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Darkthrone - "Arctic Thunder" (CD)

Darkthrone - "Arctic Thunder" CD cover image

"Arctic Thunder" track listing:

1. Tundra Leech
2. Burial Bliss
3. Boreal Fiends
4. Inbred Vermin
5. Arctic Thunder
6. Throw Me Through the Marshes
7. Deep Lake Tresspass
8. The Wyoming Distance

Reviewed by on October 14, 2016

"The old school metal vibe is inherent in the album title alone, which Fenriz used to pay homage to the obscure Norwegian heavy metal band of the same name. There is a fist-pumping, triumphant heavy metal sound that pervades the album."

Darkthrone’s career has been one long procession, albeit a funeral procession, but a procession nonetheless. Early in the group's career, Darkthrone shed the death metal roots (and jogging suits) and helped found what we now consider Norwegian black metal. First Mayhem started flailing ears with “Deathcrush,” then Darkthrone picked up on the carnage with “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” (1992), a highly influential album for the fledgling scene. Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the release of that classic album and Darkthrone has continued to mold this sound. “Arctic Thunder,” the band’s latest frost-bitten offering, is a combination of those sounds.

While early Darkthrone kept many of these traits on early records like “Transilvanian Hunger” (1994) and “Under a Funeral Moon” (1993) - raw production, tremolo guitar picking, Orcish vocals, and fast drumming - the band polished its production (not too much) and started experimenting more with punk, speed metal,and traditional heavy metal on subsequent albums. “Arctic Thunder” encapsulates all of these elements. The old school metal vibe is inherent in the album title alone, which Fenriz used to pay homage to the obscure Norwegian heavy metal band of the same name. There is a fist-pumping, triumphant heavy metal sound that pervades the album.

Celtic Frosted rhythms and paces have always been a part of Darkthrone’s sound, and they’re here as well, but not to the extent as other albums such as “Panzerfaust.” The bass and drums really bring out the Celtic Frost vibe during the tempo change on “Burial Bliss.” Darkthrone has bore the black mark of Bathory since the beginning, and it’s here as well. The title track lives up to the style of the band being honored in having a traditional, British heavy metal sound.

The direction taken with the title track makes its presence on “Arctic Thunder,” but not to the extent of last record “The Underground Resistance” (2013). Fenriz has commented on that record being influenced by some of the best underground metal bands from the eighties including Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, and Agent Steel. Other than “Boreal Fiends,” the clean vocals are gone. Nocturnal Culto, sole vocalist on “Arctic Thunder,” only sings harshly and returns to the grim voice that Darkthrone is best known for.

“Arctic Thunder” represents the new era of Darkthrone in so many ways, but still the band revisits those blackened roots. “Tundra Leech” captures that spirit from the plodding, opening riff. “Burial Bliss” contains an icy lick that a lobotomy wouldn’t be able to take from your head. Nocturnal Culto has always created excellent riffs and this particular one is an instant classic. Also, Darkthrone revisits nature themes synonymous with Norwegian black metal as the album art depicts a bonfire outlined by conifer trees and all the song titles refer to nature.

In terms of speed, “Arctic Thunder” doesn’t reach the strides of early material. In fact, the record often treads a downtrodden path. “Boreal Fiends” and “Throw Me Through the Marshes” showcase an affinity for doom. The later track's guitars have a Danzig type quality. These ringing chords possess the album with diabolism, but the lack of speed is the record’s sole detracting element. Just like recent material from peers in Satyricon, the group stumbles in this regard. However, the balance of styles and song structuring results in another successful conquest for one of the true kings of Norway’s black metal tribes.

Highs: Darkthrone meshes numerous styles.

Lows: The album lacks the speed of early records.

Bottom line: Darkthrone continues its conquest as one of the true kings of Norwegian black metal.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)