REVIEW: DARKTHRONE – “Old Star”
Probably the most long-running duo in Norwegian black metal history, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have been creating killer music for over 30 years, from raw death metal to second wave black, then speed and even heavy. ‘Old Star’ (awesome name, by the way) is album number eighteen from the Norwegian masters of the black arts, and despite this being an overwhelming album number when it comes to extreme metal, shows that these night guardians still got it.
Some will say that Darkthrone is a weird band. The clear Venom/Bathory worship seen in their early years – shaped into a visceral branch of their own of the infamous Second Wave of Black Metal™ – paved the way to a more cerebral form of music in the late 1990s, which they shifted again to a rawer, primal version of speed/black metal sound. And this is exactly why I think that ‘Old Star’ – as ‘Arctic Thunder’ (2016) was – is an amalgam of sorts from the duo’s entire musical background, so it can feel weird to some.
The weirdness is palpable right from the start of “I Muffle Your Inner Choir” because you can clearly tell that the mixing is unique, courtesy of Sanford Parker (Buried at Sea), a weirdo himself. The analogic and well…muffled atmosphere akin to the 1980s fits perfectly with Nocturno’s style of production, while the overall musicality here features some classic Darkthrone moments.
“The Hardship of Scots” slows things down a little bit, almost into a doom-esque perspective. The riffing here is top notch, flirting with some NWOBHM passages and transitioning from heavy to doom, always on the proto side of things. “Alp Man” follows a similar construction, but this time adding a little bit of a gothic twist to it in the intermission, something that could be easily attached to a Mercyful Fate album. Both tracks feel like if Cathedral went fully extreme on ‘Forest of Equilibrium’ (1991), atmosphere-wise.
Another different approach taken by the band, “Duke of Gloat” preserves the black metal elements successfully but adds an interesting thrashy vibe to the record. Despite not being my favorite of the bunch, it does bring Fenriz’s brutality and Nocturno’s rawness to light like no other.
Closer “The Key Is Inside the Wall” brings back the doom vibes, this time around accompanied by a punky vibe. While I do think the song could be leaner in terms of length, the formula works really well here and the duo is definitely in sync, both instrumental and energy-wise. It doesn’t end the album with the bang it deserves but is definitely memorable.
This might be my favorite Darkthrone album of the decade alongside ‘The Underground Resistance’ (2013). Noted, the overall album construction is not that easy to digest, and Fenriz and Nocturno are definitely not a simplistic duo when it comes to writing music. The lack of propulsion between tracks and the constant shifting sound are elements that require attention when listening to this, so don’t expect to put this beauty as background music as you play videogames or cry yourself to sleep.
‘Old Star’ has plenty of quality content to spare and these dudes should be recognized once again for delivering the goods after 30 years on the road. Mr. Nagell and Mr. Skjellum might be Old Stars already, but they keep on shining bright.