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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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Klein - Lifetime Music Album Reviews

On her most personal album to date, the UK experimental musician retains her focus on the ambiguities of the processed human voice while bringing traditional instrumentation to the fore.

The musical sensibility that the South London experimental producer Klein has developed over the course of her previous records and assorted performance commissions is unmistakable and evolving. Jagged soundscapes made from loops of melodic fuzz and pop-culture samples harbor memories both personal and cultural. Klein’s own voice floats throughout—sometimes as sung language, sometimes in the form of abstract groans or ululations. Her surfaces are uneven, and there’s a multitude of weird, hyper-specific detail to get lost in; the overall effect, though, feels like searching—for sounds, for workable forms, for lost or hidden selves.

On Lifetime, Klein sprawls more comfortably into sonic space than she has before in her recorded music. Totality becomes a possibility: the approximation of a whole. Lifetime is structured as a series of interlocking cycles, and as it resolves and unfurls, it seems to ask: What does the tension between duration and transformation sound like?

Klein has said this is a deeply personal album, akin to “giving someone your diary.” That doesn’t mean it’s informative in some extractive sense—more that it’s characterized by an abstract sort of openness throughout. Especially on the album’s A-side, she plays with proximity in the way she collages sounds: The opener toys with a wordless sung pop hook, first at the front of the listener’s ear, piled atop ambling distortion, and then, once the instrumental portion of the track has suddenly dropped away, at an echoey distance. A chorus emerges, combining both vantage points to a lightly dissonant effect. If we can access a person through their voice—an idea that is present but certainly not stable in these songs—we contend with her as simultaneously a performer and an intimate.

I’ve long associated Klein’s sound with a combination of vocal experimentation and the distorted grain of digitally collaged sound. Instrumentation, however, comes more crisply to the fore here, drawing our attention away from the record’s crackling interstices and toward a set of classical sounds perhaps more confidently invested with representational power. “Silent” blooms with cycles of hurried, ecstatic percussion, against which a brief, stunning piano line is introduced; a version of this pairing resurfaces a few tracks later on the choppier, more discordant “Never Will I Disobey.” Saxophonist and sound artist Matana Roberts guests on the gently roiling “For What Worth,” and her playing is one of the clearer shapes within the blurry samples that form the song’s shifting ground. Present, too, are samples of dialogue from Spencer Williams’ early-20th century American race films, sculpted with spiritual vocals on “We Are Almost There” into a swell of vocal expression—featuring Klein’s voice, too, and thus developing a textured chorus that spans a century.

The 10-minute track “Honour” is one of the least musical offerings here, and gives Lifetime its unlikely pinnacle. Spoken voices—Klein’s? Her mother’s?—are presented in a sort of field-recorded argument about theology, faith, family. “Forgiving and forgetting. What does forgiving and forgetting require? Accountability. The Bible also speaks about accountability,” Klein says. The voices that make up the conversation become processed with vocoder effects, and background sound takes the shape of an ominous, percussive squelch. We return from that sound to music proper, ambivalent ambient tones and a series of swelling, slow-burning textures: to resolve the conflict to which we were just privy? To echo or to burn away the everyday pain of family and faith? In these soundscapes, the banal and the intense, music performed and sound happenstance, collapse into one another. Lifetime is marked by aesthetic and personal conflict, and while it doesn’t uncover easy resolution, its beauty (and it is a remarkably beautiful record) derives in large part from the acceptance, or even embrace, of those conflicts as what generates a lifetime’s meaning.

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