At one point, for most of the ’90s, Darkthrone were untouchable. Of course, there’s the True Peaceville Trinity of A Blaze In The Northern Sky, Under A Funeral Moon, and Transilvanian Hunger: all eternally enduring works of timeless black metal mystery ‘n’ mystique that can never, ever be soiled or spoiled. Then came Darkthrone’s Wilderness Years, which is where the duo got more interesting and idiosyncratic. It began with 1995’s righteously wretched ‘n’ ugly Panzerfaust – no doubt, the fallout from delivering the trashy trance-out monolith of Transilvanian Hunger the year before – and carried through with a couple cold ‘n’ alone records that brimmed with a uniquely lurking dread. During this time, interviews with Darkthrone were exceedingly rare; the Social Media Era was still far off, but mentions of the band’s activities (if any) were mere, closely-guarded whispers. The new millennium brought more colour in the equally slept-on Plaguewielder, but otherwise saw Nocturno Culto & Fenriz sticking to their (unfashionable) guns. But – and this is a crucial BUT – Darkthrone started talking. Interesting at first, of course, but the more they (usually Fenriz) gabbed, the more that veil of untouchableness was lifted, something once precious or at least unique now lost. And they kept on gabbing and gabbing and gabbing to the point where liner notes now accompanied Darkthrone records, which is the same time they started playing Record Nerd Heavy Metal. You know the albums I’m talking about – you’re either a fan, or not. Me, my indifference inexorably grew the more Manilla Road and Omen references they made; it wasn’t so much a ‘weird’ I was unfamiliar with than it was one I could see coming miles away.
And now we have Arctic Thunder, which is purportedly a return to their roots – whatever those are, by this point. But seriously, that title? Sounds like an energy drink or something, or an off-brand version of such. Which leads us nicely into the fundamental problem with the album: it’s been YEARS since Darkthrone have been Darkthrone, and whether or not they no longer know how to be Darkthrone, most of Arctic Thunder sounds like an off-brand version of Darkthrone, or one that’s really, really tired or has been sitting on the shelf far too long. All the same rudiments are in place, and that’s not really a problem – they were pretty fucking instrumental in establishing this lil’ thing we know as black metal – and there’s always been a concerted sense of déjà vu to the riffs comprising their records, from those Wilderness Years on especially to the first few records of the Talking Years. But whereas the likes of Sardonic Wrath and especially Hate Them had an aspect that was alien as it was ugly – or maybe somewhere an inversely proportional sense of understatement vs. expectation, which always worked in Darkthrone’s favour in the past – here on Energy Drink, the duo politely go through the paces, the ones people once expected or anticipate now that Goofy Metal Era is over, and the sense of ‘understatement’ is noxiously pronounced and thus cloying. Then again, this writer might’ve had his blinders on for a decade too long and was oblivious to that cloyingness. Fool me once, shame on you…
I can simply like this because it’s Darkthrone being the Darkthrone when they were Darkthrone, but it’s more an intellectual curiosity rather than one borne of instinct. Maybe in the Rest Home Era, ‘instinct’ is no longer in the vernacular? Shame on me.
Nathan T. Birk 3
IMPORTANT NOTE: This review originally ran in issue 075, however, the printed score of 3.5 appeared erroneously – it’s a very boring explanation, but we used a previous issue’s section as a template and the correct score wasn’t copied in to replace what was there from the issue before. Half a mark’s half a mark after all, so here’s the full review again alongside the correct score.
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