Looking at Black Metal in retrospect over the last 30 odd years of its existence there were some very controversial aspects that truly fuelled the scene worldwide. This being said when we trace it back to its roots, we’ll have to go back to the start of the 80’s and the rise of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Speed Metal and of course Thrash Metal. When you look at bands such as Hellhammer, who later changed their name to Celtic Frost and eventually their style of music, legendary Bathory of course and who could forget the might Venom who basically coined the term Black Metal. This era of so-called “Black Metal” was known as the 1st wave of Black Metal. There are a lot of other bands we could ramble on about and this feature will be a small novel but let’s not digress.
It was not up until the late 80’s where a bunch of teenagers from the various Scandinavian countries started forming bands. These bands would be known as the second wave of Black Metal and would define the style and sound of Black Metal moving forward into the late nineties and beyond.
The second wave saw Black Metal being pushed to the very extremes in the late 80’s and 90’s, not just from a musical point of view, but also as a sub-culture and in some cases a cult. The second wave of Black Metal was filled with conspiracy, controversy, and various crimes. This happened especially in Norway, where church arsons and murder were among the highlights – if you can call it that- of this wave of Black Metal.
So as you might have figured out, I am specifically focused on the Norwegian Black Metal scene, but not only that but the mighty Darkthrone. They were among the five or six bands that truly made an impression on the Norwegian Black Metal scene together with Mayhem, Emperor, Satyricon, Immortal, Burzum and Thorns.
If we look at these bands now, sure some of them are but former shells of themselves with regards to years past. Emperor can probably be credited with the most mainstream success, as they are incredible musicians. Satyricon is still doing what they have been doing, writing new material and doing shows across the globe. Immortal are another big success story, with the blizzard beasts performing worldwide, taking their grim Black Metal to the masses. However, the mighty hordes of Blashyrkh have been laid to rest by Abbath as he pursues a solo career, hope has the same success as Ihsahn from Emperor. The former Emperor frontman has released some incredible solo albums.
When we look at Mayhem, they’re but a shell of their former self, especially after parting ways with guitarist/vocalist Blasphemer in 2008. Burzum, for the most part, has become a bit of joke as the driving force behind it – Varg Vikernes – has been in the news for various controversies, be it stupid things or just being Varg, a blundering idiot.
This brings us to Darkthrone. What about them? What have they been doing? Well, they’ve been doing what they’ve done for the last 20 plus years. They’ve released their records, performed a handful of shows ever. There is something more to the necro-duo, something special, something unique, that still makes them my personal favorite. Releasing 15 records since the early 90’s, it hasn’t just been one dimensional and pragmatic with regards to their music.
If you look at Darkthrone, you look at it as a book with an unexpected sequel. They did a Death Metal record as a full band titled Soulside Journey, which in my opinion is one of the most underrated Death Metal records ever. It the took a turn to a colder, more menacing sound and they released their first Black Metal record titled “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, which made waves. Peaceville – their British record label at the time and current label- weren’t too keen on releasing the record before being persuaded by Fenriz and his willingness to just have Euronymous from Mayhem release it on his Death Like Silence label if Peaceville didn’t budge, which they final did. In the beginning of 1992, A Blaze In A Northern Sky was released and is now considered a cult classic.
After this release, the band was to be a two-man project furthermore. That didn’t stop them as various other classics were released between ’93 and ’04. The band inevitably parted ways with Peaceville and was signed by Moonfog records from 1995 up until 2004.In the period before ’04, they release countless classics such as Under a Funeral Moon, Transylvanian Hunger, and PanzerFaust.
The next period of Darkthrone’s illustrious existence is the most important and significant period, not only for Black Metal but also for extreme metal as a whole. The year 2005 hailed a somewhat dramatic change in style and direction. The band started up their own label and returned to Peaceville records. This included some live show recording releases and the reissue of the band’s first 4 records.
It is difficult to quantify what happened next. Their new album titled was revealed and it was to be one hell of a surprise. The record was titled The Cult Is Alive and incorporated a lot more punk and crust punk elements and they managed to nail it. I love everything about that album. They style of play, the guitar tone and basically Black Metal being played in a punk style, was absolutely light years ahead of any other so-called Black Metal band of the time.
The fact of the matter is, Darkthrone were able to almost reinvent them as a band completely, taking different influences and incorporating it into their music. It didn’t start and end with crust punk element. They released F.O.A.D. the next year that was even more punk than its predecessor. The opening track titled “These Shores are Damned” has one unique guitar sounds and of course the drums making it just, well, fucking Darkthrone man.
This was the rebirth of a Black Metal legend; a defender of underground music was born. Not only because of their music but what Nocturno Culto and Fenriz did behind the scenes for underground metal. Using their Myspace to promote bands and never losing touch with the old ways of sending and receiving various music artifacts through long-established underground networks.
It doesn’t stop there. They went even further and released Darkthrone’s and Black Flags in 2008, which basically transcended their previous work in my personal opinion. I can hear the elitists in you judging me right now. The record spoke to me on so many levels and it was evident that they’ve changed their style for good, which I for one was very pleased about. The record artwork even got me into another band called Nocturnal, which is a black thrash band from Germany. If you look carefully on the jacket of the mascot Mr. Necro you can see the Nocturnal logo.
The grim-duo manage to keep knocking out stunning record most bands can only dream about. Why is that? They manage to do it time and time again, by just making honest music. It’s as simple as that and doing what they want to do.
It went a bit quiet on the Darkthrone front between 2008 and 2010, until the release of Circle The Wagons in 2010. This time there was defiant NWOBHM element to the overall sound and feel of the record. They play their music like punks. It’s simple. Circle the wagons had it all. The clean vocals, the guitar riffs and of course that snare and bass drum sound that is unmistakably that of Fenriz.
An additional dimension was sharing the songwriting and vocal duties and in some cases the collaboration on vocals, which was absolutely mind-blowing. It’s hard to imagine that this was possible, taking into consideration that circa 2005 Darkthrone was one of the most important Back Metal bands ever.
This brings us to 2013, which saw Darkthrone branch off yet again, in many ways going into a direction, musically, that could be attributed to influences that got them into Heavy Metal in many ways. If you look at the classic Heavy Metal bands and various sub-genres like Speed Metal and of course, the all-important New Wave of British Heavy Metal that reared its head in the late 70’s. I’m talking classics such as Angel Witch, Savage, Blitzkrieg, Witchfinder General, Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang and Motörhead. They came up with something absolutely spectacular.
They released their interpretation of what could be considered and an ode to True Heavy Metal Worship in many ways and this album was simply titled The Underground Resistance. It doesn’t get more descriptive than that, but the realization comes when you start spinning The Underground Resistance. It all just makes sense and clicks into place.
This really does put the soundscape of Darkthrone into perspective, just by listening to their discography, the progression from eerie cold Black Metal to Black Metal being played in a punk style with more of a thrashy twist to it and then finally the masterpiece that is their ode to Heavy Metal of old. One could say it’s a Norwegian Wave Of Black Heavy Metal and it’s story in one discography.
Furthermore, Darkthrone’s contribution to not only Black Metal as a Heavy Metal sub-genre but to all music is immeasurable. It extends beyond them as a band. Another way they’ve contributed and more specifically Fenriz is through a website called Band Of The Week, where Fenriz takes submissions of modern music and listens to endless amounts of submission and picks the best to put online and give it the seal of approval. In addition to this, he has gone further in recent times through his radio show on Soundcloud to promote bands he’s been listening to and used to do it back in the day via Darkthrone’s Myspace page.
One could say that Darkthrone in many ways could and should be considered on the most important and influential bands in the last 2 to 3 decades by a long shot in my humble opinion.