Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Darkthrone - Panzerfaust (1995)


After becoming completely obsessed with the Transilvanian Hunger cassette that I obtained, I managed to wear it out to the point where it didn't play as well. Mind you, this was no cheap copy but rather the actual cassette. As a result, I began looking for the CD version. It took a couple months to find but, in the meantime, I stumbled across Panzerfaust, making it the first official Darkthrone album that I owned on CD.

Panzerfaust was recorded in Necrohell Studio, in the early months of 1994, and was the final of the classic Darkthrone albums. While not belonging to the 'Unholy Trinity', it is certainly still part of that era. This was the first album that they released on Moonfog Records, having severed ties with Peaceville after the previous recording. The cover features Nocturno Culto in a snowy forest, with the moon in the night sky above. On the back reads the words: "Evig er Krigen Mot de av lyset." This translates to, "Eternal is the war against those of the light." The production is still very lo-fi and ugly, but the sound is a bit different from its predecessor, most likely due to the variation in tempo and the prominence of the vocals.

The album begins much as one would expect it to, as "En Vind Av Sorg" would not be out of place on Transilvanian Hunger. It would seem that the band found their distinct style on that masterpiece and this would be a continuation of that brilliance. The tremolo-picked melodies are freezing cold and the drums blast away in obscurity. Yet the first thing one notices is that the vocals are much higher in the mix than before. Perhaps, they are a little too high, but this is a minor complaint. In a sense, this serves to make the song that much more harsh and unwelcoming. The mournful harmonies create an atmosphere of sorrow (appropriate, since the title translates to "The Wind of Sorrow") yet the vocals are as hateful as they are anguished. The main riff is one of the best Black Metal riffs ever written. As the song ends, drums and vocals fade away, leaving only the sorrowful guitar melody.

The next song, "Triumphant Gleam", came as somewhat of a shock, being total Hellhammer/Celtic Frost worship instead of following along the expected path. This is very raw and primitive Black Metal, yet energetic and thrashy as well. The double bass came as a bit of a surprise. As the song slows down, the dark and evil atmosphere begins to surround you, but it isn't long before the song speeds back up.

"Hordes of Nebulah" is an absolute monster. Stylistically, this owes a lot to Celtic Frost. The riffs are slow and filled with doom. Nocturno Culto's vocals are dripping with hatred and sorrow. If Hellhammer was what happened when you slow down Venom, this must be what it's like to slow down Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. However, this is not mere imitation. The presentation of the song may not be that original, but it is easily identifiable as being Darkthrone. The guitar solo, albeit brief, is eerie and adds to the overall effect. This is the kind of song that makes you want to gouge out your own heart with a rusted blade or to turn the hatred outward and annihilate all traces of life from the earth.

"Hans Siste Vinter" is another song that possesses the Transilvanian Hunger vibe, consisting of fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums. The mournful melody is very haunting and will freeze you to the very core of your being, turning your blood into ice and leaving you to die in the cold wastelands, covered by the falling snow. Of note is that the lyrics to this song aren't included in the insert, making me wonder if this song was just written at the last minute to fill time. Either way, it's one of the best on here.

"Beholding the Throne of Might" is another mid-paced song that some would see as a tribute to Celtic Frost. On the surface, that would appear to be an accurate conclusion. However, the spirit of Darkthrone cannot be denied. This isn't simply Celtic Frost with harsher vocals. The atmosphere being created on this album is pure Darkthrone, regardless of the style they utilize to do so.

The next song's lyrics were penned by none other than Varg Vikernes and, strangely, the song is actually similar to something that one would expect from Burzum. "Quintessence" is the most epic song ever written by Darkthrone. The atmosphere is cold and filled with doom. Nocturno Culto's vocals are filled with such anguish and utter hatred. This is one of the most inspired vocal performances in the history of Black Metal. Near the end, it is absolutely bone chilling as his tormented voice screams:

"Only one single lamp do show me this way, and that is... the eye of Satan...SATAN!"

This is a very cathartic experience. The main riff continues on, before a few more desperate screams signal the end and it slowly fades out. A very powerful song, on many levels.

"Snø Og Granskog (Utferd)" sounds like something left over from Isengard, but does well to suit the atmosphere that has been created by the song preceding it. The outro features the voice of Fenriz (presumably) speaking in Norwegian.