Our sixth lesson features a band that should need no introduction: Darkthrone. The riff we will examine is the outro to “Paragon Belial,” the third track from the band’s first black metal album, and second album overall, A Blaze in the Northern Sky. With Transylvanian Hunger, Darkthrone set the standard for black metal minimalism, but A Blaze in the Northern Sky is a different animal entirely; a rich and varied album that is a veritable treasure trove of weird and wonderful riffs, and “Paragon Belial” is no exception.
While much of A Blaze in the Northern Sky is characterized by frantic blasting and frenetic riffing, “Paragon Belial” is comparatively relaxed in pace, with a groovy, almost doom metal feel. The track features several angular, ear-twisting riffs, like the ones at 1:15 and 3:07. However, the focus of our lesson begins at 3:55, and in contrast to the abrasive barbarity that precedes it, is starkly majestic, even beautiful in its own way.
The “Paragon Belial” outro is based on a three-chord progression starting with two measures of A, then a measure each of G and E. Over this progression is played a relatively simple, but ever-mutating melody.
I recall reading an interview with guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, wherein he said something to the effect that musical phrases often have a cadence like sentences, and that listening to music was akin to listening to a conversation. Using this analogy, the first four-note phrase of our riff can be heard as a sort of plaintive call — whether a question or a plea, we cannot say — but the call goes out four times without an answer – twice in A, then in G and in E. In the second run through the progression, the call is replaced by nervous trilling over the A power chord, evoking a sort of desperation. The call goes out once more over the G power chord before the response finally comes in E, but the grim tone of the phrase does not suggest good tidings.
When Darkthrone repeats this little drama, the first section of the melody is played one fifth higher, giving it a greater sense of urgency, and in the second section, the trills are played one whole octave higher, verging on hysteria. When the response comes again in the negative, the melody — and seemingly all hope — is abandoned. A stray B note, like a resigned sigh, leads into the final iteration of the riff, with only the power chords remaining to ring in the inevitable doom. The response comes one final time, this time unbidden, before everything crashes down in an A5 avalanche.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating: Darkthrone is absolutely masterful at wringing the maximum impact out the simplest ideas. With “Paragon Belial,” the band turns a little over a minute’s worth of a hackneyed, three-chord riff into an epic tragedy. That, friends, is but one of many reasons why Darkthrone is a legend in its own time.
Post one of your favorite Darkthrone riffs.
Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky
Learn to play “Paragon Belial” (This tab is a little rough; use your ears when necessary.)