Darkthrone – ‘Plaguewielder’ 2 CD Re-Issue Review

With so many re-issues appearing these days from all across the board it’s easy to lose sight of the wood amongst the trees. What is most notable throughout all this, however, is the differing attitudes of the record companies towards the ways in which they treat the fans. Take, for example, Queen – one of the UK’s largest bands whose recent remasters were compiled in two separate editions, a cheaper single disc edition and a ‘deluxe’ two disc edition that cost almost twice as much; neither version included liner notes and in most cases the booklets, such as they were, actually removed detail from the originals. Queen have a huge fan base, their label could have afforded to be generous but chose not to be because the guaranteed market was already there thus ensuring that the records would sell regardless.

Peaceville, on the other hand, have been generous to a fault with their many and various re-issues, and this current crop is no exception. It says much of the respect the label has for the fans that there is no split edition with a massive price hike imposed upon the die-hard fans who want the extras (and in the case of Darkthrone such fans certainly exist) rather thought is put into one, definitive package which will offer existing fans a chance to delve deeper into the album and newcomers an improved version to sink their teeth into.

Originally released in 2001, ‘Plaguewielder’ in many respects marks the end of Darkthrone’s absolute allegiance to the dark gods of black metal and highlights the start of the transition from incisive  black metal horror to a controversial punk-metal sound, as influenced by Motorhead and Amebix as by Bathory and Venom. Largely written by Nocturno Culto rather than Fenriz, ‘Plaguewielder’ is still very much black metal and a logical follow up to 1999’s excellent ‘ravishing grimness’ album albeit with a much cleaner sound than early Darkthrone releases and a more simplistic structure to the songs that recalls the dread atmospheres conjured by Bathory and Celtic Frost thanks to some gloriously atonal guitar riffs. However, with ‘Plaguewielder’ already admirably covered on any number of websites, this review will concentrate rather on the reissue extras than the fine album itself which arguably needs no recommendation other than it is a powerful, serious piece of work that marks the opening of new horizons for a band unafraid of stylistic shifts.

The first thing you’ll notice about ‘Plaguewielder’ 2012 is that it comes packaged in all new artwork courtesy of Polish artist Zbigniew M. Bielak, the band having felt that the original cover did not do justice to the contents (the band have plenty to say about this on ‘I Voidhanger’ on the commentary disc). Quite where you stand as a fan on such a revisionist approach to the re-issue is up to you, but in my opinion the new artwork represents a vast improvement on the original’s rather ambiguous, arty smear with a huge fantasy tower now adorning the package. The album itself remains untouched and, happily, Peaceville have left its integrity intact by not tacking on any bonus tracks to the end. Instead, as with the other re-issues, we get treated to a full-disc commentary discussing the album… and treated is the right word. As with the other issues both Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are a mine of information, Fenriz playing the genial host and Nocturno his more staid companion offering greater technical detail but lacking the infectious enthusiasm of Fenriz who opens the commentary by saying “well, yes it’s ‘Plaguewielder’ by Darkthrone. This is the strangest intro I’ve ever heard…” thus setting the tone for the content that follows.

This commentary proves particularly good as the interaction between the two artists is more involved than on some of the other re-issues and there’s some brilliant elements on offer such as Fenriz marvelling over the riff of ‘weakling avenger’ “you had so many riffs of that kind and when did you start doing that because there were no riffs like that before?!” and our hosts discussing the (more-or-less) democratic nature of Darkthrone noting that they tended to leave each other’s songs alone rather than develop the ideas together. What’s brilliant about these commentaries, more than anything else, is that they are interesting even to the casual fan. The commentary is far from the dry technical dreariness than that the term ‘commentary’ denotes and far more about two passionate metal fans talking loosely about their album, their inspiration and their work in general. It is, quite simply, a pleasure to listen to and once again for fans of the band this truly is an essential addition to the collection, as indeed are all the commentary editions released over the last year or two.

Commentary discs are still relatively rare in the world of music. It is easy to see how self absorbed and overly technical such a concept could be in the wrong hands, but Darkthrone transcend that by sounding as if they hit the studio with a bunch of beers and a record they genuinely care about and the result is a discussion that is never less than engaging. If you already own and love ‘plaguewielder’ then this is still a worthy purchase, the second disc alone proving to be a fantastic addition to the collection. If you don’t own ‘Plaguewielder’ then shame on you – go out and rectify the situation immediately as it’s an awesome album; either way both Darkthrone and Peaceville have once again crafted the sort of excellent package that offers plenty for both fans and newcomers alike.

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