Total Death reviews
ConorFynes on February 18th, 2016
Drawing from a dry well.
Panzerfaust is sometimes seen as the point where Darkthrone began to lose it. Maybe that's true to some extent, but there were more than enough solid riffs on it to excuse its faults. For many others, it's the following album, Goatlord, where the masters fell apart. But even then, I don't think that's true; Goatlord is a fiendishly underrated album for what it is. if it gets a bad rep, it's only because it dared to be odd.
No, it's at Total Death where we start to hear the legacy of Darkthrone show its wear. Fenriz was notoriously prolific during this period, and it's clear by this point he had spread himself out too thin. Total Death arguably doesn't have glaring issues like the two albums that came before, but it also lacks inspiration, the likes of which that made said issues worth the trouble on past efforts. Considering this band's obsessive devotion with passionate authenticity, it is sobering to hear Darkthrone make an album that isn't all that stimulating to begin with. This is what happens when a creative juggernaut loses its steam. Nothing is technically out of place, but the sudden drop in quality with Total Death all but marked the end of their classic period as far as I'm concerned.
I wouldn't say it's fair to go comparing Total Death to the "unholy trilogy" Darkthrone had put out a few years before, but some differences are worth mentioning. A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Under a Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger all had unique personalities to them. For the most part, Total Death feels like another step in the direction of Panzerfaust. It's the work of a band who can't settle on a style for their album, so they've tried to be all-inclusive. There are parts here that sound like they were dredged up from doom lake, and lots of others that pay tribute to their influences: Hellhammer and Bathory, to name a couple. As Darkthrone's clearinghouse album, I think Panzerfaust ultimately found a personality on the basis that a lot of the more traditional sounds had not been heard from them before. Of course, come Total Death, Fenriz's stockpile of ideas had dried up. Again, he was probably too prolific for his own good at this point.
The retreading throughout Total Death is structurally similar to past Darkthrone, but it comes off as fairly dull. There are great moments here however, and just enough to make the album worth recommending to fans. The best parts of Total Death are closest to the simplicity on Transilvanian Hunger. "Ravnajuv" could have fit on that album and been no worse for wear. The band makes great strides with slower riffs here as well; "Earth's Last Picture" and "Blackwinged" have some grizzly riffs and appropriately feral vocals to boot. At it's best however, Total Death only ever seems to ape past albums. For a band that had several classics under their belt already, this is to be expected, but it is disappointing to see them having cashed it in so fast. The one innovation the album has to offer Darkthrone's history is arguably the production. Although the execution is still leagues from the inspired coldness of Under a Funeral Moon, it has the kind of solid mix I would like to have seen on Panzerfaust.
I think Darkthrone are one of the few bands that could make gold from any style they touched, but if they'd actually been inspired with this album, I'm sure a more consistent direction would have come out of it. These guys are always at their best when they immerse themselves fully in a single aesthetic. That's part of the reason their shift to crust punk was so successful; they eased into it like they'd never known anything else. Total Death has some great moments, but ultimately it doesn't sound like they knew what they wanted to make of it.
Felix%201666 on September 6th, 2015
Sailing the seas of negativity
Darkthrone have managed to reinvent themselves over and over again and "Total Death" does not constitute an exemption. The barrenness of the outer space artwork had not much in common with their previous covers and the first track also pointed in a then new direction. The grandeur of the mightily hammering opener showed a previously unknown side of the Norwegian duo. To create a majestic aura was a challenge that the band mastered in a glorious way. Nevertheless, I had to get used to the mid-tempo approach that welcomed me. Of course, "Panzerfaust" had already been less speed focused than its ultimately furious predecessor. Anyway, a mid-paced opener surprised me. An album which was titled "Total Death" seemed to promise another song design. But Darkthrone did not only concentrate on mid-paced pieces (and the strong opener itself picked up speed after three and a half minutes).
Rawness and ugliness still played an important role. Icy leads and high velocity parts also belonged to the significant components. The well implemented combination of these two elements led to the highlight of the album. "Gather for Attack on the Pearly Gates" scored exactly with these ingredients, although its belligerent atmosphere was worth mentioning, too. This also followed from the production. The track - as well as the further pieces of the first half of "Total Death" - was equipped with a grim and hateful sound that had nothing in common with any kind of rehearsal recordings. Unfortunately, the somewhat dotty dudes recorded the album during two sessions. As a consequence thereof, the second half of the album did not benefit from a proper mix. Darkthrone went back to the roots, but these roots were rotten. Rattling drums - the snare drum seemed to suffer from asthma - and blurred guitars prevented a vigorous appearance of the songs. Due to their lack of power, a further speed hammer like "Ravnajuv" failed to blow the listener away. This was a pity, because this track actually possessed everything that a raw black metal eruption needs. Its merciless leads and the hostile vocals shaped a further highlight of the album. Despite the catastrophic production, the song was on an equal footing with the more meticulously produced "Blackwinged".
Irrespective of its minor stylistic changes, the foundation of "Total Death" consisted of pure black metal. Song titles like "Blasphemer" underlined the compositional approach and its malignant aura was a further hint. Apart from questions of style, Darkthrone did not present any type of filling material. During the 35 minutes of this album, the necessity of the skip button does not become obvious. Well, some might say that "Total Death" lacks of spectacular ideas, but I do not care. Instead of trying to revitalize the formula of "Transylvanian Hunger" one more time, Darkthrone just released a fine collection of tracks. Those of you who do not always need a powerful production may add five or ten percentage points.
PhantomMullet on December 9th, 2011
Not the Darkthrone I remember but still good
Following critically acclaimed releases like Transilvanian Hunger and Panzerfaust, the next Darkthrone album had a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, Total Death didn't seem to live up to those standards and many will argue that it's the first album of the crappy mid-era Darkthrone. Total Death is still a pretty good album on its own terms because it is a lot different than their previous albums and thus shows off more what the band is capable of. Also, most of the lyrics here were written by people not in the band. You can expect a lot of diversity in ideas between tracks and that holds to be true.
Total Death indeed sounds like a Darkthrone album. If you were to take their entire discography and pick out what can be defined as the average Darkthrone song, that is, a blend of everything they've done, you'd probably get something like what's on Total Death. The music as a whole keeps its raw nature, offering simple guitar riffs, competent enough drumming, and always the deep and bitter shrieks performed by Nocturno Culto. There isn't anything particularly deep in the songwriting and if you can take a guess at where the song is going to go next, you might be right.
The worst aspect of this album may be the lack of atmosphere, at least compared to previous albums. Panzerfaust put me in a grey world with bitterly freezing winds, while Transilvanian Hunger made me envision a dark forest. Blaze in the Northern Sky made me imagine a dark winter sky in weather that completely numbed you and Under a Funeral Moon had a unique, dark, ritualistic feel. I don't get any of this in Total Death which is a shame because the atmosphere is what drew me into Darkthrone in the first place. I can't really use my imagination for most of these songs when I listen to them.
Fortunately, some of the tracks really save the day. 'Blasphemer' is incredible! It's strongly thrash based with simple but extremely catchy riffs. It feels like something I've heard in older bands but the song always feels fresh to me. Nocturno Culto's harsh, abrasive vocals also kill on this track - the performance adds an entirely new level of quality in the music. Another good track is 'The Serpent's Harvest.' This one can start off a bit laggy, but it does show a great deal of Darkthrone's melodic side once you get to the middle. This wasn't something I was expecting so easily. None of the tracks are really that weak - they're all kind of average. If you like one, you might like the rest.
Despite the lack of a strong atmosphere and intricate song writing, there are some decent surprises in some of the tracks, as well as the album itself. Sure, a lot of it is still predictable, but there's nothing too offensive or disappointing in that respect. Total Death is an album that will probably be remembered most for having so many song writing contributions from non-members. It's one of those albums that Darkthrone fans will buy but leave in their collection for a while until they suddenly get an urge to remember this album and listen to it again. Total Death is by no means a bad album, but doesn't hold that same fire as Darkthrone's stronger works. Most of the material on here is at least worth listening to.
Noktorn on June 2nd, 2011
Beginning of a slow slide downwards
I don't know if I'd exactly say that Darkthrone gave up here, but this is a pretty lazy album, and probably the first in the band's career where that word could be used as a descriptor. Even the sort of hasty, seemingly slapped-together 'Panzerfaust' had more energy behind it than this one- a sort of needful impulse to it that defined all of Darkthrone's work. With every other Darkthrone album up to this one, it feels like that band really WANTED to release something extreme, unusual, and interesting; they were driven by a passion to create. On 'Total Death' they seem to be driven by a passion to churn out another album and call it a day. Defend it however you will, but farming off the lyric-writing duty on this album to different celebrities in the black metal scene doesn't bode particularly well for the overall presentation of the album.
While it's hard to say that Darkthrone's essential style is lost on this album, it definitely feels as though the edges have been rounded off- the songs on this album are much closer to modern ideas of 'standard black metal' than Darkthrone ever were up to this point in their career. The riffing style is a very stripped-down, evened out mixture of 'Panzerfaust' and 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky', bouncing between the melodic tremolo picked strains of 'Transilvanian Hunger' and a more overtly oldschool, Celtic Frost style of crunch riffing. Much like the previous album, the tracks on this one are clearly divided between melodic and raw, and as a result the album falls prey to the same problems as 'Panzerfaust'- it feels like a weird, uneven compilation of tracks. The more overt problem with these riffs, though, is that they're simply not memorable, which is a huge hit against the band- the melodic riffs aren't particularly gripping and the Celtic Frost inspired riffs sound like bland rehashes of 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky', without any of the dark, subtle undercurrents which made that album so great.
It feels more repetitive, too, or perhaps not repetitive but transparent. The songs all move in very obvious directions- there's no structural surprises or complexity to be found, and a lot of that occult atmosphere Darkthrone worked so hard to cultivate has been lost in favor of a much more generic sort of darkness. I don't get the feeling of menace and magic from this release as I do from previous albums, even weaker ones like 'Panzerfaust'- this is very clearly the work of a band simply going through the motions to make another album. On top of the general lack of inspiration involved in this album, there's a lot of minor problems: the songs are too similar, the production is very flat, the vocals aren't very engaging, among numerous others. All in all, the album isn't unlistenable in any way, and on occasion stumbles onto a pretty neat riff or musical passage, but overall it just doesn't stack up to Darkthrone's impossible to replicate early career.
I guess this is basically the beginning of the end for Darkthrone in my mind (though some of their mid-era material is certainly worthwhile), and it probably is for a lot of other people as well. 'Total Death' is the first Darkthrone album that just doesn't have much personality, which is something the band has always had for better or for worse. Everything up to this point in the band's career I could comfortably recommend, but from here on out, it's a lot of 'fans only' albums. This is the first.
Acrobat on July 4th, 2010
Will occupy a space in your collection.
Rather expectedly Darkthrone’s black metal era had to run out of steam at some point, and though, Panzerfaust is often given the derisory title as a “leftovers” albums - as if to denote it somehow lacked the power of the band’s earlier work, on the contrary it might well be the best thing they ever did - it is actually Total Death which shows a lack of the vision and, well, the focus and drive of their past works. Yet still, this is a wholly listenable album… but the lukewarm praise I can give Total Death only goes to show a further point; this is the band’s first unessential album. When listening it only becomes readily apparent that this while being quite good is actually quite shocking for being so (again, giving moderate praise makes just heightens the sense of a letdown). When compared to previous triumphs, as is so painfully necessary, Total Death just seems to be the epitome of a gentle letdown, fading out into - dare I say it - more generic black metal territory.
Firstly, what strikes me most about this album is the reigned-in and comfortable vocal performance from Noculturno Culto. It has been stated in interviews that the vocals on Panzerfaust were recorded in one day, whilst Noculturno was completely drunk or pissed-up on booze… and the results are quite clear for anyone to hear. And to me that’s the brilliance of it; you’re forced into an position with those vocals - especially considering the album’s mix - and you have to choose: love or hate. There’s not much of an in-between and, for me, the spirited and deeply dramatic performance is just phenomenal. The album couldn’t have had better, really, it’s just one the many factors that make Panzerfaust such a mandatory album - even if it is somewhat unheralded, in places. Total Death, however, has a solid, unremarkable performance from Mr Culto; not the annoying careerist, “look at my clean vocals” shite like, say, mid-era Emperor as it’s still pleasant. Rather it appears that by being a sort of neutral factor and not being within the realm of a “making” or “breaking” the album it actually does “break” the album in a sense… just by stressing its own unessential nature. I guess raving fandom can produce a weird scenario where being simply good can actually be something’s death-knell.
Furthermore, as one would expect from a two-piece, it’s very obvious that Fenriz has burnt himself almost completely, as his drumming is pedestrian by his standards. It’s not because of its comparative simplicity - as that never hindered the previous two Darkthrone albums - it’s just, once again, a lack of mettle. Though, if you’ve heard Sardonic Wrath you’ll know that an exciting drum performance won’t ever save a bland album, so if anything, we should count our blessings that there are some decent songs on this album. Fenriz’s own, ‘Blasphemer’, with its name harkening back to the embryonic days of German thrash and - predictably - it being a thrashy song is one of the album's strongest. However, I do feel it could have been far greater - given a sharper production job and a bit more spirit. Again, this isn’t a slovenly, piss-weak album and I can’t ever claim that… but you just wish that Darkthrone regained the spirit (or is that spirits?) to find something of their menacing vitality here.
Truth be told, with Total Death it’s very easy to get hung-up on the band’s past glories but I don’t wish this album sounded more like Panzerfaust, honestly, as its actually at its blandest when it goes for the Celtic Frost worship on closer, ‘The Serpent’s Harvest’. Whereas ‘Hordes of the Nebula’ was crushing this one finds itself as sort of stinted… the same nigh-on inescapable inertia that hangs over a great deal of this album. Again, not bad, and try as they might this or its rather similar follow-up Ravishing Grimness aren’t bad records. If anything it goes to show how good Darkthrone had been at this point as even when they’re burnt-out, lazy and picking up the pieces of their past work they’re still wholly listenable. However, that said, this isn’t a magnificent record and I can safely assume that casual fans of the band won’t be too enthused by this, so I can’t rate it any higher regardless of me being quite able to listen to this in its entirety. Still, Total Death will always reside in the shadow of a glorious mish-mash that somehow became a holistic and iconoclastic piece in its own right, shame really. But I won't be losing sleep over it, that's for sure.
What’s the phrase? Ah, “one for the fans”. That’s it.
MaDTransilvanian on January 28th, 2010
A different kind of darkness
When looking at Darkthrone’s career during these last twenty-two years, one is easily tempted to categorize their albums based on the epoch when they were released. The first four are almost always considered masterpieces – which is fully justified, by the way – while the subsequent albums, starting slowly with Panzerfaust but really getting there with Total Death until about eight years later and the band’s newfound ability to mix punk and black metal, tend to be considered bland, uninspired and a kind of unfortunate era of stagnation for Darkthrone. While some of those albums are a bit weaker than the band’s best and some are cheapened versions of what they were meant to be (i.e. Goatlord), almost all tend to be underrated and nowhere is this unfortunate truth more apparent than in the band’s sixth opus of blackened music, Total Death. Total Death is almost every bit the album that its two predecessors were, surprising the listener with an unrelenting assault of high-quality, complex black metal. The sound here is still undeniably raw, but the mixing reaches a new level, more profound than on albums such as Transilvanian Hunger. The objective is evidently not the same here, with the band aiming to create a unique atmosphere mixing the black metal atmosphere of the last few albums with a certain reminder of the band’s more death metal origins. The death metal influence is indeed present here, in the back, subtle, but definitely there, be it through the aforementioned production value or the quality and style of the riffs, the drumming or even the bass playing. Alongside this there is also a slight thrash influence in the structure of certain tracks, giving the album a certain feel akin to the blackened thrash of other bands, all while keeping the unmistakable Darkthrone sound and aesthetic.
This album distinguishes itself by having a lot of recognizable and downright awesome riffs strewn all around the place. This is apparent from the very beginning of Earth’s Last Picture, one of the very best Darkthrone openers ever, starting with a unique drum-based intro before the guitars kick in full force, presenting the first of many excellent riffs to be found here. Nocturno Culto’s guitar playing has evolved tremendously from the much more minimalist style of the Transilvanian Hunger era which, timeless though it was, couldn’t support any band for their whole career. Darkthrone needed to find a new niche for themselves and this is perfect. As if the first three and a half minutes of the opener weren’t badass enough, they felt the need to slow everything down to a crawl just for a subsequent kick in the listener’s teeth with a new epic riff, one of the most powerful in the band’s entire career, creating a memorable atmosphere which readies the listener for the rest of this beast.
The rest of the album then proceeds at varying speeds; that is, varying around the general theme of the fast kick-ass song. Fenriz’s drum work is very enjoyable here, as he abandons the heavy repetition preferred on the previous albums for a much more involved approach, working at fast speeds most of the time and using a much more varied style, which I’ll stop short of calling technical, just very original and refreshing. Another element which came as a surprise on this album is the bass, which can actually be heard, and well! This is particularly true of the final song, the slow doom-oriented The Serpents Harvest, an excellent way to finish an album, linking the end with the slightly slower beginning. Nocturno Culto’s vocals here are his staple sound, that black metal rasp which is unique to him. The ideal level of the production allows his vocals to soar a bit over the instruments, giving the album a truly unique feel in the band’s discography.
Naming highlights here is rather pointless, as all the songs are great, all have inspired titles to them, and they all go very well together to ensure this album’s resounding success. In the end, if forced to pick one, I’d have to say that the opener, with its never-before-seen structure and amazing riffs, probably counts as the best song on here. The lyrics are some of the best this duo’s ever written, rarely have lyrics been so damn scornful and dark, just evil in a casual, everyday way, fitting perfectly to the album. One final element which adds the last bit of glory to this album, making the bridge between the atmosphere of nothingness and scorn evoked in the music as well as the lyrics, is the artwork. The cover is dark, desolate and just a vast landscape in space, well-suited to the album in question. It’s a perfect expression of lifelessness as well as a subtle throwback to the artwork of Soulside Journey, an album which is also slightly hinted at here in the chilling, dark death metal influence of Total Death. This is one great masterpiece of a black metal album, complex and dark at will, and certainly one of the best things Darkthrone ever did, which is saying a lot.
autothrall on January 26th, 2010
Clean this Earth of holy bitches
Total Death was the second album Darkthrone released through Moonfog Productions, and again we are faced with a minor re-invention of the band's sound, in particular the production. I have to admit this is one of the best mixed albums in the band's history, full of deep, resonant tones that add an extra layer of darkness to the band's already morbid aesthetic, a rich and fertile sea of evil which seems perfectly reflective of the album's cover image. The guitars are a thick and powerful morass of chords which rock hard whether they are channeling Bathory or Hellhammer. This album also marked a shift in how the band would write songs, with Fenriz performing drums and bass, and Nocturno Culto adding guitar and bass to his vocals. In addition, only half of the lyrics are written by Nocturno Culto (none here by Fenriz). For the remaining tracks, the band called upon the talents of their friends Ihsahn (Emperor), Satyr (Satyricon), Garm (Ulver) and Carl-Michael Eide (Ved Buens Ende). While the subtle differences are noticeable, all of them manage to do a little justice to this beloved band, though Fenriz is simply better in all cases.
Once the raging central rhythm to "Earth's Last Picture" arrives, you get an instant flashback to Blood, Fire, Death, because the song sounds like it would fit right in there, aside from Culto's more cryptic vocal style and the occasional lapses into squealing groove and huge, sludged out chords. If Quorthon and Tom G. Warrior had ever formed a band together, this might have been the result, and the nebulous darkness of this album's atmosphere only adds to the punch. It's a bloody awesome song, from the roaring verse riffs to the hooky chorus with its higher pitched chords. "Blackwinged" is like a high speed blackened shoegazer surf anthem, it's beautiful verse rhythm akin to the crashing of cold waves upon a rocky shore, and the shift to the bridge a wonderfully submersed grinding across a bare minimum of notes. When the track slows at around 2:30, it yet again visits the glorious pacing of Bathory. "Gathering for Attack on the Pearly Gates" features a familiar Transilvanian Hunger pace, but though the opening riff leaves something to be desired, credit should be given to Nocturno Culto, whose vocals really make the track until it swerves into the better pre-chorus, and eventually to a kickass, driving hyper-Hellhammer rhythm.
'Souls of christ, prepare for fight
We'll crush your halls with bonecrushing
"Black Victory of Death" is amazing, another Darkthrone victory in which the duo proves that you only need two good riffs to really nail a track. When they hit the second, over the cruising drum beat, they yet again evoke their dark Swiss godz, but it is the dark and winding majesty of the opening guitar rhythm which really sells this. "Majestic Desolate Eye" is even better...one of the most glorious Darkthrone tracks ever and probably my favorite on this record. A driving, powerful rhythm churns into a languid, rock break, while the vocals cascade across like an extraterrestrial conqueror ordering his armies to attack Earth, and then the band erupts into a venomous blasting rhythm that delivers another beautiful payload riff, pretty chords simmering atop its climactic 4th count. That is does this all in just over 3 minutes is nothing shy of joy... "Blasphemer" twines about a good old school violent thrash rhythm, with an increased fuzz to the distortion, and an amazing bridge rhythm which creates a beautiful marriage with Culto's bloodsoaked vocal torture. "Ravnajuv" is pretty good, with a desperate woven melody that brings back the Transilvanian Hunger material, same pace and just a variation of two rhythms, though the track does break down near the climax. When summed up, this chunk of Total Death is honestly among the best material the band has written, but it doesn't last.
I say that because I find most of the closer, "The Serpent's Harvest" a bore, with a grooving ooze doom riff that tires me out after only a few repetitions, and the first change in riff does very little but speed it up. The creepy, almost Wild Western melodies of the bridge are quite nice, but they arrive a little too late to save the remainder of the track, and in the end, this is the major reason I don't rate the album higher.
In the end, Total Death is pretty damn good, though not one of their best overall efforts. The use of guest lyrics was a nice touch, but they're not Fenriz (or Culto), and there is at least the one song which doesn't really impress me ("The Serpent's Harvest", and a few segments of some others). That being said, if I were to create a compilation culled from all the band's albums, "Majestic Desolate Eye", "Blackwinged" and "Black Victory of Death" would likely fine a place there, and this is well worth the money for any ardent Darkthrone fan regardless of your favorite phase in the band's career.
Highlights: Majestic Desolate Eye, Blackwinged, Black Victory of Death, Earth's Last Picture
hells_unicorn on May 15th, 2009
Looking ahead to a black cosmic sky.
Living in the past is something that too many seem to be content with, and no clearer of an example of this can be articulated than the religious devotion that many have to the Peaceville black trilogy that made Darkthrone a household name amongst adherents to the Norse black metal movement of the early 90s. This attachment has led to the blanket dismissal of a lot of good music as a result, which is nothing short of absurd, particularly given the number of quality albums that this band and others have put out since. One of those is the very different follow up to “Panzerfaust” dubbed “Total Death”, which sees the band continuing to distance themselves from the once innovative but rapidly becoming dogmatic trappings of the beast they’d created in “Transylvanian Hunger”.
Many are quick to point out the reestablishment of a Celtic Frost/Hellhammer character on this album, something which was heavily present on the two earlier offerings within the black trilogy in varying degrees, but not in this manner. There is still a lasting influence of the band’s droning, blasting minimalism that came to a climax in 1994, but it now is made to compete with a much larger amount of thrash and doom elements. The presentation is somewhat theatrical, both because the production has been smoothed out due to the guitars taking on a much mellower and warmer character, while the bass and drums are much more prominent and heavily ornamented with reverb, and the vocal presentation is dark and sinister rather than haggard and frostbitten. In fact, the dark yet more otherworldly character of the sound is almost like a lower fidelity and blackened version of the band’s death metal past, albeit without all of the technical gymnastics.
Ultimately, this album functions as a simplistic, yet varied rebuff to those who wanted this band to pigeonhole themselves into a one-dimensional sound or die off after recording a mere 4 or 5 albums, and a much needed one at that. It reasserts the fact that in spite of the primitive nature of this variant on the style, it is still capable of being multifaceted. Songs such as “Earth’s Last Picture” and “The Serpents Harvest” brilliantly combine a slower and denser doom element into their twisted narrative format, while also making time for some thrash sections and droning melodic sections that are familiar to those who loved the previous 3 albums. There is something of a Celtic Frost nature to the presentation in some respects, but what is accomplished here is a bit more progressive and a bit more aggressive than anything than that band ever conceived of back in the early to mid 80s when they were putting out classic, venomous heavy metal.
There are often complaints about the lack of participation by Fenris in the lyrical and instrumental aspects of this album, which is something that I personally view as a good thing. As much as I like Fenris’ lyrical and compositional efforts, he basically became all but a one trick pony when he dominated the arrangement on the previous 2 albums. Nocturno is the more proficient guitarist, as anyone who has heard “Soulside Journey” will obviously know, and is thus more capable at putting together quality and varied riffs. Fun blackened thrash songs like “Blasphemer”, which reminds me a little bit of some material off of Manilla Road’s “Out Of The Abyss” actually, and the classic “Black Victory Of Death” would not have been possible with Fenris playing the guitar. There aren’t any solos to ornament the songs on this album, but Nocturno’s keen sense of riff construction makes them all but unnecessary.
Though this will undoubtedly be a controversial opinion to hold, I think that “Total Death” is the best album that this band put out during their Moonfog era, and also a more involved and quality work than that of “Transylvanian Hunger”. It’s loaded with well constructed, clearly defined songs that reasserts a generalized take on black metal’s potential, rather than focusing exclusively on one or two aspects. It is very different from most of what they’ve done, but it is still well within the standard parameters of the genre and doesn’t veer anywhere near the crust punk and rocking material that the band would start to delve into later. In short, this is the last true black metal album put out by the band, and one of their greater works. So ignore the cult of 1994 in this particular instance and experience a slightly more colorful take on things, with an excellent album cover to match it.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 15, 2009.
Noctir on April 11th, 2009
In late 1993, Darkthrone recorded Transilvanian Hunger, to be released in the early Winter months of 1994. This album saw the band reach their creative peak. This was the sound that they had been striving for. Once that classic album was finished, it became somewhat of a problem for Nocturno Culto and Fenriz. They had created a masterpiece of cold, minimalist Black Metal; it was untouchable, even by those that gave it birth. On the following album, they employed this style on only two songs, preferring to go the route of emulating Celtic Frost. Perhaps, the creative atmosphere that surrounded the Norwegian scene, in the early 90s, faded a bit after the death of Euronymous, the imprisonment of Varg Vikernes (thus eliminating Mayhem and Burzum from the scene) and the media attention that followed. Of course, Fenriz had also been working on several projects throughout this time, so it would appear that he was running low on energy and motivation.
Total Death is the sixth full-length album from Darkthrone. It was recorded in the Ancient Spectre Ruins, in August and October 1995, and is the second album released on Moonfog Productions. There is a lot that can be said about this album. Whereas Panzerfaust did not exactly belong to the 'Unholy Trinity', it was still joined to that era. The fact that, like Transilvanian Hunger, it was recorded in Necrohell Studio helped to link them. This album, however, seems to be when Darkthrone fully gave up. They even allowed others to write lyrics for the album. Maybe this was an attempt to 'bring the scene together' but probably it was just a lack of creativity by Fenriz, who was very burnt out at this point.
"Earth's Last Picture" begins things with Hellhammer / Celtic Frost worship. Immediately, you notice the 'softer' production. The guitar sound is very smooth, with the bass being too audible. Nocturno Culto's vocals are actually the highlight, as the effect here is very similar to what he achieved on A Blaze in the Northern Sky. There isn't enough treble to the recording, which makes the guitars less sharp and takes away from the cold feeling that Darkthrone is known for. This song is very mid-paced and, somewhat, relaxed throughout the first minutes. Everything then gets silent as a lone tremolo riff cuts through the darkness. This is accompanied by faster drums from Fenriz, who sounded as if he had fallen asleep by this point. The riff has a sorrowful quality and the vocals really add to this feeling. This is actually a good song, but the weak production is very detrimental to the atmosphere that they are trying to create.
"Blackwinged" is a faster song, though the production really kills this. Had this been recorded in Necrohell, there is no doubt that the whole album would sound fine, though probably less inspired than previous works. There is nothing, at all, raw about the sound found on this album.
The next song is "Gather For Attack on the Pearly Gates". This features the minimalist drumming and fast tremolo riffs that Darkthrone came to be known for. The vocals are incredibly flawless (probably the best thing about the whole album). The riffs are cold and grim, and this would easily fit on Transilvanian Hunger. The only problem with this is the terrible production of this album. Even the volume is too low, which is quite odd. However, if you can adjust the sound, making the treble higher and the bass lower, this sounds pretty good. After a couple minutes, there is more boring Hellhammer worship. This is fine in small doses, as was found on the earlier albums, but to sacrifice the brilliant style that they created in favor of imitating another band just seems to be a waste. This slower section does not last forever, and is proven to be rather pointless, as the fast melodies return. Just when your mind fills with thoughts of how decent this could be, with a simple adjustment to the sound, the Hellhammer section returns. This is completely pointless, really.
"Black Victory of Death" features more typical Darkthrone riffs, yet the drumming is really lazy and is stuck in Hellhammer mode. This was okay on songs like "In the Shadow of the Horns" or even "The Hordes of Nebulah", yet it's just too much here. If I want to hear Hellhammer, I will listen to Satanic Rites or Apocalyptic Raids. With that said, Nocturno Culto and Fenriz had the opportunity to create something better than this, as with the aforementioned classic album from 1994. Showing their influences is one thing, but abandoning their own style to emulate others is just pointless.
The next song is "Majestic Desolate Eye". This sounds very strange, in the early moments, not even feeling similar to the rest of the album. It does speed up with faster drums and so on, yet it feels really uninspired. It's not bad enough that the weak/soft production kills the good songs, but there are also too many mediocre songs found on Total Death. Thankfully, this song is rather short.
"Blasphemer" sounds equally out of place, featuring thrash riffs. This might not sound so horrible, yet the awful sound drains this of energy. This could not sound less threatening than it does. Maybe, with the same production as Kreator's Endless Pain, this would be a decent Black/Thrash song. It is really disappointing to see a band become so creatively bankrupt.
"Ravnajuv" is the highlight of this album. Truly, if this had been recorded at Necrohell, it would have fit in quite well with the material on Transilvanian Hunger or maybe better on Panzerfaust. This is the only song on the album to feature Norwegian lyrics. The tremolo strumming creates freezing cold melodies that embrace you in the darkest night. The drumming is perfectly done, with Fenriz remembering that less is more. Nocturno Culto's vocals sound absolutely perfect. Sadly, after a few minutes, even this song has to slow down and degenerate into something different. Apparently, they can't even get one song completely right.
The album ends (thankfully) with "The Serpents Harvest". This begins with slower, doom-inspired riffs. Again the band was too busy listening to Celtic Frost to sit down and write an album of Darkthrone material. The pace increases, a little bit, with more of a Hellhammer vibe before actually becoming interesting. Around the 2:45 mark, a brilliant and sorrowful tremolo melody displays that they have not lost their ability to create; they are simply lazy and uninspired. After about a minute, this ends and the song goes back to the plodding pace that it began with before fading into oblivion, along with any credibility Darkthrone had at this point.
To sum this up, Total Death features a couple okay songs that could have been much better, a few decent riffs thrown here and there and a horrendous production that killed any chance that this possibly had to sound okay. This really should have been an E.P., if anything, with "Earth's Last Picture", "Gather For Attack on the Pearly Gates" (only the faster parts), "Ravnajuv" (minus the mid-paced stuff at the end), and a song created from the tremolo riff from "The Serpents Harvest". These improved versions should have been recorded at Necrohell (or anywhere other than where they recorded this abomination) and then the band should have disappeared into the shadows of the past...
Technogoat on March 23rd, 2007
Darkthrone - Total Death
After releasing several infamously unrefined and massively influential Black Metal albums in the early 90s, including the classic “Transilvanian Hunger” in 1994, it was only inevitable that Darkthrone would eventually issue an album that would tarnish their own progressively increasing legacy. “Total Death” perhaps solely represents a trace of mediocrity within their otherwise thriving discography.
The band’s second album for Moonfog Productions (the label run by Satyricon main man Satyr), “Total Death” was also their first release since their inception not to feature guitarist Zephyrous in the line up, hence reducing them to the duo of Nocturno Culto on guitars, bass and vocals and Fenriz on drums. Not surprisingly, throughout the album, it seems apparent that the loss of Zephyrous led to the greater loss of creativity and general brilliance in terms of musicality. Tracks like “Earth’s Last Picture” and “Gather For Attack On The Pearly Gates” seem to drag on without direction and this develops into an almost overriding theme throughout. The guitar arrangements in particular are far simpler and more repetitive in comparison to the spiteful and intricate sounds of previous album “Panzerfaust” for example, and so this monotony only adds to the aimless feeling throughout.
Furthermore, although Darkthrone are renowned for their notoriously bad production, there is something quite amiss with the sound on “Total Death”. Indeed, the production is terrible, but not in the ‘classic’ way expected from a Darkthrone album. Previously, their harsh, garage-like sound has fuelled the primitive nature of their style of Black Metal but on this release it almost seems as if the band have tried to somehow develop both their playing and production methods. Quite frankly, this change of direction was problematic, as it was entirely unnecessary. The overall mix is simply shambolic and allow the new tracks very little chance of acceptance amongst their fans. However, amongst this mess, there are indeed still signs of a band who have not entirely drifted from their past, with some fantastic melodic parts scattered through tracks like “Black Victory Of Death” and “Ravnajuv”.
Put simply, Darkthrone are not supposed to represent progression or advancement; they are the Black Metal fan’s reliable lot and are plain expected to release practically the same record again and again. Perhaps this is a narrow-minded approach but, quite truthfully, this album is proof of a failed attempt to diversify - something which Darkthrone themselves have never attempted since.
Originally written for http://www.blastwave.co.uk
Black_Metal_Bastard on June 16th, 2004
A different Darkthrone
After releasing the mighty Panzerfaust, Darkthrone released this album. It's not as immediate as the first 3 as this takes some time to get into I must admit(for me anyway.) The riffs are cold, yet not icy or minimal as in Transilvanian Hunger and not evil as in A Blaze.... The songs are short, mostly around 3 minutes or so, with the occasional 2 and a half minute one. The vocals seem distant and the drums are mixed just a tad too high, but that certainly doesn't damn this album. During the blast sections, the music all seems to blend together, creating a wall of noise if you will.
The first track, Earth's Last Picture, really stands out. It has a nice, menacing main riff and at the break a speed picked riff comes in which really adds that sense of minimalism to this, but this is mainly it. Another highlight is The Serpent's Harvest, the last song on here. It's got a nice slow, chuggy riff at the beginning, then goes into an all out ball crusher riff about a minute into it. The lyrics for this album were written by some of the leaders of the Norwegian BM movement, including Ihsahn of Emperor and Satyr of Satyricon, although which person wrote which lyric I am not sure.
All in all this is a decent BM record, but not really a good Darkthrone record. It's got its moments, but those seem to be few and far between.
Total Death track list
|1||Earth's Last Picture||05:12|
|3||Gather for Attack on the Pearly Gates||04:53|
|4||Black Victory of Death||04:00|
|5||Majestic Desolate Eye||03:07|
|8||The Serpents Harvest||05:43|
Total Death lineup
|Nocturno Culto||Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Lyrics (tracks 2-3, 5, 7)|
|Fenriz||Drums, Vocals, Bass, Guitars|