May 31, 2019 Darkthrone – Old Star (Album Review)
Doubtless one of the flagship bands of true Norwegian Black Metal, Darkthrone has worn a handful of stylistic hats across their more than thirty years of existence. Just in time for the summer, the band more closely related to frost and freezing winds releases its eighteenth studio album on Friday, May 31, 2019 through Peaceville Records.
Entitled Old Star, fans who follow the band from the old days know they are not getting a rehash of either the Death Metal of 1991’s Soulside Journey, or the blueprint Black Metal of, 1992’s Blaze In The Northern Sky. So, what are they getting from the senior Metal duo of Nocturno Culto (Ted Skjellum) and Fenriz (Gyllve Nagell) here in 2019? Furthermore, can Darkthrone compete with the burgeoning extreme and black metal scene which they helped spawn?
Despite the usual complaints from the old guard, many fans have followed Darkthrone out of the heady days of yore as they explored sprawling Black-n-Roll, Punk influences, to the NWOBHM inspired splendor of their last two releases. For Old Star, the latter feeling remains intact, Darkthrone’s sonic relationship to Black Metal here is mostly confined to the raspy growls of Nocturno Culto.
For hair-whipping fury, “I Muffle Your Inner Choir” is a nice way to start off the album. Its early-Iron Maiden riffing and galloping bass-line infuse Old Star with some immediate energy. No one can say the band lacks creative adrenaline; no new ground is broken but Darkthrone simply know how to kick your ass. Despite their stylistic shifts throughout time, they may wind up being considered the black metal answer to Motörhead. This is while on the title-track, a slower, meaner beast built upon a Sabbath-like platform, the vocals are reminiscent of KK Warslut of Destroyer 666 fame. Something about the song seems to beg for something more, though, whether a speedier mid-section or a solo. At only 4:27 in length, though, it does not have time to start meandering.
Then there is “The Hardship of the Scots” which could be a Heavy Metal anthem from the arenas of the 1980s, that is, until Nocturno Culto’s Venom-styled vocal delivery comes in. Building tension in the opening stanza, riffs hang in the air like veiled threats. Out of nowhere a guitar lead squeals low, from the gutter – from a place that does not give a damn about trends. Like a fine Iron Maiden classic, the song’s riffs build up over the final few minutes to an epic climax. Fresh and anthemic, this song is an absolute triumph.
Mean riffing and good old-fashioned menace decorate “Alp Man,” which at 2:20 takes an instrumental turn into a sort of Candlemass territory. On past releases, this would be a spot where Darkthrone ratchets up the speed. Instead, and to the delight of Doom Metal fans, they keep the tempo more crawling than raging. The template seems to beg for some real punch that, while not delivered here, shows another side of the Darkthrone sonic equation. Moving on, if speed is what is craved, “Duke of Gloat” comes along with some exciting, high-tempo riffing. It chugs along with a grime and grit vocal line, unmistakably evoking the Culto/Fenriz magic these two have been conjuring for over three decades. A nice transition at around 3:25 takes place, and though the pace slows the intensity does not.
Lastly, “The Key Is Inside The Wall” closes the album out in superb fashion. This is a cymbal-heavy stomper of a song, and something Darkthrone always seems able to offer its fans. Riffs abound, the Sanford Parker mix-job perfectly preserving the filthy rehearsal space feel while ensuring all the instruments come through clear. Other songs were pushed forth on the album, but this crushing slab of begrimed true metal caps off Old Star wonderfully. Try not to air guitar at the break at 4:27; if you enjoy distorted guitars, this will be a futile exercise.
Rough and tumble, immune to expectations or trends, Darkthrone churns out the material they themselves would want to hear. That said, thanks to their unbreakable dedication to their craft, they have once more managed to triumph in the face of advancing time. That is why Cryptic Rock gives Old Star 4 out of 5 stars.