There are so many reasons to love Darkthrone, but the one that always pumps me up about a new album is that they seriously play by their own rules. They don’t care if you want to hear classic black metal, d-beat punk thrash-up’s, or funk speed metal played on a kazoo – they will write and record what they feel like playing at the time, regardless of trends or what internet warriors demand from them. This is the same band that debuted with a classic Swedish death metal album (1991’s Soulside Journey) and then decided to slap on corpse paint, kick the production values down to early Bathory levels, go against their record label’s wishes and record essentially the first proper second-wave black metal album (A Blaze In The Northern Sky in 1992), which still holds up today.
They haven’t played a live show since 1991 because Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell (drums, lyrics, metal archiver, post office employee, and lover of cats) doesn’t believe that records can be reproduced with quality in a live setting. In 2006, they released The Cult Is Alive, which caused major upset in the metal community with its crust punk, stripped-down direction (one that they would continue to investigate over the next few years). For black metal originators, both Fenriz and vocalist Ted “Nocturno Culto” Skjellum (vocals and all-round cool guy) also have a great sense of humour, not what the grim and frostbitten hordes expect of their heroes. Hell, they didn’t even send out promos or stream links for this new album to be reviewed, streaming first available on the 31st of May when the album dropped. In short – Darkthrone don’t give a damn about the outside world or conforming to what people expect, and that’s all good with me.
Bang your head thoroughly to the official video for “The Hardship Of The Scots” here:
Old Star (stream or purchase here) is the band’s 17th studio album (18th if you include 1996’s Goatlord, which was a fleshed-out demo from 1991), and once again they have changed up the game. Whilst not straying monumentally from their core sound (there’s always a black / speed metal vibe in there somewhere), they’ve aimed for their version of an ‘80s metal album that leans heavily on the usual Morbid Tales-era Celtic Frost backbone with more than a fair whack of Mercyful Fate and early Candlemass. The production is clean and particularly ‘80s with more than a few nods to the NWOBHM, the riffs (which are totally boss) are memorable and gritty, Ted’s vocals (whilst a little further back in the mix than usual) are gruff and punchy, the drums have a great stadium sound, and the songs are meaty and flow without a hiccup.
With only six songs in 38 minutes, the average length of six minutes per track means that we get time to really focus on each of them – there’s fist-pumping speed metal (“I Muffle Your Inner Choir,” “The Hardship Of The Scots”), cavernous doom metal (“Alp Man,” “The Key Is Inside The Wall”), and arse-kicking black metal, Darkthrone-style (“Old Star,” “Duke Of Gloat”), but they all weave in and out of the band’s numerous inspirations in various ways. The longer songs tend to go on a bit longer than necessary, but overall there is a warm balance of riffs, leads, choruses, and headbanging fury. There is a general vibe that the album is a sequel of sorts to 2013’s The Underground Resistance, which also moved in a similar direction, but Old Star is definitely the stronger of the two – if this was your first listen to Darkthrone, you would swear that they had always sounded this way, so comfortable are they with the heady stew bubbling away here.
Here’s the infernal video for “Duke Of Gloat”:
In the year 2019, this is the Darkthrone album that I both need and want, with all the requisite bells and whistles that only Gylve and Ted can think up. It’s fast when it needs to be, slow and dirgy when it can be, heavier than Marty McFly’s opinions, and utterly infectious the whole bloody way through. If you’re searching for a metal album this year that marches to its own d-beat and kicks ass on every level, look no further than Old Star – it’s Darkthrone, baby, and that’s all you really need to know.
Old Star Track Listing:
01. I Muffle Your Inner Choir
02. The Hardship Of The Scots
03. Old Star
04. Alp Man
05. Duke Of Gloat
06. The Key Is Inside The Wall
Run Time: 38.10
Release Date: May 31, 2019
Record Label: Peaceville Records