifiable as being Darkthrone. The guitar solo, albeit brief, is eerie and adds to the overall effect. This is the kind of song that makes you want to gouge out your own heart with a rusted blade or to turn the hatred outward and annihilate all traces of life from the earth.

"Hans Siste Vinter" is another song that possesses the Transilvanian Hunger vibe, consisting of fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums. The mournful melody is very haunting and will freeze you to the very core of your being, turning your blood into ice and leaving you to die in the cold wastelands, covered by the falling snow. Of note is that the lyrics to this song aren't included in the insert, making me wonder if this song was just written at the last minute to fill time. Either way, it's one of the best on here.

"Beholding the Throne of Might" is another mid-paced song that some would see as a tribute to Celtic Frost. On the surface, that would appear to be an accurate conclusion. However, the spirit of Darkthrone cannot be denied. This isn't simply Celtic Frost with harsher vocals. The atmosphere being created on this album is pure Darkthrone, regardless of the style they utilize to do so.

The next song's lyrics were penned by none other than Varg Vikernes and, strangely, the song is actually similar to something that one would expect from Burzum. "Quintessence" is the most epic song ever written by Darkthrone. The atmosphere is cold and filled with doom. Nocturno Culto's vocals are filled with such anguish and utter hatred. This is one of the most inspired vocal performances in the history of Black Metal. Near the end, it is absolutely bone chilling as his tormented voice screams:

"Only one single lamp do show me this way, and that is... the eye of Satan...SATAN!"

This is a very cathartic experience. The main riff continues on, before a few more desperate screams signal the end and it slowly fades out. A very powerful song, on many levels.

"Snø Og Granskog (Utferd)" sounds like something left over from Isengard, but does well to suit the atmosphere that has been created by the song preceding it. The outro features the voice of Fenriz (presumably) speaking in Norwegian.

(9 Sept. 2008)

 
Total Death (1996)
 

In late 1993, Darkthrone recorded Transilvanian Hunger, to be released in the early Winter months of 1994. This album saw the band reach their creative peak. This was the sound that they had been striving for. Once that classic album was finished, it became somewhat of a problem for Nocturno Culto and Fenriz. They had created a masterpiece of cold, minimalist Black Metal; it was untouchable, even by those that gave it birth. On the following album, they employed this style on only two songs, preferring to go the route of emulating Celtic Frost. Perhaps, the creative atmosphere that surrounded the Norwegian scene, in the early 90s, faded a bit after the death of Euronymous, the imprisonment of Varg Vikernes (thus eliminating Mayhem and Burzum from the scene) and the media attention that followed. Of course, Fenriz had also been working on several projects throughout this time, so it would appear that he was running low on energy and motivation.

Total Death is the sixth full-length album from Darkthrone. It was recorded in the Ancient Spectre Ruins, in August and October 1995, and is the second album released on Moonfog Productions. There is a lot that can be said about this album. Whereas Panzerfaust did not exactly belong to the 'Unholy Trinity', it was still joined to that era. The fact that, like Transilvanian Hunger, it was recorded in Necrohell Studio helped to link them. This album, however, seems to be when Darkthrone made their first misstep. They even allowed others to write lyrics for the album. Perhaps, this was an attempt to 'bring the scene together' but maybe it was just a lack of creativity by Fenriz, who was very burnt out at this point.

"Earth's Last Picture" starts things out rather strong. It is one of the most solid tracks on here. It begins with a very memorable riff that is reminiscent of Bathory, later incorporating a bit of Hellhammer / Celtic Frost worship, as well. Immediately, you notice the 'softer' production. The guitar sound is very smooth, with the bass being too audible. Nocturno Culto's vocals are actually the highlight, as the effect here is very similar to what he achieved on A Blaze in the Northern Sky. That is very fitting, as the latter half of the track sounds like something from that L.P. as well. There isn't enough treble to the recording, which makes the guitars less sharp and takes away from the cold feeling that Darkthrone is known for. This song is very mid-paced and, somewhat, relaxed throughout the first minutes. Everything then gets silent as a lone tremolo riff cuts through the darkness, accompanied by faster drums from Fenriz. The riff has a sorrowful quality and the vocals really add to this feeling. This is actually a good song, but the weak production is very detrimental to the atmosphere that they are trying to create.

"Blackwinged" is another song that shows an increased level of diversity in riffs and tempos. It possesses a good amount of faster melodies, but still retains an obvious Celtic Frost influence. Again, not a bad effort, but the production really kills this. Had this been recorded in Necrohell, there is no doubt that the whole album would sound fine, though probably less inspired than previous works. There is nothing, at all, raw about the sound found on this album.

The next song is "Gather For Attack on the Pearly Gates". This features the minimalist drumming and fast tremolo riffs that Darkthrone came to be known for. Nocturno Culto's vocals are incredibly flawless (probably the best thing about the whole album). The riffs are cold and grim, and this would easily fit on Transilvanian Hunger. Material like this was simply begging for more of a raw sound. Even the volume is too low, which is quite odd. This would sound much more appropriate with more treble and less bass. The faster Bathory-inspired riffs are interrupted by brief sections that are reminiscent of Hellhammer, adding another dimension to the overall sound. Thankfully, this element was not expanded in any way as to detract from the primary guitar harmonies.

"Black Victory of Death" is the band's first foray into the black n' roll style. This seems kind of out of place, belonging more to a release like Satanic Rites or Apocalyptic Raids, which is not most people were wanting from Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, at this point. The percussion is uninspired and this song is rather boring. They did much better tributes to Celtic Frost, in previous years, with songs like "In the Shadow of the Horns" and "The Hordes of Nebulah".

The next song is "Majestic Desolate Eye". The second half of the album was recorded during a different session and, amazingly, the production is even worse for these songs. The inconsistency is not limited to the sound, but also characterizes much of the music. After a minute or so, things speed up, though the atmosphere is still a bit off for Darkthrone. Some of the riffs sound similar to those found on Onslaught's Power from Hell. This song is mediocre, at best, and really does no favours for this album. Thankfully, this song is pretty short.

"Blasphemer" is another track that does not really belong here. Songs like this give Total Death more the feeling of being a collection of tunes, rather than a cohesive album. It is not all that bad, but this would fit better on an Aura Noir album. This is pure thrash, owing much more to Destruction than to the band's typical influences. This might not sound so horrible, yet the awful production drains this of energy. This could not sound less threatening than it does. Maybe, with the same production as Kreator's Endless Pain, this would be a decent Black/Thrash song.

"Ravnajuv" is the highlight of this album. Truly, if this had been recorded at Necrohell, it would have fit in quite well with the material on Transilvanian Hunger or maybe better on Panzerfaust. This is the only song on the album to feature Norwegian lyrics. The tremolo strumming creates freezing cold melodies that embrace you in the darkest night. There is a really gloomy feeling that is conveyed by the guitar harmonies in this song, something that is largely absent throughout the rest of the album. The drumming is perfectly done, with Fenriz remembering that less is more. Nocturno Culto's vocals sound absolutely perfect. Sadly, after a few minutes, even this song has to slow down and degenerate into something different. Apparently, they can't even get one song completely right.

The album ends, mercifully, with "The Serpents Harvest". This begins with slower riffs that possess the type of nasty sound heard on some old Mayhem tracks, just with more of a doom feel. After a minute or so, the tempo picks up and sounds like something from Bathory's The Return... Everything from the guitars to the drumming gives the feeling that you have traveled back to 1985. About halfway through the track, a sorrowful tremolo melody is introduced, with faster percussion underneath. This riff would have been better saved for another song, as it is completely out of place, here. The slower riffs returns, after a minute or two, but the song has lost its reason by this point. As it nears its conclusion, a haunting guitar solo rises from the rotten graves as the music fades into oblivion.

Total Death is an album that was ruined by horridly weak production and inconsistent songwriting. It is clear that these guys were burnt-out and needed some time to regroup. This really should have been an E.P., if anything, with "Earth's Last Picture", "Gather For Attack on the Pearly Gates", "Ravnajuv" (minus the mid-paced stuff at the end), and "The Serpents Harvest" (with more focus on the old school Bathory vibe). As it stands, this is one of the weakest Darkthrone records, ever. Avoid this, if possible.
 
(7 Feb. 2009)

 
 

What we all know as the Goatlord album is basically a rehearsal tape of the material planned for Darkthrone's second full-length. Recorded in 1991, this followed the path started with Soulside Journey, and one can only speculate how the finished product would have sounded. Obviously, it would have featured a more professional production and would lack the raw feeling that this has. However, this never happened. After the release of Soulside Journey, and as they were working on these songs, three of the four members of Darkthrone seemed to be truly inspired by the old Black Metal albums of Bathory and Hellhammer, among others. They had also developed some sort of friendship with the guys in Mayhem, most notably, Euronymous. As it turned out, they decided that the Goatlord material did not represent their true musical passions and it was scrapped. Instead, they regressed to the primitive sound of old school Black Metal and the underground was soon shocked with the arrival of A Blaze in the Northern Sky.

In the meantime, the Goatlord rehearsal sat on the shelf, collecting dust. Fast forward to 1994, during a time when Fenriz was extremely prolific, participating in several projects and working on his own quite a bit. With frequent access to Necrohell studio, he decided to take this aborted album and to add vocals to it. Even still, it remained unheard for quite some time, finally seeing the light of day in late 1996 when it was released on Moonfog records. Popular opinion seems to be that this was some sort of cash grab for Darkthrone or Satyr, yet this view is completely ridiculous. If Darkthrone had ever been a band that existed in order to make money, they would not have abandoned Death Metal during a time when it was popular and trendy. They certainly would not have embraced the lo-fi necro sounds of '80s Black Metal at a point in time when no one really cared for or understood this. As well, once this did catch on, they would have taken all of the countless offers to play live and to be paid accordingly. Simply put, there was something about this music that appealed to Nocturno Culto and Fenriz, imbuing them with the feeling that it was deserving of an official release for those that would appreciate it. It was likely that they knew it would meet with some criticism, especially when one considers that, in 1996, Darkthrone still possessed quite a bit of mystique and had just released several of the best Black Metal albums to ever be recorded. It was a brazen move, to go back and embrace their past, after spending some years distancing themselves from it.

Regarding the actual songwriting, this is really all over the place. At times, it seems rather complex and difficult to follow, as there are hardly any recognizable structures. Rhythms change often and suddenly, sometimes giving the songs a rather random and improvised feeling, even though the band was rehearsing all the time back then. There is of course an overly technical Death Metal vibe, with Fenriz going against what the music called for and playing with a rather hyperactive style that was not always necessary. It is a good thing that he went on to learn what so many other drummers fail to, that showing off does nothing for the overall product and is often detrimental to the music. Nevertheless, what one finds with Goatlord is that Darkthrone has always been a band that puts the guitar riff first and foremost, and this album is dripping with an utter dark feeling that is conveyed by the brilliant riffs. It is too bad that the songwriting suffers from poor organization. In some cases, there is too much going on within the tracks; so many great riffs pass through, briefly, when whole songs could have been built around some of them. There are a number of melodies that would not have been out of place on an old '80s Black/Death release, mixed in with other riffs that are totally possessed with a feeling of total doom. One can clearly hear influences from the likes of Autopsy and of course Celtic Frost, as usual. Also present, as on Soulside Journey, are the trademark tremolo melodies that Darkthrone would become famous for, during their classic years. Though the songs are mostly mid-paced and shift gears frequently, there are occasional fast riffs with blast beats. However, these are forgettable when compared to the really slow riffs, which are much more memorable. The band could have, easily, moved on to make a form of Black/Doom, had they wanted to. The only complaint is that the slower sections would have benefited from less over-the-top drum work. Regardless, there is no denying the absolutely gloomy feeling of this material. There are points here where you can really hear the beginning of the transition from Soulside Journey to A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Still, they had not yet gone into the realm of cold and grim atmospheres, despite the incomprehensibly eerie feeling that this possesses.

As for the sound, the darkness of Goatlord is somewhat derived from the fact that it has such an unprofessional sound. The fact that it is a rehearsal recording lends a raw and old school feeling that only adds to the hellish vibe. For a rehearsal, this actually sounds very good. Often, the low-end would dominate everything else, yet the riffs cut through with a sharp clarity that one would not fully expect. Compared to the instrumental version, it seems that a bit of treble has been added here, which was a really good move. The overall impression is still kind of muddy, but the guitars rise from this murkiness and slice right into you, when necessary. The vocals are a little high in the mix, similar to Panzerfaust, but not to the extent that it becomes a problem. Due to the general raw and under-produced sound, Fenriz's harsh and unrestrained vocal performance really seems to fit far more than what Nocturno Culto would likely have done if the album had been recorded as planned, back in 1991. It would be natural to guess that he would have utilized a style similar to that of the debut record, which is hard to even imagine while listening to this.

Speaking of the vocals, regardless of what anyone may think, Fenriz totally makes this album with his vocals. This may be one of the hardest parts of the album to digest. I know that, the first time I heard this, I could hardly understand what the hell I was listening to and thought it was bloody horrible. I refused to bother with this for a couple years, honestly. However, once I decided to give it another chance, the vocals grew on me. Of course, one would never have expected to hear Fenriz doing his best King Diamond impersonation and, upon first listen, I thought they'd brought in some useless whore to sing on the album as so many other bands had done. Yet somehow, when I later returned to Goatlord, it was so clear what he was going for and I was able to appreciate it. He shows quite a bit of range, compared to what one might expect, with some deeper and throatier voices coming and going, though mostly sticking with the sort of hellish and raspy sound as heard on Isengard's Høstmørke. He also makes good use of rather sinister whispering and tortured wails. In truth, this may be the most brilliant vocal work that Fenriz ever did. Overall, his performance is so over-the-top and even theatrical that it really brings the music to life and adds a lot to the atmosphere, in a way that Nocturno Culto probably could not have done, at this point. Without the great effort put into the vocals, this album would have been rather flat and lacked the eerie and nightmarish vibe that it is known for.

The most important thing to do when approaching Goatlord for the first time is to keep an open mind. It is such a unique album, not only within Darkthrone's catalogue, but just in general. I have never encountered anything else remotely like this. It would be easy to say that, if you are a fan of Soulside Journey, then the music presented here will likely appeal to you. Yet it is not so simple, as the vocals really make this a completely different beast. At any rate, it really does work well as the missing link between the debut L.P. and A Blaze in the Northern Sky, while also venturing into territory that few others ever have. This may not be for everyone, not even all Darkthrone fans, yet it is highly recommended for anyone with a true passion for dark and hellish music. Even if you don't get it at first, be patient. It will definitely grow on you.
 
(12 Oct. 2012)

A Night of Unholy Black Metal (1996)
 

For a band with the longevity of Darkthrone, and such ties to the '80s, it would only be appropriate that their material has been the subject of various bootlegs over the years. As is the case with their countrymen, Mayhem, just about any random recording done by Darkthrone has been subsequently bootlegged a dozen or so times. This particular bootleg, A Night of Unholy Black Metal, seems to have turned up in the mid-to-late '90s, with dates ranging from late 1996 to some point in 1998. Whatever the case may be, it appears to have emerged during the band's downtime, between Total Death and Ravishing Grimness. This is an interesting collection, as it features material from a few distinct periods in the band's history.

The first chapter consists of five songs that were taken from a live performance from 6 April 1996, in Oslo, Norway. This was from a gig that also featured Dissection and Satyricon, with Satyr actually playing bass for Darkthrone. It would seem that, from early on, he was playing a supporting role for the band. For such a brief set, the band still managed to cover most of their albums, though they played nothing from Panzerfaust. Maybe, they were eager to play something newer, which is why they included "Blackwinged", but "Quintessence" would have been a better choice. Nocturno Culto and Fenriz were certainly more into the dark atmosphere of their Black Metal days, as the set begins with the chiming of a funeral bell and video of the gig shows that they had torches on the stage. This may have been a few years too late to possess the same cult feeling of the old Mayhem shows with Dead, but the atmosphere is similar. The sound quality is not the greatest, with some hissing and a lack of clarity, but it suits the music in a way. The bass is surely loud enough, sometimes coming through a little too well. For anyone that is familiar with these songs, this recording is not difficult to follow, at all. One might even say that "Under A Funeral Moon" and "Transilvanian Hunger" are not too far below the studio versions, in terms of quality, though that would probably be going too far. "Blackwinged" is a little hard to get into, as the bass blocks out the guitar, and you can even hear a couple guys in the crowd talking, fairly clearly. All in all, the set does well to capture the old Black Metal feeling. A shame that is was so short.

The next part features a live recording taken from a gig in Finland, back in 1991. The sound is pretty terrible, with the drums overpowering the rest and being a bit of a pain on the ear. The songs are hardly formed, as well, making the show feel kind of awkward. Apparently, Nocturno Culto wasn't feeling too well, so the songs practically became instrumentals, though one has to wonder how fully developed they were anyway. "Paragon Belial" and "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" were far from the versions that would appear on A Blaze in the Northern Sky, with more of a Death/Doom feeling, as a matter of fact. The other two songs were works in progress for the then-upcoming Goatlord record. They sound rather directionless, with far too much activity behind the drum kit and not enough atmosphere. The bad recording doesn't help matters, either. The most interesting thing about this part of the collection is likely Fenriz's stage banter.

The final chapter of A Night of Unholy Black Metal actually takes the listener back to the sort of atmosphere that was present at the beginning, with a handful of rehearsal tracks from 1992. Nocturno Culto has made no secret that this period of the band's existence holds special memories for him and has often cited Darkthrone's time as a three-piece as passing far too quickly. Back then, they were uninterested in playing live and even recording albums was less important than gathering and rehearsing the material, over and over, in what amounted to primitive Black Metal rituals. The sound quality is not the best, but it is not terribly inferior to the studio versions of these songs as heard on Under A Funeral Moon. The playing is very tight and one can tell that these guys knew the songs well, inside and out. The vocals are difficult to hear, at times, but this is remedied for the last two songs, as they are instrumentals. While not sounding as good as the band's third full-length, the same morbid atmosphere is definitely present.

A Night of Unholy Black Metal is certainly worth getting, if you ever run across it. While the tracks from the '91 gig are rather useless, the '96 Oslo show and the '92 rehearsal are rather meaningful pieces of Darkthrone's history and of the early Norwegian Black Metal scene, itself. Though this style and atmosphere is still seen as being very important to Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, they have long since moved on, making albums like this all the more valuable to those that have an appreciation for this music.
 
(6 Sept. 2012)

 
 

By the mid-90s, the members of Darkthrone appeared to be very much burned out on creating music. Fenriz, in particular, had been associated with a variety of projects and seemed worn out. After the disappointing release of Total Death, in 1996, it looked like Darkthrone was history. Yet, a couple years later, they reappeared. They also began doing a great number of interviews, which was quite rare for them. It was around this time that they decided to begin the process of killing off the mystique that had surrounded the band for so many years. Many were shocked as Fenriz even went so far as to display that he had a sense of humour in these interviews. It also appeared that, by this time, the band members were quite aware of the impact that they had on the Black Metal scene. One could speculate that this consciousness had some influence on their decision to alter the sound, to the extent that they did. While the previous album was extremely flawed and paled in comparison to the earlier ones, it was Ravishing Grimness that ushered in the second era of Darkthrone.

Released in March 1999, Ravishing Grimness was born into a musical world where Black Metal had seen some severe changes. The cookie-cutter symphonic bands, busy ripping off Emperor and Satyricon, were everywhere. Record labels, such as Metal Blade and Nuclear Blast, were signing them as quickly as they could in an effort to cash in on the new trend. It was a foul time for Black Metal purists. However, that isn't to say that the art form was totally dead; the real Black Metal bands were simply laying low. They were a little harder to find, for the most part, but they were still there. Darkthrone became the symbol of the old guard rearing its ugly head to show the world what real grim and nasty Black Metal was all about. It's quite unfortunate that the album was much more mediocre than expected.

"Lifeless" starts with some strange sound effect before the song really begins. Immediately, there is a problem. Nocturno Culto has stated, in later interviews, that he didn't approve of the slower drumming style that Fenriz utilized on some songs, as he meant for these to be a lot faster. One can easily imagine the main riff from this song fitting onto one of the older albums, if only Fenriz has sped up the drums. There was still room for the slower section, but he certainly ruined the earlier part by being lazy behind the kit. The sound effects that began the track occur again, only irritating the listener. The slower section does have an ugly and grim feeling. The title of the album is certainly dead on. However, one gets the feeling that it could have been better. Vocally, Nocturno Culto does a bloody good job of maintaining the dark and evil feeling he is known for, being one of the highlights of the record. Again, near the end, the drums kill the feeling of the song. It does speed up, but not in the manner that one might expect Nocturno Culto had in mind when he sent Fenriz these riffs. Had the opening and closing moments of the song featured a faster beat, reminiscent of "Natassja in Eternal Sleep" or "Transilvanian Hunger", it would have sounded more natural and been more pleasing to the ear.

The next song is "The Beast", which takes a completely different approach and takes a sharp left turn with regard to atmosphere. In fact, there really is none. This is pure Hellhammer worship, which clearly marks it as one of Fenriz's songs. The concept of each member bringing songs to the table and neither being able to veto the inclusion of certain material seems to fail, here, as this really does not fit in with the rest and would be better suited for a Motörhead record than for Darkthrone. The song isn't horrible, just that it does not fit the overall mood of this album. Still, one has to respect the band for keeping true to its old school roots, rather than following the trends that were popular at the time. Later in the song, there is a bit of Celtic Frost influence, but not done quite as well as in the past, on songs like "In the Shadow of the Horns" and "The Hordes of Nebulah".

"The Claws of Time" is another strong example of Fenriz ruining the song with his lazy drumming approach. For whatever reason, there was a disconnect between the two members, as Nocturno Culto has made it obvious that it was only after this album that he began to insist on certain drumming speeds for the riffs he created. At this point, they weren't even rehearsing together, so it's no surprise that some things fell victim to miscommunication. The main riff is incredibly mournful and the best of the entire album, but it lacks any punch since Fenriz is asleep behind the drum kit. This riff would not be out of place on Transilvanian Hunger or Panzerfaust, had not Mr. Nagell been trying out different things. As it is, the song isn't bad; the problem is that one can tell that it had the potential to be much better. This is only made worse by Nocturno Culto's later admission. The song does drag on, having a few less impressive riffs tossed in as well. Despite its drawbacks, this is one of the better tunes on the album and does well to convey a dark and miserable atmosphere.

Next up is "Across the Vacuum", which starts out with a riff that one might attribute to Fenriz, but it seems Nocturno Culto had also given a few extra listens to Apocalyptic Raids, prior to writing this material, allowing it to seep into the songwriting a bit. However, this is actually a rather dynamic track, with a lot of variation in the riffs. Some of the guitar melodies are really good, actually, though the cleaner production works against them, somewhat. Fenriz almost foreshadows the Bathory influence that appears later in the song with the more primitive drumming utilized, here. In fact, there are a couple different riffs that hearken back to the classic days of Bathory, with the faster part truly taking the listener back to 1985 and reliving the glory of The Return...

"Ravishing Grimness" is the best song on the album, by far. Again, it opens with a fast tremolo riff that would have been better accentuated with a different drum beat, but it actually transitions into the next riff better this way. Though one could argue that the next riff would also have benefited from a faster drum beat, but it all works out a lot better on this song and is sort of reminiscent of early Burzum with its more simplistic approach. Once one gives up the hope that they will revert to the formula used on Transilvanian Hunger, this is quite enjoyable. The tremolo melodies are very memorable, Nocturno Culto's vocals are just right and the whole track is very cohesive. About half-way through, it slows down and one gets the feeling of being dragged into the endless graveyard. The funeral bell chimes in the distance, adding to the morbid atmosphere. Corpses rise from their graves, tearing at your limbs as the moon casts its pale light down on this grim spectacle. This is followed by another Bathory-inspired riff, maintaining the gloomy feeling. The pace then speeds back up, as the main riff returns. This one song is worth the price of the album, as it truly lives up to its title.

"For this I'll burn in Hell, for sure"

The album ends with "To the Death (Under the King)", which is a faster-paced song with a total old Bathory vibe. The drumming is a little awkward, at times, not fully matching the guitar riffs. The more primitive battery turns out to be much more suiting than some of the other choices. Nonetheless, this is one of the better songs on the album, though it would have worked better with more of a necro production. This song is also the only one to feature any Norwegian lyrics, albeit only one line. Finally, near the end of the track, the drumming picks up and they end on a riff that is more reminiscent of Under A Funeral Moon or Transilvanian Hunger.

"What if death can't set me free"

Ravishing Grimness is not only the rebirth of Darkthrone, in a sense, it also represents a lengthy period of transition for the band. While Nocturno Culto was content to continue writing riffs that would have suited the earlier output of the band, Fenriz was determined to slow things down and drown this creativity with conflicting influences. This album is equal with Total Death, really. They both exhibit moments where they could have improved and given us something spectacular, only to come up short. Overall, the record possesses several nice riffs, but they're rarely realized to their full potential due to the ill-conceived percussion. With that said, the title track is very good and worth the trouble of seeking this out.
 
(18 Sept. 2009)

 
Plaguwielder (2001)
 

2001 was a dark period for real Black Metal. The trendy symphonic bands had claimed most of the attention from labels and fans alike and those bands that were attempting to keep true Black Metal alive were forced deeper underground. The truth of the matter is that most bands were trying to jump on the synth bandwagon and abandoning the core values of this music, while the few that did their best to keep the flame burning were doing a poor job. Nocturno Culto and Fenriz were in an odd position, by this point. They did not wish to join the masses, yet their own trademark sound had been stolen and the underground was being flooded with sub-par clones. Not quite ready to make a huge musical shift, and already reeling from the fact that the two previous records were not well-received, Darkthrone made a safe record that was not too similar to the early output yet contained no real signs of change or experimentation.

Plaguewielder is the ninth studio album from this Norwegian band and it is rather mediocre compared to most of their releases, though still being a few steps ahead of Total Death and Ravishing Grimness. Naturally, it does not compare with the "Unholy Trinity" of A Blaze In the Northern Sky, Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger. As a matter of fact, it isn't even up there with Panzerfaust, but it is the best of Darkthrone's mid-period and the last one to be recorded in this style before they began the major shift in sound.

The album begins with an intro that hearkens back to their first Black Metal record, soon followed by the type of sound that fans had come to expect from the band by then. The opening tremolo riff is accompanied by more of Fenriz's sloppy drumming, as seen on the previous album. Thankfully, he wakes up after a minute or so and the song sounds a bit more appropriate. The variation in the drumming adds a new dynamic, and may have been done for the sake of not sounding like the old stuff, but most would agree that the songs were clearly written to be faster. The same thing occurred on the last album, with Fenriz choosing drumming patterns that went against what Nocturno Culto had in mind for the songs. A slower section arrives, around the middle of the song, and doesn't do much to add to the atmosphere. While containing some of the better riffs on the album, "Weakling Avenger" is a little too long and needed the more primitive style of drumming that was present on the band's classic releases. It's not bad, but it could use improvement.

The next song is "Raining Murder", and it begins with another decent tremolo riff that is joined by some rather boring drum-work. After a minute, the drumming shifts and then compliments the guitar melodies a lot more. Unfortunately, there are some effects added to the song that only serve to create more noise and distract from the riffs. One cannot be certain, but it would really seem that, by this point, Nocturno Culto was doing his best to keep the band alive while Fenriz was rather apathetic and doing his best to create a feeling of mediocrity. He was clearly bored with the type of music that they had been making but wasn't ready to move forward yet. As the song progresses, there is a mid-paced section that actually fits in in rather well. As it nears its conclusion, the pace slows down even more, giving a feeling of dreariness and doom.

"Sin Origin" shifts gears and goes right into Hellhammer-mode, which somewhat kills the flow of the album. For one reason or another, most bands fail to remain interesting when they aim to rip off Hellhammer / Celtic Frost. While they succeeded in doing this on Panzerfaust, it simply isn't as good this time around. With the two previous songs containing slower and mid-paced sections, the last thing that was needed at this juncture was another plodding tune. The track is excessively long as well, though the ending riffs create an uneasy feeling and are a worthy addition to the record.

This is followed by "Command", which is another mid-paced song. It definitely would have benefited from being preceded by a faster and shorter track. Despite this, it is actually one of the more impressive songs on the album. The slower riffs are dismal while the fast sections do well to create a sense of tension and this is one of the few times where the dynamic range of the songwriting is actually a positive thing. This is one of the most impassioned vocal performances of Nocturno Culto's career. Everything slows down in the middle, leading to a new riff that introduces incredibly fierce screams that are absolutely inhuman. The drumming that follows is a clear sign that the punk vibes were always present in Darkthrone's music, just not as overt as they would be in later years. The song is repetitive at times, and could be slightly shorter, but is the best track on the album.

"I, Voidhanger" opens with some odds riffs and odd timing. About halfway through, the pace picks up and resembles something more normal for a Darkthrone record. Like most of the other tracks, this one sounds over-analyzed and goes on a little longer than it should.

Plaguewielder ends with "Wreak", which clocks in over nine minutes in length. It starts out with a catchy riff that soon transitions to something faster. The shift is a little unnatural and one gets the sense that the riffs were kind of thrown-together. The production of this album is not as raw as most fans would have liked, and that may have contributed to the negative impression that it left on many listeners. Much like the cover artwork, the production is too organic and lively. A cold, minimalist approach would have really suited these songs much better, as well as removing some of the unnecessary parts. The final song really drags until the four-minute mark, when a brilliant tremolo riff finally breaks free from the stagnation and reminds one of the glory of Transilvanian Hunger. Has this track been stripped down and only the best riffs left, along with a production job more similar to the Necrohell sound of the past, this would have turned out much better. The song plods along for another couple of minutes before the mournful tremolo melody returns, accompanied by the correct style of drumming, which creates a sorrowful atmosphere and also imbues the listener with a sense of disappointment, seeing how great this could have been.

Darkthrone's mid-period was a sad thing to behold. Total Death was completely neutered by the dull production job and the random song arrangements. Ravishing Grimness was killed by more awful production and incoherent songwriting (with the two members working against one another, rather than together). Plaguewielder was lambasted from the beginning for the colourful cover art alone, but the music is not as awful as many would claim it is, though it does clearly show that the band had no clue what exactly they wanted to do. It would appear that Fenriz was ready to move on to something else, while Nocturno Culto wanted to keep some connection with their old style. The Hellhammer influence was a little too noticeable on this album (as with the one before), though one could almost sense some inspiration from Burzum and even their own earlier works. While there are a few really good riffs and a couple decent songs, this record could have been so much more. It would take the band several more years to work out their creative problems and finally make the transition to what they are doing now, but the path was a painful one.

This is not recommended for anyone new to the band; however, die-hard Darkthrone fans should give it a listen and judge for themselves. If possible, adjust the stereo with the bass all the way down and the treble on high and it will nearly sound like it came from Necrohell. This isn't a great album, but it contains some good riffs that are worth hearing and it is certainly more enjoyable than some of their other offerings from this era.

(12 Oct. 2006)

 
 

Hate Them is the tenth studio album from Darkthrone. Recorded and mixed at Pan lydstudio in 26 hours, during December 2002, it was released in March 2003 on Moonfog Records. This album marks the return to a more stripped-down sound, compared to Total Death, Ravishing Grimness or Plaguewielder, the latter being filled with several good ideas but being quite underrated due to the colorful artwork and the higher quality production. Hate Them can be seen as a bit of regression, back to a more raw and primitive sound. There was also a conscious effort to distance themselves from some of the criticisms received for the cover art of the previous album. All of their energy was well spent as they created the most raw and old school album since 1995's Panzerfaust. It's a shame that this wasn't released in 1996, as it seemed they simply went through the motions since then, with a few exceptions.

I was eagerly awaiting the release of this album, as I was still in an optimistic phase where I continually expected some bands to return to their previous glory. In this case, I wasn't too disappointed. I didn't get exactly what I wanted, but it was enjoyable in a different way. I picked this up, a few months later, at a record store in Stockholm. I'd already heard "Striving For A Piece of Lucifer", on my friend's rado program, so I was somewhat aware of what I was getting into. At that point, I was just satisfied to get another slab of ugly, primitive Black Metal from Darkthrone.

The album begins with a fairly useless intro, which doesn't really add anything to the song. "Rust" finally starts almost a minute in. From the first moments, a deadly cold atmosphere overtakes you. The dissonant open-arpeggio riffs create a desolate aura that is primitive and grim. As the drums kick in, the song moves along at a slow pace, with the raw guitars and rumbling bass providing the background for Nocturno Culto's hateful and misanthropic vocals. This feeling isn't very far from that present on Under A Funeral Moon, in a sense. As the song progresses, it gradually picks up speed and one can hear influences from the first Bathory album. A little past the half-way point, the trademark Darkthrone sound is unleashed, complete with tremolo riffs and pounding drums. Trash the worthless intro and alter the weak lyrics to match those of the old days, and this wouldn't have been too out of place on A Blaze in the Northern Sky. It's certainly one of the strongest songs on here, and a good way to start out the album.

"Det Svartner Nå" bears more of an up-beat tempo, returning to the Hellhammer / Celtic Frost style that they so often pay tribute to. It's not as bad here as on Ravishing Grimness, thanks to the more primitive production. The hideous sound and vicious vocal delivery really help and, somehow, the strong Rock vibe isn't so out of place. On the last couple of albums, this type of song would have stuck out a bit more, and not in a good way, but it seems to really fit in well and to add something to the overall feel of the record. The song ends with a riff that is completely reminiscent of Motörhead.

The next song is "Fucked Up and Ready To Die". It's the shortest track on the album, but definitely one of the most memorable. It begins with the fast-paced drums and tremolo riffs, sounding like a typical Darkthrone song. The atmosphere is much more gloomy than on the previous song. It utilizes a variety of tempos, going from fast to mid-paced and then slowing down even more with a bleak Doom riff, giving a morbid and hateful feeling. Things speed up again with a Punk / Metal approach, as the song reaches the end, and Nocturno Culto's vocals really convey a sense of hatred for life.

"Death just takes a moment
Suffering is forever"

"Ytterst I Livet" is one of two songs with a Norwegian title, though it's the only song to have absolutely no English lyrics at all. It's fairly mid-paced and uneventful. It speeds up, later on, but the song is still kind of average. Some of the transitions are a bit sudden. This, by no means, should be taken as an indication that it's bad; it's simply not one of the songs that jumps out at me. It's still a decent song, quite superior to most of what they'd release on subsequent albums.

This is followed by "Divided We Stand". At this point, it's probably evident that Fenriz has long since lost his ability to write the Satanic poetry of the past. His style is interesting, at times, but it can also be tiresome. Musically, the song features a nice tremolo riff, but with a complete Death Metal feeling, and has a little more energy than the previous song. The first minute is rather fast-paced (for this album), but it soon slows down. The tempo continues to alternate throughout, as this is quite a dynamic song. There are some interesting (almost mournful) melodies to be found here and, while it's not the greatest song on the record, it's very solid. The d-beat section at the end is quite memorable, as well. With Death, Black and Speed Metal riffs, mixed with a bit of Punk Rock, one can tell that the band was really loosening up at this stage of their career.

"Striving For A Piece of Lucifer" was the first song that I heard from this album, and it remains my favourite one. It erupts with a catchy riff, reminiscent of old Burzum, along with some double bass thundering underneath it. The riffing style is interesting and quite different from a lot of their earlier work. Either way, it's memorable and it works. It does contain more of a blackened rock feeling, at times, but it's ugly and primitive-sounding. One can really hear that Fenriz and Nocturno Culto seem to be more inspired and to have more energy on this album, compared to the previous few, as there is a certain liveliness that is present in the execution of these songs that was lacking for a few years. It really seems that the band had regressed, in some ways, as this is classic Black Metal that doesn't seem to have anything in common with whatever else was going in, this year.

"Some tombs will never be silent"

The album concludes with "In Honour of Thy Name", which starts out with something more akin to the classic sound of old. This is mixed in with the catchier, almost punk-like sections. I guess that's fitting, as this album was kind of the beginning of the more recent stage of their career. This is absolutely dripping with a primitive, old school atmosphere. There's also an old school Celtic Frost riff thrown in, for good measure. It serves to slow things down, briefly, and adds a darker feel to the track. The song speeds up again, before giving way to a pointless outro that is similar to the intro of the album. It's definitely got nothing on the intro/outro used on A Blaze in the Northern Sky, or even the intro from Plaguewielder, for that matter.

"Join the dead"

Hate Them isn't a return to the classic era of Darkthrone, yet it hearkens back to those days in its own way, going for an uglier and more primitive sound. This record actually marks the beginning of the band's modern phase, though many think that came later with The Cult Is Alive. It is here where they showed a sharp change in attitude, no longer giving a damn what anyone thought of them and just playing what they felt. While two of the songs are rather mediocre, the rest are actually pretty good so long as you're not expecting to hear the second coming of Transilvanian Hunger. If you open your mind and accept it for what it is (a bloody solid, old school-sounding record) then you'll certainly get your money's worth.
 
(22 Sept. 2009)

 
 

I remember that it was a cold autumn day in November, when I went into Sound Pollution (in Gamla Stan) and checked out the new Darkthrone album. It had come out a couple months earlier, but I had not bothered to listen yet, despite looking forward to it. I had some reservations, assuming that I might be let down. For some reason, I was still hoping for more of a regression to the classics of old, though I finally gave up on such a notion, around this time. Sardonic Wrath was their final release for Moonfog Productions, which pleased many fans. It follows pretty closely to the sound and style found on Hate Them, though not as successfully. This would mark the last time that I anticipated a Darkthrone album in such a manner. However, it's not as if I'd invested too much in it, since I didn't even pay for it; rather, I traded a CD player to my friend working the register. Released in September 2004, Sardonic Wrath truly belongs to the middle/transition period of Darkthrone.

After a worthless intro, "Information Wants To Be Syndicated" starts the album out, properly. It blasts forth at hyperspeed, with a very nasty and primitive sound. On the surface, it appears to deliver everything that fans claim to want out of this band. Yet, somehow, it's not enough. The bass is too loud, the riff is mediocre and the whole thing seems a bit sloppy and below-average for Darkthrone. Things come together a bit, later in the song, as it slows down. Still, it doesn't seem strong enough to lead off the album.

"Sjakk Matt Jesu Krist" is next, with the obligatory Hellhammer worship. There's not much to say about this song; it's fast, without really being fast, and has kind of an upbeat feeling. This is the kind of stuff that might be alright for background music, but it doesn't hold up under close scrutiny. In other words, it fails to impress.

The next song is a good example of a problem that has gotten worse over time: Fenriz's lyrics. "Straightening Sharks in Heaven" is an awful song title, for any type of Metal. For Black Metal, it's beyond ridiculous. But it's not just the poor song titles; Fenriz seemed to lose whatever skill he had for writing lyrics long ago. Actually, his creative bankruptcy should have been obvious when they got others to write the lyrics for Total Death. After that, he changed his style and wasn't too terrible, but on Hate Them and Sardonic Wrath, it began to cross the line. It would only get worse with time. As for the music, this song is one of the better ones. However, that's not saying much. There are several interesting riffs, though they don't seem to be constructed as well as they could have been. The ending has a nice, morbid feeling, which leaves you with a good impression.

"Alle Gegen Alle" is more filler. It's simply there, adding nothing to the album. It's not bad, but it's not good either. It's weak, plodding and easily forgettable. At least "Man Tenker Sitt" has the usual Celtic Frost feeling to get your head banging, or to get you drumming on the nearest surface. It seems poised to become more interesting as it goes along, but never quite makes it. Either way, it looks pretty good compared to its boring predecessor.

The next song is one of the more interesting ones on here, though it seems really out of place. "Sacrificing to the God of Doubt" is another song with an upbeat feeling, in the early moments, being quite catchy. After a minute or so, the pace slows down and the feeling is completely morbid and suitable for a Darkthrone album. This cold riff is one of the best of the album. The song is very memorable and would have been more fitting to start out the album, despite the strange feeling of the opening/closing riff.

"Hate is the Law" sounds very similar to "Inn I de Dype Skogers Favn", being fast-paced and creating a trance-like effect. Nocturno Culto sounds consumed with hatred at this point. One might expect this to be a sae track, until the Punk-sounding part. In retrospect, this was probably the band stretching their boundaries again, before really going all out. In the end, it's another average song. I could take it or leave it.

Finally, the album ends with "Rawness Obsolete". I have a theory that this song was added after the initial recording session, probably due to the brevity of the album. For one, the lyrics are absent from the booklet (in a similar case to "Hans Siste Vinter", from Panzerfaust), as well as the fact that the sound is a little different from the rest of the record. It seems a bit more organic and the bass is more distorted. This track is very reminiscent of "The Dance of Eternal Shadows", from Under A Funeral Moon. It has the same morbid, funereal atmosphere. This one song is the best one on the whole album, in my opinion, and it's the primary reason I've kept this one as part of my collection.

Overall, this was a disappointing release. There should be more than two and a half songs to hold my interest. Honestly, even those pale in comparison to even the weakest songs from earlier albums. Sardonic Wrath marked the point where I stopped caring what this band did. In a way, that was a good thing. They managed to win me back with Dark Thrones and Black Flags, but it took quite a while. As for this, it's not very good and is only recommended to fans who wish to complete their collection.
 
(4 October 2009)

 
 

The Cult Is Alive is an important album for Darkthrone, as this marks the point where the truly stopped giving a damn what anyone thought, whatsoever... even their strongest fans. While Sardonic Wrath was extremely mediocre and continued the new direction that began on Hate Them, this one seemed to more fully embrace this new Punk attitude. Released in February 2006, this ushered in an era of disappointment for many Darkthrone followers.

The sound is still primitive and lo-fi, even overly simplistic in a lot of ways. It's quite underproduced, keeping with the traditional sound that the band is known for. There are a few decent riffs, littered throughout the album. There are even a couple nice solos. However, it's difficult to really enjoy much of this as there are far too many distractions. Nocturno Culto's vocals sound as if it's not even him, at all. In place of his trademark rasp is something almost laughable at times. He seems to be drawing a lot of inspiration from Tom Warrior, which is ridiculous as this is a complete drop in quality. With that said, it's not all bad, but too much of it is that it leaves a bad impression.

Regarding the lyrics, what can be said? Fenriz really lost it, years earlier. He managed to change his style and still keep within the realm of adequacy, for a few albums; however, the terrible shift toward outright parody that began on Hate Them has come to fruition on this album. The lyrics are so bloody bad that you want to reach into the speakers and strangle Fenriz for writing such trash. It's bad enough that the music is so uninspired, but this only adds to the problem.

The Cult Is Alive is not a terrible album. It's just not what you want to hear from Darkthrone... at all. It's fine for tossing in if you want some half-decent background music and you happen to appreciate old school Metal and even some Punk. Nonetheless, chances are, you'll only stop and pay attention to the music for the occasional good riff or solo. It's not something to sit and really focus on. Really, you can't pay too close attention to it, since the lyrics are so stupid that you'll want to take the CD out and destroy it with a hammer. At least the band never sold out and began making over-produced pseudo-Black Metal, in some attempt to get music videos on television and so on. And, to think about it, they almost had to reinvent themselves if they wanted to remain 'unique' or to stand out from the rest. Had they continued putting out solid Black Metal albums, with the thousands of clone bands out there, they would take the chance of getting lost in the shuffle. At least, this way, they remained relevant, in some manner. Even if it's someone like me speaking poorly of them, they still managed to maintain a bit of notoriety, albeit negative. As the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity.

At any rate, despite the few good riffs, this is about as low as it gets, when it comes to Darkthrone. The only reason I'd recommend buying this is if you're wanting to complete the bonfire that includes Total Death, Ravishing Grimness, Sardonic Wrath, etc. There are worse albums out there, but that's no reason to waste your time on this.
 
(17 Oct. 2009)

 
 

F.O.A.D. is the 13th studio release from Norway's Darkthrone. It is their second album since returning to Peaceville and it continues along the same lines as the previous album, sometimes feeling more Punk than Metal. The members of Darkthrone have always been successful at reinventing themselves in order to remain relevant, to some extent. Again, for the thousands (or millions) that wanted yet another Transilvanian Hunger, they were disappointed for the ninth time. This record fully solidified the direction that had begun with Hate Them. One could say that The Cult Is Alive did this, but some may have still thought it a fluke. But this was the album that made it very clear that Darkthrone had no intention of regressing to their previous sound, nor of giving one damn what anyone thought of them. On the one hand, that's admirable. It's good to see a band doing what they believe in and not catering to anyone's expectations. On the other hand, they seem to spit in the face of the fans that prefer their earlier albums, sometimes to the point of speaking in a derogatory manner about those albums. Fenriz is more guilty of this than Nocturno Culto, as the latter usually speaks fondly of the early days. At any rate, in late September 2007, this album was released and, as expected, continued to keep the band surrounded by controversy.

The first samples of what would be found on this album came in the form of the NWOBHM E.P. I listened to this, in the summer of 2007, and was put off, quite a bit. It didn't make me eager for a new Darkthrone album; however, it did make me want to go listen to some old school Metal, such as Angel Witch and Exciter. I guess this is similar to the earlier albums helping with the sales of old Bathory and Celtic Frost records (so they claim). Anyway, it took me quite a while to, finally, give this album a full listen. What I found was something that both intrigued and disgusted me.

Production-wise, it's got the same primitive and under-produced sound as on the previous record. It sounds filthy, raw and old school. These are all very good qualities. As someone who gave up on them ever going back to their earlier style, all I can really ask for from Darkthrone is something ugly and cold. Despite the Punk influences, they still deliver in this regard. Vocally, Nocturno Culto isn't exactly at the top of his game, but I've heard worse. In any event, he's the more consistent of the two. As for Fenriz's vocal contributions... well, his are the type that have to grow on you. The main problem with the vocals of both members has to do with the awful lyrics. Surely, many good points are made throughout, but this is not how one writes lyrics for a Metal album. Fenriz really lost it, and looks as if he's not even trying anymore.

On the bright side, the album possesses many good riffs. The main riff from "These Shores Are Damned" is actually very good, while also being memorable. It's kind of a mixture of Black Metal, Thrash and Punk, with some emphasis on the Black Metal feeling. Call it what you want, but the atmosphere is still dreary and autumnal. The song manages to get better as it goes along. That seems to be the case with several of these.

"Canadian Metal" pays homage to bands such as Sacrifice, Slaughter and the mighty Razor. Sadly, the music lacks the kind of energy and force that those bands were known for. Thankfully, a decent tremolo riff shakes things up, mid-way through. There seems to be a formula for the songs, as they unleash their most memorable moments during the latter half.

"The Church of Real Metal" has a ridiculous title, but the riffs aren't too bad. Again, they get more memorable as they go along. As a fan of old Darkthrone, there's not a massive amount that I find worth my time, here. However, as someone that has an appreciation for tons of 80s Metal (having grown up with it), as well as some Punk bands like GBH, this approach has a way of growing on me. The last couple riffs really leave a good impression.

The first thing I think of as soon as "The Banners of Old" begins is Black Sabbath. The mid-paced riff gives way to a tremolo riff, which serves as a transition to a somber riff that haunts your mind. Say what you will about the goofy lyrics, the terrible song titles and the sub-par vocals; these two have a way with the old school riffs.

The title track really gives that Punk feeling (at least, to the ears of someone not terribly educated on the subject). It has, probably, the worst vocals of the album, up to this point. They're done in a really cheey manner, which would make you want to skip to the next track; however, there's a trademark Darkthrone riff that pops up and keeps you listening, at least for a bit longer. It's a shame that they don't try a little harder to maintain some serious feeling, but perhaps that is part of what they're attempting to get away from with these later records.

"Splitkein Fever" starts out with a healthy pace, though not being very fast. The riffs have a dismal feeling, though the lyrics are weak as hell, for the most part. I get the point being made, but it seems that there was no effort put toward approaching this in a creative manner. Again, the riffs get better as the song goes on. If you can get past the vocals, it's not half bad. That really sums up the whole album, in a sense.

"My world is cold and white"

The next song really takes the feeling, that this album is a jam session, to the next level. More good points are made, lyrically, but it's absolutely not subject matter for Metal lyrics. The vocal approach is bloody awful as well, making this very hard to get into. To make matters worse, the music isn't even worth suffering through the rest. There is a cool solo, near the end, so my advice would be to just skip the first couple minutes of the song and go for that. Otherwise, this one's pointless and laughable.

"Pervertor of the 7 Gates" opens with a pretty good doom riff, which wouldn't be out of place on a Sabbath record. As the song progresses, the riff changes to something more in line with Celtic Frost, though it's hard to tell as it's a bit low in the mix, during the first verse. The volume seems to level out, afterward. There's a half-decent solo, later on, but nothing too important going on here.

The final song is "Wisdom of the Dead", which starts out with a great tremolo riff that is accompanied by sloppy drumming. The song is rather repetitive, but solid. It possesses fewer faults than most of the other songs, so it earns a few points for that. The primary riff sounds very much like something that could have been found on an earlier Darkthrone album, so it's good to see that they've retained some elements of their previous sound.

All in all, this is an album for either completists or those simply more into 80s Metal than modern stuff. It's got a ton of problems, mostly regarding the vocals and lyrics. If you can get past all of that, there are some good riffs waiting to be found. However, one has to question whether or not it's worth the effort considering that there are better albums out there.
 
(20 Oct. 2009)

 
 

Dark Thrones and Black Flags in the 14th studio album from Darkthrone, released by Peaceville in October 2008. This album not only follows in the style of the last couple albums; it perfects it. The journey was long, filled with many twists and turns, but with this record the band has come full circle, in a way. It was recorded and produced, by the band themselves, in their own Necrohell II studio. For the first time, it seems that Nocturno Culto and Fenriz shared equally in the songwriting, as well as the lyrics. The result is the best album these two have put out in years, as well as less emphasis on the ridiculous lyrics of Herr Nagell, from recent years.

I, officially, gave up on the band after Sardonic Wrath. It left me feeling very disappointed, with much less than even 50% of the material holding my interest. The Cult Is Alive only added to this, as I was displeased with the path they were traveling. I didn't pay much attention to F.O.A.D., at the time, giving it only a brief listen before dismissing it as yet another useless album. When I decided to check out this album, my expectations were low. However, from the first moments, I was hooked. As usual, with these later Darkthrone records, there are some things that one must get used to; however, Dark Thrones and Black Flags is overflowing with incredible riffs and that is what is most important. It's just one album, but it was enough to rekindle my interest in the band.

"The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker" starts out with a somber tremolo riff that hearkens back to the band's classic era. It's very haunting and possesses a dark feeling. As the song gets going, it has kind of a Punk feeling, though it all flows really well. The song title seemed odd, at first, as well as the clean vocals during the chorus. Actually, I thought it was pretty awful until I realized that is was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. This is definitely the kind of thing that grows on you. Now, I couldn't imagine it any other way.

This is followed by "Death of All Oaths (Oath Minus)", which begins with a nasty and dark sounding thrash riff. If you're not headbanging to this, you've got a problem. This has a great old school feeling, and the raw production adds quite a bit to this. Again, Nocturno Culto isn't utilizing much of his old sound, but these riffs absolutely demand that you ignore such things. Near the middle, there's a slow doom riff that sounds as if would have fit on Soulside Journey or Goatlord, easily. That's one of the great things about this album; it is like a mixture of all the various styles the band has used. Here, everything is tied together and it works, exceptionally well.

"Hiking Metal Punks" is next, and it goes back to the less serious sound. It also features horrid vocals that make you cringe on the first listen, while making you sing along by the third. The first part of the song is okay, but nothing terrible fascinating. By the middle, there is a howling that is followed by some incredible old school riffing and a killer solo. This is certainly worth waiting through the first half of the song. Like on the last album, things seem to just get better as they go along.

The next song is "Blacksmith of the North (Keep That Ancient Fire)". It starts with some eerie effect, before going into a wicked-sounding riff. This track brings things back down, into a darker place. The solo is haunting and adds to the sinister atmosphere of this song. The song is rather dynamic, featuring some variation in the pacing.

"Norway in September" is one of the real highlights of this record. This one possesses a feeling of dread and has Nocturno Culto's name written all over it. As opposed to the last few albums, this one seems to be much more consistent with the dark feeling. The cold tremolo riffs weave throughout your mind, painting grim visions. After a couple minutes, things slow down and the guitar seems to be wailing in agony, as the season of dying is upon us yet again. Another tremolo riff comes in, this one having an otherworldly tone, creating a creepy effect. The song then transitions to another riff, bring things from those abysmal depths, just enough so that you can survive until the next assault.

"Those cold nights are back again
Norway morning greet my daily toil
That old familiar smell
Fallen leaves return to our soil"

An ominous sound introduces "Grizzly Trade". This slower riff soon gives way to a faster one, with a catchy Punk beat underneath. It then shifts back to the slower sound, during the latter half. The dark atmosphere is maintained, though there doesn't seem to be much about this song that stands out, on its own. Still, as a part of the whole, it serves its purpose.

"Hanging Out In Haiger" features more pointless lyrics, but the overall feel is somewhat light-hearted and paying homage to the older Metal bands. Strangely, this makes me want to go listen to some Exciter or something, though it doesn't sound like hat band, at all. The cleaner vocals are terrible at first, but it's strange how quickly you'll find yourself getting used to it. The real brilliance of this song doesn't come until the second half, where you get a killer NWOBHM riff.

The title track is actually an instrumental, consisting of some very good doom riffs that hearken back to Black Sabbath, while an additional melody adds an eerie atmosphere. The song is fairly short and basic, keeping the same riff until fading out.

"Launchpad To Nothingness" starts out with a semi-thrash riff that alternates with a sorrowful tremolo melody. Strangely, this song kind combines various elements to create something rather complex, by this band's standards. In some interviews, Fenriz has mentioned that the earlier albums came together very quickly while the songs on the last few have taken up to two months to get just right. It's easy to see why, as they're far more dynamic that the classic releases.

The album ends with "Witch Ghetto". This one loses the dark feeling that dominates the majority of the album in favor of a sound that is less serious and more Hellhammer-oriented, in a way. The song seems a little boring, until the 2:30 mark where the pace shifts and the riffs get far more interesting. It ends on a strong note, leaving a good impression on the listener.

Dark Thrones and Black Flags may not appeal to everyone, but as a fan of the earlier albums I can say that this is the strongest release since Plaguewielder (which was criminally underrated, in my view). They've taken pieces and parts of their various phases and put them together to create something new yet old; dynamic and yet primitive and old school. This probably won't appeal to those who only appreciate the Unholy Trinity, but it is tailor-made for old school maniacs that like raw and ugly Metal. This is easily the strongest album from this era of Darkthrone's career.
 
(21 Oct. 2009)

 
 

In early 2010, news came that Darkthrone would soon release their 15th studio album. In recent months, fellow Norwegian bands such as Gorgoroth and Immortal had released decent albums, and most in the Black Metal scene were eagerly anticipating the new Burzum record, as well. Coming on the heels of Belus, Circle the Wagons was already at somewhat of a disadvantage. However, it was also very off-putting right out of the gate.

Over time, many people had grown to accept Darkthrone's musical direction, whether they liked it or not. Personally, I slowly warmed up to the later albums and began to appreciate what they were doing. After Dark Thrones and Black Flags, I was really looking forward to the follow-up album. Yet when I first saw the album cover and some of the song titles, I was scratching my head and wondering what the hell had gotten into Nocturno Culto and Fenriz. Why would a Norwegian Black Metal band utilize Native American imagery? It has nothing to do with Metal, of any kind, and is certainly beyond the realm of what one would expect from a Scandinavian band. It may seem petty, but this alone made me a little reluctant to give the album a chance.

Eventually, I forced myself to listen to it and see what it had to offer. Strangely, as with some of the band's recent output, it was a little difficult to listen to. It has nothing to do with the quality of the music, since they have really put a lot of effort into these releases. However, they do such a good job of hearkening back to the old days that, after one of two spins, I'm overcome by the urge to go listen to old school records instead. In a sense, this seems to have been one of the intentions behind all of their records. In early interviews, they would claim that they needed to make a certain record just to get people to go back and give their attention to the old Bathory and Hellhammer / Celtic Frost albums. The difference now is that their inspirations are much more varied, at this point. On the video that accompanied the limited edition, they made clear which albums were essential to the recording of Circle the Wagons, including records from Agent Steel, English Dogs, Nuclear Assault, Puke and Motörhead. The thing is that it's not always as overt as what they had done in the past, and a lot of the influences are worked in more subtly.

Right from the beginning of "Those Treasures Will Never Befall You", it is evident that the band has picked up right where they left off with the previous album. The music is raw and energetic, with a really organic sound. Recorded at Necrohell II, this is the total opposite of what most bands are going for, these days. The production is rough, yet very natural. It's more reminiscent of releases from the early-to-mid 80s or even some 70s albums. While being filthy in a sense, it's still clear enough to hear what's going on and to appreciate the effort that has gone into the songwriting and the overall arrangement. The one element that will probably be most shocking is the use of clean vocals on the chorus. It takes you by surprise at first, but it manages to hook you after one or two listens.

"Running For Borders" starts out with a rather gloomy feeling and I would guess it to be another Nocturno Culto song, just based on the overall atmosphere. Whereas the previous song was more upbeat, this one is darker and is almost uncomfortable in a way. Not so much the main riffs, but all of the subtle things that are added. The solo is well done and it's very good to hear more of this, since the 90s seemed to usher in an age of rebellion against guitar solos, in a lot of areas.

"I Am the Graves of the 80s" picks things up with more of a Motörhead/punk vibe, and seems obviously like one of Fenriz's contributions. Naturally, the drumming is much more dynamic than on some of their classic albums, but they still serve the same purpose, never becoming the center of attention like in so much of modern metal. The drum beats include some punk rock patterns that have been noticeable on recent records. Of course, this leads to people dismissing these albums as Black/Punk or something, which is absolutely ridiculous. It's Metal, through and through, and the riffs support that, all the way. There are some punk influences blended in, but this is something that has long been associated with Metal. Just listen to the first Bathory record and then notice the similarities to Punk bands like GHB, for example. Looking to the middle of this song, the epic guitar riffs begin to bleed through and that is really the key feature of modern Darkthrone. They have absolutely mastered the art of creating riffs that are drenched in the old school feeling and that is something that is sorely lacking, these days.

The next song reeks of Nocturno Culto's songwriting, possessing a darker feeling. "Stylized Corpse" is the longest song on the album and begins with some epic and black riffs. The lyrics, as with most of the recent Darkthrone albums, are sometimes ridiculous and unable to really hold up to the early records, but the feeling and meaning are what counts, in this case. Similarly, the vocals aren't up to the same quality as on the Unholy Trinity, but both members do their best to suit the music. The vocals may sound strange to those that haven't followed the band's development, but they've basically regressed to a more uncontrolled Death/Thrash sound that adds to the raw and dirty feeling. The real issue is that the vocals are much more dynamic than in the past, and both Nocturno Culto and Fenriz show quite a bit of range and use that to their benefit. A more straight-forward approach might limit the music and make the songs more one-dimensional. As with several of the other tracks, this one finishes with a great solo and a classic ending.

"Circle the Wagons" is a rather short song, more upbeat and features a lot of clean vocals. Again, this is a little difficult to stomach on the first listen, but it manages to stick in your brain and grows on you after a while. It is one of those cases where the singing is just so awful it is appealing, in a way. There's a decent tremolo riff near the end of the song that could have made for a nice stand-alone track, itself, if they'd built around it. Nonetheless, this isn't a bad song.

The next song is "Black Mountain Totem" and you can hear some of Nocturno Culto's darker riffs returning to oppress the spirit of the listener. It's really strange how something so subtle could have such an effect, but that is the case. There's a great riff, a couple minutes in, that has an epic quality and there's also something filthy and grimy about it. Near the end, the pace changes and new riffs are introduced. The feeling is somewhat ruined by the fact that part of the solo sounds like an old Aldo Nova song, and this really kills the momentum that the song had built up. So, while it should have been an epic ending, it really just annoyed the hell out of me.

The song that follows is rather depressing, just based on the subject matter and the fact that the world economy has been so completely dismal in the last few years. It's not a bad song, but I've found myself strangely unable to listen to it.

"Eyes Burst At Dawn" was the first song that I heard from this album, and it's rather upbeat while having more subtle touches of melancholy in some of the riffs. While it isn't the best song on the album, it was a good one to use for giving people a taste of what was to come, as it sort of embodies the depressing and mediocre feeling that runs throughout the whole record. The best part of the song is the solo that comes near the end, and the strange and otherworldly tone that is achieved.

The final song is "Bränn Inte Slottet" and it begins with an odd chanting of the song title, accompanied only by drums. Slowly, this is joined by bass and then guitar, creating kind of a dark feeling. As the track progresses, some epic melodies are weaved into the sound, building up to the most absolutely depressing part of the whole album, around the three-minute mark. The oppressive feeling that this riff creates is like that of not being able to breathe or to feel your heart beating. It's the sound that one would expect to hear as life is winding down and death is taking hold... a painful death, solitary and utterly horrifying.

In the end, Circle the Wagons is a rather disappointing affair. It isn't a bad record, but it doesn't live up to the expectations that I had from Dark Thrones and Black Flags. Stylistically, it's quite similar in containing about 40 minutes of Blackened Speed Metal, with a wide range of old school influences showing through. However, none of the songs really reach the quality of many of those that were present on its predecessor. The first few songs are decent enough, but then it loses steam and never regains it. And while a dark atmosphere is always appreciated, there's something about several of the riffs on here that seem overly depressing, in such a way that they go against the feeling of the rest of the album. Perhaps, it will grow on me over time, but it definitely seems like a step down from the last record.
 
(19 Jan. 2011)

 
 

Since the release of The Cult Is Alive, each new effort from Darkthrone has been greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and caution. One is never fully sure what Nocturno Culto and Fenriz might have up their sleeves, given their total willingness to take chances and to give a middle finger to their critics. That is not to say that their albums have become random or nonsensical, for this is not the case. Each one picks up from its predecessor in a rather logical way, yet still there are odd surprises to be found. After Circle the Wagons, the band took a bit of a break, making this the longest that fans have had to wait for a proper full-length since the time period between Total Death and Ravishing Grimness. So, once news came of its impending release in February 2013, many were eagerly looking forward to the emergence of The Underground Resistance. The title is obviously a nod to all of those keeping the old school spirit alive in this modern age of filth and disgust, and the music follows suit.

From the opening moments of "Dead Early", one is bathed in dirty, '80s-inspired riffs that possess the same sort of nasty edge that was found on Dark Thrones and Black Flags. This tune is rather fast-paced and energetic, while also being quite dynamic. The songwriting features a mixture of Thrash and Speed Metal, along with the d-beat drumming, joined by Nocturno Culto's old school vocal approach. This style took some getting used to, years ago, but the truth is that his approach almost had to regress just as the music did for it all to flow well together. Late in the song, there is a section where the main riff stands alone for a few moments, sort of reminiscent of "The Death of All Oaths". This is a good song to open the album, doing a good job of setting the tone and letting you know what to expect.

Of course, "Valkyrie" shatters those expectations, throughout its intro. The acoustic guitar and slow Doom riff sound like something from a Viking-era Bathory album. It is also here that one notices that the production is a little cleaner and thicker than on the previous album. This mournful dirge leads into the most shocking part of the record, a full-on Speed Metal song with Fenriz utilizing clean vocals throughout its entirety. As with some of his other forays into melodic singing on recent Darkthrone albums, this is incredibly awkward and off-putting upon first listen. And yet, somehow, it is so catchy and memorable that one cannot help but warm up to it. Say what you will about his voice, but he certainly sounds impassioned and genuine and manages to fit to the music more than adequately. There's somewhat of a sombre feeling to this track, not just during the slower sections, but in Fenriz's voice itself. The haunting melody at the end of the song really emphasizes this dark sentiment.

"Lesser Men" has the unenviable task of following up its epic predecessor, but the foreboding riffs conjure up an evil and primitive feeling from the beginning. There is a noticeable Celtic Frost influence to some of the riffs, with nice solos from Nocturno Culto. Even though they have moved on from pure Black Metal, his riffs still maintain a sort of darkness that most bands trying this style are simply incapable of matching. That is often the difference between bands that were there when this type of music was in its heyday and those that came along long after, just trying to recreate the sound without a full understanding of it. Clearly, Darkthrone's old school roots enable them to better tap into that primordial evil.

Next is "The Ones You Left Behind", which is another song penned by Fenriz and features a mixture of clean and harsh vocals. The overall atmosphere is less dark than on Nocturno Culto's songs, with the d-beat drumming, less serious vocal approach and the more light-hearted guitar melodies. This one is rather simplistic and straightforward, but enjoyable nonetheless.

"Come Warfare, the Entire Doom" immediately takes you to a darker place, with the slow Doom riffs and wailing lead guitar screaming out from the shadows. As the song moves forward, the pace picks up a bit, but never really becomes fast, until very late. The riffs have sort of a sombre tone and Nocturno Culto's voice has a grim snarl that seems more and more disgusted with this world, taking on a rather morbid feeling at certain points. There are brief tremolo passages that lead to more solos, which makes one wonder what could have been if the band had embraced the use of solos years earlier. This song is rather lengthy, clocking in around eight and a half minutes, though it could have been shortened a bit.

The album ends with "Leave No Cross Unturned", another Fenriz track that extends past the thirteen-minute mark. The riffing is far more intense and dark than on his other two songs, making this one fit in with Nocturno Culto's tracks a little better. This was the first song that many of us heard from this record and it is still quite a lot to digest. The clean vocals and lead solos are memorable and the riffs are drenched in mid-'80s Thrash glory, mixed in with some of the prerequisite Celtic Frost influence. This includes some eerie moaning in the distance, giving somewhat of a ghoulish feeling. It is almost humourous to think of the fact that Darkthrone has written more songs with this typical Tom Warrior style of guitar playing than Mr. Warrior himself. No matter how much the band changes, their number-one inspiration remains ever-present in their songwriting. One of the chief complaints regarding this track is that its content does not warrant such a lengthy running time. This criticism is somewhat justified, as despite the good riffs and solos, this could have easily been cut down by a minimum of five minutes. The Morbid Tales worship in the middle becomes slightly monotonous after a while. Once things pick back up, Fenriz gets a little more wild in his vocal delivery, including some unexpected shrieks. The song then ends with another mid-paced riff and lead section that sounds somehow familiar, though I can't place it.

So, in the end, The Underground Resistance fully lives up to its name. This record is dominated by a pure, old school feeling throughout and sounds like something that could have been released in the mid-'80s. Like the last album, this one may take a little time to grow on some listeners. My immediate impression is that this fails to fully live up to the quality that I hoped for, since the release of Dark Thrones and Black Flags, but it seems to be a step up from Circle the Wagons. Everything is very solid and the riffs are all good, but the one weakness is that there are hardly any of the truly great riffs that characterized their '06-'08 output. After such a long layoff, one would have imagined something a little more monumental regarding the actual content rather than song length. Either way, Nocturno Culto and Fenriz are still doing their part to contribute to the struggle for maintaining the old school, pure Metal feeling as they wage war against the trendy, plastic drones of modernity. Hopefully, more aspiring musicians look to them for direction rather than the legions of the false path.
 
(18 Mar. 2013)

 
 

Though I'd intended to ignore the latest release from Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, several have requested my thoughts on this record, so I'll take a stab at it. In general, I'm not one to advocate remaining loyal to a band once they no longer make quality music. However, in the case of Darkthrone, I've been far more lenient and tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. For my personal taste, they've made some of the best Black Metal albums in existence, but those days are long past.

The disappointment began with 2004's Sardonic Wrath, which I found to be mostly dull and quite a drop from its predecessor. Then came the polarizing The Cult is Alive in 2006, at which point I fully gave up on the band for a while. Their new direction grew on me, with F.O.A.D. and Dark Thrones and Black Flags (my personal favourite of this period). I thought that Circle the Wagons was rather weak by comparison. That was followed by The Underground Resistance, which seemed like an improvement at first. The problem is that, other than "Valkyrie" (which is the least Darkthrone-ish of all the songs on that record), I haven't felt compelled to listen to it since the night I wrote my review for it, back in March 2013, which was only the second time I'd listened to it. With regards to that album, my first impression was that of mild disappointment. Perhaps it was out of some sort of loyalty that I tried to find something positive to say about it anyway. Or it could be that it was a fine album, but just nothing worth going back to.

However, with the October 2016 release of Arctic Thunder, I'm hardly inspired one way or the other. After they released the first track, I kept seeing comments online about them "returning to their Black Metal roots". I knew this had to be some form of lunacy, so I wasn't surprised at all to hear for myself that this was definitely not the case. I wonder why people even bother bringing up the old days when talking about a new Darkthrone album. All I hear is the same sort of stuff that these guys have been doing for the last several years, for the most part. A lot of '80s-inspired riffs that don't do much more than to make you want to go back and listen to the old school Metal that influenced this material, as opposed to listening to the album itself. Fenriz refrained from contributing lead vocals this time around, thankfully, but Nocturno Culto's voice has been pretty bad for over a decade now. He doesn't sound quite as awful here, but his performance is still a far cry from those of the past. It's difficult to imagine that it's taken over three years for them to come up with this, much like the previous album. "Tundra Leech" has some decent doom riffs with a tremolo melody on top of it. After the first couple minutes, it sort of loses my attention until the lead solo, which still utilizes the strange tone that they've been using for the last several years. Songs like "Burial Bliss", "Boreal Fiends" and "Throw Me Through the Marshes" feature more generic and forgettable riffs that could have been taken from any random song on the last four or five records. The latter includes some clean guitar parts, reminiscent of "Valkyrie", but far less epic in nature. It reappears, from time to time, giving a little bit of a gloomy feel, but nothing really worth remembering. The solo is similar to the one from "Black Mountain Totem", again hearkening back to Aldo Nova's "Fantasy". Just in case you're wondering, that is not a good thing. "Inbred Vermin" is another song that fails to stand out, until the doom riffs at the end come along to create a sombre vibe. This is completely ruined by the more upbeat title track that follows. "Deep Lake Trespass" begins with a somewhat interesting riff, then crumbles less than a minute in, alternating with generic passages that seem rather disjointed. As for the closer, more random Celtic Frost worship that sounds like it took about two minutes to write.

Arctic Thunder isn't a terrible album. It's not the worst record that Darkthrone has ever released, by any means. In fact, had it been the follow-up to Hate Them, I'd probably look more favourably upon it. But with so few ups and so many downs in the last several years, this L.P. just fails to impress. The songwriting is sort of dull and mediocre. It has its positive moments, but nothing really stands out, sadly. It can serve as a solid album of background music, but there's not much here to hold one's attention nor to justify the three-year wait. They should be able to pump out this sort of haphazard material about twice a year, easily. The latest offering from Nocturno Culto and Fenriz is thoroughly old school and primitive, but it's also utterly forgettable.
 
(28 Jan. 2017)

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