Well, this was a surprise for me, but probably won't be for most. I remember Darkthrone from their early Peaceville albums, as they shifted from being a European death metal band to the black metal for which they became known. I think I have Soulside Journey as a white label test pressing. Well, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have apparently changed their sound quite a lot over the years and many albums since. Holy crap, I believe this is their eighteenth studio album in under thirty years and it doesn't sound like Soulside Journey or A Blaze in the Northern Sky.
Old Star clearly bears the hallmarks of Norwegian black metal, especially on songs like Duke of Gloat, where the only shock to a black metal fan would be the notably slow drumming. I Muffle Your Inner Choir kicks off the album in black metal style too, even if the vocals are a little more death than black and the drums refuse to acknowledge the existence of hyperspeed. It's good old wall of sound stuff though, merely a more patient black metal than we might be used to.
I Muffle Your Inner Choir slows down halfway through as well, becoming more of a heavy metal track than a black metal track. Never mind death from which the band was born, it's not extreme at all for a while except for when the vocals join in again. It's slow and steady but the moment we wonder if it's thinks about doom, it speeds up. To me, it felt like a throwback to the era before hyperspeed drumming, when bands like Bathory and Celtic Frost tested boundaries before some of these newer techniques came along.
This old school mindset is impossible to miss on The Hardship of the Scots, which begins with a riff that reminds of Y&T, of all people, albeit notably downtuned and apparently recorded in an aviary. This song really ponders on whether it should play with doom but it doesn't and, perhaps more telling, it isn't doom/death either because there's no melodic guitar line tempering the deepness.
It even brightens up a few minutes in, with an odd perky doom section, just as The Key is Inside the Wall does after about a minute. Is this a new genre that Darkthrone are inventing? Perky doom. I kind of like it! It's downtuned but riff driven and it chugs along with that dark vocal, as if Hellhammer were covering Judas Priest. I even caught a death grunt at one point and a lyric or two about Satan, who's fallen rather out of style nowadays. It has a rough production too but it's never muddy like the more luddite minded of the black metal bands prefer.
I liked this album but I wonder how much of that like is because it's rather different from what I was expecting, how much because it reminded me of what was deemed extreme midway through the eighties and how much because it does a good job whatever it is. I have a feeling it's a mix of all three and I'm not sure if that allows me to rate this appropriately. I've listened a few times but I feel like I should come back to it later in the year to see if I still like it.
I should especially look backwards, because my knowledge of Darkthrone is a dozen albums short and I haven't listened them since the mid nineties. They continue to slow down their output, even if that generally means an album every two or three years now instead of six in seven, so I should probably look at the last couple, The Underground Resistance and Arctic Thunder and see if that provides me with some context.