Sunday, September 7, 2008

Darkthrone - Under A Funeral Moon (1993)


After releasing the classic A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Darkthrone began working on the follow-up, taking their time to perfectly craft every melody, every note; to create nothing less than pure, freezing cold Black Metal. While Fenriz mentions the presence of "fucking Death Metal riffs" that crept into the previous album, due to time constraints, this is where the band completed the dark metamorphosis. Under A Funeral Moon is one of the most grim and morbid recordings ever made. The Celtic Frost vibe seems absent here, replaced by even more Bathory worship. (In one interview, Nocturno Culto actually mentions taking Under the Sign of the Black Mark into the studio to give the producer an idea of the sound they wanted.) However, to imply that this entire album is simply derivative of what came before would be an error. Darkthrone came into their own, in many ways, on this album. While their influences are still obvious, there is a lot on this album that is neither Hellhammer nor Bathory, but rather pure Darkthrone.

This is raw and minimal, like nothing before. A Blaze In the Northern Sky was primitive yet very powerful and thunderous. The drum work on Under A Funeral Moon is quite different. Despite being exceptionally talented (as was certainly displayed on Soulside Journey) Fenriz showed a deeper understanding of what Black Metal is supposed to be and toned it down. The drums are basic and also lower in the mix than on the last album. They are there only to keep the song going forward. The focus here is on the guitar melodies. The guitars are much thinner and the bass is actually audible, maintaining a doomy feeling throughout much of the album. Despite the fuzzy guitar sound, everything is remarkably clear. Every note can be heard. Nocturno Culto's vocals are supported by a healthy amount of reverb and he sounds like he has just risen from a grave.

"Natassja In Eternal Sleep" is a fast paced song, with a mournful and repetitive tremolo melody that is accompanied by hauntingly sorrowful lyrics. The mood is evil yet also mournful, as the lyrics tell the story of a dead witch. Musically, this is a perfect example of, what would become known as, the typical Darkthrone sound.

"Summer of the Diabolical Holocaust" continues on at full speed, until midway through the song. This is when the bass becomes quite audible and the listener is overcome with a morbid grave lust. The eerie solo is very reminiscent of Bathory. This slower section of the song has a similar feel to Mayhem's "Freezing Moon".

What follows this is one of the most morbid riffs, as "The Dance of Eternal Shadows" begins. Nocturno Culto truly sounds as if he is calling out from the grave. The song begins very slowly, before picking up with the fast tremolo melodies. The song slows down again, near the end, as the feeling of death fills the air. As life fades, hell awaits. This song is very chilling, to say the least.

"I am ready...for the god below."

"Unholy Black Metal" is very fast and serves to bring a bit of life back to an album otherwise steeped in death and morbidity. The somber atmospheres and mournful melodies take a break and the listener is able to pull the knife away from their throat and let go of it for a moment. This song is very minimal, and could not have been more appropriately named. The old Bathory vibe is very clear, particularly in the brief solo. But this influence would get much stronger as the song ends...

"To Walk the Infernal Fields" has to be seen as a tribute to Bathory's "Enter the Eternal Fire", borrowing some riffs. This is the longest song on the album, and returns to the mournful and depressive atmosphere that prevails elsewhere on Under A Funeral Moon. Much like "Enter the Eternal Fire" this song is midpaced, with subtle melodies underneath the main riff. Late in the song, everything slows way down and it feels like a funeral march, with thunderous drums and cymbals leading the way to the nocturnal graveland. As you gaze into the abyss, certain of your own doom, the main riff returns and pulls you away from the edge.

“With my art, I am the fist in the face God.”

The next song erupts from the darkened abyss like a horde of demons. "Under A Funeral Moon" possesses some of the best riffs on the album, as well as lyrics that are absolutely perfect for the atmosphere that is being created. If it is possible for one song to embody everything that is great about an album, this would be the one. The Bathory-esque solo is bone chilling and the vocals could not sound more deathly and demonic. The slower section in the middle is brilliant and really takes the listener down, deeper and deeper. The story being told is that of a nocturnal ritual, leading through the gates of death and beyond. There are some very cold riffs here, foreshadowing what is to come on the following release, but this album fills my mind less with imagery of Winter forests and more with grim cemeteries, funeral torches and an overpowering lust for death and Hell.

"Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn" is very repetitive and feels less inspired than the rest of the album. It is not bad, but simply not as interesting as the other songs. There are some tempo changes, but there is something lacking from this one.

"Crossing the Triangle of Flames" really feels like it is dragging you down to Hell. The fast tremolo riffs and hateful vocals dominate the song, while Fenriz employs some interesting variation with the drums. Then the song slows down, and the guitar is nearly alone with only sparse drum fills. The riff is actually similar to something that one would find on a Burzum album and definitely has the trademark Norwegian sound. As cold winds sweep over the desolate graveland, Nocturno Culto snarls:

"I am Lucifer!"

Then the bells begin to toll. A slow, morbid riff repeats as the album fades out, leaving only the chiming of the funeral bells. With the funeral moon illuminating the cold landscape, the nocturnal rituals have been performed and the listener now finds himself face to face with his dark master, leaving all traces of life and light behind. This is Black Metal. This is the feeling that it is meant to convey.