Reviewed By Simon Crawley
Black metal, and that of the Norwegian persuasion in particular, definitely occupies a stark corner of the heavy metal realm. To that extent, Darkthrone was always one of those potently bleak acts that somehow conjured one’s respect. Their first three albums (commonly referred to as the ‘Unholy Trinity’) were seminal chapters in the development of Norwegian black metal and are also widely considered as Darkthrone at its very best.
This was the period 1992 to 1994 with the black metal persuasion continuing for another ten years – 2004’s Sardonic Wrath is regarded as the band’s final chapter before steadily transitioning into sounds influenced by traditional heavy metal and elements of punk rock. This change in direction, together with actively distancing themselves from mainstream heavy metal, somewhat isolated Darkthrone and it’s a band that has remained on the periphery ever since. It’s an area, however, that the duo of Ted Skjellum (Nocturno Culto) and Gylve Fenris Nagell (Fenriz) have made its own and when 2013’s The Underground Resistance was released, it was to be a powerful moment in recent years for the Norwegians. Brilliant songs like “Leave No Cross Unturned” sum up the all-out and unadulterated heavy metal at work here with richly endorsed elements of classic thrash, speed and black metal.
Three years on and a seventeenth full-length studio album presents more of a grim feel than its predecessor. There is none of that vocal diversity in Arctic Thunder nor the thickness and beefiness to the riffs that makes The Underground Resistance so catchy. The vocals are cut from black metal cloth (delivered solely by Nocturno on this occasion) and the riffs too buzzing with that resounding black metal crustiness. The Underground Resistance was metal in several different ways while Arctic Thunder brings Darkthrones’s talents under a roof with fewer dimensions but with just as much potency. The sound is still raw and there is no change in philosophy here with recording and production again done at the band’s own ‘The Bomb Shelter’ and Jack Control of Enormous Door handling the mastering. You just won’t find the same sort of album here and any hopes of a continuation of The Underground Resistance will be rendered shattered. In the same breath, for those Darkthrone fans wanting to hear a return to black metal, there may very well be a lot to get excited about here.
Arctic Thunder is eight songs of more frenetic and sinister song-writing with darker strokes of black metal running through it. Riffs are still dished out en masse and firmly hold the wheel of this steel locomotive. The overall theme of a cold expanse and feral iciness is captured with intensity and authority. There is consistency throughout the eight tracks without a loss of creative energy.