Album Review: DARKTHRONE Arctic Thunder
Darkthrone came thundering back with a purer-than-recent slab of juiced up black metal with 2013's heralded The Underground Resistance after several years of dabbling in a modestly blackened hybrid of crust punk and old school metal, but even that album paid heavy lip service to the rawer side of old school metal. Fans of Radio Fenriz have been long aware of the frontman's love for the less technical side of thrash, buzzsaw Motorhead-inspired forms of punk and unvarnished 80's proto-black metal, so Darkthrone's dabblings in such genre conventions haven't exactly been a surprise to diehard converts. This year's belated follow up Arctic Thunder (named after an obscure 80's Norwegian band) won't throw too many people for a loop either, though it does feature some of the band's most straightforward black metal musings in years.
The first Darkthrone album with Nocturno Culto monopolizing vocals in some time, Arctic Thunder is certainly no Under a Funeral Moon in terms of intensity, with "The Wyoming Distance" treading in thrashy death metal riffs and the title track representing a rollicking take on Bathory-style Viking metal, but "Burial Bliss" is pure first wave black metal in a mid-tempo vein, and "Throw Me Through the Marshes" has that distinctive Celtic Frost bottom end that recalls 1985 all over again. One of the more interesting songs on the album is "Boreal Fiends", with its deceptively loping riff and almost synth-like guitar effects toward the end of the track (that same effect shows up in the solo to "Tundra Leech", itself a fairly fundamentalist take on early/proto-black metal… never quite deciding whether it wants to be fast or slow, to work the riff or abandon it to stream-of-consciousness wailing, etc).
There is a certain stylistic coherence to the musical intrepidity of Fenriz and Culto that naturally varies in quality from one album to the next; it always seems more like they are applying modern black metal conventions to a foundation of old 80's genre trends than the other way around, which allows a much greater degree of flexibility and adventurousness than the contrary would, but it also means more taxing demands and risk for failure, so not all of Darkthrone's albums of the last decade or so have resonated equally.
I'm not prepared to say that Arctic Thunder exceeds The Underground Resistance in accomplishment, but it's definitely more immediately listenable: the briefer song lengths are more an exercise in concision than reflective of a lack of ideas, and the decision to hand the full scope of vocal duties over to Nocturno Culto this time around – no offense to the always-compelling Fenriz, of course – gives Arctic Thunder a consistency that ties together the disparate genre dabblings in ways that make other recent albums seem patchwork-y by comparison. There's no single song here capable of making one singlehandedly forget Underground Resistance or Circle the Wagons, but as a whole you'll probably find yourself returning to it more often.