Old Star

Written by: RUB on 08/11/2019 11:42:25

Darkthrone has changed a lot since the group’s inception back in 1987 — not only geographically, but also stylistically. What was once a full-blown death metal band quickly transformed into a black metal band, which is responsible for the legendary status they hold today. But in recent times, their take on black metal has been mixed with doom, heavy and speed metal, and in some respects even elements of punk. And so the fact of the matter is that you don’t really know what you’re going to get with a new Darkthrone release — which, of course, is always intriguing. As has been the case with the last handful of albums released by the group, every third year has brought with it a new record (see you in 2022?), so what style has the duo chosen for their horde of fans (closing in on the 300.000 on Facebook as we speak, yawza!) this time?

This is not the first release on which Darkthrone ventures into heavy metal territory. Take, for example, their last two outings (“The Underground Resistance” from 2013 and “Artic Thunder” from 2016), on which we saw Darkthrone move from the more blackened style they used to pursue earlier, into a blend of heavy and speed metal — both in terms of the instrumental style, but definitely also in the vocal section, where frontman Ted Arvid Skjellum (also known as Nocturno Culto) makes good use of a more raw style of singing, with plenty of high-pitched sounds. But still, he doesn’t shy away from adding elements that give rise to a black metal atmosphere either, and indeed sometimes entire songs are presented in this style the band is so revered for.

The genre of choice for “Old Star” becomes evident already in the first song “I Muffled Your Inner Choir”. It’s a mix of regular doom, more upbeat heavy metal, and darkened elements both in the vocal and the instrumental sections. The rhythm and vocals are slow and gloomy, and make you think about those long, cold and windy winters in the north. This continues on the following “Hardship of the Scots” — a definitive highlight on the album — although this song, too, incorporates some elements from heavy metal in the guitar-section. The music still remains bleak and dirty, but the tempo is turned up on several occasions, making for a very interesting listen, as one can really feel how the song evolves over the course of the 7+ minutes it lasts. With this song, it’s certainly a pleasant surprise how the general old school vibe has been applied to each track thus far. It is this specific sound that makes it clear to me that Darkthrone have looked towards older and truer doom and heavy metal for their inspiration.

“Alp Man” is yet another song that must be highlighted. It’s generally more upbeat than the previous track, but still has a heaviness applied to it that has your neck begging for headbanging. The riffs are rather simplistic, but the structure of the song makes it come close to a masterpiece; every section serves a specific purpose, and is intertwined with the others to near perfection. The darker rhythms from black metal are an underlying and ever-present theme, and since Nocturno Culto only utilizes this raw and harsh vocal style on the titular “Old Star” (and not the high-pitched style heard on “Leave No Cross Unturned” off “The Underground Resistance”), the entire album has this bleak and gloomy feel to it, as though you were sucked into a vortex of darkness and hopelessness. Just like the previous song, “Duke of Gloat” also has an upbeat feel to it. But this doesn’t come at the expense of the aforementioned, darkened feel. Neither does it come at the expense of the production, which is as good as it should be in 2019, albeit you still feel that distinct ‘90s vibe of the purposefully terrible and gritty, “True Norwegian Black Metal” sound. The guitar is screeching and bristling with black metal punch — just like the drums — and the vocals maintain a constantly raw and unpolished sound. But even so, every instrument is crisp and sharp, which is very impressive the genre taken into consideration.

If one can accept the premise presented on “Old Star”, and the blend of genres Darkthrone have chosen for the album, I would argue that this could be labelled as one of their best albums to date. It’s a difficult proposition, since it is so different from the band’s early material, but by the sheer magnitude and force this darkened doom metal comes across with, I would still hold this record up to some of their albums that have stood the test of time and are now regarded truly as masterpieces. This could be considered heresy in the true black metal circles, and by stating that “Old Star” could indeed be one of the group’s finest offerings, I’m certain that some people are bound to disagree wholeheartedly, and even violently with me. But the way in which Darkthrone showcase how to master several genres to near perfection, ultimately confirms why they are rightfully labelled as legends of metal. In fact, give the entire record a spin or two and see if you disagree with me — because to be honest, there are no bad songs on this release in my book.


Download: The Hardship of the Scots, Alp Man, Duke of Gloat, The Key Is Inside the Wall, I Muffled Your Inner Choir
For the fans of: Aura Noir, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Venom
Listen: Facebook

Release date 31.05.2019
Peaceville Records

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