The band that would become Darkthrone formed during 1986 in Kolbotn, a small suburb of Oslo. They were a death metal group by the name of Black Death, and its members were Gylve Nagell, Ivar Enger and Anders Risberget. In 1988 the band changed their name to Darkthrone and were joined by Ted Skjellum and Dag Nilsen. During 1988 and 1989 the band independently released four demo tapes: Land of Frost, A New Dimension, Thulcandra, and Cromlech. As a result, the band was signed by Peaceville Records.
Early on, they appeared to have ties with some members of the Swedish Death Metal scene, as Tomas Lindberg (of Grotesque / At the Gates) assisted in the creation of the Darkthrone logo and Uffe Cederlund (of Entombed) was present in the studio during the recording of their debut L.P., Soulside Journey, in 1990. The album was produced by Tomas Skosgberg, in Sunlight Studio (known for such albums as Sumerian Cry, Left Hand Path, Dark Recollections, et cetera). This is the only Death Metal album that the band recorded, as they went for a primitive Black Metal style, not long after this was released.
Soulside Journey begins with a brief, horror-inspired intro before the song "Cromlech" comes thundering in. To those not familiar with the band's origins, it may sound strange to hear technical Death Metal from these guys, but here it is. One of the first things to notice is the fast tremolo riffs. This style was already somewhat common in Swedish Death Metal, yet Darkthrone utilized these riffs far more efficiently. This goes to show that the band didn't change so drastically, with the albums that followed this. As for differences, Nocturno Culto's vocals are deeper, yet not too deep, and Fenriz is quite active behind the drum kit, showing his high level of skill.
"Sunrise Over Locus Mortis" continues down the same dark path as the first song. There are a lot of tempo changes on these songs and quite a bit of doomy atmosphere created during the slower sections. In those early years, it didn't seem to matter what Darkthrone did. Whether they were playing Death or Black Metal didn't make a difference, as they excelled at both. Honestly, there wasn't much of a reason to continue with the same musical direction after this album as they had accomplished something great.
The opening moments of the title track sounds pretty close to what the band would be doing a couple years later, beginning with cold tremolo melodies and fast drums. Of course, the speed does not remain the same as there are so many different riffs and tempo changes. Even on the instrumental track that follows this, "Accumulation of Generalization", it is clear that the riffs are the most important thing to this band, despite Fenriz's technical prowess being difficult to hide. The atmosphere, throughout the album, is one of horror and doom, as one can easily gather from the opening moments of "Neptune Towers". When keyboards are used, it is very sparingly and only to add to the dark atmosphere, like a horror score.
"Sempiternal Sepulchrality" is, possibly, the most energetic and thrashy song on the album. This is filled with riffs and is one of the faster and more aggressive songs found here. This is counteracted by "Grave With A View", which returns to the doomy atmosphere and features a nice part in the beginning, with some chorus of demons calling from beyond. This song also features a brilliant solo. Nocturno Culto truly excelled when it came to lead solos, far beyond many of his peers.
As "Iconoclasm Sweeps Over Cappodocia" plays, one cannot help but think that Soulside Journey features more use of the freezing cold tremolo riffs than many of their other albums. They are separated by many doom riffs and even some thrashier moments, yet they are all over this album. Songs like "Nor the Silent Whispers" and "The Watchtower" display influences that range from old Slayer and Kreator to Death and even Black Sabbath.
The album concludes with "Eon", a brilliant instrumental that features some use of keyboards to accentuate the dark and foreboding atmosphere, possessing a sinister and twisted feeling quite similar to the score of a 70s horror film. There is also a very noticeable Death influence found here.
There is some debate as to what subgenre this belongs to, as the lyrics and atmosphere, as well as many of the riffs, seem to belong to Black Metal. However the percussion and the song structures, despite the unorthodox timing, belong very much to Death Metal. The vocals also lean more in this direction, as well. Whatever way you wish to classify this album, you must appreciate the music
For those who seem to think of Darkthrone as terrible musicians because of the primitive and minimalist path that they chose after this, you really need to give this a listen and realize that it was, indeed, a choice. Many that wish to emulate them simply hide behind the low-fi production and primitive musicianship because that is all that they're capable of. The members of Darkthrone are masters of creating dark atmospheres, regardless of the way in which they set about achieving this.
This is recommended to those wishing to see the early days of this band. Also, for anyone into the early Swedish Death Metal bands such as Tiamat, Entombed, Carnage / Dismember, Unleashed, et cetera, this will probably appeal to you, though this has as many differences as similarities with the early albums from those bands. This is actually far superior to most (if not all) of them.