When reminiscing over the best Metal moments of 1987, names like Candlemass, Helloween, and Death undoubtedly arise. There was a palpable feeling in the air of a momentous shift, one which was now moving into more extreme corners of the genre. Enter Darkthrone. 1987 was the year of the band’s birth, long before the advent of the Second Wave of Black Metal which they would in fact help to spearhead. The point is that Darkthrone was there through it all, taking notes, absorbing it all in, and beginning a long journey into the depths of the ether.
While this may be an unnecessary refresher for most, I think the band’s history is an essential element when tracking the evolution of their sound. First, Soulside Journey, their debut, was more Death Metal-centered. Released in ’91, soon the band was plotting their next move, the seminal A Blaze in the Northern Sky. From here, the band have not looked back releasing some nineteen full-length albums including their latest, Eternal Hails.
In 2021, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have now become larger-than-life characters internationally recognized as among the elite of a fertile Norwegian Black Metal scene. What cannot be denied is the indomitable chemistry that exists between the two musicians. Over the years, it has been nothing less than fascinating to witness this fertility give birth to increasingly more and more recordings bearing pure love for classic corners of Heavy Metal, sounds that have laid dormant for decades now unearthed to make new art.
Perhaps what is most exciting about a new Darkthrone album is the very unexpected nature of such a proposition. While it is true the band have been at this particular Old School Heavy Metal trajectory for some time now, each offering is uniquely colored. Such is the case with Eternal Hails.
If there was one word to sum up the album’s sound, it would have to be determined. Yet another would be methodical. Beginning with “His Master’s Voice,” one is treated to a dirge-like exercise filled with the requisite, latent rage. This overall Doom feel can be felt across the album but is most pronounced on this first track. The first single, “Hate Cloak,” follows and with it a significant Crust vibe coupled with a rigid dedication to obscure Metal.
It would be futile to pose the question, is this really Black Metal. At this point, the band have earned the right to steer their own ship through whatever waters they dare sail. Though the delivery may be different from Transylvanian Hunger, the root feeling remains and their legacy firmly in place.
Five songs totaling forty-one minutes require lengthy listening sessions; therefore, this is an album to be listened to in one sitting. The material is tied together across the record and cannot be fully appreciated if split up. The production truly aids in tying it all together for the sound is rich, thick, and organic. In fact, listening to the album, one cannot help but feel as if standing in the middle of their rehearsal space. It is surely a live feel but not sloppy, loud but not going to clip your speakers. Darkthrone actually changed things up this time around recording at Chaka Khan’s studio in Oslo instead of their own Necrohell II and it is a testament to the production team how the band was able to retain so much of its core characteristics.
The album takes many twists and turns as the stylus travels along its vinyl tracks. Unavoidably, people will complain about the slower nature of the material and while that is not so much an issue for me, I would proffer that the album rewards a patient listener. The two final tracks comprise the strongest material, particularly the fourth, “Voyage to a North Pole Adrift,” a whopping ten-minute epic eclipsing any preconceived notion of a Darkthrone song.
Is this the best Darkthrone album? The answer to that varies according to taste though I would argue it is certainly not their mightiest effort. In an era, though, when bands seemingly release albums just to release albums, this new Darkthrone offers something honest, a true snapshot of where Fenriz and Nocturno Culto were in their creative headspace. Because of this, it is a solid release and one to be enjoyed throughout the global Extreme Metal community.