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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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MUNA - Saves the World Music Album Reviews

Translating alt-rock into pristine pop, the L.A. trio’s second album documents sex, drugs, and suicidal tendencies with less melodrama and more compassion.

We listen to pop music because we see our reflection in it, and so we’ve welcomed in more non-heteronormative figures to reflect our realities. L.A. trio MUNA were ahead of pop’s greater recent queering—a space occupied by King Princess, Clairo, and Kim Petras, to name a few. The ’80s-style synths and dark narratives of their early songs prompted the press to label them the “gay HAIM,” a disservice to both acts. Besides, MUNA emerged as punks—producing their own 2017 debut About U, presenting as sexually fluid, and educating on gender pronouns. Yet they’ve hidden in plain sight; the defiant melodies and corresponding political rhetoric of “Loudspeaker” or “I Know a Place” echo in Maggie Rogers’ air-punch moments and the 1975’s slogan campaigns. In 2017, the group toured with Harry Styles. They are major-signed but remain on the mainstream’s fringes.

With their second album, Saves the World, they don’t bask in being on the right side of history. Instead they put themselves on trial, dissecting their own frailties before addressing those of their enemies. “Saving yourself is the key to saving the world,” they say, explaining the spunky title. You can’t function as an activist if your personal fiascos need attention. So MUNA peer into murky puddles and ask who stares back. “I’ve been looking at myself in the mirror,” lead songwriter Katie Gavin sings on “Number One Fan,” as her bandmates Naomi McPherson (producer) and Josette Maskin (guitarist) flex their alt-rock muscles towards state-of-the-art pop.

The soundtrack to Gavin’s transformation is as sentimental as it is versatile. The more she unwinds, the further her bandmates extend their arms, shifting from the Coyote Ugly country-lite of “Taken” to the warbling “Memento,” a meditative vignette about a bee sting. The trio met at USC; they’re a college-pop band, and they peck like magpies from ’80s and ’90s FM radio. “It's Gonna Be Okay, Baby” is Bon Iver as the Police, cradling Gavin’s coming-of-age. “Good News (Ya-Ya Song)” and “Number One Fan” are wordy, turn-of-the-millennium-style confessionals, as bewildered with life’s nonsense as they are humored by it (“So I went to an art exhibit, there wasn’t any art”). “Never” follows the school of Robyn, raving through crisis. The pain and self-worthlessness Gavin exhibited on MUNA’s debut is abandoned in favor of enlightenment. She documents sex, drugs, and suicidal tendencies with less melodrama and more compassion. “You finally read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” she sings, smiling at her own Angeleno new ageism.

A triad of desolate songs at the album’s heart race by as though seeking to end their anguish. MUNA are at their most cinematic on “Navy Blue,” which sparkles like a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. Gavin drives adjacent to the ocean, imagining herself drowning in post-breakup misery. Her notes fly so lightly across the bassline, you can taste the salt spray. Layered club nocturn “Never” serves as the album’s quarter-life-crisis rock bottom. “Consider this my resignation… I'll never sing again,” she broods, and as her voice nears exhaustion, guitars erupt into digital screams of distress, or perhaps rebirth. The brighter, more buoyant “Pink Light” sets her up for a fresh beginning, but the chorus springs her back to the past: “I keep retracing that storyline, thinking if I start again, I can change the way it ends.”

The album’s bookends sound like lullabies. Over simple arpeggiated piano, opener “Grow” wants to let go of “childish things.” Its opening line—“I want to grow up”—is a universal plea for a generation lacking in reliable mentors. Closer “It’s Gonna Be Okay, Baby” addresses those past phases of life, protecting Gavin’s voice within the band’s wall of synthetic effects. She addresses her younger self with the candidness of a journal entry, repeating the titular mantra with the benefit of hindsight.

You’re gonna feel much more like God is a mystery
and Jesus is a metaphor
Yeah, you’re gonna tell your reflection
It’s gonna be OK, baby

Eyeing the mirror one last time, she finds a trust in an older, wiser self. After three years in the public eye, Gavin reveals her flaws more plainly. Though her story is one of heartbreak, it’s not about who breaks hearts, but rather what: inherited patterns, old habits, misinformation. Saves the World approaches adulthood with unabashed honesty, so you’ll be ready to smash the system a little more gently. And while MUNA’s pop is preoccupied with that greater sense of purpose, it carries its heavy heart to the dancefloor.

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