Arctic Thunder reviews
autothrall on July 22nd, 2017
There's a first time for everything
I've gotten at least a half dozen queries over the last nine months as to why I hadn't reviewed Darkthrone's Arctic Thunder, as I've always been so adamant on covering the rest of the Norwegians' output in the past. The answer to that is I just haven't wanted to admit to myself, or in any kind of official capacity to the public, that one of my favorite bands in the world, who I've consistently lauded for decades, from the traditional sound they are best known for, to the constant subgenre-hopping of their more recent work, had finally released a record...that, well...I didn't really like. Now, previous to this, I would have touted their prior full-length The Underground Resistance as my least favorite of their studio efforts, but at least with that one, I can say I love half the songs entirely, and the other half just had a few flaws which marred them. Arctic Thunder, on the other hand, doesn't inspire me in the slightest...and it's taken me this long to really hash out why, to go back and give it those many chances to prove itself, to find out what I'd been 'missing', which is something rare in my listening. Oh, it happens, just not terribly often.
Now, let me qualify that this is by no means a trainwreck of an album, and it possesses most of the hallmarks of what we come to expect from their sound. Simplistic songwriting, with 4-5 minute long songs, only a few riffs in each. Slightly more introspective interesting lyrics than you'd be expecting from your garden variety trad black metal, though nowhere near the band's most poignant, strange or whimsical. The production, while clean, is kept fairly raw, with the trashy but effective driving rock drums, the sincere but sinister guitar tones, and Nocturno Culto's unmistakable, potent rasping bark that is as fit as you've ever heard it, whether in short syllabic bursts or the more sustained growls that drift over the primacy of the riffing. Style-wise, we're no longer hearing some exploration into a new segment of traditional metal. No novelty speed, punk, thrash, doom, heavy metal, with the exception of how those niches' already intersect instrumentally or thematically, or how they've already appeared in the band's canon (the title track being a great example of this, with a heavy/black metal feel). This seems most intensively like a retrospective of the black and death roots the band was tugging at back in the early 90s, both as a warmup for their debut Soulside Journey and the raw, rustic black of their first few forays into that genre, then CHANNELED into the newer styles. The very narrow and minimalist range of chord progressions is highly reminiscent of stuff like Hellhammer, which so informed their earlier songwriting.
It looks inviting, with the dark woodland and sky, the fire crackling away, the logo displayed much as it was on Total Death, which once stood out for having the color artwork rather than the newsprint grimness. But this Arctic feels like it's populated by only the driest ice, the songs seem put together in the safest and least adventurous ways possible. It's not the first time I might have described one of their albums that way, mind you, but there was a particular darkness, novelty, and menace to older discs like Panzerfaust or Ravishing Grimness which immortalized them to my brain. Here, it seems like a couple of guys sitting around a campfire, dredging up memories of cutting room floor tunes that were a little too dull to incorporate on prior full-lengths, and then deciding to assemble them into one retrospective of work. All the pieces are functional, operate fluidly through the course of the disc, but just never manifest into truly worthwhile tracks. I often felt a little 'faked out', too, like in the tune "Throw Me Through the Marshes" where you get that cool, simple groove of the verse, but then it just never seemed as if it was capitalized on...the song doesn't effectively escalate beyond that point.
I probably liked the style on "Arctic Thunder" and "The Wyoming Distance" the most, if mainly because I liked how that blackened epic heavy metal chugging bore the bulk of NC's vocals, giving it the sickest, coolest contrast, but even there it seemed like the bridge sections needed something more to them to make them more compelling. Most of the eight tracks seem like earnest attempts at 'one hook' wonders, but those solitary hooks are simply not memorable enough themselves to unlock that achievement. To me, it really did feel like these were all just sort of assembled from scraps of ideas that weren't strong enough to appear elsewhere, and rather than 40 minutes of killer, we get about 30 minutes of filler surrounding the few passable guitars, and the solid vocal performance. Granted, this is still Darkthrone, and that half-hour of median material is something I'd probably listen to over a whole range of other, lesser bands.
Again, this is no disaster. No Diabolicus in Musica. No Load. No Risk. I wouldn't describe it as weak or, even painfully average, but after a dozen attempts to go back and re-invest myself, I can't deny that it's my least favorite of their full-lengths, and unlikely to get a lot of playtime here even compared to Underground Resistance, Plaguewielder, or Goatlord, the albums I would have previously considered on the lower rungs of their studio catalog, which only goes to enforce how summarily smitten I am with the band, because I dig all of those. Arctic Thunder is probably just a fluke for me, a one-off, a record whose specifics just didn't gel with the entertainment center of my brain. Here's hoping...
Xyrth on April 21st, 2017
Angrily viewing the horizon smoke
A true institution of extreme metal, Darkthrone is one of those bands that never disappoints, at least to the vast majority of its fans. Not to the vast majority of metal fans though, and especially not those über-conservative blackers who can't abide this kvlt band having non-black influences incorporated, still dreaming the Norwegian duo releases Transylvanian Hunger, Pt. II some day, and continue down that path forever. All this purity ideology reminds me of this orange-faced guy who wants only a certain type of people to live and prosper in the country he rules, a country which has been consistently developed and enriched by a vast variety of people of different backgrounds, nationalities, races, beliefs and other traits. In a similar way, extremist fans would like to build a wall around Darkthrone to keep all the outside influences at bay. Fortunately for the rest of us, Darkthrone has never been a band too concerned with what people expect of them, opting instead to compose and record whatever the fuck they want to, and sounding the way they want to sound.
When I saw the classy cover for their (damn!) 16th studio album I was in fact expecting a sort of return to their blackened early years, even though I knew that sound would come with a twist. But like most of those who got fooled by the eye-candy of the dark, vintage photo on the cover, I found that Arctic Thunder is nothing more than a logical extension of their previous material, the solid 2013 The Underground Resistance. It's not the old school black metal found on A Blaze in the Northern Sky, though it definitely has its charm. But for instance, the record's opener, “Tundra Leech”, has as much death/doom and trad metal as it has a corpsepainted taint, and most tracks actually recall early extreme metal a la Venom and early Bathory, though without the speed metal elements for the most part. Doomy, somber riffs are given a black coating, amidst a mid-paced march designed for mid-paced head-banging. Sometimes a slightly sped-up tempo might be used, but this is the exception rather than the norm.
The guitar tone is one of the most fulfilling aspects of the album. Not too raw, but dirty enough to make one think of black metal occasionally. The riffs are not particularly memorable I must say, but not bad either. The compositions are pretty straightforward, like the steady march of a battalion of tanks rolling over blasted, smokey plains after combat. Some changes in pace and a couple of variation in riffs keep them from becoming monotonous, but only marginally. There's also not a big emphasis on solos or melodies, but when they appear they're actually pretty good, just like the ending to “Boreal Fiends”. The bass is present, but takes a backseat to the guitars and the drums, which just have the perfect volume. The plates have also that half-crispy, half-raspy tone of the guitars, and complement the latter quite nicely. I particularly enjoy the simplicity and punchy drive of Fenris' drumming in the title-track itself, having a NWOHBM quality to them. That tune also has some of the catchiest riffs in the record, making it my favorite along with “Deep Lake Trespass”. As for Nocturno Culto's vocals, you know what you get; Norwegian guttural finesse, of course, still sounding like an undead version of the late and beloved Lemmy.
Even though some songs enter one ear and exist the other without much lasting impact (not even some frosty leftover), like “Burial Bliss” or “Throw Me Through the Marshes”, Arctic Thunder is a decent addition to the Darkthrone lore. Not very thunderous nor arctic as its title and cover imply, but definitely has some of those characteristics appear from time to time, like distant fires on a scarcely populated prehistoric tundra. It is an album that can be enjoyed as a whole in one listen, like good records should, but independent songs can also be enjoyed on their own. It will appeal to most fans of the band, while it won't stir much of a reaction from other metalheads. If this is the first Darkthrone material you listen to and you happen to enjoy it, then I urge you to experience the rest of their discography. If you didn't like it, well, I also urge you to do the same, since these guys have given so much to metal and their back catalogue is varied and interesting throughout most of its stages. Darkthrone remains Darkthrone, and that's just it.
Originally written for Metal Recusants [metalrecusants.com]
ConorFynes on February 8th, 2017
Not impressed nor disappointed.
For better or worse, Darkthrone have existed in a vacuum, at the very least since the time of The Cult is Alive and probably long before that as well. By that, I mean that they seem to be impervious to anything that's gone on outside their little bubble, nor does it appear like the outside world is influenced much at all but whatever they're doing. Darkthrone were always immune to weak trends and the opinions of others, but at this point, it truly feels like the "scene" doesn't even register. Where once they were cutting edge and out to provoke, the band has devolved (or developed?) into something more along the lines of a hobby project. What kind of tunes have Ted and Gylve been listening to these days? If you're not sure, just wait until they release an album, then all will be revealed.
When you consider the kind of weight albums like A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Under a Funeral Moon had, and still have in black metal with their numberless clones, it is kind of remarkable to see them turn in on themselves. Depending on where my music taste has been at the time, I've ever respected or dismissed them for this. While I can say I'm again impressed by Darkthrone's thick authenticity as they return "to their roots" on Arctic Thunder, I also think people would be a lot less forgiving towards the generally unimaginative and amateurish material if it was literally any other band playing. Darkthrone have embraced this self-conscious "fuck the scene" mentality as a sort of armour. You could criticize them all you want, but it wouldn't mean anything. They're doing exactly the kind of music they want to make at this point in their lives, and to their credit, you can definitely hear that youthlike passion in almost every album they've made.Arctic Thunder did come as a surprise. Even if it's scarcely different than the slower-marching black metal they did on Hate Them a decade ago, they had given every reason to believe that the Darkthrone name was now permanently dissociated from future black metal recordings. I suppose calling it "black metal" in the purest sense would be wrong; even if this is the closest they've gotten since Sardonic Wrath, you can still tell they've been listening to true heavy metal more often than not. The riffs are perfectly capable and plenty ballsy, proving that a passion for the classics is usually the most important thing involved in crafting heavy metal riffs. I'm most happy for the fact that Nocturno Culto's vocals are back in full, and they sound just as pissed off and aggressive here as they did on Panzerfaust. Even if Arctic Thunder comes across more or less as another Hate Them informed by all of the vintage 80s worship they've concocted since, they haven't lost their fire for their craft.
I was left dry by "Tundra Leach" when I first heard it, and felt a lot more interested when I heard "Boreal Fiends". At worst or best though, you pretty much know exactly what you're getting with a new Darkthrone album. It doesn't have much in common with The Underground Resistance, but while this feels a league more authentic than the over-the-top heavy metal ham of that album, the riffs and songwriting aren't nearly as compelling. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that Darkthrone are back again; for the "truer than true" niche they occupy, there isn't anyone else to fill that void. I don't think I would be any better or worse off if Arctic Thunder hadn't happened. It is decent riffs and truth to form. I'm not surprised people were so excited when it first came out, and I'm not surprised that the excitement has all but vanished less than a month later.Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical.
Metantoine on January 28th, 2017
Ted and Gylve are going camping again
Ever since their creation already three decades ago, Darkthrone has been mastering the metal arts. From death metal to icy black metal and hardcore punk fueled heavy/thrash, Ted and Gylve always did what they wanted and it’s never been anywhere near close to mediocrity. While we can go back to their classic trilogy for our black metal needs, I’ve been loving their recent material a lot and I often listen to their underrated and somewhat overlooked mid-era period (Hate Them in particular). The point of this introduction is to say that their whole discography is fucking immaculate and that’s a testament to both endurance and passion.
After my immediate love affairs with Circle the Wagons and The Underground Resistance, I was really expecting Arctic Thunder to be incredible. Unfortunately, I was a bit skeptical at first, it just wasn’t as good as I wanted to be. It seemed like a collection of good riffs without a cohesive feel or actual songs. I kept trying though as I knew the magic was there somewhere. The album was on constant rotation in December and January and turns out my understanding of it was waiting for me by the campfire. It was looking at the bright stars and the crisp flames wondering what I wasn’t grasping. With a judgmental look on its immaterial face, the record pierced my soul and I finally understood it.
The main quality of Arctic Thunder is that it’s metal down to its core. It’s all about the riffs and it doesn’t hide anything under a false sense of gimmicks, an overcooked production or flashy but sterile musicianship. The album is like a strong imperial India pale ale, it contains a looooot of hops and it fills you up to the brink. The amount of riffs it has is almost criminal. I do think that some songs could had been longer but the tightness and the contained attitude is what makes this record so great. It’s epic by the strength of its riffs alone. The power of Nocturno’s guitar is enough to elevate the entire thing to another level. Perfect metal guitar tone.
Darkthrone doesn’t care about fluff or unnecessary elements, it’s riff after riff, thunderous drum beat after drum beat and bone shaking harsh vocals singing frosty anthems till you’re dead.
To talk about the sound of this record, we need to talk about their evolution since their watershed album The Cult Is Alive. They’ve been shedding their black metal skin since more than a decade while incorporating traditional metal elements (especially on their 2010 and 2013 records), punk, crust, D-beat or thrash metal. For this 2016 opus, it’s like if they decided to go back in time yet again but to an alternate dimension. One where black metal is still an essential part of their sound but where they wouldn’t have to leave their modern (read “ancient”) influences aside.
They took the sound developed on their previous five full lengths, mixed things up, pushed the black metal aura to the front and just went for the jugular. The album, rich with mid-paced riffs is apt at mixing thrashy black with some old school proto doom/death (Fenriz mentioned Dream Death himself and Satan knows he knows his shit) and it’s a lethal combination. Arctic Thunder brought back Darkthrone’s black metal from the dead but when you mess with necromancy, the corpse of your ancient friend can come back... changed. In this case, it came back as evil as before, hungry, angry and with a curious interest for hiking and camping.
Nocturno handles almost all of the vocals on this record and it adds to the darker and murkier atmosphere they were going for. While I liked Fenriz’s silly but insanely great clean vox (listen to TUR’s “Valkyrie”), it wouldn’t had been a great fit here and like the old Norwegian wizards they are, they were wise enough not to include them here. Ted’s vocals are awesome (that’s not news for y’all, I hope) and he shines on the opener “Tundra Leech”. It made me want to sing the title while walking in the snowy roads of my city.
The quasi lo-fi production of Darkthrone has reached its peak here, I absolutely love the tone of the guitars and the drumming is both natural and loud without being overdone. The songwriting while highly condensed is all over the place and it’s due to the riffs variation. They can channel Iron Maiden (check out the intense title track), their buddies of Aura Noir, Celtic Frost or even Sabbath without breaking a sweat. There’s no much variation except for some slower tempos but it’s not needed. Darkthrone doesn’t do things for you, anyway.
All in all, Darkthrone is still proving that they’re one of the best metal bands of all time by looking at the genre’s extensive repertory and making it their own. Making relevancy an unknown concept, the Norwegian duo aims for excellence and memorability and they succeed at both. Arctic Thunder is timeless, precious and essential metal.Metantoine's Magickal Realm
hells_unicorn on January 3rd, 2017
Changing with the times? Hardly!
There is a certain dependability that comes with a new Darkthrone album, because even when there is a big left turn in their stylistic direction, they always seem to find themselves in the same bleak and decrepit place. One might discount their auspiciously unsung debut masterwork Soulside Journey given its wildly more technical character and atmospheric keyboard usage, but even there the general picture of a frost-covered wasteland with a few dreary funeral pyres blazing in the distance tended to show through, at least in hindsight. Within this generally consistent context, there have been a few recent surprises to keep everyone guessing, be it the sudden shift towards a crust-punk sound on The Cult Is Alive and the foray into epic-tinged metal in the mold of Manilla Road just a couple years ago with The Underground Resistance, so expectations seemed to be that Arctic Thunder would present a few surprises of its own, and in a general sense that has occurred.
This album generally reflects the past-conscious heavy metal character that has tended to paint much of Darkthrone's work to varying extents in the past 10 years. The general flavor of things is of a somewhat doom-like mid-pace to moderate fast stride typical of a number of early 80s traditional metal outfits, with a character to the guitar work that is fairly reminiscent of Black Sabbath. However, the general aesthetic of this album's arrangement does point to a more blackened character relative to the last several albums, though this has been a bit over-emphasized by a lot of other who have given their assessment of it. There are some moments to be found here that are definitely reminiscent of Total Death and Ravishing Grimness, particularly the more flowing character of the guitar work on select sections of "Inbred Vermin" and "Deep Lake Trespass", and the vocals are more consistently garbled and harsh, but even these songs still have a clear post-Sardonic Wrath character to them.
Though the ramifications of this conversion of older and newer are a bit difficult to describe as being either more innovative or derivative, the end result is something that is definitely different from both their recent and more distant past. Moreover, while the songwriting has still retained a fairly repetitive character in the same respect as most of their post-90s material, the ideas here tend to mirror the tendency of The Underground Resistance where they are good enough to bare the repetition. Particularly on the title song "Arctic Thunder" and "The Wyoming Distance", the slower paced grooving character finds a fine collection of concise riffs and driving beats that make for a memorable listen, with arguably the only liability being that the vocals are a fairly one-dimensional combination of blackened malice and Motorhead inspired grit. Even the extremely repetitive and more death/doom infused album opener "Tundra Leach" manages to hit a few sweet spots here and there while being among the more obvious throwbacks to the band's late 90s sound.
It's a foregone conclusion that one shouldn't expect to be hit with the same kind of low-fi mystique that painted this band's material prior to 1996, as if Fenriz and Nocturno's already longstanding lack of interest in retreading said territory hasn't been made clear ever since. Nevertheless, this album is probably the most conducive one to a fan of older school raw black metal than anything since the mid 2000s, and is of a higher quality grade than anything that followed Ravishing Grimness in said style. When a band has been going on for the better part of three decades and has put out 16 full length albums, revisiting the past to some extent becomes inevitable, but this is definitely not an exercise in dwelling upon it. Arctic Thunder may hit with an impact more in line with a distant clap of thunder rather than a direct strike to the body, but it gets the job done and displays yet again why Darkthrone is a band that changes more in spite of the times, rather than with them.
Valfars%20Ghost on December 23rd, 2016
After spending the better part of a decade putting out crust punk releases and experimenting with forays into grimy pseudotraditional metal with The Underground Resistance, Darkthrone decided to return to the dark, gloomy landscape of black metal in 2016. Their first album in three years, Arctic Thunder is a return to form of sorts, even if it's far from a carbon copy of A Blaze in the Northern Sky. While perhaps not an essential part of this band's expansive discography, this release is a satisfying slab of Norwegian metal just different enough to have its own identity amid a legion of other Darkthrone releases.
The grittiness, spookiness, and cold malevolence of black metal is back, baby. While the sort of 'tude that exemplifies the original Norwegian scene is in place, the album doesn't deliver it the same way most of the movement’s early masterpieces did. This time around, Darkthrone employs a style highly reminiscent of what Celtic Frost was doing in their Morbid Tales era. Arctic Thunder is devoid of blast beats and short on tremolo lines, delivering its atmosphere with slower riffs that burst at the seams with negativity and icy unfriendliness.
Darkthrone slows down the pace quite a bit on most of this album and even in its fastest moments, it would still certainly lose a footrace with the tremolo marathons from earlier in the group’s career. Don’t let this lack of speed discourage you, though. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are plenty capable of delivering the goods without a frantic pace. The guitars, with their murky tone and simple yet engaging riffs, and the supportive but not especially powerful drums come together to form an excellent background for Nocturno Culto’s grimy half grunted, half shouted vocals. Though Arctic Thunder never intrudes on doom metal territory, there’s a deliberate middling pace that works spectacularly well with the dark mood the album cultivates, lending many of the songs an aura that calls to mind a monster lurching towards you from behind, with the simplistic, but still malevolent lick that recurs throughout ‘Boreal Fiends’ and the entirety of the epically sinister ‘Throw Me through the Marshes’ being among this album’s most superb examples of this.
The album does speed up occasionally and when it does, it sacrifices sinister atmospherics for roughshod, energetic bursts of fun. When the rollicking faster rhythms in ‘Burial Bliss’ and the otherwise unsubstantial 'Inbred Vermin' kick in, the album takes on an undeniably rockin’ feel. This might sound like it would clash with the doomier offerings on the rest of the album but it doesn’t. These occasional deviations provide a few much-needed breaks from the ambling pace and sinister vibe, always seeming to come in at the right times to provide a healthy dose of variety.
This isn’t exactly what you’re looking for if you’re in the mood for a vicious black metal assault like Darkthrone so capably delivered in the band’s golden age. That being said, this is a satisfying, evil-sounding album. Not nearly as timeless as dozens of other black metal releases you can surely name, Arctic Thunder is a work that brings the dread and the hatred with a much more calculated groove than anything else Darkthrone has done to date.
Felix%201666 on October 27th, 2016
Excuse me, I have a question. I have seen the promotion pictures of Darkthrone that were released with regard to the publication of "Arctic Thunder" - and they left me disturbed. Sir Fenriz and Mister Culto look exactly as they have already looked ten, fifteen or even more years ago, while I am just getting older day by day. How do they manage this natural challenge? It's simply unfair. By the way, does anybody know where my electric heating pad is?
It gets even better. Darkthrone's music also still has a certain amount of juvenile charm. An adolescent, snotty attitude constitutes the overarching element of the eight songs. Consequently, the production combines rigor and nastiness without flirting with modernity in any way. It meets the standard of the productions of the last Darkthrone albums on an equal footing. By contrast, the songs themselves cover a broader spectrum. For example, the rude opener salutes the listener with the droning riff of "Quintessence", while the second piece scores with the irresistible guitar flow that made the best tracks of "Ravishing Grimness" so fascinating. Finally, the filthy approach of songs like "Graveyard Slut" is still present and shapes the majority of the new tracks. Consequently, the smell of sweaty leather jackets is in my nose.
Yet this is not to say that each and every number works. "Tundra Leech" and, despite its lame fade-out, "Burial Bliss" show their teeth like a rather unfriendly bulldog, but what comes next? Neither "Boreal Fiends", which holds a very strange break that expresses the crude humour of the two musicians, nor "Inbred Vermin" have exciting riffs and dynamic or energy cannot be associated with these relatively uninspired tracks. In principle, fans of high velocity will need time to take this album into their heart. Open-mindedness is required. The pretty erratic duo does not put the focus on fast drum parts and rapid guitars. Darkthrone rather deliver more or less well-hung riffs without being interested in creating a new "Transylvanian Hunger". Of course, the metal community did not expect another collection of hyper-fast weapons, but from my point of view, the somehow withdrawn songs of "Arctic Thunder" neglect velocity and fierceness in a somewhat dubious manner. Think back to former curiosities such as "Norway in September", they also did not celebrate the harshest form of black metal. Yet this piece had a somewhat spooky atmosphere. In comparison, the new songs are left empty-handed.
Leaving aside the details, something else is out of question: Darkthrone's integrity. The here presented music seems to be the perfect reflection of the black spots on the souls of the artists. This is one of the very few bands that really does not take the expectation of its fans into consideration. I don't know whether I really like this mindset, but one cannot deny that this speaks for the spiritual independence of the duo. Too bad that the music does not benefit from this approach. I have already mentioned the two lukewarm pieces of the album's first half, but the last three tracks also do not unleash a stormy breeze over the Norwegian fields. To call them faceless might be too strong, but they lack of intensity and hooks. In reverse this means that the casualty of the title track's riffs remains an isolated case. I hate to write it, but I cannot hide the fact that I am slightly disappointed. Where is the explosiveness of "The Cult of Goliath"? When died the fatal riffing of "Dead Early"? Who stole the charm of "Canadian Metal"?
All in all, the seventeenth album delivers a very atmospheric, ingenious cover, but only three strong songs and far too many compositions of average quality. The album title is also slightly irritating, because the musical content is based on the mishmash of Darkthrone's numerous global, not only Scandinavian / Norwegian or "Arctic" influences. However, the most important thing here is exceptionally not the music. You know that I have started with a question; now I end with an urgent request. Fenriz or Nocturno, please send me your recipe for eternal youth! Thanks in advance.
U472439 on October 26th, 2016
Arctic Thunder is a *pretty good* Darkthrone record-- indeed, like most of what they've done this century IMO, though in a slightly different way than 2013's also-pretty-good Underground Resistance. It doesn't really sound like 2008's Dark Thrones & Black Flags, or 2005's Cult Is Alive either. Going further back, I consider 2003's Hate Them and its sister record Sardonic Wrath to be their last "great" records, and the new one definitely isn't as good as those.
That said, the Norwegian duo lay down a modest return to simplified, black metal aesthetics on Arctic Thunder, albeit filtered through their (seemingly undying) love of 80s heavy/speed metal. That absolutely *does not mean* they're playing anything like Transylvanian Hunger. No blast-beats or lo-fi atmosphere here. They're *almost* doing something Panzerfaust-esque, in throwing several influences into a blender, and brewing up a murky stew of Celtic Frost, Candlemass, and Mob Rules-era Black Sabbath-ized metal. However, what it TRULY means is that Arctic Thunder is a shade more blackened than their last few albums, and features a song or two that might not have sounded out of place on, say, 1999's Ravishing Grimness.
For fanboys like me, that's (pretty) good news. My favorite track is "Burial Bliss", which is easily the most straightforwardly "black metal" music Darkthrone have made since the 90s. And *straightforward* is the key word -- there's nothing particularly "interesting" about this track, but it surges forward with punky kinetics and a cutting, minimal riffing style this band perfected long ago. Doesn't hurt that Nocturno Culto is doing all the vocals, as even in middle-age, he sounds crusted-out and utterly no-bullshit. Could it be that Darkthrone are the true torch-bearers of the Motorhead ethos? I'm being serious here.
I also like "Boreal Fiends" for its nuanced take on doom metal (by way of the Frost, of course). Starting with a clean riff is a neat change for this band, and though I wish they'd stop inserting 80s metal bridges into their songs, I could certainly enjoy more of these stylings in the future. See also the slightly less coherent, but nonetheless sinister take on doom in "Throw Me Through the Marshes". For that matter, check the lead track "Tundra Leech", which I initially found somewhat underwhelming -- but in true Darkthrone style, grew to like on repeated bludgeonings/listens.
And then there are some other, less distinct songs. Are any of them bad? Not really. They just kind of pad out the record. Every Darkthrone album sans the absolute classics are like this. A lot of filler -- decent enough for fans -- but somewhat forgettable when all is said and done. Of course, your mileage may vary regarding what songs are good or filler-- but I doubt your percentage will. For what it's worth, I've already played Arctic Thunder more than either of their last couple of records, so if you're looking for a consumer-guide kind of review, go with that. Pretty good.
the5thcolum on October 26th, 2016
If you’ve been waiting for Darkthrone to make their triumphant return to black metal, it’s time to give up. Fenriz has always said that he’s the first one to leave the party when the nerds arrive. Spoiler Alert: the nerds have arrived to the black metal party and Darkthrone will never be going back to that party. Arctic Thunder goes further down the heavy metal tinged road that they began traveling down in 2006, but something is noticeably different this time. Gone are the fun-poking metal anthems like Raised On Rock from F.O.A.D., or the clean-vocal laden Valkyrie from The Underground Resistance. These songs are heavy, slow, and mean. If anything, this album may be considered a middle ground between the Hate Them and Circle The Wagons albums.
Fenriz and Nocturno Culto equally divided both songwriting and lyrics, and it is actually hard to tell them apart. Upon reading the album credits, I was able to nitpick and realize “okay, that’s a typical N. Culto riff here” or a “Fenriz riff there”, but I give them credit for writing a very fluid and uniform album. Nocturno Culto handles all of the vocals, but it is impossible not to notice Fenriz screaming the song title in Boreal Fiends. Performance wise, this may be the most interesting drumming Fenriz has done since he was a teenager. From the double bass sections in Boreal Fiends, the cymbal chokes and double bass in Inbred Vermin, and the cool hihat patterns in Throw Me Through The Marshes, he really put some extra effort into standing out more than usual.
Overall, the biggest setback on the album is that there are filler riffs and moments present in just about every song. The songs move along nicely and flow well together, but at the sacrifice of Darkthrone choosing to simply color inside the lines. Missing is an anthem such as Too Old, Too Cold or Leave No Cross Unturned. A solid and respectable effort, but certainly room for improve. My suggestion is to bring back Fenriz on vocals!
Favorite track: Throw Me Through The Marshes
JackOfAllBlades on October 25th, 2016
An Unexpected Return to Form
Darkthrone is many things. They're aggressive. Primal. DIY. They're quintessentially black metal, and have been since their second album. But for everything that Darkthrone is, one thing they definitely aren't is predictable. They transitioned sharply from underground death metal to "trve kvlt" black metal in the span of one release, and switched just as sharply to crust punk inflected speed metal in the early 2000s. And when "Tundra Leech", the lead single from Arctic Thunder, was released, it came as yet another shock.
It's immediately apparent from the start of the song - track one on the record - that this album represents a shift back to black metal. Yet it's not the "black metal" that one may come to expect. Plodding blackened-doom riffs thunder along where blast beats and tremolo picked guitars may once have reigned, and thrash-inspired chord progressions keep the album from sounding like a Panzerfaust rehash. It's almost like an early '90s Burzum release, strained through an '80s thrash filter and given the primitive Darkthrone treatment.
Most of the songs are slow. This might be a turn-off for many listeners, but it matches the lyrical content well and none of the songs drag on. The longest song doesn't even crack six minutes, but each still has the same claustrophobic, cold atmosphere as a ten-minute epic like "Kathaarian Life Code". Slow tempos also put the spotlight on Nocturno Culto's vocals, where previous albums drowned him out in trebly guitars and lightning-speed drums. His spotlight is well-deserved - it may well be his best vocal performance since Transilvanian Hunger.
Eschewing the traditional black metal shriek in favor of a mid-range snarl, Culto evokes the spirit of early death metal in a manner rather befitting of the songs. The vocal style might be out of fashion nowadays - a clear pitch can be discerned from many of his screams - but it feels new and refreshing in the context of music that is often singularly dominated by one technique.
His vocals match the lyrics, too. Fenriz, who penned the words to five of the eight songs on the record, seems hell-bent on keeping the lyrics as cold and grim as the Northern wasteland that his music evokes. It's clear here, as on most other Darkthrone releases, that English isn't his first language. But even when Culto howls about "scepters" instead of "specters", the ghostly image that Fenriz surely intended is still easily discerned. Many of the other songs discuss such "kvlt" topics as misanthropy and evil. "The Wyoming Distance" expresses this quite directly. Fenriz writes that he regrets that others pursue him when he'd wish to be alone, and somehow manages to elucidate (however vaguely) what in the hell a "Wyoming distance" might be.
Many metal bands have tried and failed to return late in their careers to the styles where they cut their teeth. But Darkthrone looks to black metal of old with enough reverence to do it right. The result is one of the band's best albums in recent history, and likely one of their best altogether.