A Blaze in the Northern Sky reviews
Drednahk on August 25th, 2016
Evil, Cold, Triumphant
Growing sick and tired of the direction death metal was taking (polished sound, bright clothing, political and virtue-signalling lyrics), the Norwegian trio Darkthrone had a hateful fire burning up inside of them and violently crafted an evil, frozen piece of filth we know today as 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky'. After some resistance from their label (Peaceville) they finally managed to unleash this crucial phenomenon into the underground world of extreme metal.
The album begins with 'Kathaarian Life Code', possessing a desolate and threatening intro with demonic mutterings, mysterious chants and the slow beat of a drum. Already the listener is feeling hope escaping their body as if they're watching their blood pour down a plug hole. 'Kathaarian...' is a pretty good song to sum up the flavour of this album; none of the songs really sound that much alike yet they fit together so well which is not an easy thing to accomplish. Throughout the entire album we're met with raspy vocals incredibly delivered by Nocturno Culto. His vocals here aren't guttural yet not incredibly high pitched, just very hoarse, strong and harsh sounding. Most of the guitar riffs we encounter are of the death metal variety but are crushed and almost deformed by an overwhelming amount of nasty, waspy distortion which is one of the sonic hallmarks of second wave black metal and makes us feel lucky to have this violent creation taking form before us. The devilishly catchy 'In the Shadow of the Horns' stands out and is distinguished by its punkish guitar riff, harsh snare drum within a genuine rock beat. The only thing I don't like so much in this track are the celebrational mutterings before the actually lyrics begin as it kills the threatening atmosphere slightly (although I do enjoy this in their later albums). 'Paragon Belial' has some of my favourite riffs on the album, being that they sound so fucking eerie, strange and sickening. The best song on the album for me is 'Where Cold Winds Blow' by far the 'coldest' sounding song and I do believe we can hear pure black metal surfacing for Darkthrone here. We also rewarded with triumphant phases towards the end of the album with the title track, feeling rewarded after being skinned and raped by this unrelenting winter demon of an album; inducing the listener into a strange calmness.
As I said, the songs on this album fit together perfectly but keeps the listener on edge the entire time, thanks to the drum tempo changing around a lot and unusual riff patterns (typical death metal behaviour). This first installment of the 'unholy trinity' should be in the collection of extreme metal collectors everywhere.
Felix%201666 on April 10th, 2016
A lot reviews have already been written for this album. From an objective point of view, its importance for the evolution of the Norwegian black metal scene cannot be denied. But I want to give a voice to the (minority of) black metal fans that do not appreciate this monument of the genre very much. Compared with other widely respected outputs from Norway such as "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", "In the Nightside Eclipse" or "Det som engang var", the first black metal record of Darkthrone falls by the wayside, at least in my humble opinion. The song-writing skills were not yet fully developed. The effect was that the excessive, not to say overlong tracks did not possess the necessary amount of fascinating parts. No doubt, the cold sound, the rawness of the guitars and the uncompromising attitude provided evidence to a certain degree that Darkthrone were able to realize their musical vision. But the music itself failed to have an affect on me.
The seemingly endless opener is just boring. Dragging rhythms are sandwiched by fast parts at the beginning and the end of "Kathaarian Life Code". In particular the slow-moving section seems to be infinite. It's not the greatest shit one has heard in ages, it's just too much music for too little ideas. To put it in positive terms, already this song makes clear that Darkthrone don't want to be loved by millions. Inter alia the ugly breaks of "Paragon Belial" with their nerve-shattering guitar squealing underline this statement. Anyway, the album is characterized by long sections, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, that have one thing in common: neither the guitars nor the drums set surprising or even intriguing impulses. Aggravating this situation, the ugliness of the sound is not accompanied by diabolic elements. "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" can be described as extremely raw and hostile, but the hellish aura of Mayhem's or Emperor's classics is missing. Neither occult or mystical elements shape the here presented full-length.
This does not mean that the album completely fails to evoke emotions. The lead vocals don't lack of insanity and gruesomeness, but honestly speaking, they cannot win in view of the mediocre music. Two things are true: back in the early nineties, the album itself was anything else but predictable, but as soon as you have understood the formula of Darkthrone, each and every song suffers from a lack of unexpected details. This alone would not be a great problem, but the brutal yet mostly prosy riffing as well as the noisy "I show you how sick it can sound" solos add insult to injury. And the production? Of course, it's a statement that says: we are Darkthrone and you suck. But from an objective point of view, the full-length sounds like the recording of a rehearsal. Seems as if I suck.
Finally, I don't want to hide the fact that the courage of Darkthrone was admirable. Of course, a record company is naturally interested in commercially usable products and to present the guys of Peaceville such a rude piece of noise was anything else but a matter of course. That was really a casual action of the Norwegians. Another good idea was the creation of "In the Shadow of the Horns". This track marked the first successful composition of Darkthrone. As we all know, dozens of blistering songs followed. However, the opening riff is truly merciless and the song develops in a coherent way. But overall, this average work fails to impress due to musical reasons. Anyway, it has become an icon of the then uprising scene, whether I like it or not.
ConorFynes on October 23rd, 2015
Scattered, ambitious and terrifying.
Darkthrone are probably the last among the 'essential' bands I hadn't properly checked out. Considering they (amongst the likes of Mayhem and Immortal) have most closely come to exemplify the icy sounds of black metal's Second Wave, it's pretty remarkable to dive into a trope-codifying classic like A Blaze in the Northern Sky, realizing that they're actually much more in a league of their own than many fans give them credit for.Darkthrone's journey through time and style is one of the most fascinating to be found in metal. Soulside Journey struck me as a fairly exceptional slab of early death metal, and might have foreshadowed a great career in that neighbourhood if Euronymous hadn't gotten the pair into blacker arts. The technical display and relative professionalism displayed on Soulside Journey frames a lot of the baser aspects of A Blaze in the Northern Sky as intentionally rebellious in nature, rather than a case of lacking skills. Similar to Varg Vikernes' own encouragement of conventionally 'low' production values with Burzum, A Blaze in the Northern Sky made its weaknesses into strengths.
The rest is history, and any stuffy textbook on the rise of metal would probably say much the same. For my own experience, I think I was shirking away from Darkthrone under the misguided impression that it was better to stay up to date with the latest and greatest, and that time spent dawdling about in black metals past would feel overly familiar in the light of the legions of half-baked acolytes that followed them. The frostbitten nihilism and appropriately cold production on A Blaze in the Northern Sky have been parroted to the point of parody, but what's rarely talked about with Darkthrone are the things that otherwise defined them as a unique artist. Darkthrone's first foray into blackened territories may have formed the basis for a lot of future influence, but taken on its own, it's an incredibly compelling navigation of styles, bold and treacherously imperfect.
Say what you will about Darkthrone; if anything may be gleaned from an interview with Mr. Fenriz, it's that the band are as true as can be when it comes to their dedication to music and heavy metal culture. Darkthrone have paved their own path as a natural reflection of their varied musical interests. While that's more apparent in the overall shift of styles (from death to black to crust to traditional) as the years have gone on, you can even hear multiple approaches channelled forth in A Blaze in the Northern Sky. The grizzly, authentically disquieting atmosphere plants the album as a black metal experience first and foremost, but a lot of the riffs betray influences from other spheres, heavy metal, death and doom chief among Darkthrone's parental inspirations. Euronymous' personal influence on the Darkthrone guys musically resulted in the black metal-canon minimalism, but it was never enough to mask their innate love of riffs and metal classicism.
I was surprisingly underwhelmed by A Blaze in the Northern Sky, at least at first. While at first I brushed that off as a result of the Second Wave tropes having been reduced to overfamiliarity in the past years, a few more listens in and I began to realize that feeling was a result of the album lacking a firm sense of focus in comparison to the other so-called masterpieces of the early '90s. The very things that consequently make this album stand out today (the latent doom riffs, the eclectic fuck-you attitude and ambitious riffcraft) are the very stuff that makes the album a surprisingly slow grower. Of course, like most canon classics, the quality comes to light with time and patience. Darkthrone's songwriting may be all over the place here (a testament to your youth and wild ambitions, perhaps) but the distinctive riffs are a treat enough. There's a legitimate weirdness to some of the guitar ideas on this album; especially compared to Soulside Journey there's nothing of a technically demanding nature here, but Darkthrone conjure an immense and foreboding atmosphere through fairly minimal means.A Blaze in the Northern Sky is an album that almost feels pointless to write about. The people who love Darkthrone already swear by it, and there's a growing number of contemporary listeners that are happy to look past the Second Wave achievements as passe or even not to be taken seriously. I was lamentably part of that latter category for a long time, but it doesn't take long listening to a classic to learn precisely why it was remembered.
gasmask_colostomy on June 18th, 2015
The Mona Lisa album
Occasionally in life, something comes before an object to prevent you seeing it clearly. For anyone who has ever been to the Louvre Museum in Paris in the hope of catching a glimpse of the 'Mona Lisa', you will know that the picture itself is never what you end up seeing; rather, you will perhaps see the picture, but you will certainly see the heads and shoulders of a few hundred people standing in front of you, who are also trying to see the picture and waving their cameras and shouting, so that your impression of the art is of its popularity, not of its skill or beauty. The painting itself is a mirage, or a mythology, to use a Barthesian term, which is obscured by its own fame, preventing us from ever looking at it as itself.
Such is the case with Darkthrone's 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky'. Part historical landmark, part heavy metal album, it has become difficult to take an objective view on the importance and the execution of the music on this release. In terms of the genre question, I come down firmly on the side of black metal for a couple of reasons: firstly, this release has been taken in by the black metal movement and certainly has the most aesthetic, atmospheric, and thematic qualities in common with the genre; secondly, this album plays more like the last statement of the first wave of black metal than any other subgenre, keeping (as always with Darkthrone) one foot in the past of Hellhammer and Bathory and Venom, while also introducing the signature grimness and snowy fuzz that would mark most second wave black metal to come. Sure, the vocals are a little distant from the high-pitched, unearthly wail that would arrive, but that has never defined the genre for me - black metal has always been more about intent than specific execution.
Darkthrone do have one thing that really goes for them as a result of the slight stylistic lag from their death metal material. The riffs and the tone of the guitars end up a lot more powerful than many later releases, since the sound is often quite thick and crunchy, making some of the more obvious speed riffs (not really death or thrash or black) on 'Paragon Belial' and the title track really sit up and sweep through the listener's stomach with wonderful dynamics and powerful groove. Some of the faster tremolo riffs stay a bit thin, and a large part of 'Where Cold Winds Blow' is without character, but the aggression of Fenriz's blastbeats saves it a little, even if it becomes repetitive too quickly. In fact, all of the instrumentalists play with more variety in style than would govern a normal black metal album, thus providing a more interesting approach than on, say, 'Transylvanian Hunger', which maintains its integrity to the point of being a little predictable.
The thing that really makes 'A Blaze' work is that the songs are so damn good for the most part. The way that they are structured makes little sense and sometimes the transitions between sections are roughly formed, yet that's what makes them exciting and unnerving, especially on a song like 'Paragon Belial' when the creepy higher guitars come in and slowly morph from ugly brooding gargoyles (some would say melodies, but that doesn't seem right) into a creepy and sweeping riff. The slower sections hold up the album so well and give it more character than a thousand blasts and icy tremolos could ever achieve. As such, when 'The Pagan Winter' crawls through its middle part, it gets better and never loses its focus, giving off a definite aroma of the North, along with the almost scenic mid-paced riffs that Fenriz wisely chooses not to add too much drumwork to. As I mentioned earlier, the only song that disappoints me is 'Where Cold Winds Blow', while 'Kaatharian Life Code' ends up a little unwieldy and less essential, though not without merit.
The thing that settles it for me is that 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky' is good to listen to and plays to more than one mood as well. I can put this album on in the middle of the night to creep myself out, I can listen to it in the car when I'm late, I can listen to it in a foul depression - hell, I even played it at a party once. The whole thing hangs together very well considering that it isn't really well-planned and mixes styles to a certain extent, meaning that rocking out and soul-searching don't need to be mutually exclusive activities. Plus, there's that line in the title track that cannot fail to send a shiver up your spine: remember Christians - "The next thousand years are OURS." That's black metal.
thejoker on August 6th, 2011
There is No Other Album
"A Blaze in the Northern Sky" is the black metal album to own - there is no other. When I was younger, when I still thought that Satan was the ultimate personification of rebellion, this was the album that I blasted with car windows rolled down in freezing rain, driving around at 3AM and letting the music freeze my soul into a shard of ice.
Let me restate my point - there is no other black metal album, at least in the satanic/secular scene. Though our lads in Darkthrone have gone on further back in time to play even more 80's sounding black metal / punkish sounding music, this album is pure blood-freezing, ice cold black metal served straight, no chaser.
Beginning with bizarre satanic chants courtesy of Fenriz, the album descends into utterly barren and bleak madness. Guitars are as thin as reeds frozen solid in a field drenched with snow and permafrost, the atmosphere is autumnal and cryptic, the air outside becomes hazy with coffin dust and ice winds. "Kathaarian Life Code" still boasts the most grim-sounding riff of all time near the end of the track. Two notes, utter apocalyptic decay.
From there, one continues to trek across the most frozen fields of complete and utter misanthropy and evil. Nocturno Culto's cries echo across the steely mountains and shriek through the old cemeteries, haunting the listener like a ghost long forgotten and newly-resurrected.
Unlike later efforts such as "Under a Funeral Moon" and "Transilvanian Hunger", there is a lingering death metal influence here, and Fenriz's drumming is not relegated to the sound of clicking turn-signals just yet. In fact, his furious rhythmic drumming is quite front and center with the music, whereas the guitars buzz away viciously in the background.
There is no way around it - if you are a self-respecting black metal fan, and you do not own this album, you are not a black metal fan at all. This is the penultimate record, the best there is.
Of all the albums that I loved the most in my days within the satanic black metal scene, this was the one I cherished the most. I can still feel the winds outside at night, I can still feel myself driving in the deep of the morning, blasting this album at full tilt.
Thanks for the memories lads...
Necropolism on April 20th, 2011
So, the first thing we notice when looking at this album is that it has 6 tracks. Did Darkthrone set the 6 track ‘black metal’ album trend? They certainly set the satanic themed, corpse-paint and bad-production trends. I think it's interesting how they are so ‘anti-trend’, when everything they do screams, “copy me!” Anyway, onto the review!
Production: The production of this album is (needless to say) raw, cold, etc. Though it is poorly produced, it was done in such a fashion where all the frequencies are filled beautifully. The bass drum is punchy, and the treble is shockingly chilling. 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky' has a very full sound compared to Darkthrone's latter two albums (Under a Funeral Moon & Transilvanian Hunger). This is probably because 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky' was recorded in an actual recording studio, on actual master tapes, versus a 4 track cassette recorder in their basement. The guitars are the dominant sonic force on this album, having a distinct buzzing characteristic to them. The stereo imaging on this album is excellent, so is the instrument separation. The drums are 'big' sounding, tons of reverb. The bass guitar is pretty much non-existent..
Musical Quality: Here's where it gets a little odd. I'm sure these guys are good musicians but their sessions on this album sound pretty sloppy. Almost as if the recording process was rushed or done poorly on purpose, I can't really tell which the culprit is, but you can hear audible mistakes in their playing, as if their guitar/drum tracks were done in one take. Either way I enjoy the playing, the subtle mistakes give the album an organic edge that I crave. The vocals are superb, extremely haunting and just pure evil sounding.
Lyrical Content: This is the part of the album I enjoy the most. Fenriz is out there when it comes to laying lyrics down. I mean come on, what the hell is a “Superjoint Ritual”? Whatever it is, I want to be apart of it! The lyrics are mostly hateful, satanic and nihilistic type rants. These lyrics set the mood for this album quite nicely.
Overall: I would have liked to see a bit more effort put into the guitar parts in terms of tightness. The drums as well seem to fall behind in some spots. I also feel like some of the songs could have been a bit shorter, some of the riffs are played over and over so many times you feel like your ears are going to fall off. This is one of my favorite black metal albums, which of course makes my review a little biased, but I tired to point out flaws where noted. Either way, this is an extremely influential album that is a must have for any black metal fan.
Evil_Johnny_666 on January 14th, 2011
Unleashing the storm
Ablaze in the Northern Sky, Darkthrone's black metal breakthrough and classic, where they scrapped Soulside Journey's completed death metal follow-up in favour of something more along the lines of what unique wave of metal was coming out of Norway at the time, helmed by the infamous Euronymous and his band Mayhem. Why Darkthrone haven't bothered recording Goatlord since it was already composed in its entirety is beyond me, even more as they knew exactly what they wanted to do with it, getting something more organic for example. And there arises the most contradictory feeling I ever had for an album of any artist, it's that while knowing they never professionally recorded it gives me a sense of loss when confronted with the thought of what it could have been - as I am a big fan of Soulside Journey - I am glad they made this very audacious and bold move. Because the masterwork, the black metal milestone that Ablaze in the Northern Sky is would never have been possible had it not been for such exceptional circumstances. Plus, we still can get our hands on the rehearsal as well as a black metal interpretation of it which is quite unique and good, both offering something satisfying that neither would've been possible without their daring action and vigor. So following the outbreak of the Norwegian black metal scene, Fenriz, Nocturno Culto and Zephirous didn't want to be associated with the now "worthless" death metal scene anymore, but be part of that unique new movement, alienating their very talented bassist Dag Nilsen in the process who then made his unfortunately last recording session.
The problem these youngster then immediately encountered in terminating their Goatlord project - whose original title was actually the name of the recording we got instead - was that they had a recording deal with Peaceville they had to fulfill shortly while they had nothing left to work with. Or at least that's what we could first think. What it meant, was that they had little time to experiment within that new founded style; they had no choice but to not stray too far from what they were comfortable with, death metal. Indeed, as witnessed on their Frostland Tapes compilation and unlike their first official release of Goatlord, is that A Blaze in the Northern Sky's titletrack was actually taken from that scrapped album. Additionally, if like me you watched Nocturno Culto’s The Misanthrope, you may have realised too that at some point was played a rehearsal version of "The Pagan Winter" dated from 1991 which had a very familiar sound. It could be a coincidence, but in the possibility that it wasn't - if you take the much more dynamic, death metal-y drumming as evidence - we may even have not the complete Goatlord rehearsal, unless it is a left-over track which still got recorded at some point. Knowing that at least the 1/3 of the album is actually from the abandoned first incantation of their sophomore release makes its death metal side all the more apparent than it already was. And that's what makes A Blaze in the Northern Sky so unique and groundbreaking as that singular situation made it be; it has a black/death metal duality like none other, it is black and death metal at the very same time yet the overtly black metal aesthetics convert its entire purpose.
Even if you have no knowledge of Goatlord's influence here - though there's still some notable differences in songwriting - you start to notice how untypically black metal the album can be after being more acquainted with it - though it comes off as weird saying this considering the year it was unleashed. The single most apparent untypical element would be the solos which were completely abandoned for a couple of recordings afterwards, even more considering how not unlike to those on Soulside Journey they are. Then you realize that it structurally is similar to their debut as well as the genre it is labelled with and follows a more rigorous analysis of the riffs themselves as well as the drumming. Frequently the riffs are just black metal in the way they are played - not considering the very important part the production plays - for example, the titletrack's opening riff wasn't originally played by tremolo, some other times, as seen on the other parts of the "Unholy Trinity", it's Bathory influenced black metal stuff which itself is not particularly similar to the Norwegian sound, but more like the thrashy sound found on Hellhammer and Sodom's early output. Fenriz' playing here is around midway between the technicality of Soulside Journey and the Bathory-like simplicity of Under a Funeral Moon, he still has that death metal playing reflex which he tries to tone down. What results is the essence needed for the perfect backbone for something as cold and evil; he strikes with conviction and purpose, grimly opening the path for the vicious winds from up North. At other times he may slow down a bit and deliver as effective punkish rhythms almost making you feel as if some malevolent spirit was keeping his dubious eye on you. Even the cymbals are a menacing force here, an essential part of his drumwork as they oftentimes evoke the sterility and cold of emptiness. This is one of his best performances and shows how much of an incredible drummer he was with all the great combinations of all of his drumkit to best fit the situation. Nocturno and Zephyrous' riffs then are the freezing air from the coldest and darkest of places, biting your face as you walk along its changing drift. The opening of "Where the Cold Wind Blows" is the perfect example of Darkthrone sounding as some of the most vicious wind blowing.
The instrumental side really transports you somewhere else; it is the perfect soundtrack to the freezing nightly walk during a snowstorm. I know I used the words cold and evil a couple of times, but it’s really because A Blaze in the Northern Sky is the epitome of all that is cold and evil. The production really helps in this, and again it's somewhat unique due to the particular situation they were in. Peaceville were one of the big death metal label at the time, thus having the best studios in the metal realm, something Darkthrone could use to their advantage. Nowadays, when black metal bands want to sound cold and evil as possible, to sound like Darkthrone, they just record everything the cheapest way possible, and that’s why it can never sound as good as here. Because A Blaze in the Northern Sky truly is very well recorded; very clear and pounding drumming, Dag Nilsen's great bass work can be heard almost at any time as the vocals don't sound as coming out of worn speakers, Nocturno using some, again, clean effects to good result. So you can very well hear how well recorded and mixed it is for its time, where they turned a potentially not so black metal release into a real one is how they made everything sound. The most apparent is the guitars, if some think the most vicious guitar tone will come out of something that greatly shows its limitations - and therefore limits the impact of the guitars along the way - better listen to the clear and sterile sound complimented by plenty of fuzz guitars, it's all the more menacing and cold. It can particularly be heard during the opener, "Kathaarian Life Code" when near the end everything stops except the guitars alone, playing some of the most menacing riff, resonating its coldness in the void...
This is essential Darkthrone, essential black metal. A Blaze in the Northern Sky is the essence of the black metal sound and spirit. And that's something a bit ironic considering all that has been told; that the album is pretty much only considered a black metal release at all because of its aesthetical disguise. But at the same time, it represents well what is that essence, which is the message so to speak. A Blaze in the Northern Sky remains one of my favourite Darkthrone albums, if not my favourite. While some potentially incredible albums may disappear because of several inconvenient factors, the contrary can also happen, both can also happen at the same time! And this is the case here, that's why it is so unique and good. Darkthrone had the guts to bin a whole album, particularly considering their young age and that they had an opportunity like none other to be signed with Peaceville, yet because of their passion and vigor managed to make that weird circumstance to their advantage, to make a black metal milestone and one of the very best of the genre.
autothrall on January 24th, 2010
Witchcraft still breathes
It's astonishing how something which once seemed so horrific, ugly, and niche at the time of its conception has transformed the musical landscape of its parent genre for decades, and yet that is exactly what A Blaze in the Northern Sky has accomplished. Initiating the transformation of four young Norsemen from a great death metal band into one of the flagships of the emerging black metal scene, and one of the very best that genre has and will likely ever have to offer, the album is 42 minutes of everything this style should represent, in its purest form. While previously the phrase 'black metal' was still known best at the Venom title, it was the year of 1992 in which A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Burzum would start a fire that would burn well beyond their control, capitalizing on the direction that a few artists (like Mayhem) had already been kindling for a few years from the roots of occult metal acts like Mercyful Fate, Bathory, Hellhammer, Possessed, Slayer, and so on.
Of the three, it is Darkthrone's sophomore effort which stands out to me as the figurehead for the endless thousands of cult black metal acts to follow, as it stood against just about everything that was 'important' to metal music in the early 90s. After the thrash and speed metal genres had evolved from rugged, blasphemous onslaughts to works of technical virtuosity, death metal was manifest as its more extreme younger sibling, with bands signing endorsement deals and writing complex material to impress an increasing demand for aggression. Darkthrone were themselves a death metal band, but not in that way, edging more towards the dark themes and grim vibes of that genre's roots. In 1992, upon the release of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, that changed...I would have loved to have seen the look on the Peaceville Records execs' faces when they first listened to it (though they have no doubt turned a pretty penny with it since).
The reason being: this album goes against just about all common sense for a metal band during those years. Where most are veering into more difficult compositions, and cleaner, modern studio sounds, Darkthrone are breaking down the thrash and death metal influence to a raw fundamental. Instead of simply using lyrics as implications for the themes of occultism and the cruelty of the natural world and of Man, they were conjuring music which actually FELT cold, FELT hostile, FELT like you haven't got a sliver of goddamn hope, an endless winter closing about you like a noose. Today, it might seem like old hat to most, an album like this. But when it released, individuals had a difficult time trying to determine whether or not this was even music. And yet it was. For at the heart of Darkthrone's sound is a very loyal adherence to the aim of their forebears...the plodding murk of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, the savage and viral raw thrashing of Bathory or Onslaught, and frenzied speed of Slayer and the more extreme current of early death metal acts from both sides of the Atlantic.
But the packaging of this core aesthetic was truly something to behold for the virgin listener. Raw guitar tones which sound like poorly recorded rehearsals, a harsh barking vocal range that few were working with by this point, far more throaty than the guttural death that had been scaring mothers and Church officials by 1992, and a sound like it was recorded in a barn, or a shack in some cold forest that people had long forgotten. In short, it's life affirming, albeit in a negative light that makes nihilism seem like a warm night spend cuddling with your honey by the hearth. This unlikely little slab of icy, ripping sinew paved a road of ill intentions, with every branching path a descent into the deepest hell of possibility. Fenriz claims the album was 'rushed' to press for their Peaceville contract, so it may even be something of an accident that the album evokes such a loose, amateur endearment, but in my opinion, that's the best kind of accident...ever. Other bands may have grown over time into the 'face' or 'voice' of the black metal movement, but this album is its heart and soul.
Of should I say, heartlessness? And soullessness?
As if this album could have gotten any less accessible, the fearsome quartet (yes, same lineup as Soulside Journey) decided to open it with over 10 minutes of the "Kathaarian Life Code". Swelling black ambiance and ritual vocals are fused with a gremlin-like, choking narrator before the blast beat surges forward at around 1:20, walls of hissing chords bristle like a storm of razor ice blanketing the surrounding earth for miles. At 2:00, it breaks into a slower, driving rock beat alongside a reverbrous death metal speed picked rhythm, then blasting forward again to a sick breakdown after 3:00 which was the heaviest fucking thing I had heard in years (and I had heard Pestilence and Obituary before this band). Everywhere, the clashing drums and fuzz of the guitars breed natural atmosphere, while the distorted bass weaves through, carving out the hearts of men. Oh yes, this is heavy, but it is beautifully goddamn vile, even as the vocals return later to spew a vomit-like pattern of groans and grunts which sound like Tom G. Warrior if he were choking on a turkey dinner. "In the Shadow of the Horns" shows a far stronger leaning towards the Celtic Frost influence, even with the 'hey' vocal to kick off the grooving, molasses guitar rhythm, still swelling with the cutting fuzz tone. The chugging of the bridge will also remind a little of Sabbath, or early Paradise Lost, and the melodic black charge around 4:30 feels like a tortured release from the confines of the oozing blackness, while Nocturno Culto's vocals howl the eternal mantras:
'In the Shadow of the Horns only seen by the Kings
of the Dawn (of the) First Millennium upon the Thrones!
In the Shadow of the Horns
Cleansed like the air in the Night
World Without End!'
Yeah, grab the nearest dictionary, flip to the term 'epic' and scribble the Darkthrone logo over the previous definition of the word. "Paragon Belial" carries forward with a steady, warrior rhythm, very simple and effective chords serving as the counter ballast to the godawful, fearsome fucking vokills. The track descends into chaos after 1:00, a discordant, jangling line under which the double bass begins to roll, like a dance across skulls in a passionate netherworld night. Stick clicks, raw echoes, the band leaves just about everything right on the fucking disc, to give you the impression that you're actually present at a jam session of ghosts, witches and demon worshipping necrophiles. To anti-Christen "Where Cold Winds Blow", Culto belches forth a vocal line that seriously sounds like a man who just had his throat torn out by a bear, and the riffs of this track scream with a grinding, hardcore chaos into another raw as fuck break at around 1:20, into which the wind howls like an ayrie of fallen angels. Fast, messy, and second to none.
"A Blaze in the Northern Sky" itself is the shortest piece on the album, under 5 minutes, but home to no less sheer vitriol than any of its lengthier siblings. The savage guitar rhythm emits a very subtle shift in tone and atmosphere, and again the band sounds more like an actual hellish wind or unnatural force than a group of guys recording a record. As they break into another of their fabled slower rhythms, a frosted mirror of majesty is summoned forth, each attempt to glean one of its secrets like prying a ring from a stiff, frozen corpse, ancient eyes agape in terror from the heresy it witnessed before its passing. At around 3:00 the band goes all rock and roll, and it's excellent fun (skip ahead almost 20 years, and this spirit still remains in their sound), before they return to the doomed weaving of the burgeoning chords. "The Pagan Winter" sounds like one of their Soulside Journey tracks put through a filter of blackness, unnerving melodies and sodden dis-chord, and if you can't appreciate the powerful, dark majesty of the riff sequence at 1:30, well then, you simply do not belong in Hell. So don't let the pitchfork prick you in the ass on the way out!
Everything about this album is iconic...not only is the music as fresh today as it was in 1992, but the grim and minimal cover artwork is unforgettable, a barely discerned darkness against which guitarist Zephyrous leers in his corpse paint like a vampire closing on the kill. The band's lyrics have always been among the best in black metal, forays into their native tongue and grammatical inconsistencies excused for the exquisite agonies painted through the words. If someone not in the know were to simply ask me one day, "What is black metal?" I would sit them down and slide this CD across the desk to them.
I really hate the cliche, as it always implies some sense of superior/inferiority relationship, but this is one of those real cases where you either 'get it' or you don't, folks. If you do get it, congratulations. You have the eyes to see. The ears to hear. Your heart toils and bleeds black, and you will probably die a pitiful death, alone in a world of strangers that could not understand the dark pleasures you found discovered just below the surface of the night. This is the best black metal album that God ever turned his fat cheeks upon, spitting more filth than a thousand snakes in a thousand gardens, and drawing more messianic blood than a Roman legion of hammers, nails and crucifixes. This is where it begins and ends, choir. Every single black metal album must be judged against it, and thus far, none have exceeded its ghastly charms and molested dreams (and when they come close, they usually bear the name Darkthrone on their psychotic sleeves).
Highlights: every fucking second. And for fuck's sake, if you are not listening to this with the speakers or headphones cranked up, you are doing it wrong!
defyexistance on January 7th, 2010
First off, I know this is practically blasphemy to say, but this is my least liked Darkthrone album. My reasons are as follows. It is unimaginative, ill-produced, and finally an overall chore to listen to.
I would label this album unimaginative, for no other reason than, unlike the other Darkthrone albums, its riffs are boring and repetitive. We all know that repetition is the essence of Darkthrone, but repetition is only effective when the riffs being repeated are good. The riffs on The Pagan Winter are great, along with Paragon Belial, but the rest of the album lacks this quality. Every song starts in the exact same way, except Kathaarian Life Code, and this gets tiresome quickly. One can definitely tell it is death metal tailored to be black metal, listen to the riffs on The Pagan Winter for proof of this. To me this is cheating in a sense, and is thus unimaginative.
Next, I see this album as ill-produced, not because I can't tolerate raw, but because it has to be at least listenable. This is by no means listenable. Half of the album is just meaningless, begrimed, fuzz. It sounds good as bleak winternoise in the background, but is impossible to analyze beyond that. The production on Under a Funeral Moon and Transylvanian Hunger retain the raw grimness of this album, but through the tinniness and fuzz, one can at least decipher what is going on musically.
This is an overall chore to listen to because, while the album certainly has high points, the meat of it is mediocre. Kathaarian Life Code starts the album off very well, but the second In the Shadow of the Horns comes on, it takes a severe dive. I cannot exactly describe what it is, but this song is just annoying, perhaps because of the sub-standard vocal work. Fortunately, Paragon Belial is amazing, and quite-possibly is the redeeming element of this album, at least in my eyes. Now, for the chore part. Where Cold Winds Blow is awful. It is just rawness and feedback playing through speakers, masquerading unsuccessfully as music. This leads into the title cut which is another sub-par song, that contributes very little to the album, other than taking up space. Finally, the outro is good, but, to me, it sounds closer to death than black metal. The riffing is very death metal-esque, and some of the slower bits in the song have a droning death metal feel about them.
While i realize the importance of this album to the genre, and the influence it has had, I think the band should have nit-picked a bit more, gotten this album more ready for release, and released a true masterpiece. Perhaps using new material instead of old recycled death metal ideas would have helped as well. Although I do not find the vast majority of this album pleasurable, I respect the band for releasing something so gritty and raw, without regards to public opinion, and for being one of the first to publicly display their use of corpsepaint. I see this album not as the epitome of Darkthrone (or black metal for that matter), but as a vehicle used to achieve the greater things that were to come. For this reason, this is a piece that I would reccommend for its historical significance, not for its musical value.
Jiri777 on July 15th, 2009
This might be the first real black metal record ever recorded. However, it does not have all the aspects that define a black metal album today. “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” lacks time signature changes, raspy vocals, constant blast beats, and classically structured music. This album does contain distorted guitars, some blast beats, and somewhat raspy vocals. In all, “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” definitely defined the black metal genre.
The vocals on this album are provided by Nocturno Culto. Although his vocal style hear is not high-pitched rasps, they are not exactly velvety either. They kind of sound like Maniac from Mayhem on Deathcrush but much fuller. They are maniacal screams that sound like a mad person about to kill a small poodle. One can see how the classic high-pitched rasps evolved from this.
Guitars here are terribly distorted. Not nearly as bad as “Under a Funeral Moon”, but they are getting there. Nasty riffs played in a death metal style dominate the album. Songs like “Paragon Belial” and “The Pagan Winter” include creeping distorted riffs that crawl up the spine. “In the Shadow of the Horns” is played in 4/4 and really has a crust punk sound to it. Guitars are very energetic on this song and most songs here defy what today’s black metal guitars tend to play. This album is filled with energy and is not a good representative of today’s black metal sound. Darkthrone really took a turn for the best with their next album removing the rocky environment from their songs and replacing it with a classical atmosphere.
Drums are genre defining here. They are not nonstop blast beats like the next three Darkthrone albums, but still are groundbreaking. Mostly set in 4/4, the drums are also energetic rock beats. However, in songs like “Kaatharian Life Code” they completely stop the energy and substitute it with blast beats. Possibly the first real blackened blast beats done. After this album, Fenriz does not stop blast beating until their heavy metal sound sets in.
Songs that stand out are every song that I mentioned earlier. “Where Cold Winds Blow” and the title track are good songs, but not as memorable as the remaining four (IMO). “Kaatharian Life Code” is probably my favorite here. It starts with haunting chants provided by Fenriz, and sick high-pitched guttural vocals from Nocturno Culto mixed together. A disturbing beginning to black metal’s sound. The song kicks ass for ten full minutes and ends with blasting. “The Pagan Winter” ends with the haunting chant of Fenriz atop of rasps of Culto which is a very cool part of the album. It is cool because “Kaatharian” is the opener of the album and “Winter” is the closer. So the album begins with the chant and ends with the chant.
This is an essential album for all black metal fans. It pretty much strengthened the black metal sound created by Bathory and Mayhem and was the force behind the whole second wave. A must have! Get it now!
WinterBliss on May 19th, 2009
A Pillar For the Second Wave
One of the seminal releases of the infamous second wave of black metal, A Blaze in the Northern Sky serves as a stepping stone for Darkthrone to their own particular niche in black metal as well as a guide for the less inspired as to how to create phenomenal black metal. ABITNS is a funny album because Darkthrone obviously wears their influences on their sleeves and the album obviously owes much to CF/Hellhammer, yet at the same time ABITNS contains its own unique voice and there simply has never been an album like it.
Setting themselves apart from their contemporaries, Darkthrone strived to achieve a catchy and 'metal' album. Not forgetting the importance of riffs from the forebears of black metal, and the thrashy/groove elements championed by Morbid Tales Celtic Frost, Darkthrone implements guitar solos (something many second wave, as well as modern black metal bands, tend to overlook), mid-section groove stomps and countless rhythm changes. When comparing ABITNS to contemporaries of the time it is interesting to see how Darkthrone retained a death metal/trash sense of composure and time. Immortal's Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is a good, but wholly inspired by Bathory effort which offered little variance amongst its tracks and seemed much more restrained. ABITNS also abstains from the absurdly fast-all-the-time style of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or the dreary slow dirge of Burzum. ABITNS really comes out as its own and as a unique vessel in the second wave. Like a good thrash album, ABITNS offers a sense of fun and invigoration, something like DMDS feels more foreboding and moody.
The instrumentation, attention to detail, and overall vibe given by ABITNS seems to make their contemporaries look childish, Darkthrone were musicians and creators of music first and foremost, while they paid great attention to their appearance, it wasn't until Transilvanian Hunger that they begun to exchange creativity and performance for image and reputation.
The drums are so powerful and authoritarian on this album, I love it. They guide each song with such brute strength and have a great tone. Fenriz's performance is one of my favorites and is very fun and interesting to listen to. The guitar work is top notch and countless riffs are undeniable classics. Every song is a classic, its hard to skip anyone of them, and downright unfair to say anyone of them is unimportant.
Darkthrone have defiantly established themselves as one of the most important names in black metal, and much of that credit is given to Transilvanian Hunger. But it was with ABITNS that Darkthrone modernized the music they had been influenced by and were able to create many of the variables that have characterized the scene since. The album surges and jumps, contains a vibrant and robust production that really emphasizes the power behind every instrument, another element they lost to the muffled and lifeless production of Transilvanian Hunger.
For me, it is a tough debate between De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or A Blaze in the Northern Sky as the king album of the second wave. They offer radically different approaches to the genre in question, and are amazing in their own right. ABITNS always seemed like a good stepping stone from thrash and death metal to black metal, DMDS feels like an album that requires a lot from the listener and isn't as simple as just picking up.This is one of the few albums i actually have fun listening to as an activity in of itself. If this album doesn't catch your fancy the first time around, put it down and come back to it, because it really is a marvel and gem of music as a whole.
hells_unicorn on March 16th, 2009
A blaze before the blackened storm.
There had been many consequential releases under the black metal moniker dating back to the early 80s, but it wasn’t until the early 90s that the style had really become whole and fully defined. Darkthrone’s sophomore effort is arguably the first in a series of powerful catalysts that set things into motion for what became the musical explosion that was the 2nd wave, being the first full length release in the style to have label support. But all things considered, “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” is essentially a masterpiece caught between two different musical worlds, though ideologically speaking its intent is quite pronounced.
Even before the band had elected to shift their production practices towards the character embodied in the then gestating black style, this outfit had a blackened tinge to their sound. At the time it was likely commonplace to peg the band’s debut “Soulside Journey” as an occult-oriented death metal release in the Morbid Angel or Possessed vain, while the riff construction might have come off as a technically impressive variant on Bolt Thrower. But the cold and picturesque atmosphere that the album carried was well removed from what most even in the Scandinavian death scene were up to. Perhaps this could be attributed to the influence of Norway’s cold and dark climate, or maybe to the band always having an affinity with early black metal bands. But regardless to how this came to be, the transition between this album and its predecessor is not quite as steep as it is often made out to be by those favoring the band’s death or black metal releases exclusively.
All of this is relevant because absent the cold, frosty, fuzz driven atmospheric aesthetic, this album listens closer to a death metal album than what most today associate with the general scene and with Darkthrone in particular. The somber melodic qualities of Emperor, the dreary symphonic elements of Enslaved, and the droning beauty of Burzum are nowhere to be found on here. Instead, what emerges is a riff based and fairly technical display with a vocal delivery that is a little more guttural than it is sepulchral, like a deeper version of what Quorthon put forth on “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark”.
But the two largest transitional blots on this pioneering effort are the auspicious guitar solos and the enduring prominence of Dag Nilsen’s bass. Although there may have been a drop in the level of technical showmanship since this album, the differences between Nocturno’s lead chops here and on their death metal songs are miniscule at most. The album’s title track “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, which was composed at around the same time as the later scrapped “Goatlord” material, has a lead slot that is just as intense as anything the band had done at this point. Similar brief bursts of death/thrash inspired speed shredding can be heard on basically every song on here. Nilsen’s bass doesn’t have quite the level of prominence and latitude that it did before, but when compared to most releases confined to the Norwegian scene, his work on here has a greater presence and overall impact on the character of the sound than most would in the years that would soon follow, as a quick listening of “In The Shadow Of The Horns” and “The Pagan Winter” will demonstrate.
Probably the most common criticism of this album within black metal circles, aside from it still having one foot in the death metal paradigm, is that it comes off as rushed. This was further noted by drummer Fenriz himself in corroborating interviews, as the band sought to meet contractual obligations with Peaceville Records. Thus in addition to still carrying a lot of similarities with their “Goatlord” material, all of these songs carry this heavily through composed sense of structure, as if several separate ideas were pasted together in a jigsaw puzzle fashion. The primary anchor that keeps the album together is the densely atmospheric and creepy intro and epilogue, where a collection of garbled ramblings lay out the rabid individualism and non-conformist attitude that this album embodies. The resulting sound that occurs in between could be comparable to what might be heard when a half hour jam band decides to try and record something with a defined structure. The riffs themselves are very cohesive, the solos very idiomatic and memorable, but transitions between differing sections come off as abrupt. But ironically, this proves to be one of the album’s charms as this off the cuff approach to songwriting gives the songs a sense of spontaneity that most drone and symphonic black metal albums lack.
It is very difficult to downplay this album’s significance, though there tend to be varying opinions on just how well it stands on its own. Some within the black metal core fan base write the band off as trend hoppers, though this viewpoint tends to ignore the fact that this style didn’t really take off until a couple years after this was put together and that Darkthrone’s early demos were stylistically ambiguous enough to be qualified as either of the two extreme styles the band exists under here, depending on the individual song in question. This carries the spirit of the scene and it is an intense listen no matter what standard you go by, though it is so evenly mixed that purists within both black and death/thrash circles may have trouble fully embracing it. But regardless of its transitional nature, it is an excellent album and the best of both worlds for those who can embrace both eras of this band.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 16, 2009.
Noctir on September 7th, 2008
My flesh yearns...for the tombworld.
In 1991, while working on their second album for Peaceville Records, Darkthrone abandoned the path that had been cleared for them and wandered into the desolate forests. They achieved a decent amount of success with their debut album, 'Soulside Journey', and they were soon to follow it up with another brilliant Death Metal album. Truth be told, as a Death Metal band, they crushed the majority of their peers in Scandinavia. However, three of the four members felt that a change was needed. Inspired by the ancient ones that had gone before them, such as Bathory, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Mayhem, they scrapped the material for the 'Goatlord' album and began creating something primitive and dark.
From the frozen landscape of the bitter cold Northland, 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky' took the metal world by surprise. It met with some resistance, before it was even released. Bassist, Dag Nilsen, was not pleased with the change in musical direction and was unceremoniously expelled from the band. However, since he did have a hand in the songwriting, to some degree, the other members felt that it was only right that he play on the album as a session musician. Once it was completed, Peaceville seemed displeased in what they heard, since they were expecting a Death Metal album. They showed no understanding of Black Metal and wanted the album to be remixed because it wasn't heavy enough. Even the aesthetics were completely different. Rather than a painting for the cover, they used a grim photo of Zephyrous in the cemetery, during one of their nocturnal rituals. Real names had been abandoned in favor of pseudonyms. Perhaps taking inspiration from Dead, who had killed himself just months earlier, they now wore corpsepaint. They were no longer the Death Metal band that Peaceville had initially signed. Darkthrone remained firm in their convictions and knew that if Peaceville didn't want to release the album, they could fall back on Euronymous and his label, Deathlike Silence Productions. Not wanting to lose a recently signed band to some tiny label, Peaceville agreed to release the album as it was, and the second wave of Black Metal was officially unleashed.
The album begins with "Kathaarian Life Code". After an eerie intro of chanting and thunderous drums, the song erupts with furious violence, guitars extremely fuzzy and raging drums. It is quite reminiscent of old Bathory. As for the vocals, Nocturno Culto emits some of the most demonic sounds ever recorded. He sounds possessed by the forces of evil. His vocals are much more raspy and grim than on the previous album. The song does not maintain the fury for too long before going into a more midpaced Celtic Frost-inspired riff. The tempo changes aid in ensuring that such a lengthy song never becomes repetitive. Already, one gets the feeling that this could have, easily, been released five years earlier. This is total primitive Black Metal, the way it was meant to be.
"In the Shadow of the Horns" is next, and this continues the Celtic Frost worship. But this is much uglier than anything on Morbid Tales. The brief solos on this album remind me a bit of some old Bathory, though Nocturno Culto says he was greatly influenced by Death's 'Scream Bloody Gore'. However, that may have been only in regard to 'Soulside Journey'. The song really shows its brilliance as it speeds up, with the tremolo riffs and blasting drums accompanying Nocturno Culto as he channeled the voice of the night, itself. Late in the song, an accoustic guitar is played over everything else, and the effect is perfect.
"Paragon Belial" opens with riffs worthy of an old Bathory release. On an album filled with memorable songs that, easily, stand out from one another, this one is one of my favorites. Fenriz claims that this album is not pure Black Metal and that some Death Metal riffs snuck in, but one can hardly notice as it is played brilliantly. As the song slows down, Nocturno Culto's tortured voice howls:
"My flesh yearns...for the tombworld."
The slow, somber riffs that end this song are very memorable and create a dark and gloomy atmosphere. It feels like a good song to die to.
"Where Cold Winds Blow" is another fast, freezing cold Black Metal song. The main riff seems to have the purpose of hypnotizing the listener and preparing them to be possessed. As the tempo changes from blistering fast to somewhat midpaced, the hatred in Nocturno Culto's vocals flows out like venom. As the pace picks up a bit, the melody is very memorable and inspires one with a sense of dread, before the thundering drums and droning guitars return. So far, this album isn't just paying homage to the old Black Metal bands, it's killing them slowly while setting a new standard.
The title track continues in much the same fashion, opening with a venomous fury before settling into a Bathory-esque midpaced Black Metal riff. That's not to say that the album is nothing but Bathory and Celtic Frost worship. They take a good deal of influence from the old bands, while also infusing that with their own creative direction, which is what makes this album so special. The slow melody, near the middle, creates a dark and eerie feeling as a morbid voice calls out:
"The next thousand years are OURS!"
The song ends with a perfectly placed guitar solo, which adds to the atmosphere. The end is near.
"The Pagan Winter" is, probably, the best song on the album. Brilliant, freezing cold melodies, perfectly timed tempo changes, excellent vocals and a Hellish guitar solo makes this one of the most memorable songs on the album. This song possesses an epic feeling and produces mental images of traveling through a desolate wintry landscape, in the light of the full moon, on the way toward a cold grave. The Celtic Frost riffs near the end are well done, also.
The Gregorian chant that began the album now returns, thus ending this masterpiece of Norwegian Black Metal. While Mayhem, Burzum and Immortal were all working on albums, Darkthrone was the first to release anything and were responsible for unleashing the fury from the north that would soon spread across the world, like an ancient plague.
red_blood_inside on July 14th, 2008
Norwegian Black Metal - Darkthrone -Chapter I
What is out there to say about Darkthrone that has not being said yet? Is any original or revealing statement to make about “A Blaze in the Northern Sky”? I think not, so, my review will expose my personal feeling about this album and its relevance in the Metal world.
One of the main qualities that this release has is the bravery that Fenriz & co. had at the time to write, arrange, record and deliver to Peaceville Records this album. Remember that at that time, the label was expecting something in the vein of “Soulside Journey”. But Darkthrone delivered a new, cold and irreverent style of metal, full of hate, with a production value that was too lo-fi and primitive for the average Death Metal listener. For all the above mentioned, I think this album and Darkthrone as a whole gained a place in the history of Metal music.
This album defines in a strange way how a Black Metal album should be. I say in a strange way because it was originally written as a Death Metal album, Fenriz has explained many times how with his drumming he disguised the Death Metal riffs. The second wave of Black Metal was in its birth, and thought it is true that Mayhem had already released their infamous Deathcrush EP back in 1987, and Immortal was working in their “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” as well as Burzum with his “Burzum”, this can be called one of the first hateful, chilling and devastating Black Metal releases that came from Norway and gave birth to the so called second wave.
Of course the production is raw, with a lot of buzz, but all the instruments are fairly audible, and, given the talent this band has, each song has its own identity. In other raw Black Metal releases you can listen the whole album as one track, but in this case Nocturno Culto made a great effort in the riffing and Fenriz gave the final touch, and the overall result is breathtaking.
The album has 6 tracks ranging from 5 to 10 minutes, and the most interesting are… well, all, but Paragon Belial has something special, you can hear the Death Metal riffing right there, but the drum pattern and the production values make it sound evil as fuck, resulting in a hell of a Black Metal masterpiece, being one of the best moments of the release. But as I said before, all tracks are unique and great, the atmosphere of the album is hypnotic, and that replaces the lack of production that any Death Metal fan may complain about.
This is an important statement of the movement that begun in Norway in the late 80’s/early 90’s, this is one of the most representative albums of that movement for its bravery, for its mood and for its quality. This is an essential release that every metalhead should know about, so, if you don’t, get it now and believe me, you’ll be more than satisfied.
Vindsval on June 7th, 2007
The very essence of early Norwegian BM
So here I find myself dealing with the album that was hailed as THE masterpiece of the early second wave of Black Metal.
So how to describe this album? A person associated with Black Metal once reminded not to mistake lack of talent with genius in that style of music. And to be quite honest, that walk along this extremely narrow grid seems to be a quite befitting issue with Darkthrone:
The value of musical skill? Naught. The song-writing? A catastrophe to any Primary/Elementary school music teacher. The sound quality? A bit like a faulty electric razor. The music itself? A monotonous cacophony that could not be worse – all in all the album sounds a little like a few kids who figured out how to mess with the gain pedal and the guitar, and the vocals have the reminiscence of a chain smoker after 45 years, awaiting cancer surgery…and having read this, can anyone really wonder why Peaceville heavily reconsidered having ever signed them?
So what is it then that deserves this release the 95% that I am donating? Well, besides its status as one of the most influential releases and the untouchability somewhat arise thereof, there are quite a few points that rehabilitate for the first disappointment that anyone used to less raw music will meet.
Notable is the intelligent riffing, i.e. the utter rape of the guitar by both Zephyrous and Nocturno Culto that create a superior atmosphere that only Darkthrone is able to create, and the minimalistic setting described above only happens to highlight this feeling so dark, cold and grim that it has Satan himself hide behind a sofa. At this time, provided you have sufficient imagination, you’re likely off sacrificing sheep in a wood in Norway.
Nocturno Culto’s voice is genius – raspy as it is: Grimmer than any horror movie and frostier than the deepest reach of Siberia, it again contributes to establish an atmosphere beyond description. In fact, many have attempted to mimick his style of singing, but very few have succeeded…hard to describe indeed, except that his vocal contribution to this release is probably some of the best that the entire genre of Black Metal has seen thus far.
The whole sound is rounded off by the raw and trollish battery delivered by Fenriz: Some-times blast-beats that build up the atmosphere, another time more mid-tempo, even slightly punky drumming – whatever it is, he uses it in good strategy even though, again, minimal in style.
Finally, notable mention has to go to the lyrics. OK, so they might be the most outright anti-relgion, Satanic, dark-side-of-nature revolved shit that you’ll ever encounter; but then again, Darkthrone were pioneers at doing this, so it is actually highly original. Lyrics are often left out of the equation when reviewing an album, but in this case, more than ever, they are the essence of the message of the album, in fact they fit the music 1000 percent.
”A Blaze in the Northern Sky” is an album that I can certainly recommend acquiring – definitely worth the €12.00 you usually pay for it. The old quote of “Black Metal ist Krieg” could not be more fitting when you talk about this album, and if you’re a fan of the likes of Bathory of Burzum, then you’ve not lived until you’ve heard this album. It is probably amongst the best BM albums ever recorded, and should not be missing from any CD collection, at least not in the collections of those that boast themselves “true Black Metallers”. Congratulations to Darkthrone for creating a masterpiece for all eternity!
(originally written for Amazon.co.uk, revised and expanded upon for this page)
WilliamAcerfeltd on April 5th, 2007
Despite what people say, I don't think this is the definitive black metal album which everyone says it is. In my opinion that award goes to fellow Norwegian black metal band Emperor for the album "In the Nightside Eclipse." Now, I love black metal, having said this, one might be surprised that this album, until recently, wasn't in my metal collection. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I got this was because it did so well in the black metal survivor game (corny reason I know) but I digress.
I had a pretty open mind when I listened to that album; actually I was pretty eager to listen to it. I had heard some other stuff by Darkthrone "Under a Funeral Moon" which was shit (easily the most overrated album, second only to the abomination itself, Drawing down the Moon) and some samples from "Sardonic Wrath", which didn't impress me that much either. Based on that, I was expecting some pretty fast, in your face raw black metal. But it wasn't There are no really fast songs on this album which I think is definitely a thumbs down. If the songs had been faster this album would have been way more interesting.
As for the songs themselves, they aren't really all that bad. From what I've heard of Darkthrone, the songs are usually quite repetitive this basically equates boring, unless the riff is reaaaallly good. As implied the songs have a lot of variety and the riff structure changes around a lot. But then again, the songs are quite long on this album. Had the riffs been repetitive, then this album would have been a dead loss because slow songs + repetition on long songs is just flat out boring.
Nucturno Culto's vocal performance is decent here. Not as good as it was on "Under a Funeral Moon" and "Sardonic Wrath", but still passable nonetheless. It's rough and grim which suits the style of this album. What really more needs to be said?
Darkthrone get a lot of credit for this, i.e. their raw, grim production which certainly gives this album a pretty cool, dark atmosphere. Unfortunately on later albums they took this a little too far. But here it is fine and certainly is a strong point off the album. Frankly the album would have been a lot dryer if the production had been crystal clear. If this had been the case (good recording), the album probably would have been way different and the reaction to it would have been a lot different.
In summary, yeah this album isn't bad, but there honestly isn't much on here to scream about. Sure the songs are good but not that good. I'll admit it, I haven't listened to this album much and maybe after a few more listens I'll love it. (If this is the case then I will rewrite this review.) However as it stands this album is nothing special.
Conclusion: I would recommend you buy it, only if it's cheap, 15 dollars and under. If not just download it as it's pretty accessible.
Aside: (When was this album recorded? This site and some others say it was recorded in 1992, but the inlay of the album says it was recorded in August 1991? Even more confusing is the fact that on the inlay it says: "A Blaze in the Northern Sky is eternally dedicated to...Euronymous.” He was killed in 1994, at least 2 years before this was even released. Perhaps it's a re-release?"
woeoftyrants on April 3rd, 2007
The next thousand years are ours...
Cutting straight to the chase by bringing their Hellhammer/Celtic Frost influence to the forefront of their new sound, Darkthrone ditched the death metal and went for the jugular in a different way with frenzied, seemingly miscalculated attacks of lo-fi and raw black metal on their "first" record, A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Not only did this record see a hearkening back to an old-school style of metal, but more importantly, it added a new edge. The classic Darkthrone albums are what Celtic Frost would sound like if they were strung out and dead-stern misanthropes, or if Quorthon were to take Under the Sign of the Black Mark into even murkier terrain.
By seemingly being themselves and adding new standards to what Bathory and Celtic Frost had forged, Darkthrone, without realizing it, revolutionized the genre and raised the bar. A Blaze in the Northern Sky still stands the test of being one of the absolute meanest, balls-out, and dirty black metal albums to emerge in the past two decades. Maybe it's the lo-fi, gritty guitar distortion; or the throbbing pulse of Fenriz' boisterous, swaggering drum work; or maybe it's just the attitude behind it all. Like it or not, this album puts a pretty heavy punk influence out into the air, and that clearly shows in everything, especially on "In the Shadow of the Horns." The classic yell of "Nocturno Culto!" affirms this, along with Fenriz' constant use of shuffling D-beats and stick clicks. This isn't the same punk formula that has surfaced in the past few years on Darkthrone albums, as it is put on in a more abstract and crusty manner. This, however, doesn't take away from the fact that this album rocks with filthy power and pure aggression.
The two things that make this album what it is are the guitars and vocals. A wide array of techniques of guitar playing is used here, whether it be the bludgeoning power chords that drive the long-winded opener "Kathaarian Life Code," the disharmonic tremolo riffs of "Where Cold Winds Blow," or the occasional splice in harmonies ("Paragon Belial") and chaotic Slayer-esque solos. If an example were ever to be given as how guitar solos should be used in this genre, this album would be my first choice. They never enter too often, but always at the right moments to push that feeling of madness and hatred to next level. "Where Cold Winds Blow" is a prime example of this, where a seething tremolo riff serves as the support for this type of solo. The rhythm riffs themselves switch between pounding, fast-paced attacks and sludgy moments that pay a bit of homage to the blackened muck of early Celtic Frost. Best moments of the latter are seen on the title track and the closing track, "The Pagan Winter," where grinding, sustained power chords create a primal atmosphere. Along with the riffs, the distortion used helps drive things forward. We've heard it a million times in black metal before; the buzzing, high-frequency, grating fuzz 'n' scuzz blasted through old practice amps. But ample room is left in the production for the riffs to breathe, and the solos are soaked in plenty more distortion and reverb to ensure maximum ear bleeding, heh.
Nocturno Culto's performance has been mimicked by many, but never duplicated. His throaty, gravelly, booze-fueled screams dive in and out of the chaos, and the impression left is that of a truly pissed-off dude. There is some reverb placed on the vocals, which give it a more natural, organic feel. This works perfectly on the manic, desperate screams seen in "Where Cold Winds Blow" and the title track. Fenriz' lyrics are essentially what make Nocturno so great here. To some, the lyrics may seem like nonsense that tries to come off as "evil." But it truly becomes evil when it's spewed forth by Nocturno. Some lines on this album cannot be beat, such as the call-to-arms of "The next thousand years are ours!"
Fenriz certainly gave us his best performance here. The rustic drum sound, seemingly haphazard fills, and pure fury combine with shuffling rock swagger here, and it's clear to see that Fenriz gave his drums a pounding. Nothing is too complex or flashy, nor is it painfully simplified like future albums. The hi-hat and ride cymbals clash with the earthy snare and thumping bass to form a loud and intimidating wall of noise on the faster moments, while leaving room for groove-laden simplicity and power on dirgy moments.
While this album certainly is overrated in some circles, it pushed BM into new territory in a barely detectable way. This album will melt your face off without mercy.
Noktorn on March 13th, 2007
The birth of the dynasty
It takes serious nerve to entirely redefine your sound on only your second album; nerve that Darkthrone obviously possesses in spades. In the harsh light of hindsight, it's easy to misjudge Darkthrone's turn towards the blacker side of things as something that ever could have been seen as 'natural'. But go back to 1992, with Darkthrone as a young, promising band on Peaceville, coming off the heels of a well-received death metal release, and the perplexing case here begins to take form.
Before the nineties had passed and black metal was viewed as a commodity, just another subgenre, it was still a primal, dangerous, experimental force in the metal scene. Like the emergence of death metal before it, black metal was frequently scorned and misunderstood by the status quo. Such a time seems alien, particularly for those of us who got into metal after the tumultuous period of the early nineties, where the chaos of the Norweigian scene was not something relegated to books and collective fables, but a very real situation where the actions of those such as Dead and Faust were very real and very current.
And, stumbling out of that murky blackness, was Darkthrone, a band who, with the release of 1992's 'A Blaze In The Northern Sky', seemed to capture that dangerous potency that black metal had in its heyday (or as close to a heyday as black metal ever had). Certainly, the metal scene had been exposed to what was referred to as 'black metal' before; mostly through the Venom-emulating sets of Mayhem and its ilk. But then comes Darkthrone, a band that entirely eschewed thrash, and instead stared into a Nietzschian abyss that few others had dared to. Aside from the collection of Celtic Frostian riffs and some lingering death metal influence, one could say that 'A Blaze In The Northern Sky' came from nowhere and related to nothing; it entered the room, and everyone paying attention could hear the audible screech of a record stopping.
Take off glasses jaded by a million clones and you can see how absurdly daring 'A Blaze In The Northern Sky' is. It's easy to look at 'Kathaarian Life Code''s ten-minute length or 'Where Cold Winds Blow''s undulating ambiance and discard them as mere convention; but to do so is to ignore that this, right here, is where that convention was established! Entering the world a scant month before Burzum's self-titled debut, this was easily the most extreme, demented, and progressive work on the metal market at the time. It wouldn't be a long shot to say that one of the things that distinguished Darkthrone from the pack was their inherent theatricism and artistry, a level of which was probably only popularly matched by Celtic Frost, who at this time were no longer relevant to the community at large, leaving Darkthrone the sole group that was forging ahead with its specific music.
While not as assaultingly atmospheric as later works, 'A Blaze In The Northern Sky' enters the world on its legendary, ritualistic ambient section before entering the shimmering darkness of 'Kathaarian Life Code', the longest and perhaps most archtypically 'black metal' track on here. Follower 'In The Shadow Of The Horns', not unlike the title track, could be said to be helping the doubtful ease into this extraordinary new sound; while 'Kathaarian Life Code' tosses the listener directly into the stream of black metal, the second track's Frostian crunch riffs act as a much easier introduction to the startling new world of black metal; at least, before Nocturno Culto's howl ushers in towering blast beats from beyond.
The album continues through such a route; pure, undeniable black metal with periodic lapses into slightly friendlier territory. However, the emphasis is still on the pitch-black negativity of 'A Blaze In The Northern Sky' that infects every part of it, from cover to lyrics to music to the intentionally raw production that would snare thousands into starting their own bands. In a uniquely ominous twist, the album ends with the same ambiance that it begins with; however, in this case, it is viewed as an escape from this terrifying reality away from our own, as opposed to the entry into it. No, I doubt Darkthrone was attempting to replicate the cyclic nature of their own songs. It's just a supremely devilish coincidence.
But I suppose supremely devilish coincidence does quite well to sum up an album such as this, doesn't it?
DanFuckingLucas on August 31st, 2006
A Blaze in the Northern Sky
This is an album that – over the years – has received much praise, been cloned many times, and is generally held as a cornerstone of modern black metal. There seems to be no doubt that this album is essential. However, I just can’t understand why. I don’t mean that the album is bad, but it’s just not that good.
The album opens up with “Kathaarian Life Code.” Some bands can open an album with a ten minute song, but Darkthrone really shouldn’t. There are some great riff structures in here, but the song just drags on. And on. And on. By around five minutes the song has changed riffs a couple of times but hasn’t really gone anywhere, it’s just boring, mid-paced black metal. However, the last minute and a half stand out, because the tempo increases and the song seems more aggressive. It also stands out because it’s good.
“In the Shadow of the Horns” beats me with more boring, mid-paced black metal. Boring riffs, and that is just the overwhelming thing about this song. Like the previous track, this song also has a tempo shift, but when it speeds up it’s still boring. I find that this song pretty much sums up the album as a whole. It has everything every other track has: boring, and a whole heap of it. It goes nowhere and just can’t hold my interest, and occasionally there’s some aggressive speed thrown in, but hell, that’s boring too (for the most part).
This album is not complex, it’s not pretty and nor does it try to be. It’s raw, it’s evil and it’s proud, but most of all it’s dull. It’s an album that just never made an impression on me in all the times I’ve tried to get into it, but most frustratingly, it doesn’t give me a lot to say about it either. It simply lacks whatever it is that makes an album enjoyable.
Valleys_Of_Hades on April 6th, 2006
In the shadow of the horns!
By the early 90s, several of the European Death Metal acts along-side Darkthrone like Entombed, At The Gates and even Dismember, seemed to have had “lost” the extreme, raw and brutal edge to the Death Metal genre. Death Metal is or was all about being aggressive, raw and down-right primative. Not to say that those bands weren’t damn heavy, because they were, but Darkthrone saw a decline in extremity when it came to what was called “death metal” during the time, which included their Soulside Journey album as being a perfect example of that decline as well. Pretty soon, Darkthrone wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with the current Death Metal scene, in which they wrote it off as being wimpy and trendy.…
So what does Darkthrone do? They don’t progress. They release one technical Death Metal album, Soulside Journey, and then go back in time into mid 80s (not literally, but musically speaking), and release an album full of hate, rawness, aggression and minimalistic musicianship, VERY MUCH similar to what Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom were putting out during their prime. This particular album, A Blaze In The Northern Sky, marked the start of a new beginning for Darkthrone. Three of the four members obtained this “less is more” mentality, reducing their music into minimalistic, raw and hateful Black Metal. Nevertheless, the music on A Blaze In The Northern Sky isn’t as simplistic, raw or minimal as their later works like Under A Funeral Moon or Transylvanian Hunger. Instead, this album is kind of a cross between Black and Death Metal, leaning more towards the realm of Black Metal. Even those of you who despise the bands later works MIGHT get into this album after a few listens since there is enough Death Metal riffing to be heard here. It’s just the raw production that will turn most people off. As for the band’s later offerings…well…they’re a totally different story.
Kathaarian Life Code kicks off with some evil chanting, followed by a voice that’s whispering something of which I cannot understand. This kind of intro sets the mood perfectly, probably causing the listener to assume that this is going to be another atmospheric Metal listening experience. But if they assume that, then they’re in for a total shock! The intro lasts for about 1 and a half minutes, and then after that, a raw and furious metallic assault of noisy riffs and thrashy drumming comes thundering through your speakers, accompanied by screechy, high and raspy vocals that are almost harsh enough to freeze the blood in your veins. At first, it seems almost like a wall of pure evil noise, but after awhile, you’ll notice that this is nothing more than a reminisce of Bathory’s 1987 masterpiece, Under The Sign Of The Black Mark. Everything here just sounds overall thicker, noisier, and downright more harsh. Okay, so this isn’t Bathory quality Metal, but this is still some good shit. Spanning over 10 and a half minutes long, the song manages to undergo many changes, including standard thrashing, sort of in a punk-ish style, all the way to mid paced, thick and heavy, chugging riffs. Overall, this is a killer beginning to the album.
In The Shadow Of The Horns, in my opinion, is the best song on the album, as well as one of Darkthrone’s all time best. The majority of the track flows at a mid pace, though the riffs are heavy as hell, raw (duh!), and thick in sense that they CRUSH, much similar to the way Autopsy formed their slow, chugging riff work. The vocals of course are harsh, angry and hateful, bellowing out one hell of a chorus “IN THE SHADOW OF THE HORNS!”. It’s not too long though before the thrashing takes place, speeding things up sort of in the vein of early Venom or Motörhead, fusing a nice mix of speed metal and old school punk. Then once again, the thrashing is followed by a furious assault of pure black/death Metal in the Bathory vein, accompanied by Nocturno Culto screaming “In the shadows of the horns!” over the wall of noisy, chaotic Black Metal. Oddly enough though, there are some acoustics that overline the music towards the end, which sound so out of place, that they fit perfectly IN PLACE with this type of music…if that makes any sense to you.
Paragon Belial is another mid paced, heavy track that is kind of a reminisce of Bathory’s Enter The Eternal Fire or any of the Viking-era stuff from the band. Well, that’s at least how the song begins. The double bass soon starts to kick in and then these groove-like, thrashy riffs come into play, making me to assume that the music to this track was probably written during the band’s Death Metal era. The ending of the song, though, is completed with some semi-epic, bombastic riffing, which fits perfectly well with the formula for this song. Overall, another one of the band’s best. Where Cold Winds Blow is just one tremendous thrasher!! If the Bathory/Hellhammer/early Kreator and Sepultura influences aren’t obvious here to you, then either you’re deaf, you’re an idiot, or you haven’t heard any of the aforementioned bands. There’s also some loud, extreme guitar soloing going on that sounds like it’s all over the place at first, but that’s obviously the way it was meant to sound. Don’t think that Nocturno Culto can’t play the guitar accurately, because his work on Soulside Journey proves that wrong. This is the way that he chooses to play on this album, and I wouldn’t prefer it any other way.
The album’s title track is yet another death-like, Black Metal thrasher in the vein of the opening and previous tracks. Pretty soon though, the pace shifts, changing from loud, thrashing material to swinging drum beats in the vein of Bathory’s Viking works. Things to seem to slow down even more towards the middle of the song as the mood and atmosphere appear to become more epic, despite the song only being roughly 5 minutes long. Hey, there goes another pace change! Back to the groove/thrash riffing that was present on Paragon Belial. Oh boy, the band really knows how to make good Metal, don’t they? There’s also some pretty interesting riffs towards the end, or shall I say…melodic? Yes, even a grim, cold and harsh album such as this has its melodic moments, although they’re quite rare.
The record comes to an end with The Pagan Winter; a solid, angry thrasher, spewing forth rapid amounts of blast beats and double bass in the beginning, yet slowing down a bit during the middle, blasting a fair amount of semi-melodic riffs. Overall, the majority of this song is quite aggressive, yet still has its epic, Viking-era Bathory moments as well. Another one of the band’s best songs, overall. The entire track length is roughly six and a half minutes long, but the music tends to stop around the five minute mark. This is because the album’s ending consists of an outro that’s just like the album intro. Dark and evil chats with a voice that’s whispering some jibberish stuff that I cannot understand. But oh well, I think it was a great choice for the band to add an outro like this. Seems more like a tribute to Bathory than anything, since it’s almost identical to the outros that are featured on the first four Bathory LPs.
So yes, this was a MAJOR change in direction from Soulside Journey. If you like your Metal to be precise, accurate and full of complexity, then stay away from this. You might be able to appreciate this for what it is if you can get past the low-fi production and overall cold, harsh sound. I mean, even the casual Death Metal fan may like this. But I’m warning you, if Soulside Journey was the first Darkthrone album you heard and if you enjoyed it, then approach this release with caution, because this just doesn’t seem like the same band at all.
RickJames on February 7th, 2005
Sylvan BM Hatred...
Exceptionally produced and way ahead of its time, Darkthrone’s Blaze in the Northern Sky is an exemplary paradigm of second wave Black Metal. This album represents a great transition from Death Metal over to Black Metal, which Fenriz, Zephyrus, Nocturno Culto have seamlessly presented. Its raw essence yet superior design allows Darkthrone to keep ahead of most Black Metal bands.
Production-wise, Darkthrone displays a perfect example of Black Metal in its rawest form: hazy guitars, earthen drums, and guttural vocals. However, many bands forget the importance of atmosphere in Black Metal. Not to be trite, but this release is grim, yet epic, in the strongest sense. The ambience here is wrought with that original Norwegian sound, but the sound is shaped in a way that forms that novel, sylvan style. Darkthrone plays their instruments well and the sound isn’t overproduced, but lets the listener know that all the instruments can be heard when it comes to Black Metal. Nocturno’s and Zephyrus’ simple but rhythmic guitars wrap around Fenriz’s thunderous, bassy drums to display a resonance that fits the hateful mood. The bass is not so silent that it can’t be heard at all, blending in with the synthesis of all the effectively-but-simply played instruments.
Fenriz’ lyrics also add to the early imagery of that cold Norway feel of early Second Wave Black Metal, making references to anti-organized religion (usually Christianity), Satanism, and grim narratives based on the wintry landscapes of Norway. I can’t say I don’t miss more of the same in later Darkthrone albums.
Nocturno Culto’s infernal, (even) cantankerous vocals make this release a building block for Black Metal, especially the most overlooked ingredient: vocals. Nocturno’s vocals are like a ghoul that pervade the essence of this record. I think anyone searching for their Black Metal vocal should aspire to imitate Nocturno. At least I do.
Onward to much more grim endeavors. If you have the stomach, that is.
A Blaze in the Northern Sky track list
|1||Kathaarian Life Code||10:39|
|2||In the Shadow of the Horns||07:02|
|4||Where Cold Winds Blow||07:26|
|5||A Blaze in the Northern Sky||04:58|
|6||The Pagan Winter||06:35|
A Blaze in the Northern Sky lineup
|Nocturno Culto||Vocals (lead), Guitars (lead)|
|Fenriz||Drums, Vocals (spoken lines, intro), Lyrics|