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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Fire-Toolz - Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace) Music Album Reviews

Balancing vaporwave’s glossy kitsch with throat-shredding metal vocals and labyrinthine sound collage, Angel Marcloid’s music is a perfect fusion of pop and pure abstraction.

Angel Marcloid is no stranger to chaos: Her labels Swamp Circle and Rainbow Bridge brim with glitchy noise and scrambled vaporwave. But the music the Chicago multi-instrumentalist makes as Fire-Toolz has always been too meticulous to simply coast on entertaining randomness. Slapping MIDI basslines, screamed metal vocals, video-game synths, riffing guitars, and proggy drum fills might all collide in any given song, but Marcloid’s instrumentally and mathematically virtuosic constructions never feel simply thrown together. The highwire balancing act of all these wildly moving parts has always been Fire-Toolz’s calling card, and on the brilliant new Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace) it reaches a whole new level of thrilling intensity.

Marcloid’s compositional approach has often felt clearer when she narrows her stylistic parameters slightly. Projects like the sample-based Mindspring Memories or the jazz-fusion Nonlocal Forecast, beautifully captured on Bubble Universe! for Hausu Mountain earlier this year, show how well Marcloid can hone in on a specific musical idea and reveal an entire world. On the other hand, Fire-Toolz has always been an opportunity for Marcloid to spin every plate in her cupboard at once. Until now, the alias has felt especially influenced by metal, due to the perfectly honed black-metal hiss she unleashes over many tracks. Here she drastically reins those vocals in, but by pulling back on the most striking element of Fire-Toolz, she lifts everything else in her arsenal. It makes Field Whispers feel like an evolution of the project as a whole.

Field Whispers opens with what might be the best vocal song Marcloid has ever written. Despite its long, unwieldy name, “mailto:spasm@swamp.god?subject=Mind-BodyParallels” distills Fire-Toolz’s sonic obsessions into a strange approximation of pop music. Its web of bouncing drum-machine beats and bright keyboard melodies sparkles alongside throat-shredding screams. Even through this web of smooth guitar lines and funky synths, Marcloid’s bile-dripping roar locks right in without ever sounding out of place, charting a path from easy listening Muzak to a cathartic finale that surges as fiercely as Agalloch. “Mailto:” is followed by its opposite, the sprawling seven-minute sound collage “Clear Light,” but each of that track’s carefully sculpted left turns, from harsh noise to ambient to surging synths and a twisting guitar solo, shows that Marcloid’s experimental flourishes are as carefully considered and exciting as her pop songs. It sounds like Oneohtrix Point Never’s last three albums played simultaneously. Prior to the album’s release, the two songs were combined into a single nine-minute single, which seems unwieldy until you realize it makes complete sense. Nothing has captured this nearly indescribable project better than jumping on these two sonic roller-coasters back to back.

Those songs recalibrate Fire-Toolz’s framework, creating a playing field where Field Whispers’ leaps into pop and dives into abstraction are equally rewarding. The hallucinatory sound design of “The Warm-Body (A Blessing & Removal)” unpredictably shifts into a tender melodic coda; “Hologram of a Composite” feels like a momentary return to Nonlocal Forecast’s proggy, euphoric Bubble Universe!; and “✓ BEiNG” begins with birdsong and forest ambience before igniting with stadium-sized drums, a soaring guitar solo, and another surprising swoop of the ground-razing vocals that opened “mailto.” It’s a welcome return to Marcloid’s voice, which gets a third and final showcase on the ecstatic closer, “Smiling at Sunbears Grooming in Sunbeams” (along with Marcloid’s late cat, Breakfast, to whom the album is dedicated). It all makes Field Whispers Marcloid’s strongest statement under any moniker, a reaffirmation of her work as a wild playground where anything can happen—and usually does.

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