November 28, 2016 Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder (Album Review)
Perhaps no grandfathers of the second wave of Black Metal have managed to confound, twist, turn, and navigate to their own muse quite like Kolbotn, Norway’s own Darkthrone. A name that once elicited only reverence has been steered and led by the duo of Nocturno Culto (Ted Skjellum) on vocals and guitars alongside Fenriz (Gylve Nagell) on drums. Beginning as a Death Metal band, they quickly got swept up in the second wave erupting right at their feet, galvanizing them to making some of the most memorable and notorious albums in the genre’s history. Sixteen albums later, on October 14, 2016, Arctic Thunder descended upon fans and foes via their old Peaceville Records music label.
As a follow-up to 2013’s superb Underground Resistance, fans may have been expecting more of the same adventurous, N.W.O.B.H.M inspired blackened Thrash. Indeed, the past several albums have seen the once corpse-painted duo taking from Punk Rock, Thrash Metal, and traditional Heavy Metal and stirring it all in a cauldron of Black Metal darkness. Some people whine and complain, others see the genius at work. Such is the way it has always been with the fickle and passionate extreme music fans the world over. With Arctic Thunder, though, it appears the band had decided to return to the darkness exhibited during the early years following the new millennium. Repeated listens, however, show the influences of traditional Metal are still there, a tad subtly, but there nonetheless.
Take the title track, which, despite the ice-cold rasp of Nocturno Culto, features riffs and bass lines reminiscent of Diamond Head or the Proto-Thrash of the early 1980s. It is Rock-n-Roll after all, and Darkthrone has been nothing but consistent in paying homage to the roots of Heavy Metal – all of it, in fact. Opener “Tundra Leech” is a catchy set of riffs, slower until it picks up nicely and the listener is forced to simply head-bang in place. Seriously, do not listen to this on a subway, or in a library, or anywhere bouncing around into objects and people might be frowned upon. Darkthrone manipulate what is essentially a simple song structure and keep it true, real, and marry melody to maleficence with all the thirty plus years of their songwriting skills. That repeated opening riff with the nice drum roll resolves itself into a great Nocturno Culto lead. His guitar tone sounds similar to what Destroyer 666 are doing on their own new album. It is apocalyptic and melodic, altogether a treat for even the longest standing and most cynical bastards among us.
“Burial Bliss” has a nice, uptempo jam going on, Culto’s echoing screech adding blackness to an otherwise N.W.O.B.H.M groove. There is menace and meanness in the riffs; this is the graceful tempo of the old-school, the damned to be unfashionable fashion of the dedicated. Fans of all eras of the band should be pleased. “Boreal Fiends” has a great personality. One can picture Darkthrone walking through a benighted pine forest in their native north-country. They have created this atmosphere around their own adherence to the underground. Their contempt for trends in Metal apparent in the anthemic lyrics. The riffs do not stop. They absorb the listener, until a pause ensues and the clean bellow of “Boreal Fi-ends!!!!” rings out. The circle of the old-school is complete.
“Inbred Vermin” follows the slower “Boreal Fiends,” remaining at a sort of plodding pace. Just as things are about to get a little ho-hum, the pace picks up into a glorious run reminiscent of early Iron Maiden. The other sections of the song lag purposefully, and after repeated listens, one can hear the juxtaposition the band impels with; very good effect all around here. The latter half of the album features “Throw Me Through The Marshes,” which despite being well-constructed, fails to make as big an impact as some of these other songs. Something in the delivery is a bit lacking in punch here. Fortunately, this same sort of plodding is avoided with “Deep Lake Trespass,” which begins a bit slowly but picks up into a pleasing, old-school Metal head-banger of a track. The album closes with “The Wyoming Distance,” again a Death-n-Roll romper with sick riffs and some clever lyrics to boot.
Darkthrone are as consistent as the ranks of pine trees carpeting their breathtaking Norwegian homeland. For a band that never plays out, its quite a testament to their quality that in this modern world of YouTube clips and ADD mentality, that their name has remained so relevant. If some purists are not on board, Darkthrone do not care one iota. CrypticRock gives Arctic Thunder 4.5 out of 5 stars.