Darkthrone

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Soulside Journey

Darkthrone - Soulside Journey ©1990 Peaceville
1. Cromlech
2. Sunrise Over Locus Mortis
3. Soulside Journey
4. Accumulation Of Generalization
5. Neptune Towers
6. Sempiternal Sepulchrality
7. Grave With A View
8. Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia
9. Nor The Silent Whispers
10. The Watchtower
11. Eon

Before all the corpsepaint and hilarious interviews stating their new direction in black metal, Norway's Darkthrone started out as a fairly commonplace and unexceptional death metal act that was neither good nor bad for its time. With the exception of Fenriz calling himself Hank Amarillo in those days (face it, this man is easily the wittiest and most amusing individual in the entire Norwegian metal scene), there is little to really note about Soulside Journey. Except maybe that it's pretty dull overall. The sound quality is acceptable, the guitars have some thickness and do precisely what you might expect. The vocals are echoing and ominous. There are standard death metal solos. Etc. Etc. Etc. Although people have complained that Darkthrone's post-Soulside Journey albums are annoying and badly produced, you must give them credit for tossing aside an already tired idiom and blazing a new path entirely. Even if it so happened to have been thoroughly influenced by Celtic Frost. Leave Soulside Journey either for the Darkthrone historian or completist who simply must have all their albums.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2000

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A Blaze In The Northern Sky

Darkthrone - A Blaze In The Northern Sky ©1991 Peaceville
1. Kathaarian Life Code
2. In The Shadow Of The Horns
3. Paragon Belial
4. Where Cold Winds Blow
5. A Blaze In The Northern Sky
6. The Pagan Winter

Regardless of the goofy image Darkthrone has portrayed over the years (for a hoot, read any interview with any of the band members, especially Fenriz), they are one of the more capable black metal bands. A Blaze in the Northern Sky has often been cited as a pinnacle of Norwegian black metal and there is creedence in that. Naturally, the Bathory/Celtic Frost influence is very strong, especially in the intro to "In the Shadow of the Horns", which sounds like a direct line from the Morbid Tales sessions. During the faster sections, you can easily hear the Bathory influence in massive quantities. There is a deliberate looseness to the music that many lesser protoges have interpreted as a passport to sloppiness. What Darkthrone did was take a very nearly punk approach to technical death metal (which was all the rage at the time) by simply going all out in aggression and letting the music flow from that. For anyone who was thrilled with the more extreme thrash of the 80s, Blaze is a logical progression into purified and simplified sonic destruction. As in the title track, among other places, uncomplicated riffs speak volumes. Primitive black metal is a limited genre, but A Blaze In the Northern Sky is truly a necessary piece to the black metal puzzle. It's not the kind of album I'll play often, but as with Burzum and a handful of other influential pieces, it is something to be put above much of the incompetent dross that passes for extreme metal.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/1999

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Under A Funeral Moon

Darkthrone - Under A Funeral Moon ©1993 Peaceville
1. Natassja In Eternal Sleep
2. Summer Of The Diabolical Holocaust
3. The Dance Of Eternal Shadows
4. Unholy Black Metal
5. To Walk The Infernal Fields
6. Under A Funeral Moon
7. Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn
8. Crossing The Triangle Of Flames

In the continual effort to emulate the evil quality of their famous 80s influences, Darkthrone's third album (and second "true Norwegian black metal" release since the band disowned their Soulside Journey debut in the press) is nowhere near the ear bending juggernaut of A Blaze in the Northern Sky. In all honesty, underneath all the fuzz, throat lacerating vocals, treble and monochromatic images, Under a Funeral Moon sounds like a trio of young men who got a case of beer, had a free week and wrote some songs in tribute to Celtic Frost and Bathory. Mind you, Darkthrone, while offering severe hints of just who they all listened to in the 80s, has created their own distinct sound which has been plundered and pillaged by countless lesser monochromatic bands. However, within all the slightly dissonant chords and ugly sound quality is the heart of a band who saw a way to create a cult following by playing some fun material on the weekends.

Unlike the band's previous album, Under a Funeral Moon isn't quite a shock to the senses. Its eight tracks are nothing exceptional, despite being fairly enjoyable. A Blaze in the Northern Sky was one of the earliest albums of its kind, so thus a certain "novelty" is factored into why it is more impressive than its successor. The songs lack a certain epic, transcendental feel for the most part and as a result, it is sort of like listening to an old Bathory record with the bass knob turned way down. There aren't as many riffs that stand out as they do on other Darkthrone releases. As such, the album lingers behind the pack of Transilvanian Hunger (which is probably the ultimate statement for the band) or their previous release. It is certainly able to fulfill the typical black metal descriptions: grim, cold and harsh, but it doesn't completely fulfill my most important need: stellar songwriting. As a result, Under a Funeral Moon is great if you're a completist or a deep fanatic of the style, but I'd swerve the curious towards the albums released either before or after this one.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2002

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Transilvanian Hunger

Darkthrone - Transilvanian Hunger ©1994 Peaceville
1. Transilvanian Hunger
2. Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner
3. Skald Av Satans Sol
4. Slottet I Det Fjerne
5. Graven Takeheimens Saler
6. I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjod
7. As Flittermice As Satans Spys
8. En As I Dype Skogen

On the back of Transilvanian Hunger, Darkthrone proclaims this and their music to be "True Norwegian Black Metal". Upon further review, it can be remarked that this statement is not grandiose boasting or posturing, but indeed is the truth. Transilvanian Hunger, whether you love it or hate it (as there doesn't appear to be middle ground on the matter), is one of the ultimate expressions of the raw, garage recordings to be called "black metal" in the 90s. Those who claim allegiance with only the most "grim" tailorings of the style often refer to this particular album as being the focal point of which all the rest of the genre spins around.

If nothing else, Transilvanian Hunger provides the best blueprint for which much of the harsher black metal legions base their own music. The cover is extremely minimalistic and in black and white. The music isn't exactly produced; rather, it is recorded and documented in much the same spirit of early punk. The guitars are thin and register more on the treble end of the scale. The drums are also reduced to mere chalk outlines of rhythm and tend to plug along in the most basic, straightforward of patterns. The vocals are hissed and rasped with no heed to melody. Songs tend to abruptly end as if the band decided they had used enough studio tape. However, within all this seemingly unlistenable veneer is a rather impressive record that offers eight snapshots of what this style can be if done properly. Darkthrone had the ability to whip together a fluid, vaguely melodic platoon of songs that offered more than a few memorable tunes. The guitar lines are often repetitive, yet the actual melody within them is what makes Darkthrone stand apart from the rest of the pack. Even though the heart of the song is obscured by the buzzsaw sounds, the overall feel is as bright as day. Moreover, the band ignored the tendency of lesser bands to throw in pseudo-spooky elements, such as melodramatic "voice of Satan" low voices or silly sound effects that make a lot of other black metal albums sound like Halloween specials for network television.

If nothing else, Transilvanian Hunger is a landmark record for a limited genre of music. Chances are no other band could quite capture the cold feel of raw black metal with such ease. If one only wishes to purchase a few albums in this style, Transilvanian Hunger should be right towards the top of that list.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2001

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Panzerfaust

Darkthrone - Panzerfaust ©1995 Moonfog
1. En Vind Av Sorg
2. Triumphant Gleam
3. The Hordes Of Nebulah
4. Hans Siste Vinter
5. Beholding The Throne Of Might
6. Quintessence
7. Sno Og Granskog - Utferd

By the time Panzerfaust rolled out on the heels of the fan favorite of Transilvanian Hunger, Darkthrone had firmly entrenched themselves in the Celtic Frost Dept. The tray card for Panzerfaust finds the band calling themselves "The Most Hated Band in the World" as well as making a bit of an apology for comments made in the liner notes of their previous album, although the apology comes across as a bit tongue in cheek. Nevertheless, Panzerfaust sounds as though Fenriz and Nocturno Occulto-boy had more than their fair share of beer before entering the studio for a weekend of recording at low budget. Yes, the famous Darkthrone tape hiss, non-produced sound is quite firmly in place on Panzerfaust. While it may actually sound pretty good for the type of raw, unpolished music they are playing, the biggest drawback on this album is placing the vocals way too far out front. This hardly constitutes evil here; rather, this is just annoying. Two of the songs are absolutely marvelous: "En Vind av Sorg" and "The Hordes of Nebulah" are fast paced and feature very well written guitar lines. Much of the other material sounds like leftover riffs from Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion. In fact, "Triumphant Gleam" sounds almost like early Celtic Frost to a C and an F, with only the vocals being different. One might imagine that the Darkthrone boys had found themselves in a severe mood of nostalgia upon writing this record.

As one sense upon listening to Panzerfaust, Darkthrone's "groundbreaking" era was over and the band was quite happily entrenched in retro 80s worship with their music, for better or for worse. Due to its two excellent black metal tracks and the pretty passable Celtic Frostisms, Panzerfaust is at the very least a decent listen, although not the best this band has out.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/2000

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Goatlord

Darkthrone - Goatlord ©1996 Moonfog
1. Rex
2. Pure Demoniac Blessing
3. The Grimness In Which Shepards Mourn
4. Sadomasochistic Rites
5. As Desertshadows
6. In His Lovely Kingdom
7. Black Daimon
8. Towards The Thornfields
9. Birth Of Evil - Virgin Sin
10. Green Cave Float

Goatlord, according to legend, was initially the album to follow Darkthrone's Soulside Journey. However, with the band's waning interest in contemporary death metal, the tapes were ditched in favor of the sound the band went for on A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Those rehearsal tapes sat around for quite some time before Fenriz and Nocturno Occulto recorded some vocals for them in 1994. The resulting effort finally saw the light of day in 1996 in the form of this disc. As one might surmise from this, the sound quality is abysmal and in fact, the effort on a whole is distinctly blah. The collection of ten songs isn't exactly the most demanding of attention and the production makes their other releases sound like they spent months and months with Bob Rock in the studio. The songs are certainly nothing to write home about as they follow the death metal style of riff and tempo changes often, only these riffs aren't very well fleshed out. The vocals are often hokey at best, particularly the goofy clean spoken passages and the horrendous female intrusions. I suppose this release might interest Darkthrone fanatics, but only for completist purposes. If you've never heard the band before, you need to immediately find another album to check out as this will give only the worst of impressions. This album is for those who actually find appeal in the most raw and underdeveloped music around.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2001

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Total Death

Darkthrone - Total Death ©1996 Moonfog
1. Earth's Last Picture
2. Blackwinged
3. Gather for Attack on the Pearly Gates
4. Black Victory of Death
5. Majestic Desolate Eye
6. Blasphemer
7. Ravnajuv
8. The Serpent's Harvest

Since Darkthrone's Total Death is noted for using guest lyricists on the album, one can easily, if erroneously, assume that the band was suffering from some form of writer's block. Darkthrone had thoroughly cultified themselves in the nineties with their impressive take on primitive black metal, establishing themselves as the band to emulate (and boy, have bands done so since!). It stands to reason that at some point Darkthrone's well of ideas, or even their beer supply, would run short for an album. Total Death appears to be that album.

For the most part, Total Death is a faceless rush through the motions of black metal. Regardless of lyrical contribution by the likes of Ihsahn, Garm or Satyr, the album lacks the spark that made its predecessors special. There's very little standout material with most songs just coming across as an unenthusiastic run-through. There are occasional bits and pieces of music that don't wallow in mediocrity, but even with the album's short running time, it's a lot of tedium to sit through.

In my opinion, this time period seems to be the least interesting for Darkthrone. Their groundbreaking early albums were far behind them and they hadn't caught their second wind yet. This album can be easily ignored, with no peril on your part.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2009

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The Roots Of Evilness/Live

Darkthrone - The Roots Of Evilness/Live ©1997 Agustin Rec.
1. Cromlech
2. Sunrise Ever Locuus Mortis
3. Soulside Journey
4. Accumulation Of Generalization
5. Sempiternal Past/presence View Sepulchrality
6. Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia
7. Neptune Towards
8. Dismissal
9. Eon/thulcandra
10. Archipielago
11. Kathaarian Life Code

The funny thing about this bootleg of early Darkthrone live performances and demo tracks is that leader Fenriz was quoted in various zines as saying, "We deny old Darkthrone stuff...we hate death metal and trendy scene." In the late 80's and up till 1991, when the "new" Darkthrone formed (switched genres, hopped a new trend...however you want to perceive it), Darkthrone was a competent thrash/death metal band. The recording quality of the first eight tracks - recorded in Denmark in 1990 - is of slightly above average bootleg quality. You still get stuck with tape hiss but the overall performance is clear enough that you can get the idea of how things are proceeding. That can't be said for the last track, which claims it was recorded in Norway in 1992 (and is definitely more black metal oriented). "Kathaarian Life Code" is muddled and sounds like it came from a tenth generation dubbed cassette left for a bit too long on the VW's dashboard. Musically, there is a hint of Celtic Frost in the band's repetoire. Nothing here is really earth-moving or a landmark performance; however, it isn't so bad that you slaughter the record store clerk for letting you purchase this. Massive amounts of amusement come in between the songs when the frontman tells the crowd they're "really very nice". The dialogue comes off with almost a British sense of dry humour, even if it wasn't intended. I rather think this is not exactly the best place for a new Darkthrone fan to begin. Of course, that can be said for all bootlegs. Amusing, but not mandatory

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/1999

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Ravishing Grimness

Darkthrone - Ravishing Grimness ©1999 Moonfog
1. Lifeless
2. The Beast
3. The Claws Of Time
4. Across The Vacuum
5. Ravishing Grimness
6. To The Death (under The King)

To the uproar of thousands of distraught black metal fans, Ravishing Grimness appeared in 1999 complete with a barrage of good production and emphasis on straightforward, thrash-inspired songwriting. Naturally, those who took Darkthrone all too seriously during the band's earlier years found it quite fashionable to trash both Darkthrone members and this particular release, although objective ears will find this to be one rather accomplished blend of Celtic Frost flavored thrash-cum-black metal.

Naturally the most notable thing about Ravishing Grimness is the fact that the band actually took some time to polish things up with the production. While I've never had a problem with the recording style of their seminal releases such as Transilvanian Hunger or A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Ravishing Grimness actually allows the drums to sound like something more than clicking turn signals in a Buick and gives the guitar some weight beyond a helium balloon. In other words, Ravishing Grimness sounds as though Darkthrone took two weekends and a half case less beer to record this album. Coupled with the more present sense of humor of Fenriz in interviews around the time of Ravishing Grimness' release, it is no surprise that Darkthrone alienated all those who thought this band was dead serious all along.

At the end of the day, it is those cloistered malcontents who miss out. Ravishing Grimness borrows heavily from the eerie, bent guitar sound of Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion (it seems as though nearly every Darkthrone review requires mention of that Swiss band) and processes it through the ropes and pulleys of speedy Norwegian black metal. The result is a very fluid, basic attack that recreates a thrash metal sound for the end of the nineties. Although the riffs are far from intricate progressive rock delicacies, the simplicity of Ravishing Grimness from beginning to end creates a cold topography that never once lets up on its grip of the listener.

The updated sound of the eighties melded with the grim sounds of the nineties with an appropriate production makes this a surprisingly fresh album from Darkthrone, proving that this band still has a lot more to say after all.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2001

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Plaguewielder

Darkthrone - Plaguewielder ©2001 Moonfog
1. Weakling Avenger
2. Raining Murder
3. Sin Origin
4. Command
5. I, Voidhanger
6. Wreak

Over the course of the past few years, Darkthrone has shed their cult status through a series of humor-filled interviews and plain jane releases. While the band still enjoys a cult following, it's doubtful anyone truly believes they wear corpsepaint around the clock, invoke demons and spend countless hours devising ways to bring down the entire Judeo-Christian world. In fact, it's possible they don't mind jogging suits these days. Moreover, their musical approach has been stripped down to a minimalistic level where they simply compose some riffs and spend a weekend in the studio capturing what they've come up with. As a result, Darkthrone has gone from mandatory black metal purchase to merely recommended.

Plaguewielder is a six song affair that lasts well over forty minutes. There's not a lot of complexities to this release. The riffs are basic and raw, steeped in early Celtic Frost influence, and the recording as unpolished as possible. In their earlier years, Darkthrone seemed to thrive on creating a larger-than-life monster with each release, but nowadays there seems to be no ulterior motives beyond making an ugly, thrashy record in the vein of mid-80s underground metal. Little throught is given to any sort of major dynamic shifts or intricite complexities. Plaguewielder is more of a bum rush throughout the six lengthy songs. The one drawback to the album is that the songwriting doesn't do a lot to distinguish one track from another. Ravishing Grimness, the band's 1999 predecessor, had a couple bang-up tracks that really stood out while essentially every song on Plaguewielder dwells in the average territory.

Plaguewielder is overall a decent release, but definitely not the most remarkable in Darkthrone's rather storied and amusing existence. The uniform nature of the songwriting makes it consistent, but not exactly stand-out. The band still stands apart from many of newer acts that blatantly borrow the band's early style, but compared to their own output, Plaguewielder is fairly dry and below standard.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/2003

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Circle the Wagons

Darkthrone - Circle the Wagons ©2010 Peaceville
1. These Treasures Will Never Befall You
2. Running For Borders
3. I am the Graves of the 80s
4. Stylized Corpse
5. Circle the Wagons
6. Black Mountain Totem
7. I am the Working Class
8. Eyes Burst at Dawn
9. Bränn inte slottet

This is not exactly a newsflash, but each subsequent release by Darkthrone over the past decade has found the duo moving further and further away from their black and death metal roots. For those who spent the 2000s in a bomb shelter, I will give you a moment to retrieve your jaw from the floor. For everyone else, it's probably fair to say that these albums of late are never going to be quite as influential or envelope-pushing as their early material, particularly after their stylistic shift to raw black metal. Nowadays, Fenriz and Nocturno Occulto have come up with a sound that basically blends Venom-esque material with hints of 80s speed metal. And yes, the Venom reference should be alarming.

Circle the Wagons, which should have been named after the late lamented Nelson BC band (and most certainly was not), is a mixed bag. Though it features a few pretty good riffs, it still comes across like two dudes buying a couple cases of beer and making an album over a long weekend. It certainly is not pretentious, but it doesn't sound like they wrestled with vocal melodies, song arrangements and overall quality control late into the night. Certainly this will be appealing to some music fans who'd much rather hear that sort of thing over the latest variation of Blind Guardian's take on Gamma Ray's continuation of Helloween's sound. But for me, there's too many moments where Darkthrone veers into that ugly Venom territory, which is the Land of Really Terrible Music. Let me repeat that: Venom is bad. Very bad. How they made a career of it is still a mystery. Oh sure, they influenced heavy metal over the ages and yada-blah-de-da, but there's utterly no point in rehashing their inability to play their instruments well. During Circle the Wagon's lamest moments, they sound like they're parroting early Venom. But fortunately, even a half-assed Darkthone displays more technical ability than Cronos could even after grafting on Frank Zappa's fingers.

Although I have issues over the Venom-ish moments, a handful of songs on Circle the Wagon are appropriately energetic and enjoyable. However, it still fails to be particularly relevant in 2010. It's simply impossible to imagine any metal fan anywhere proclaiming this as a must-have on their Facebook status updates.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2010

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