Writing a review for a new Darkthrone release is like writing a Yer Metal Is Olde article. In the last week, I’ve listened to every Darkthrone record so many times, my nostalgia is enough to crank out a YMIO piece on each one. From black-metal classics like A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Transylvanian Hunger to underrated oddities like Total Death and Hate Them to the heavy-metal transition pieces like Sardonic Wrath and The Cult Is Alive, these last thirty years have been quite the ride. For the last fifteen, this Norwegian duo have been turning out album after album of crusty, blackened heavy metal. Using these recent records as the balancing weight to their black metal counterparts. Though fans may be split on which seat they prefer on this dilapidated teeter totter from Hell, Darkthrone ain’t returning to their old, black metal ways. And Arctic Thunder is proof of that; adding even more weight to the leather-draped seat on this hellish seesaw. So, if you’re lovin’ your modern Darkthrone, you’ll probably love this too.
If you’ve been an ongoing member of Darkthrone‘s Cult and a participant in The Underground Resistance, then you already know what to expect from 2016’s Arctic Thunder. While The Underground Resistance was a diverse offering, Arctic Thunder is a straight shooter from beginning to end. The only real “surprises” being the complete absence of Fenriz’ voice and the choice for a camp-out photo instead of Dennis Dread or Jim Fitzpatrick artwork. The decision to have Nocturno Culto perform all the vocal duties (something they haven’t done in years) was to better capture the record’s primitive and solemn nature. The decision to slap a Polaroid of a campfire on the front cover? I haven’t a clue. But, just like Arctic Thunder, its stripped-down simplicity works.
And so Arctic Thunder begins with “Tundra Leech.” Perhaps the most-listened-to track of 2016, the opener is a fitting introduction to the record and exactly what we thought it would be. It’s got that old-school groove and one of the better ass-stomping riffs of the album. But, if you like “Tundra Leech,” you’re gonna love the title track. If there was ever a Darkthrone song to bang your head to, “Arctic Thunder” is it. It’s as simple as scrambled eggs, but an old-school ass kicker that can’t be stopped.
For those looking for some Underground Resistance variation, you ain’t going to find it. But, Arctic Thunder does have some clever ditties in the form of “Boreal Fiends” and “Deep Lake Trespass.” The former builds melodic distortion around its bass-led intro before Fenriz’ brief vocal performance breaks the song’s sinister atmosphere. What follows is another solid, old-school riff, complete with cowbell and one of the coolest guitar solos Culto ever wrote. The difference between “Boreal Fiends” and “Deep Lake Trespass” is the amount of melodic doominess found on the latter. But the emotion-soaked riffs that open “Deep Lake Trespass” are short-lived. As with “Tundra Leech” and “Arctic Thunder,” the song reinvents itself with another nifty breakdown. At first, it slams your eardrums with some staccato plucking before spreading itself out and smashing its way to the end.
While these four tracks support the record, the other four drag it down. “Burial Bliss” and “Inbred Vermin” have respectable chugs and character, but go nowhere. “Throw Me Through the Marshes” is an appropriately-titled doom piece, but it loses traction, throwing freezing cold mud into the air. And, unfortunately, “The Wyoming Distance” is pointless. Its straightforward approach and three-minute length seem perfect for an album closer, but it has nothing going for it. Not to mention that it pulverizes the mood set by “Deep Lake Trespass.”
All-in-all, this album is just as good as any of the band’s previous releases in the last decade. It feels cold and feels olde, but, its primitiveness makes for a stark contrast to The Underground Resistance. Resistance‘s “Valkyrie” and “Leave No Cross Unturned” gave the album originality and freshness, while Arctic Thunder sticks to a tried-and-true formula. This new outing isn’t disappointing by any means, but it’s typical and some of it is quite bland. Even so, the record has some of the slickest riffs the band has ever written and any trve Darkthrone fan will love it.