The world is changing. Faster than anyone would believe, and faster yet in the last year. It’s terrifying and impossible to unsee: in the vicious upheaval of the past year where everyone moved a thousand miles an hour in a thousand different directions it felt like there were fewer and fewer things to cling to. Where were the anchor points, the tethers to a known quantity…something to remind us of the underlying laws of the universe?
Far off in the distance something looms at the horizon. A shape of immeasurable size, and a sound that reverberates in frequencies older than the dinosaurs start to roll in like a massive tide that has been building and building forever…eternally, one could say.
They are back. We stare into the inky unknown black of the night and know that whatever happens, Darkthrone have returned to light the Earth with the torch of heavy metal, to scorch the ground with the prehistoric concussion of Eternal Hails….., the latest piece of evidence that the Old Ones still walk among us, and they have zero interest in anything but the Almighty Riff.
Coming off the 1-2 punch of late highlights Arctic Thunder and Old Star expectations were high but just what the band would deliver was still a mystery: continue the incredibly high production bar of doom-blasted metal? Venture further into the trad/power elements of The Underground Resistance? As it turns out a little bit of both: Eternal Hails….. really ups the ante on the epic element with five tracks spanning 42 minutes, with the shortest coming in at seven minutes. Featuring a colder, more raw production the tracks all settle in a murky foundation of 70s doom, but find ample ways to raise their heads to the fetid air of all the influences the band have proudly worn on their sleeves since the 90s. In that regard it feels more cohesive than either Old Star or Arctic Thunder: as those albums jumped back and firth in tone, Eternal Hails… finds Fenriz and Nocturno Culto (forever Ted) settling into a blackened groove relentless in its attack. The drums are stripped of the high end, subsisting on a brutal low-to-mid pulse that feels cosmic and subliminal at the same time, and perfectly work with the guitars which once again refuse to even acknowledge any advances in the last 30 years and feel all the more timeless for it.
Things kick off with “His Masters Voice” and maybe the most surprising thing on the album are those opening notes which could just as easily come from a Foo Fighters record as anything else. It’s a diversion, throwing you off your guard because when the first real riff comes in, it’s as gnarled and twisted as anything. It’s also one of the more driving songs on Eternal Hails….., and I’ve come to realize that one of Darkthrone’s bug strengths recently is not only having Ted take care of all the vocals, but having him come out of the gate with the opening song. “I Muffle Your Inner Choir” was a monster opener for Old Star, and this serves the same purpose, immediately kicking your ass. “Hate Cloak” was the advance single, and it took a few listens to remove the expectations around the production and just let the song settle in. Now it’s a favorite: that raw attack and throbbing monotonous riff sinks you into the crust of the planet until around the halfway mark when those sustained power chords make way for the palm-muted chugging march that completes the song. It’s utterly simple and yet no one else could have written or executed it quite like Darkthrone could.
“Wake of the Awakened” retains the evil that permeated much of the band’s black metal recordings, even as it eschews the trappings of the second wave. A lot of that comes down again to the production choices. It would have been simple to mirror what the band had been doing the past few years, and I’m sure I would have loved another album with that same sense of clarity to the music. But that’s not what these songs call for, and the choice to make it more cavernous, to trim out the high end and focus on that sharp, cold mid-range attack serves Eternal Hails….. in a way that recalls albums like Hate Them or even F.O.A.D. “Voyage to a Northpole Adrift” amps up the attack again, moving faster through a series of different riff patterns but always retaining a spirited vibe that recalls the underground metal of the 80s.
And then the closer: there is something almost mystical in the way “Lost Arcane City of Uppakra” rises and falls in mood, its final three and a half minutes unlike anything the band has ever done before. Even when they’re proving there are some things as immutable as coming of darkness, there’s enough within its deep confines to stand out and grab your attention. There’s a cinematic feel to that ending, that something massive has passed and may not be seen again.
Let’s hope not, because albums like Eternal Hails….. help keep me tethered to this stupid mass of rock and moss just enough to smile and remember what it was like when dinosaurs roamed the Earth…and cling for one more revolution.