Darkthrone - Old Star
Darkthrone is the stuff of legend at this point. During the early 1990s, the Norwegian duo became trailblazers in black metal’s second wave. They are responsible for classics such as Transylvanian Hunger and A Blaze in the Northern Sky, both seminal releases that continue on as two of the most influential albums in the black metal genre. They captured the attention of listeners with their raw, frostbitten sound that has spawned legions of imitators. But Darkthrone has never been one to stay in the past as they have radically evolved their sound throughout their over 30-year career. In the mid 2000s, Darkthrone embraced a more crust punk sound to mixed responses from fans.
Old Star, their 17th studio effort, shifts gears again. This time, they embraced a vintage heavy metal sound filtered through their own blackened lens. While Fenriz and Nocturno Culto do call back to Darkthrone’s more celebrated era of early black metal, the riffs here for the most part remind listeners more of Judas Priest than they do of Mayhem. And while not sacrificing any of the brutality, Darkthrone’s music has much more clarity surrounding it than past iterations thanks to the production assistance of Sanford Parker, a metal veteran in his own right.
“I Muffle Your Inner Choir” starts off with a hybrid riff that could exist on a black metal or a traditional speed metal record. What gives Old Man even more of a distinction is the doomier, slower down passages heard half way through the opening track. These crushing passages return throughout at unsuspecting times. The title track is almost purely blackened doom.
Fenriz described Old Star as their “most 80’s album.” And on “The Hardship of the Scots,” the record’s longest track, headbanging riffs and screeching leads, elements that wouldn’t be too foreign on an Iron Maiden tune, run prominent. The drumming on the latter portion of this song is noteworthy, Fenriz going for a sparse, elemental, ride-heavy patter than lets the melodic motif breathe on top.
“Alp Man” is another melancholy, slow burning doom metal number. This is followed up by the furious, “Duke of Gloat” that runs at breakneck speed. With its rapid tremolo picking and wonderfully disgusting vocal performance, this is the closest Darkthrone comes to conventional black metal on Old Star.
Darkthrone, the band set out to terrorize circa 1994, with nothing left to achieve, are keen on making the music they want to make. They don’t tour anymore; they are a band that continues to put out record just for the love of metal. If there is anything that should be taken away from this era of Darkthrone is that they were not dead set on taking themselves too seriously. Old Star most likely won’t go on to be one of Darkthrone’s most remembered recordings, but it is exciting enough of a listen to suggest that Darkhrone should not stop making music any time soon if they do so wish to continue at this pace. In 2019, the titans of Norwegian black metal sound like they might even be having a little fun in the process.