Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Darkthrone - Dark Thrones and Black Flags (2008)

Dark Thrones and Black Flags in the 14th studio album from Darkthrone, released by Peaceville in October 2008. This album not only follows in the style of the last couple albums; it perfects it. The journey was long, filled with many twists and turns, but with this record the band has come full circle, in a way. It was recorded and produced, by the band themselves, in their own Necrohell II studio. For the first time, it seems that Nocturno Culto and Fenriz shared equally in the songwriting, as well as the lyrics. The result is the best album these two have put out in years, as well as less emphasis on the ridiculous lyrics of Herr Nagell, from recent years.

I, officially, gave up on the band after Sardonic Wrath. It left me feeling very disappointed, with much less than even 50% of the material holding my interest. The Cult Is Alive only added to this, as I was displeased with the path they were traveling. I didn't pay much attention to F.O.A.D., at the time, giving it only a brief listen before dismissing it as yet another useless album. When I decided to check out this album, my expectations were low. However, from the first moments, I was hooked. As usual, with these later Darkthrone records, there are some things that one must get used to; however, Dark Thrones and Black Flags is overflowing with incredible riffs and that is what is most important. It's just one album, but it was enough to rekindle my interest in the band.

"The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker" starts out with a somber tremolo riff that hearkens back to the band's classic era. It's very haunting and possesses a dark feeling. As the song gets going, it has kind of a Punk feeling, though it all flows really well. The song title seemed odd, at first, as well as the clean vocals during the chorus. Actually, I thought it was pretty awful until I realized that is was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. This is definitely the kind of thing that grows on you. Now, I couldn't imagine it any other way.

This is followed by "Death of All Oaths (Oath Minus)", which begins with a nasty and dark sounding thrash riff. If you're not headbanging to this, you've got a problem. This has a great old school feeling, and the raw production adds quite a bit to this. Again, Nocturno Culto isn't utilizing much of his old sound, but these riffs absolutely demand that you ignore such things. Near the middle, there's a slow doom riff that sounds as if would have fit on Soulside Journey or Goatlord, easily. That's one of the great things about this album; it is like a mixture of all the various styles the band has used. Here, everything is tied together and it works, exceptionally well.

"Hiking Metal Punks" is next, and it goes back to the less serious sound. It also features horrid vocals that make you cringe on the first listen, while making you sing along by the third. The first part of the song is okay, but nothing terrible fascinating. By the middle, there is a howling that is followed by some incredible old school riffing and a killer solo. This is certainly worth waiting through the first half of the song. Like on the last album, things seem to just get better as they go along.

The next song is "Blacksmith of the North (Keep That Ancient Fire)". It starts with some eerie effect, before going into a wicked-sounding riff. This track brings things back down, into a darker place. The solo is haunting and adds to the sinister atmosphere of this song. The song is rather dynamic, featuring some variation in the pacing.

"Norway in September" is one of the real highlights of this record. This one possesses a feeling of dread and has Nocturno Culto's name written all over it. As opposed to the last few albums, this one seems to be much more consistent with the dark feeling. The cold tremolo riffs weave throughout your mind, painting grim visions. After a couple minutes, things slow down and the guitar seems to be wailing in agony, as the season of dying is upon us yet again. Another tremolo riff comes in, this one having an otherworldly tone, creating a creepy effect. The song then transitions to another riff, bring things from those abysmal depths, just enough so that you can survive until the next assault.

"Those cold nights are back again
Norway morning greet my daily toil
That old familiar smell
Fallen leaves return to our soil"

An ominous sound introduces "Grizzly Trade". This slower riff soon gives way to a faster one, with a catchy Punk beat underneath. It then shifts back to the slower sound, during the latter half. The dark atmosphere is maintained, though there doesn't seem to be much about this song that stands out, on its own. Still, as a part of the whole, it serves its purpose.

"Hanging Out In Haiger" features more pointless lyrics, but the overall feel is somewhat light-hearted and paying homage to the older Metal bands. Strangely, this makes me want to go listen to some Exciter or something, though it doesn't sound like hat band, at all. The cleaner vocals are terrible at first, but it's strange how quickly you'll find yourself getting used to it. The real brilliance of this song doesn't come until the second half, where you get a killer NWOBHM riff.

The title track is actually an instrumental, consisting of some very good doom riffs that hearken back to Black Sabbath, while an additional melody adds an eerie atmosphere. The song is fairly short and basic, keeping the same riff until fading out.

"Launchpad To Nothingness" starts out with a semi-thrash riff that alternates with a sorrowful tremolo melody. Strangely, this song kind combines various elements to create something rather complex, by this band's standards. In some interviews, Fenriz has mentioned that the earlier albums came together very quickly while the songs on the last few have taken up to two months to get just right. It's easy to see why, as they're far more dynamic that the classic releases.

The album ends with "Witch Ghetto". This one loses the dark feeling that dominates the majority of the album in favor of a sound that is less serious and more Hellhammer-oriented, in a way. The song seems a little boring, until the 2:30 mark where the pace shifts and the riffs get far more interesting. It ends on a strong note, leaving a good impression on the listener.

Dark Thrones and Black Flags may not appeal to everyone, but as a fan of the earlier albums I can say that this is the strongest release since Plaguewielder (which was criminally underrated, in my view). They've taken pieces and parts of their various phases and put them together to create something new yet old; dynamic and yet primitive and old school. This probably won't appeal to those who only appreciate the Unholy Trinity, but it is tailor-made for old school maniacs that like raw and ugly Metal. This is easily the strongest album from this era of Darkthrone's career.