Listening to these Darkthrone reissues in such close proximity allows a far greater appreciation of how the band’s sound shifted and evolved over the course of their albums. ‘Ravishing grimness’, reissued here with a bonus CD of audio commentary, is simply light years away from the monumentally raw and aggressive ‘goatlord’ album we reviewed a few weeks back. Where ‘goatlord’ took great pleasure in its own naked aggression and unmeasured excesses, for example, ‘ravishing grimness’ offers up slower tempos, marginally more restrained guitars, and straightforward vocals. As a result, what ‘ravishing grimness’ lacks in pure, unfettered aggression, it makes up for in icy blackness and atmosphere.
As with ‘goatlord’, Peaceville have crafted a desirable package by offering up a complete commentary disc and also by updating the artwork. Now with some artists, such an act would be seen as tantamount to heresy, but with the band involved in the selection process the new cover is a vast improvement over the original which had a certain DIY charm but ultimately looked like it had been knocked up in the local photocopy shop. The album, happily, remains unchanged – the commentary is on a separate disc and there are no demo tracks/live snippets/b sides unceremoniously dumped onto the end of the first disc rendering it the same 37 minute slab of evil that it was when first released.
Opening with the whip-crack of ‘lifeless’, you are immediately struck by how much slower the music is with the band opting for a sound not unlike that of Satyricon. It was a move that garnered much criticism at the time (and still does on the odd forum) but which the ravages of time have actually been remarkably kind to. The guitars grind and groan under their own weight, and while they are certainly cleaner than in past outings, this is hardly Darkthrone’s ‘nevermind’, it is merely a different take on Fenriz and Nocturno’s unique brand of black. Indeed, looking at the track-listing, even with the benefit of familiarity, it is hard to credit that three seven minute epics appear in the mid-section of the album, and yet here there is a real feeling that Darkthrone were pushing their sound in a whole new direction even while retaining the all important core weight and values. Speaking of weight, ‘the beast’ is a simply brilliant song with a rampaging beat, stunning vocals and some sweet riffing putting paid to any notions that Darkthrone went ‘soft’ on this album.
These two songs, of course, are there to bed you into the album before you reach the lengthy triptych of seven minute songs that lie at its core, the first of which is ‘the claws of time’ a track that has a strong sense of melody and direction buried beneath its furiously distorted surface and a series of inventive tempo changes that give the song a sweeping, atmospheric feel across it’s lengthy run time. Allowing for the previous track to fade away, ‘across the vacuum’ unleashes a barrage of riffs over some colossal drums and while the guitars fizz and spit you’re once again struck by how adventurous the band are being musically, showcasing their skills in a whole new light whilst still remaining furiously dedicated to the black arts. Meanwhile Fenriz stepped up to craft some truly disturbing lyrics this time out, dealing with a range of mysterious and often violent themes and shrouding his intent in metaphor and allegory, all barked out, of course, in his gruff, commanding tones. The title track is no less inspirational with the guitars once again weaving a dark cloak that is paradoxically both abrasive and melodic, raw and yet subtle – a facet of black metal rarely acknowledged by those not already in thrall to it. Final track ‘to the death’ is a last, ferocious blast of icy grimness that rounds the set out nicely with more than a hint of Slayer-esque thrash in both lyrical content and the storming guitar riff.
Of course, many Darkthrone fans undoubtedly own this record already so the real treasure here, as on previous reissues, is the commentary disc which brings together Fenriz and Nocturno Culto to talk about their experiences of recording the album. While it would be foolish to recount the ail of the commentary here – it would render listening somewhat pointless – it’s once again good to spend time in the company of two of black metal’s most enthusiastically ebullient musicians. Once again Fenriz is the spark that powers the commentary – his obvious enthusiasm radiating from the disk, whilst nocturne is rather more dark in demeanour, emanating a deadly seriousness which his counterpart is having too much fun to match. As with the other reissues, and if you’re a fan you’ll undoubtedly have one or two, the commentary is a fascinating insight into the band and they’re remarkably fun to listen to, crammed as they are with trivia, digressions and facts about the recording and writing as well as a glimpse into the band’s own views on the reaction to the album upon release.
Once again, there is a real sense that Darkthrone are being done full justice with these well-priced and wonderfully presented editions. The commentary disc is an inspired idea and well worth a listen while if you don’t own the album already then this is your chance to plug an almighty gap in your collection.