Darkthrone – It Beckons Us All


Darkthrone released their twenty-first album a week after My Dying Bride produced their fourteenth. Both helped to grow the prestige of Peaceville Records in the early 90s, and both helped to pioneer new genres of metal. The latter have stayed within a consistent death-doom paradigm for most of their career, but Darkthrone’s days as an evil black metal band appear to be over. That’s not a retrograde move given the quality of their last two blackened doom records and their love of speed metal. If anything, the Norwegians that produced 1994’s Transilvanian Hunger are still the same people in spirit. The biggest threat to their integrity is that music-lovers outside the underground might start liking them, and Darkthrone cannot tolerate that prospect.

It Beckons Us All is an LP of forty-three minutes that will look good in your viny collection even if you play it sporadically. And it sounds lively despite its ponderous tempo. Opener, ‘Howling Primitive Colonies’, presents the listener with a psychedelic blackjack wheel as something you can touch before the guitars and drums break through with a doom metal hiss. The vocals are as articulate and clear as Tom G. Warrior. A latent fuzz creeps through the amps to give the dissonant chords an extra hostility. We know the drums will always sound like the person recording them used a couple of microphones and no added effects beyond the reverb dial at the mixing desk. The guitars are imaginative and yet respectful of the proto-death metal of the mid-1980s. Melodies float in the ether like the great prog bands of the 1970s.

The rhythmic prowess and confident modulations of tempo should come as no surprise from two musicians with a clear idea how metal music should sound with twenty albums in the bag before this one. ‘Eon 3’ starts with a classic thrash metal fade-in from the original Slayer/Metallica era of glory. How much black metal remains in the Darkthrone sound? The duo treat you to the tremolo techniques of the genre that made them famous, but their black metal credentials are a matter of spirit over substance. Nowadays, they’re a galloping heavy metal band with a love for the legends that emerged from the tape-trading scene of the mid-1980s.

The one consistent feature of this record is its crusty doom metal flavour. They don’t want keyboards or guitar effects to distract you from the basement thrash aesthetic, and that’s not a problem for their fanbase. Unlike Celtic Frost, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto explore as much of the mid-range fretboard as possible. Manowar might sound like ‘Black Dawn Affiliation’ if you asked them to cover early Kreator or Sodom. The monkish bass vocals at the end come from nowhere yet they fit the song so well. Could the secret to Darkthrone’s latter years be that they enjoy their music and hope their listeners will do the same?

To call this easy listening is a compliment rather than a criticism. Side A showcases the division of labour within the duo. Nocturno Culto composed tracks 1-4, and Fenriz handles tracks 5-7. The latter is less subtle in his love of doom metal. ‘The Bird People of Nordland’ acknowledges a heavy debt to Celtic Frost without feeling like a pastiche and then evolves into a blackened thrash metal attack with dramatic guitar-picking rhythms and mid-range chord changes. Fenriz leans into the grungy reverse pitch bends on the lower strings of his instrument as if auditioning for Seattle legends, Tad, in ‘The Heavy Hand’. Neither will dazzle you, but they don’t bore you, either.

This album would peter out if not for the closing track’s mystical hold over your senses. “Ah, something brazen in its melodious rites of passage,” is what you might say when you hear the intro to ‘The Lone Pines of the Lost Planet’. Here, clean guitar pickings resonate with a sense of brave-faced melancholia. It’s an excellent platform to transform into a crushing Black Sabbath dirge. The descending tom fills are pure 1970s’ rock. So, why is this more enjoyable than the new My Dying Bride record? Because there are fewer moments of languishing misery and dejection. Listen how this song transitions at the half-way mark into a psychedelic piece of black metal tremolo-picking while staying in the same drum lane. This is doom metal onboard a submarine that should have been decommissioned after the end of the Cold War. Are you ready for a finale of stoner metal galloping for the last two minutes with bellowing vocals that echo from a distance like the war cry of a fallen marcher lord?

Darkthrone have received more hails than Julius Caesar, and album number twenty-one deserves another raise of the sword in their honour.


Verdict


Release Date: 26/04/2024

Record Label: Peaceville Records

Standout tracks: Howling Primitive Colonies, Black Dawn Affiliation, The Lone Pines of the Lost Planet

Suggested Further Listening: Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion (1985), Thundering Hooves – Radiance (2022), Coffin Storm – Arcana Rising (2024)