This review was brought to you by many things, but mainly sleep deprivation. It seems the new Darkthrone album, Old Star (Peaceville), is such an objet désiré that it could only be reviewed via a stream released the day before the album hits the shops. So, if I start weeping, and cross-reference any talking squirrels, take some comfort that I am doing all this for you.
Old Star is the latest chapter in Darkthrone’s ongoing quest to be the Metal band of all Metal bands. The last three decades have seen it straddle the genres as it continues to evolve in new and intriguing ways. But there are some constants. The music remains dirty and lo-fi in all the right ways, while Fenriz and Nocturno Culto still half-growl and half-shriek by way of vocals. The band remains both deadly serious and deadly funny. And they’ve still yet to make a shit album. (2001’s Plaguewielder notwithstanding.)
Album opener ‘I Muffle Your Inner Choir’ sets the tone well. A simple beat underpins a grim groove and a sinister solo. The overall flavour is Black Metal, but the slower tempo screams Doom Metal too. It’s a straightforward song that knows what it’s doing, and doesn’t deviate from that winning formula. And it works gloriously well.
Next up is ‘The Hardship Of The Scots’, a slow, mean number that prowls and grooves in equal measure. And that hook! A crushing heaviness gives way to some seriously catchy shredding. The finale builds up beautifully and then ends with a bleak finality.
The title track follows and uses discordant riffs and licks to great effect. At first listen, its structure is subtle and seems to lack a clear focus, but over time, the tune burrows in and the time invested in ‘getting’ the song is well rewarded. A contrast to the album’s more direct and accessible songs, it succeeds by making the listener work for their pleasure.
‘Alp Man’ has no such pretensions and just kicks you in the face from the get-go. Yet for all its simple, rigorously focussed riffing, it gains added layers of nuance as it proceeds and then shifts into a well-honed and relentless theme and variation. Here, Darkthrone both sticks to the album’s formula and takes it apart, having a huge amount of fun in the process.
‘Duke Of Gloat’ meanwhile sounds the most like a standard Darkthrone song, if the mid-to-high tempo, guitar warbles, threatening throb and Black Metal trebles are anything to go by. You can even predict when the bridge will start. For all that, the mid-song hook is rather amazing, and when the band pulls it all together into a suitable catchy finale, you will love them regardless.
Finally, ‘The Key is Within The Wall’ ends the album with a fierce mosh pit blaster. It is the band in full control of its music, both immediately engaging and yet masterfully arranged and well timed. It’s the point where the band blends all the album’s ideas and makes a confident, and well-crafted finale out of them.
Now obviously, Old Star’s lyrics aren’t, as a rule, legible in any form. (“The fingerless marble play ensues” is just one very bizarre quote I can use here.) Another gripe is the recording. While less ‘biscuit tin’ than Darkthrone’s early efforts, it still cuts off abruptly but does at least add some depth to the sound. That aside, Old Star is surely another idiosyncratic Darkthrone hit, one more to add to their tally of masterful albums. Now, over to my old mate, Nigel The Fuzzy-Tailed Bastard…
8 / 10