Ted and Gylve are going camping again
Ever since their creation already three decades ago, Darkthrone has been mastering the metal arts. From death metal to icy black metal and hardcore punk fueled heavy/thrash, Ted and Gylve always did what they wanted and it’s never been anywhere near close to mediocrity. While we can go back to their classic trilogy for our black metal needs, I’ve been loving their recent material a lot and I often listen to their underrated and somewhat overlooked mid-era period (Hate Them in particular). The point of this introduction is to say that their whole discography is fucking immaculate and that’s a testament to both endurance and passion.
After my immediate love affairs with Circle the Wagons and The Underground Resistance, I was really expecting Arctic Thunder to be incredible. Unfortunately, I was a bit skeptical at first, it just wasn’t as good as I wanted to be. It seemed like a collection of good riffs without a cohesive feel or actual songs. I kept trying though as I knew the magic was there somewhere. The album was on constant rotation in December and January and turns out my understanding of it was waiting for me by the campfire. It was looking at the bright stars and the crisp flames wondering what I wasn’t grasping. With a judgmental look on its immaterial face, the record pierced my soul and I finally understood it.
The main quality of Arctic Thunder is that it’s metal down to its core. It’s all about the riffs and it doesn’t hide anything under a false sense of gimmicks, an overcooked production or flashy but sterile musicianship. The album is like a strong imperial India pale ale, it contains a looooot of hops and it fills you up to the brink. The amount of riffs it has is almost criminal. I do think that some songs could had been longer but the tightness and the contained attitude is what makes this record so great. It’s epic by the strength of its riffs alone. The power of Nocturno’s guitar is enough to elevate the entire thing to another level. Perfect metal guitar tone.
Darkthrone doesn’t care about fluff or unnecessary elements, it’s riff after riff, thunderous drum beat after drum beat and bone shaking harsh vocals singing frosty anthems till you’re dead.
To talk about the sound of this record, we need to talk about their evolution since their watershed album The Cult Is Alive. They’ve been shedding their black metal skin since more than a decade while incorporating traditional metal elements (especially on their 2010 and 2013 records), punk, crust, D-beat or thrash metal. For this 2016 opus, it’s like if they decided to go back in time yet again but to an alternate dimension. One where black metal is still an essential part of their sound but where they wouldn’t have to leave their modern (read “ancient”) influences aside.
They took the sound developed on their previous five full lengths, mixed things up, pushed the black metal aura to the front and just went for the jugular. The album, rich with mid-paced riffs is apt at mixing thrashy black with some old school proto doom/death (Fenriz mentioned Dream Death himself and Satan knows he knows his shit) and it’s a lethal combination. Arctic Thunder brought back Darkthrone’s black metal from the dead but when you mess with necromancy, the corpse of your ancient friend can come back... changed. In this case, it came back as evil as before, hungry, angry and with a curious interest for hiking and camping.
Nocturno handles almost all of the vocals on this record and it adds to the darker and murkier atmosphere they were going for. While I liked Fenriz’s silly but insanely great clean vox (listen to TUR’s “Valkyrie”), it wouldn’t had been a great fit here and like the old Norwegian wizards they are, they were wise enough not to include them here. Ted’s vocals are awesome (that’s not news for y’all, I hope) and he shines on the opener “Tundra Leech”. It made me want to sing the title while walking in the snowy roads of my city.
The quasi lo-fi production of Darkthrone has reached its peak here, I absolutely love the tone of the guitars and the drumming is both natural and loud without being overdone. The songwriting while highly condensed is all over the place and it’s due to the riffs variation. They can channel Iron Maiden (check out the intense title track), their buddies of Aura Noir, Celtic Frost or even Sabbath without breaking a sweat. There’s no much variation except for some slower tempos but it’s not needed. Darkthrone doesn’t do things for you, anyway.
All in all, Darkthrone is still proving that they’re one of the best metal bands of all time by looking at the genre’s extensive repertory and making it their own. Making relevancy an unknown concept, the Norwegian duo aims for excellence and memorability and they succeed at both. Arctic Thunder is timeless, precious and essential metal