Darkthrone are an underground metal institution. The Norwegian duo has dabbled in so many niches of metal and punk that no one single direction they’ve taken sufficiently summarizes their output. Ultimately Darkthrone’s spirit is the sound of the ’80s underground. Both Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell and Ted “Nocturno Culto” Skjellum have emerged the ardent and ever-stalwart curators of that decade’s most primitive and rotten sounds, distilling early death metal, thrash, doom and heavy metal into meticulous and authentic arrangements. While the ingredients remain the same, Darkthrone’s specific formula has shifted over time. Their early albums featured a wealth of Celtic Frost and Bathory, then developed into a crust punk and trad-metal mid period, and now to an era of slower, doom-infused heavy metal. That’s why, with Darkthrone’s 19th studio release, Eternal Hails…… it only makes sense that the band sound much the same as they ever have, despite all their stylistic tinkering.
The album opens with “His Master’s Voice,” a particularly sinister cut replete with riffs reminiscent of Darkthrone’s earliest death metal output, though considerably more deliberate and gloomy. The song’s molasses tempos and thick, syrupy guitar tone showcase the album’s fantastic sense of weight, with riffs that start out plodding and begin to reveal their might toward the song’s six-minute mark. With such methodical pacing, Darkthrone place an emphasis on their deceptively simple, elegant songwriting. The tracks here are longer, with bigger builds and more linear progressions than on previous efforts such as Arctic Thunder and Old Star. No sequence taken on its own is particularly complex, yet their variety and pacing feels more considered than most riff-oriented bands. A particular highlight is how Darkthrone closes Side B with some of the strangest moments of their career. “Voyage to a Northpole Adrift” opens softly, with a weirdly discordant, spidery guitar riff that sets an ominous and unsettling tone, while a hypnotic analog synthesizer solo on the final track tears out of left field to create the album’s final, haunting crescendo. It’s a welcome kind of weirdness, ending Eternal Hails….. on an unconventional high note.
If 2013’s The Underground Resistance was a culmination of all the sonic maturation of the band’s heavy metal and crust albums, Eternal Hails…… is much the same for their latest era of slow, heavy metal. Where Arctic Thunder tested Darkthrone’s vocabulary in the style, its successor Old Star pushed the band to compose entire sentences in the rotten, ponderous language. These prior albums reveal how far Eternal Hails…… has explored Darkthrone’s contemporary sound, both compositionally and sonically. Expanded, varied songwriting is ubiquitous across the album, an imperative for a tracklist of a mere five (lengthy) songs, while Darkthrone have also altered their tone to bolster the music’s decrepit, lumbering pace. Bass is the name of the game, as if it’s not always completely audible, it congeals around the guitar and snare tone lending Eternal Hails…… a rounder, more humid sonic texture.
Darkthrone’s greatest strength transcends any specific aspect of their sound. Their music should stand on its own while also acting as a heavy metal encyclopedia, a portal to a world where bands like Metallica, Manilla Road and Bathory exist side by side in the same canon, free of any genre enmity or even convention. Darkthrone conjure a mythologized vision of heavy metal where these bands were each jointly integral to the sound and spirit of all things hard and true metal. Eternal Hails…… is just another chapter of Darkthrone crafting a singular stylistic amalgam from their many disparate sources. They’re a band as likely to lift a doom metal riff from Candlemass as they are a thrash metal band like Metal Church. Darkthrone care less for convention than they do the specific angles and idiosyncrasies of classic heavy metal, and on Eternal Hails…… they represent all the glory and strangeness of its most primordially slow, heavy bands.
Nonbinary writer on the move from one hemisphere to the other. A black metal gal and prog dad.