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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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Ruth Garbus - Kleinmeister Music Album Reviews

With tranquil, careful compositions that encourage introspection, the Vermont musician reflects on climate anxiety without succumbing to doom and gloom.

The title of Ruth Garbus’ second record, Kleinmeister, translates to “Little Masters,” a German term for a group of 16th-century artists who produced prints from miniscule, labyrinthine engravings. Viewing their work half a millennium later, one is awed by the patience of such handmade precision. Such is the experience of listening to Garbus’ music, the intricacies of which inspire a similar quiet reverence.

Before she was a musician, Garbus applied her attention to furniture design. After dropping out of art school, the younger sister of Tune-Yards’ Merrill joined the vibrant music scene in Brattleboro, Vermont, first playing in the acid-folk collective Feathers and then in the bratty garage-pop trio Happy Birthday, alongside Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff) and Chris Weisman. Weisman and his brother Kurt, Garbus’ bandmate in Feathers, encouraged the burgeoning songwriter to pursue her own music. Garbus’ first solo release, 2006’s Ruthie’s Requests, was so minimalist and delicate that it felt like it might dissolve into its own fuzz. Four years later, her full-length debut Rendezvous With Rama pushed this insularity towards darker realms.

After two pop-leaning EPs, Kleinmeister returns to tranquil, careful compositions that encourage introspection. While Garbus, her guitar, and her idiosyncratic melodies remain the foundation of these nine songs, producers Travis Laplante and Ryan Power adorn opening tracks “Strash” and “Pain” with aqueous textures. Garbus’ crystalline mezzo soprano emerges from the ambience like a headlight on a foggy evening. From these hazy beginnings, Kleinmeister focuses on the careful intertwining of Garbus’ chords and voice, which has expanded with recent opera training. But the heights she reaches stand in stark contrast with the album’s lingering sadness.

While Garbus has not explicitly defined Kleinmeister as a record rooted in the climate crisis, she makes frequent references to Earth’s devastation. On the synthy “Strash,” she’s surrounded by a horrifying mix of organic and manufactured detritus: “Plasticated paper and popsicle sticks covered in algae,” “insurmountable heaps, hot and green,” and “visceral viscera wet cardboard steam.” Elsewhere, she sings about “Adirondack littering,” a vision of dead squirrels, pesticides, and needles—pine or hypodermic, it’s unclear—scattered across forest floors. “It doesn’t matter who, we’re all gonna be underground,” Garbus sings on “Pain”; the final word stretches until it disappears, leaving a void of despair.

But despite this somber sense of reality, Garbus never submits to doom and gloom. Rather, she calmly reflects on how to acknowledge the planet’s decay without becoming apathetic, and how to balance grief and fear without succumbing to them. “I’m not willing to say that everything’s bad, but I’m sad,” she intones on “Pain.” “Why can’t I remove all this psychic sludge?/Is it okay to feel not okay?” she wonders later on “Grey Sweatshirt.” The tenor sax-driven closer “Fetty Wah” imagines the titular character deceased at the bottom of the Atlantic, toes nibbled away by fish and skin glossed in “bivalve shine.” Kleinmeister accepts this fate with open arms.

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