With black metal legends, Darkthrone, releasing their new album, we turned to the man behind one of 2021’s best black metal records for an expert appraisal. Drummer, Dan B, of the excellent Thundering Hooves agreed to analyse the latest LP from the Norwegian masters.
You never quite know what you’re going to get with a new Darkthrone album. Pioneers of the Norwegian black metal scene in the early 90s, Darkthrone have since moved on to explore a variety of different styles across their vast discography, from crust punk to speed metal and NWOBHM. This experimentation with different styles and sounds brings with each new release a sense of excitement and curiosity, which few other bands of their longevity can match. So, what have the boys in Darkthrone cooked up for us this time?
According to Fenriz, the band’s drummer and songwriter, Eternal Hails sounds like “Five heavy dinosaurs looking in wonder and bewilderment at the stars.” As it turns out, this is a rather fitting description for Darkthrone’s latest opus, which is their nineteenth (!) album. Eternal Hails picks up more or less where their 2019 LP, the highly enjoyable Old Star, left off with a strong focus on classic metal and NWOBH influences. But this time there is a much greater emphasis on the doom side of things, with the band indulging in longer song structures and heavy plodding dinosaur riffs.
Darkthrone have always worn their references on their sleeves, and on Eternal Hails, they channel bands like Candlemass and Pentagram, achieving a classic doom feel while still retaining their unmistakeable sound. This is in part thanks to the album’s pared-back production, with Nocturno Culto’s grim guitar tone and rasped vocals, coupled with Fenriz’s organic drum sound, harkening back to the band’s lo-fi black metal days. The organic feel of the drums also ties in nicely with the classic doom orientation of the album, being reminiscent of Born Too Late-era Saint Vitus. A drawback of the production, however, is that the bass is low in the mix and at times nearly inaudible. Although this may give the album a more “old school” feel, a more prominent bass could provide the doom-laden riffs with more heft.
Turning to the songs themselves, Darkthrone make excellent use of their longer run-times, packing them with tempo changes and dynamic riff arrangements where one riff flows smoothly into the next. This is the case with album opener, ‘His Master’s Voice’, which starts with an ethereal melody that gives way to the first galloping riff and then transitions into some classic 80s headbanging before settling into a doomy chug. A mournful lead emerges from here and, before you know it, the song is closing, and the first chords of ‘Hate Cloak’ are echoing out of the speakers. This one has a towering main riff which is a definite highlight of the album – a quintessential dirge of doom that would make Tony Iommi proud. In fact, the riffs are the album’s real forte, with so many memorable and fun licks packed into each song and making repeat listens quite rewarding. As a result, the compositions feel much shorter than they are, even if some passages towards the middle of the album drag a bit.
Although Eternal Hails does not stray too far from the established Darkthrone palette, the band incorporate new elements into their sound, such as the use of synths on a few of the songs. They integrate these quite naturally and with subtlety, like on ‘Wake of the Awakened’, where the mid-section includes a ghostly synth playing over a grim mid-paced riff to invoke an uneasy atmosphere. Perhaps the most prominent bit of experimentation is in the final minutes of closer, ‘Lost Arcane City of Uppakra’. Here, whispered vocals over a clean guitar evoke a sense of wonder and mystery. The vocals then give way to an airy synth melody, which builds in intensity and culminates in the final crushing riff with the synths soaring overhead. It provides a truly epic conclusion to the album.
Eternal Hails is in many ways typical of Darkthrone’s output in recent years – no huge changes to their sound, but rather a shift of focus and a refinement on their previous work. Their foray into the world of doom metal does not disappoint, with their excellent riff work and epic song structures providing a fun and fresh spin on their classic sound. Really, what more could you want from these veterans?
Release Date: 25/06/2021
Record Label: Peaceville Records
Standout tracks: Hate Cloak, Voyage to a North Pole Adrift, Lost Arcane City of Uppakra
Suggested Further Listening: Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986), Saint Vitus – Born Too Late (1986), Pentagram – Relentless (1985)
Guest Reviewer – Dan B of Thundering Hooves