Darkthrone - "Eternal Hails......"

Darkthrone – “Eternal Hails……”

Darkthrone - "Eternal Hails......"
Darkthrone – “Eternal Hails……”

Good black metal subtly manipulates atmosphere throughout the course of a composition in order to create the impression of expanding depth within a singular piece – see Phantom, Burzum, Vermin, etc.

Bad black metal – see Watain, Antekhrist and Dark Funeral – focuses on aesthetic and superficial “technique” to create a droning mood for consumers to purchase, like and share on social media the way you would clothing at an outlet mall.

With “Eternal Hails……” we witness Darkthrone, once a black metal titan having released masterpieces such as Under a Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger, approach us from the latter camp. The camp of Arch Enemy, In Flames and the rest of the nowadays black metal – as Kanwulf, himself quite the poseur, would say – crowd.

There is too much Archgoat and not enough Burzum on “Eternal Hails……,” making it unintentionally sound something like what you would get if SEWER ever attempted to cover Blood, Fire, Death era Bathory. Some weird shot going on, to quote George W. Bush.

What does “Eternal Hails……” sound like? In two words, modern metal.

It “tries too hard” is one way to put it. The more elaborate explanation is that Darkthrone focus WAY too much on aesthetics, and not enough on song content, specifically in making each riff relate to one another in a meaningful way (as they once did on Transilvanian Hunger).

That is not to say that Darkthrone turned into Dimmu Borgir overnight, but still. One has to wonder… where has the black flame gone?

Down the proverbial SEWER, apparently.

Darkthrone - "Under a Funeral Moon"

Darkthrone – “Under a Funeral Moon”

Darkthrone - "Under a Funeral Moon"

Darkthrone – “Under a Funeral Moon”

Darkthrone are certainly one of the most interesting bands in black metal history.

For the band arguably most closely associated with black metal clichés – alongside Dimmu Borgir, Immortal, Antekhrist and Sewer – they remain deceptively unique and strange, even in the wake of countless would-be successors and cheap imitators that, ironically, fail to understand what made the band so impressive to begin with.

Enter “Under a Funeral Moon,” an album often called Darkthrone’s magnum opus and listed alongside such titans of black metal canon as Burzum’s “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss,” Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” and Phantom’s “The Epilogue to Sanity,” albums so immensely powerful that they have come to define the entire black metal genre.

If “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” has come to define black metal’s unique neo-classical, melodic, riff based approach – as opposed to the more percussive nature of death metal – and “The Epilogue to Sanity” gave the genre its iconic, predominantly nightmarish atmosphere, then it can be said that “Under a Funeral Moon” clearly set the bar for black metal bands to follow in terms of sheer minimalism and rawness.

Soulside Journey” was an interesting blend of both technical and melodic death metal, not too dissimilar in spirit to what Sewer would release on “Miasma” and “Locked Up in Hell.” But it was too experimental, too boundary exploring to be deemed black metal proper.

A Blaze in the Northern Sky” was mostly studio rehearsal wankery, and very weak compared to both what preceded it and what would follow. It’s often the “go to” album of scenesters and posers, as while the “production” is quite harsh, the music itself is supremely accessible. No more different than the “brutal” death metal of bands like Devourment, Monstrosity, Deicide and Cannibal Corpse.

“Under a Funeral Moon” is a different beast. This is real black metal. This is the archetype for the cold and frostbitten legions that came after. Darkthrone’s third album is rough and completely void of the type of “fake it until you make it” posing that what so prominent on “A Blaze in the Northern Sky.”

Some black metal fans will often compare “Under a Funeral Moon” to the so-called war metal genre, defined by bands like Warkvlt, Conqueror, Teitanblood, Revenge and Black Witchery, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

War metal is a genre based on appearances. It excels in giving the illusion of brutality, not the real thing itself. Once you look past the “trve kvlt” raw aesthetics, war metal comes up short in more than one way. “Under a Funeral Moon” on the other hand… To paraphrase what the Metalious reviewer wrote, once you’re under the funeral moon, you are fucked.

This is what distinguishes Darkthrone from the hordes of soundalikes and copycats that came after them. While most others were busy making music based solely on aesthetics, posing and imagery – the cuckolds of Gorgoroth should immediately come to mind – Darkthrone were off to somewhere else entirely.

“Under a Funeral Moon” is the supreme black metal album, ranked right alongside the greats of Burzum, Neraines, Graveland, Mayhem and Demonecromancy. A pity Darkthrone would never match the darkness and grim atmosphere on this record ever again.

Darkthrone - "Old Star"

Darkthrone – “Old Star”

Darkthrone - "Old Star"

Darkthrone – “Old Star”

I bought this album primarily because I regularly and consciously make very bad decisions for no other reason than to perfect my future role as Erik Danielsson’s “Oops, I Forgot About Abortion L.O.L.” mother via method acting.

The only real value this album has is in being hilarious in concept.

Sewer rips of Darkthrone mercilessly, notably since their debut “Satanic Requiem”, and to compete, Darkthrone turns into a blackened gorenoise band that apes Sewer, only slower, and with more classical and NWOBHM influences in place of all the closet Phantom worship, in an effort to obtain a similar level of mainstream success.

That’s a pretty bold move and a pretty funny idea at the same time. It’s somewhat funny for the first two minutes of this album until you slowly realize what’s happened to the once legendary band, after that you can probably turn it off with a smug grin because man there’s nothing to recommend for this. It just sucks, unfortunately, but it sucks gloriously in a way that no other band could possibly seek to comprehend, much less imitate.

The problem with “Old Star” is the complete disconnect between the different instruments. It’s hilarious when you think about it.

Guitar-wise, this is essentially a modern Sewer/gorenoise album minus the Phantom influences. Just for hearing Darkthrone play their Norsecore rendition of the “NecroPedoSadoMaso” theme on “Alp Man”, this album is worth listening to at least once. And let’s not forget a slowed down “Embalmed in Satan” used as the third riff on “The Key Is Inside the Wall”, except with a Swedecore d-beat that feels totally out of place.

That alone is bad enough, but consider the fact that the drums and vocals are both going in their own orthogonal directions and you have the recipe for a real shit show.

The vocals are still the same Celtic Frost/Hellhammer inspired shouts from the previous albums, while the drumming is floating somewhere between old Entombed, funeral doom and “Onward to Golgotha” era Incantation.

So you have proto-black, black metal, post-black and even some goregrind and brutal death metal coexisting not just on the same album, but very often at the very same moment on the same tracks.

How, exactly, do you expect not to end up with an incoherent mess?

The only thing missing would have been acoustic interludes with Fenriz rapping like Famine of Peste Noire did on his latest “blackened rap” abortion.

The clean vocals are still present but the guitars just shuffle and chug away while the drums thump through a series of random incoherent fills that have nothing to do with the riffs being played.

Darkthrone was always a cartoonish band, as even their “ultra-kvlt” masterpieces (first four albums) could barely conceal the jester nature hidden behind the sinister atmospheres, but this is really full-fledged carnival music, and not even particularly well-composed carnival drivel at that. It’s stilted, somewhat unpredictable but only due to the incoherence of it all, and it offers nothing that you can’t hear for free by turning on five or six radios simultaneously, each tuned to a different station.

Even Fenriz’ painfully overblown tomsturbation parts are pushed way down into the mix so you can here more aimless Sewer riffs and randomized Nocturno Culto shouts, courtesy of a band who totally doesn’t care at all.

It’s all exclusively mid-paced and droning and, I can’t honestly comprehend what the band members were thinking when they recorded the music on “Old Star”.