Nineteen albums. Nineteen. For any artist, that would be an accomplishment, but Darkthrone are among the founders of Norwegian black metal, a subgenre not necessarily known for its longevity when it comes to careers. Now in its 34th(?!) year, the band have managed to survive by progressing, evolving, creating, and forging their own path musically, leaving the black metal ethos in their dust as soon as it no longer served their needs (as they did previously with their original death metal direction).
Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have always called their own shots, whether it was refusing to play live, changing direction on a dime, or bucking any and all trends, and it is this vision and attention to quality that has kept and built their enormous fanbase whilst still remaining a completely underground band.
Over the past two decades, we’ve seen them flirt with every genre and subgenre that originally inspired them, from crust to NWOBHM to speed metal to thrash and everything in between, all the while retaining ‘the Darkthrone sound’. This, of course, continues to create a divide amongst their fans (especially the original black metal horde) but they’ve stood firm in their journey, and more power to them.
With Eternal Hails……, the focus is on long songs (nothing under seven minutes) where they are able to flesh out epic soundscapes that rely on classic doom as a foundation – if anything, the record can be basically summed up as Candlemass meets Celtic Frost with Iron Maiden guitars and proto-black vocals, but there’s so much more to it than that.
Fenriz has made no bones about his love of Uriah Heep and Candlemass being the drive here, a direction touched on briefly with their previous album, 2019’s Old Star, now fully fleshed out and glorious here. To achieve the desired sound and production, they recorded it not in their beloved Necrohell II studio, but at Chaka Khan in Oslo, leaving the two musicians to focus solely on the music.
The opening track, ‘His Master’s Voice’, is the perfect gateway – gothic intro and outro, lo-fi drums, solid doomy riffage, swelling motifs, and Nocturno’s signature vocals looming deep and cavernous in the mix, giving off an ethereal, distant quality. With the length of the songs throughout, one may expect there to be bloated, unnecessary passages, but from this first song we can see that they are using their time wisely and with great care. The rhythm and flow are carefully swayed by the interlocking relationship between the two musicians, and it is this understanding that makes every second count.
On each of the five songs, the age-old Celtic Frost vibe is still there in spades and gives us that black metal backbone, but the blatant homage to Candlemass’ debut album (an undeniable doom classic) is where the real meat is. Songs like ‘Voyage To A North Pole Adrift’ and album-closer ‘Lost Arcane City Of Uppakra’ carry all the atmosphere of epic doom without any of the morose trappings, the Darkthrone energy winning out in spectacular fashion with elements ranging from NWOBHM riffs to Fenriz playing around with a Mellotron and a Minimoog, and the end result is a strong, kickass recording. And look no further than ‘Hate Cloak’ to remind us that this is bloody DARKTHRONE, a formidable and dark project that, even amongst the good humour and warm mix, will still smack you directly across the face when they want to.
So yeah, nineteen albums is a monumental feat, but for this band, each of those releases is yet another step in a journey that may never end (please). They have a seemingly endless well of inspirado and ideas, all of which they execute with style. Eternal Hails…… is tight, solid, exciting, downright groovy at times, and is, quite simply, another Darkthrone album. Which means that it’s not just good, but goddamn great. Here’s to another nineteen.
Eternal Hails…… is out now via Peaceville Records and can be ordered here.
Words: John Morrow