The Nine Circles ov… Darkthrone

darkthrone

Along with Bathory, Mayhem and a handful of other acts, Darkthrone is one of the most commonly recognized and iconic black metal bands of all time. And though they’ve moved through multiple musical phases — death metal, black metal, crust/punk/thrash, classic metal — one clear element shines through every record: Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are extremely passionate and devoted to creating good metal music. For me, discovering the band has fit the ideal story of heavy metal fandom. I first saw their album covers in a friend’s collection, and was enamored with the dark imagery and the whole mystique (the names, the corpse paint, etc.). I checked out a few songs, got a couple records, and since then it’s been the long journey of exploring each record and building up a set of favorite songs. Nine of those are listed below.

“Sunrise Over Locus Mortis” (Soulside Journey, 1991)

When I was first introduced to Darkthrone around age 16, I totally lacked the stylistic frame of reference to understand the crude, “necro” sound of the black metal material. When I heard “Unholy Black Metal,” I was totally perplexed. But I also downloaded a few tracks off Soulside Journey. “Sunrise Over Locus Mortus” connected with me right away. The production was something I was more accustomed to, and those riffs are simply irresistible. Along with Marduk’s Dark Endless, Soulside Journey belongs in the pantheon of death metal classics — hell, it was even recorded at Sunlight Studios!

“In the Shadow of the Horns” (A Blaze in the Northern Sky, 1992)

About a year later, I was ready to give Darkthrone’s black metal records another try. I’d read somewhere (I think it was AllMusic) that A Blaze in the Northern Sky was the number one album to get from them. Again, “Kaatharian Life Code” still threw me off a bit, but the next track is such a beast that any metal fan can appreciate it. “In the Shadow of the Horns” seems like a cliche choice for this list, but that’s for a very good reason: the song perfectly accomplishes the goal of creating pure, raw black metal. Unlike some of the other tracks left over from the death metal days (e.g. “Paragon Belial”), this song takes the band’s love of Bathory and Celtic Frost and pushes it over the edge into a punishing wave of blackened fury. The song is so successful that one cannot help but imagine castles, vampires and other imagery while listening to it.

“Where Cold Winds Blow” (A Blaze in the Northern Sky, 1992)

Another pure black metal track, created after the band decided to make the switch (much to the chagrin, at the time, of Peaceville Records). The furious drumming and dissonant riffs create an atmosphere of mystery that accompanies the song’s subject matter. It’s like you really are caught in a battle in some dark corner of the Earth: “Where Cold Winds Blow I (was) laid to Rest, I Can not reach my Rusty Weapons, the Blood and Sword that Guided my Path, for they Drowned in the Sands of Wisdom.” Where Cold Winds Blow also shows a great mix of different tempos (I think there’s 4 or 5 in there) that engages the listener through different moods: from frantic, to glorious, to mournful and everywhere in between.

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“Under a Funeral Moon” (Under a Funeral Moon, 1993)

If the album didn’t only have 8 songs, there might as well be a “Nine Circles Ov…” article just for Under a Funeral Moon. Having completely shed their death metal roots, Darkthrone created what might be the most representative sample of Norwegian black metal ever recorded. Along with “In the Shadow of the Horns,” “Under a Funeral Moon” is a long-standing fan favorite, and is one of the only songs the band ever played live (in 1996). The main riff has a distinct sense of urgency that echoes Mayhem’s “Pagan Fears” and collides into the galloping chorus riff (listen with nice headphones so you can hear the excellent bass lines!). And that breakdown in the middle is just so deliciously evil — I never tire of this song.

“Slottet i det fjerne” (Transilvanian Hunger, 1994)

On the commentary track for the 20th anniversary edition of Transilvanian Hunger, Fenriz talks about how the song title was inspired by the Soria Moria painting by Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen. He goes on to say though that the lyrics themselves don’t actually deal with the ideas represented in the painting. Additionally, he talks about the song’s melodic riffs and how he prefers the more basic ones, despite this riff being a fan favorite. This song, along with “Skald Au Satans Sol,” is one of the major highlights of this album for me.

“Hans siste vinter” (Panzerfaust, 1995)

The monotonous, VON-inspired approach of Transilvanian Hunger and Panzerfaust takes some getting used to, as it moves black metal’s focus on creating an atmosphere to its logical extreme. This song is one of the more emotive, melodic tracks on the record, with a riff that actually reminds me of Hypocrisy’s early classic, “Penetralia.” This was Darkthrone’s first record with Satyr’s Moonfog records and was the beginning of the band’s temporary retreat from the public eye. Depending on where you stand, this is probably where the band’s streak of black metal classics ends (not that they’ve ever made a bad album).

“Straightening Sharks in Heaven” (Sardonic Wrath, 2004)

Jumping over four albums to 2004, Sardonic Wrath came out at the beginning of my senior year of high school. Around that time, Fenriz had begun to do more interviews and more information about black metal had become available. By then I was getting better acclimated to the style, and so my ears were much better prepared to embrace this last broadside of Darkthrone-style black metal. Of all the latter-era black metal releases, this one is still undeniably my favorite, as it clearly has the best (and most focused) songwriting of the 1996-2004 period. And of all its great songs, the dramatic, glorious romp of “Straightening Sharks in Heaven” best represents what this record has to offer.

“Death of All Oaths (Oath Minus)” (Darkthrones and Black Flags, 2008)

Darkthrone’s fan base has always been divided on the direction the band took after Sardonic Wrath. And while I understand that if a band is good at something, they should stick to it, there’s nothing wrong with switching to another style you’re ALSO good at. This song is one of my favorite’s from the punk/thrash-era, and I can’t count how many times I played it on my college radio show back in 2008.

“Valkyrie” (The Underground Resistance, 2013)

The Underground Resistance represented everything Darkthrone had done in the past, and yet still marked a complete departure from it. More melodic than ever, the album takes its cues from the NWOBHM and other classic heavy metal sounds, with hints of every other Darkthrone era scattered throughout. “Valkyrie” immediately struck me as unique, with it’s Danzig-like vocals, it plays like The Misfits set to classic speed metal. It’s an intoxicating mix that perfectly embodies what Fenriz once said in an interview for the album: “we ARE our metal collections.”

The Nine Circles Ov Darkrthone on Spotify:

J Andrew Z

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