Thursday, 23 May 2013

Metal Marathons #001 Part 2: Darkthrone: The Revenge

 part two of two.

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the marathon retrospective of Darkthrone's career; last time we had travelled from the abyss of rumbling, complex death metal, through the vast, icy forests of classic and much-loved black metal, and out the other side into the primitive, chord driven, and some would say re-hashed landscape of the band's middle years. This time around, we are going to travel through that place, and out the other side into a slow cascade of old-school influences and Manilla Road, wherein the band resides now.

Of course, the majority of this marathon will be aimed at the "punk" albums which started with "The Cult is Alive" - something of a paradigm shift, if you will, in the bands sound; and certainly one of the most fundamental ways to divide the "old" and "new" sound the band had. First, however, there remain three of the much-overlooked middle-era black metal albums to plough through starting with Plaguewielder. In my experience, there tends to be more to these records than meets the eye, and I'll be first to claim that listening to them is utterly worthwhile. I urge you to.

 As I said in part one of this marathon, Ravishing Grimness cannot be dismissed as "more of the same". Plaguewielder, however, might be. The album is another forty-minutes or so of swaggering, relatively simplistic, chord driven black-metal. Not unpleasent, by any stretch; in fact, I enjoy listening to the record, however, it feels less inspired than, say, most of the bands other material. I'll argue vehemently that the band have never had a truly "bad" album, and there are some flavoursome riffs scattered through this record To its credit, it manages to sound cold and grim in a time when a lot of black metal had ceased to.
Hate Them is an interesting one - it feels a step up in terms of song-writing and especially energy, with high-speed drumming and higher tempos all over the shop. By the band's own admission, Hate Them is the album in which they really started to delve into punk and other old-school influences more fully, and you can tell; many of the tracks take on a black n' roll edge, with d-beats, metal-punk style riffs, and other barrels of fun added to the recipe. The appeal to outside influences really gives the album a novel edge, and makes it very listenable; particularly tracks such as Divided We Stand, which could easily find a place on the later, less black-metal records.

Sardonic Wrath is, I suppose, the last "black metal" album the band ever did. Certainly, it feels like their final attempt to make an album which was black metal to the core. Ultimately, I really enjoy the record, and find it a fitting end to that part of the band's career; it's very raw; rough as a badger, in fact, and in the same way as Hate Them, combines elements of other genres nicely, but without spoiling the entirely black-metal bend of the record. You could slot Sardonic Wrath somewhere in between Transilvanian Hunger and Panzerfaust and nobody would be the wiser to the fact that it was actually made in 2004, a testimony to the fact that the band can still conjure great black metal, when they want to.

Whenever I go a while without listening to The Cult is Alive, it's always a bit more black-metal influenced than I remember; in fact, it's still quite raw and harsh, more a large-step along from Sardonic Wrath than an utter shift. The crucial difference however, is that from this record onwards, the band feel much more overtly fun. The bouncy riffs, influenced by traditional metal, crust punk, and a vast array of other things manage to be extremely catchy, ballsy and filled to the brim with sheer old-school attitude. This album marks a very profound reinvigoration of the band, as foreshadowed by the leanings towards this sound on the previous two records, on this one they come to power-chord based fruition.

Once again stripping back the black-metal, FOAD is another foray into the old-school world of punk and speed-metal. It's sometimes easy to forget how different the more recent Darkthrone albums are from one another, and the gulf between The Cult is Alive and this record is very illustrative of it - gone is the harsh and scathing guitar tone, replaced with a more rock n' roll, warm sound which suits the less serious, more playful character of this record, and those beyond it. Lyrically too, this album makes forays further and further into more human themes, reducing  the occult and Satan as themes, in lieu of tracks about metal and rock itself - a pronounced manoeuvre towards the world of vicariously recreating 1984.

Dark Thrones and Black Flags marked the beginning of a move towards more traditional old-school metal; it retains something of the punk and black-metal influence, of course, but at the same time, is a more clear, almost epic record in places. Clean vocals appear here and there, for instance in "The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker", very much foreshadowing the directions which the band would be going in the next record. The riffs on this record are among the most chunky in the "new Darkthrone" era, with a lot of bite and an enjoyably occult feel; the music is liable to be dark still, but in a more traditional way; often a spooky darkness, not the misanthropy of black-metal.

Circle the Wagons travels even further into the realm of pure heavy-metal, but, as with every other album manages to feel extremely Darkthrone still, which is a point worth raising; despite the bands vast number of changes in style and production, there has never been a Darkthrone album which didn't feel like one. Like it's predecessor, Circle the Wagons is an album filled with very tasty, hefty riff work, albeit frequently even more melodic. For me, at least, Circle the Wagons stands very prominently as a testimony to how radically Darkthrone's sound has changed, miles upon miles away from Soulside Journey or Transilvanian Hunger, and personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Ultimately, listening to all of a bands records in a row is a superb way to chart the changes in the bands sound, and it definitely equips you with new tools and ways in which to listen to the music; you become much more aware of the bands evolution and progression between styles and influences. If there's one thing which Darkthrone's discography has screamed at me, it's integrity. I don't think there's a single record by the band in which they weren't trying, and in the majority of them, they succeeded.

There are few bands so consistent and yet diverse in their discography; every album is a little different, but every album is utterly, unapologetically Darkthrone. That's why we like it, and obviously, that's how they like it too. Darkthrone unapologetically do what they will, and they do it well.

Darkthrone Official Site
Darkthrone on Facebook
Darkthrone on Metal Archives

But wait! you shout. What about the new Darkthrone record; "The Underground Resistance". Don't worry, I haven't forgotten it, I just think on account of being new, it deserves a full-length review, which I'll be doing in the next few days. Stay tuned!