REVIEW: DARKTHRONE - OLD STAR
Darkthrone are known primarily as one of the pioneers of True Norwegian Black Metal along with the likes of Mayhem, Burzum and Emperor. A Blaze in The Northern Sky, Transylvanian Hunger and Panzerfaust are often seen as being iconic heavy metal albums regardless of subgenre. Since 2006, the legendary duo of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have drawn more upon elements of thrash, punk, speed metal, crust punk and traditional heavy metal than their original black metal style and whilst this is noticeable, it's still created a really great brew of metal madness over the last few releases they've done.
Hitting you like the Night King hit Winterfell in S8E3 of Game of Thrones, Old Star is the 17th chapter in Darkthrone’s incredibly storied career. Whilst their music may have evolved a lot over the past three decades the band has been active, there still are some constants that have carried all the way through that time. The music remains dirty and lo-fi in all the right ways, while Fenriz and Nocturno Culto still exclusively use the growling and shrieking vocals of death metal and black metal. The band remains both deadly serious and deadly funny and, 2001's Plaguewielder notwithstanding, they’ve still yet to make a bad album. Will Old Star carry on this tradition?
Album opener "I Muffle Your Inner Choir" sets the tone well. A simple beat underpins a grim groove and a sinister solo. The overall vibe of this song definitely points towards the band's black metal roots, but the slower tempo gives off a lot of doom metal vibes too and the riffs wouldn't be out of place on an Electric Wizard album. It’s a straightforward song that knows what it’s doing and doesn’t deviate from that winning Darkthrone formula. Next up is "The Hardship Of The Scots", a slow, mean number that prowls and grooves in equal measure. A crushing heaviness gives way to some seriously catchy shredding, whilst the song's finale builds up beautifully and then ends with a bleak finality.
The title track follows, using discordant riffs and licks to great effect. At first listen, its structure is subtle and seems to lack a clear focus, but over time, the tune burrows in and the time invested in 'getting' the song is well rewarded. A contrast to the album’s more direct and accessible songs, the title track is one that succeeds by making the listener work for their pleasure. "Alp Man", however, has no such pretensions and just kicks you in the face from the get-go. Yet, for all its simple and rigorously focused riffing, it gains added layers of nuance as it shifts into a well-honed and relentless theme and variation. Here, Darkthrone sticks to their formula in some places and takes it apart in others, having a huge amount of fun in the process.
"Duke Of Gloat" is the track that sounds the most like a standard Darkthrone song, if the mid-to-high tempo, guitar warbles, threatening throb and black metal trebles are anything to go by. You can even predict when the bridge will start! For all that, the mid-song hook is amazing, and when the band pulls it all together into a suitable catchy finale you will love it regardless. "The Key is Within The Wall" closes the album out with a fierce mosh pit blaster. It's a song showing Darkthrone in full control of their music, one that's both immediately engaging and yet masterfully arranged and well-paced. It’s the point where the band blends all the album’s disparate ideas and influences and makes a confident and well-crafted finale out of them.
Obviously Old Star’s lyrics aren’t, as a rule, understandable in any form - "The fingerless marble play ensues" is just one of many very bizarre quotes I can use as an example! Whilst lyrics may not be a massive concern to many Darkthrone fans, it does take away some of the enjoyment of the music if all the lyrics don't really make any sense. The production quality of the album unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired as well. While it may be less 'biscuit tin' or 'potato quality' than Darkthrone’s early efforts, it's still less than brilliant. The comparatively higher production values do at least add some depth to the band's sound and it's worth giving the band props for trying harder in that regard.
All those shortcomings aside, Old Star is surely another idiosyncratic Darkthrone record that should be a real hit with their fans. It's yet another solid release to add to their tally of masterful albums and I'm sure we can expect plenty more great releases from them to come.
ROCKODILE RATING: 7/10
Words by Tom Da Silva