The prime motivator for releasing new material is pretty straightforward for a significant portion of legacy metal acts with decades of labor under their belts: touring. Why sit at home staring at your bills through busted-ass readers when people are still willing to pay money to see you crush empty cans on your forehead while assaulting a slew of instruments from a stage.
Clearly not the case for Darkthrone, though, which brings up an interesting question concerning what sort of motivators remain for a duo that appears to care less about touring than they do press (side note: zero promos were sent out for coverage of record number eighteen, Old Star.)
Money is as unlikely as the possibility of live shows, as it’s fairly evident that sales from records ain’t exactly ensuring Nocturno and Fenriz the luxury of rolling around town in the latest greatest whips. So, what’s left?
Five potential driving forces:
• Adding to an impactful catalogue.
Sure, why not. Portfolios are vital for artists, and if you’re established enough to have hundreds of thousands of followers, then the old adage “if you build it, they will come” certainly applies. In the case of Darkthrone, a great many of us have experienced the band’s many faces over the years that include death, black, punk, trad, thrash, speed and doom, and occasionally all on a single record. What Darkthrone plans to throw into the collection next is always intriguing, and it’s likely just as fun for the band.
• Just to school suckers.
Absolutely. Darkthrone has been in the business of feuding with falses for years. “I AM THE GRAVES OF THE 80S,” mama said as she knocked your ass out.
Could be? Maybe Fenriz and Ted don’t get as many opportunities to have excellent adventures together these days, so studio time is akin to hopping into a phone booth and revisiting an age when their biggest concerns involved scraping together enough kroner for a sixer of Ringnes Pils and making sure Abraham Lincoln doesn’t eat shit while partying on the ice.
• The fiendish joy of hiding Easter eggs.
Appallingly possible? Despite the fact that Darkthrone’s sound has always been easily marked as “Darkthrone,” they’ve never been terribly shy about revealing which branches, bands, albums and precise songs were in full rotation when conceiving new music. Unless, you know, they decide to keep their traps shut, which can lead to riff searches that span anything from Piece of Mind to some obscure Canadian speed metal release that never managed to surpass demo status. For example, the riff at the heart of “The Hardship of the Scots” damn-near caused yours truly to punch himself in the face because of its sneaky familiarity that remained a mystery for two solid weeks:
The source has since been revealed, thanks to a random couch session at MDF this year that included a new friend who knew it right from the jump and mentioned the connect in passing. It’s “Let Me Put My Love Into You” by AC/DC, which is likely not the first band one typically thinks about when reflecting on the nature of Darkthrone, but that’s one of the more fun selling points of the current version of this duo: you never really know where their heads were prior to each release. Again, the result still manages to sound unmistakably Darkthrone, and in the case of “The Hardship of the Scots,” the riff in question gets beaten into your skull alongside Nocturno’s Warriored bark before a smooth Frost riff whoops your ass into an entirely different mood shortly after the 3-minute mark that eventually leads into one of the most epic and LIFTING measures we’ve heard from this band to date. Go ahead and put your love into us, Darkthrone. Put it real good.
As expected, the new record sounds patently (modern) Darkthrone—stripped of any extraneous bells & whistles and continuing the fundamental pattern initiated by Celtic Frost prior to becoming One in Their Pride. But it is doom that separates this affair the most from previous works and stands as this year’s most distinct immersion. A less blues-based and more epic / trad metal version that Candlemass birthed and bands such as Solitude Aeturnus, Scald and Forsaken carried further. It still manages to sound like Epicus dragged through Panzerfaust, though, so don’t expect Nocturno to trade in his gravelly bark for an operatic falsetto. The doom fits the mold beautifully, and the album’s highs are at their highest when these elements are the most dominant. “Alp Man,” for example, and the mother of all doom riffs that drops around its 2:15 point. Or the candlemassive measure that lands directly after Crom counsels “You create your own destiny” 4:15 into the booming closer, “The Key is Inside the Wall.”
Of course, expecting modern Darkthrone to only stick to one or two styles of metal would be comparable to assuming a kid will choose just two toppings for ice cream. Old school thrash still bumps the corners, but it’s less “go for the throat” and instead cut from a more mid-paced model that made songs like “Crionics”, “The Thing That Should Not Be” or a fair share of DBC’s Universe so appealing. And just as it was for the progenitors over 30 years ago, a strong punk element (particularly in Fenriz’s drumming) continues to punch the heart of cuts such as the opening “I Muffle Your Inner Choir” as well as throughout the wonderfully glowing “Duke of Gloat.”
That particular song is one of Old Star’s best, and once we get leveled by that dirty riff that splits for the forest all on its own around 5:30, the true motivator that makes a clear case for Darkthrone continuing forward after more than three decades of activity finally becomes obvious:
• To liberate the saintly riff.
Many of us are here to merrily allow ourselves to be killed by the riff, while others are blessed with the skill to hammer them into celestial steel prior to killing. No matter on which side you stand, we’re all here in service to the formidable riff. The RIFF in perpetual caps, sisters and brothers. As in, “do you even, bro.” Old-timers heeded the call the first time they heard Iommi, Malcolm / Angus Young or the opening to “Shout at the Devil,” and newer-timers count anything from “Bulls on Parade” to “In the Shadow of the Horns” as catalysts. Regardless of respective launching points, it is the riff that ultimately binds us all, and it is the sworn duty of those proficient enough to create them to do so with reverence, purity and tact for as long as the forge fires burn.
Above all else, Old Star stands as potent proof that Darkthrone still places the riff on the highest pedestal, and that’s reason enough for a great many of us to continue paying attention.
On a scale between one and ten, this record is a fricking crankable beast.