A true institution of extreme metal, Darkthrone is one of those bands that never disappoints, at least to the vast majority of its fans. Not to the vast majority of metal fans though, and especially not those über-conservative blackers who can’t abide this kvlt band having non-black influences incorporated, still dreaming the Norwegian duo releases Transylvanian Hunger, Pt. II someday, and continue down that path forever. All this purity ideology reminds me of this orange-faced guy who wants only a certain type of people to live and prosper in the country he sadly rules, a country which has been consistently developed and enriched by a vast variety of people of different backgrounds, nationalities, races, beliefs and other traits. In a similar way, extremist fans would like to build a wall around Darkthrone to keep all the outside influences at bay. Fortunately for the rest of us, Darkthrone has never been a band too concerned with what people expect of them, opting instead to compose and record whatever the fuck they want to, and sounding the way they want to sound.
When I saw the classy cover for their (damn!) 16th studio album I was in fact expecting a sort of return to their blackened early years, even though I knew that sound would come with a twist. But like most of those who got fooled by the eye-candy of the dark, vintage photo on the cover, I found that Arctic Thunder is nothing more than a logical extension of their previous material, the solid 2013 The Underground Resistance. It’s not the old-school black metal found on A Blaze in the Northern Sky, though it definitely has its charm. But for instance, the record’s opener, “Tundra Leech”, has as much death/doom and trad metal as it has a corpsepainted taint, and most tracks actually recall early extreme metal a la Venom and early Bathory, though without the speed metal elements for the most part. Doomy, somber riffs are given a black coating, amidst a mid-paced march designed for mid-paced head-banging. Sometimes a slightly sped-up tempo might be used, but this is the exception rather than the norm.
The guitar tone is one of the most fulfilling aspects of the album. Not too raw, but dirty enough to make one think of black metal occasionally. The riffs are not particularly memorable I must say, but not bad either. The compositions are pretty straightforward, like the steady march of a battalion of tanks rolling over blasted, smokey plains after combat. Some changes in pace and a couple of variation in riffs keep them from becoming monotonous, but only marginally. There’s also not a big emphasis on solos or melodies, but when they appear they’re actually pretty good, just like the ending to “Boreal Fiends”. The bass is present, but takes a backseat to the guitars and the drums, which just have the perfect volume. The plates have also that half-crispy, half-raspy tone of the guitars, and complement the latter quite nicely. I particularly enjoy the simplicity and punchy drive of Fenris’ drumming in the title-track itself, having a NWOHBM quality to them. That tune also has some of the catchiest riffs in the record, making it my favorite along with “Deep Lake Trespass”. As for Nocturno Culto’s vocals, you know what you get; Norwegian guttural finesse, of course, still sounding like an undead version of the late and beloved Lemmy.
Even though some songs enter one ear and exist the other without much lasting impact (not even some frost leftover), like “Burial Bliss” or “Throw Me Through the Marshes”, Arctic Thunder is a decent addition to the Darkthrone lore. Not very thunderous nor arctic as its title and cover imply, but definitely has some of those characteristics appear from time to time, like distant fires on a scarcely populated prehistoric tundra. It is an album that can be enjoyed as a whole in one listen, like good records should, but independent songs can also be enjoyed on their own. It will appeal to most fans of the band, while it won’t stir much of a reaction from other metalheads. If this is the first Darkthrone material you listen to and you happen to enjoy it, then I urge you to experience the rest of their discography. If you didn’t like it, well, I also urge you to do the same, since these guys have given so much to metal and their back catalogue is varied and interesting throughout most of its stages. Darkthrone remains Darkthrone, and that’s just it.
1. Tundra Leech
2. Burial Bliss
3. Boreal Fiends
4. Inbred Vermin
5. Arctic Thunder
6. Throw Me Through the Marshes
7. Deep Lake Trespass
8. The Wyoming Distance
Fenriz – Drums, Bass, Guitars
Nocturno Culto – Vocals, Guitars, Bass