What is there to say about Darkthrone? The seminal black/death/heavy metal act has been around since 1986 (beginning life as Black Death). And now, thirty plus years beyond those fledgling days, under the Darkthrone moniker, they’ve lost none of that hunger that propelled them; the attitude that helped them write history as one of the most respected forefathers of the second wave of black metal.
Old Star is their newest album, and this reviewer ponders if it sees grizzled veterans Fenriz and Nocturno Culto continuing on their current path of their own genre antithesis.
Opener ‘I Muffle Your Inner Choir’ kicks things off with a bit more of that traditional black metal Darkthrone flavour than we’ve seen on prior albums. Featuring ferocious vocals by Nocturno Culto from the outset, this track sees both him and Fenriz in fine form. Lyrically and thematically this track almost seems to see them take sharp aim at most modern black metal. Musically, this is a great opener, moving from raging to sombre and back again, showing why Darkthrone are still masters of what they do.
‘The Hardship of the Scots’ draws a stark contrast in sound to prior records. This track highlights the razor-sharp production of Sanford Parker. Everything can be heard clearly; the key difference is that Nocturno Culto’s bellowing vocals are placed further back in the mix behind the crunchy, classic heavy metal-inspired riffing. It’s an interesting production choice, one that allows the music to take centre stage on this, the longest cut on Old Star. Speaking of length, ‘Hardship’ never wears out its welcome, and flies by much faster than it could.
Median point and title track ‘Old Star’ is in turn the shortest on the album, the contrast noted well against the preceding track. Nocturno Culto’s weathered Tom Warrior-isms are at their best here. ‘Old Star’ is a short, punchy, track that owes as much to the band’s forefathers as it does their own storied beginnings.
‘Alp Man’ again draws back to that sardonic sense of humour, lending its own lyrical sense of propulsion to this track. Musically there’s a strong black’n’roll vibe, placing it somewhere in the vicinity of Transylvanian Hunger meets classic Motörhead and Black Sabbath; the doom-like strides at the second half of the track really pair well with Culto’s grinding vocal approach.
‘Duke of Gloat’ takes an unrelenting approach with its tempo. Like ‘Hardship’ before it, it travels through many faces and moods throughout its 6:49 duration. It again recalls classic Darkthrone albeit with subtle injections of melody; melding together black metal, thrash, and pure heavy metal in its approach. It’s an enjoyable ride.
Closer ‘The Key is Inside the Wall’ ventures even further back in time. Darkthrone here draw from the wellspring of 70s rock and roll. There’s as much Judas Priest and Deep Purple swagger in here as there is true Norwegian black metal grit. It’s at once a killer track to follow up ‘Duke of Gloat’ and a rip-roaring way to close the album.
As with Arctic Thunder, Old Star sees Darkthrone continuing to do, well, whatever they want to do. There are more co-writes here than there were on Arctic Thunder and while the latter album’s formula worked; Old Star feels like a more cohesive work owing to the sense of unity in the compositions. I must also complement how well the album flows; it seems to be structured in a way that each preceding track contains an element of the atmospheres found in each successive one. This adds to the sense of cohesion; creating a stronger album for it.
- I Muffle Your Inner Choir
- The Hardship of the Scots
- Old Star
- Alp Man
- Duke of Gloat
- The Key is Inside the Wall