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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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Mica Levi - Monos (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Music Album Reviews

Much like the UK composer’s score for Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, Monos uses just a smattering of sounds to craft a world of deepening dread.

By most quantitative measures, Jonathan Glazer’s 2014 film Under the Skin was a bomb. Whereas some Scarlett Johansson vehicles can break a billion dollars at the box office, Under the Skin is nowhere near making back its original budget. Reviews called the abstract body-horror film “torpid and silly” and “without dramatic, emotional or psychological substance”; Glazer hasn’t made another film since. But thanks to the bracing, skin-prickling score from Mica Levi (her debut as a soundtrack composer after years fronting Micachu and the Shapes), Under the Skin and its soundtrack continue to exert an eerie gravitational pull five years on. Indie musicians like Geoff Barrow, Colin Stetson, and the Haxan Cloak’s Bobby Krlic now make similarly visceral and atonal sounds for the screen, and the experimental imprint PAN has even created its own cinematic sublabel.

Levi’s score for Brazilian writer/director Alejandro Landes’ Monos is similar to her work for Under the Skin: It utilizes only a smattering of sounds to craft a world of deepening dread. The story follows a group of teenagers-turned-soldiers in a mountain retreat tending to a political prisoner and a milk cow named Shakira; the film’s quick erasure of the line between innocence and heartlessness brings to mind Apocalypse Now (while a pig’s head on a stick pays clear homage to The Lord of the Flies). But while characters named Wolf, Dog, and Smurf shed their last vestiges of civility and turn feral, Levi’s score keeps a firm grasp throughout, growing unhinged yet never quite losing control. If there’s an onscreen character that best represents Levi, it’s Sofia Buenaventura’s Rambo, who somehow keeps her humanity intact through the tribulations.

For the first part of the film, the child soldiers occupy a mountain fort, and Levi’s cues expertly match the spare setting. Hushed as the mists that enshroud the characters (many shots show them on lookout with the clouds gathering below them), small sounds suggest deeper forces at work. With the distant rumble of tympanum on “Funeral” and “A La Selva,” Levi heightens the tension on screen and hints at the interior struggle as each character slowly, unnoticeably shakes free from the constraints of society.

The soundtrack’s main theme is a four-note whistle, which sounds throughout the film. At some moments, with the kids silhouetted with guns in hand, it brings to mind the iconic whistle theme of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It’s deceptively simple and devastatingly effective, an elemental childlike sound made from just cupping your hands together and blowing. But as it continues to sound, a sense of exhaustion becomes audible, the fourth note raspy like a last gasp. As digital effects burst in and drums rumble closer, the whistle turns forlorn and increasingly isolated. On “Helicóptero,” Levi digitally manipulates and elongates its tone into a flickering, dreamlike drone.

Even a playful cue like “Honguitos,” wherein the kids nosh on some magic mushrooms sprouting from cow dung and have their environment flipped from garrison to playground, the effect is short-lived. A whimsical air rendered on flute floats by, then gets dragged down by a nose-diving synth line. It’s as if a huge EDM drop lay just around the bend. More flickering synth themes swell on “Castigo” and at other intervals in the film, making for a provocative suggestion: In another time or place, rather than carrying machine guns in bloodied hands, these mud-caked kids might simply be going primal on a saucer-eyed weekend at a countryside rave.

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