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Darkthrone - Old Star Music Album Reviews

With their true Norwegian black metal days behind them and nothing left to prove, the longrunning duo trumpet their joyful debt to classic heavy metal.

Norwegian metal duo Darkthrone’s career has been a long, strange trip, one that’s always hinged upon the relationship between two rock’n’roll obsessives from Kolbotn. The band’s sound has morphed from the grating, lo-fi black metal barbarism that won them international acclaim in the 1990s into a looser, black metal/punk vibe that debuted on 2006’s The Cult Is Alive and injected new life into their career. Since then, they’ve ditched their more abrasive tendencies in favor of a sonic mish-mash that trumpets the duo’s joyful debt to classic heavy metal to the rafters.

Darkthrone’s 18th album, Old Star—which perennial mouthpiece Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell has described as the band’s “most ’80s album so far”—is a celebration of their storied past, produced by Ted “Nocturno Culto” Skjellum in his own Necrohell 2 Studios and polished by veteran knob-twiddlers Sanford Parker’s mix and Jack Control’s mastering job. Both members of Darkthrone share vocal, guitar, and bass duties (with Fenriz also putting in time on the drums), and over the years, they have forged the kind of bond most musicians can only dream about. This new album is in line with what fans of the band’s more recent (as in, post-2006) material have come to expect, but with a new twist—namely, the outsized impact that traditional doom bands like Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus seem to have had on the songwriting. Darkthrone still stand firmly in the heavy metal (with a dash of punk) camp, but they’ve definitely got a soft spot for old-school gloom.

There’s a melodic strain running through Old Star, particularly on tracks like the delectably doomy “Alp Man” (which suits Nocturno Culto’s breathy rasp) and the up-tempo “Duke of Goat” (two of several delightfully nonsensical titles on this release. What is an “alp man”? We’ll never know!). “Duke of Goat” is also the only track on Old Star that could convincingly be labeled “black metal”; despite Darkthrone’s roots in the second wave, their status as genre godfathers, and the designation on their label’s promo materials, the duo’s true Norwegian black metal days are long over. However, with its icy, mid-tempo malevolence and Satanic bent, this song is a thrilling reminder of past evils.

“The Hardship of the Scots,” on the other hand, is pure Celtic Frost worship, with a twist—as metal site Last Rites astutely noted, the song’s main riff is a fairly blatant homage to AC/DC’s “Let Me Put My Love Into You.” Darkthrone and Fenriz in particular seem to delight in sneaking references to other beloved bands into their music, lyrics, and album artwork, and while it isn’t quite as apparent as on albums like F.O.A.D. or Circle the Wagons, Old Star is no exception. That rock’n’roll influence serves them well in the more rollicking moments of songs like “I Muffle Your Inner Choir,” and on upbeat album closer “The Key Is Inside the Wall,” and keeps things from getting too serious. All in all, they’ve come a long way from Ravishing Grimness.

Fenriz firmly cemented his status as heavy metal’s timelessly cool, occasionally goofy uncle years ago, and has only settled more comfortably into the role as he and his counterpart have reached the upper reaches of both metal legend and middle age. Over three decades into their career, neither of them have anything left to prove, or anyone left to impress. The band didn’t even bother sending out promos for Old Star, preferring that journalists and industry types hear the new record at the same time as fans, because Darkthrone doesn’t need the hype, or advance accolades. They don’t need to worry about festival slots or booking headlining tours, because they don’t play live; as Fenriz proudly proclaimed on the 2010 track “I Am the Working Class,” they both have day jobs (and live in a country with a high standard of living and robust social safety net), so album sales aren’t a pressing concern.

At this point, one gets the distinct impression that, unlike so many other elder headbangers who keep on churning out new material and touring themselves into the ground—because, hey, the mortgage payment is due and the kids gotta eat—Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are just doing this for fun. Darkthrone keeps pumping out albums a full 25 years after their best-known records dropped, simply because the two dudes in the band sincerely, obsessively love heavy metal, and like making music together. It shows an impressive commitment to both their friendship and to rock’n’roll, and, for all their warts and spikes and grunts, there’s something almost sweet about that.

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