There is no doubt in denying a certain partisan interest in this latest release. Having been a dedicated follower of Darkthrone since the brilliantly varied ‘preparing for war’ set introduced me to their icy world, I have now amassed a large (and steadily increasing) collection of Darkthrone vinyl and CDs. Thus any new album was always going to be something to be approached with anticipation and excitement. That sense of excitement grew exponentially when it transpired the record would be six, apparently lengthy, songs long and that writing duties would be split equally between the amiable Fenriz and the darker, more mysterious Nocturno Culto. Recorded over a lengthy period of almost two years at the bands very own Necrohell studios, Darkthrone’s last effort, the awesome ‘circle the wagons’ saw the band operating within the blackened punk framework of ‘F.O.A.D’ and the cheekily titled ‘the underground resistance’ offers a similarly raw, untamed and thrilling ride through the vast landscapes of the duo’s minds.
The opening blast of ‘Dead early’ sets the tone well with its echoing, doom-laden intro wrong-footing the listener before blasting into a feral melee of punk guitars and pounding drums. It has that NWOBHM feel that has typified recent DT releases and its furious assault brings to mind Venom and Angel Witch even while the vocals are strained and shot through with blood and phlegm. It’s a rambunctious, brilliant opening track that instantly brings to mind all of the reasons there are to love Darkthrone as one of the greatest underground bands to ever grace the earth with their black-clad, presence. ‘Valkyrie’, by contrast, takes the pace considerably slower, opening with a western-inflected clean chord sequence that brings to mind a weary, dust-covered figure, stumbling towards the sunset. It is unexpectedly dramatic and epic in tone, before a clever segue sees the music charge off into storming punk territory, complete with vocals that strain for (and frequently reach) a melodic edge. ‘Lesser men’ is a ferocious, grinding work that adopts a stunningly icy tone for a track that is arguably one of the most evil sounding DT tracks in recent years. Boasting roaring solos that range surprisingly clearly across the mix and a vocal that is torn from the lungs of hell, it is a stunning high point of an album upon which the quality never dips. The furious punk/metal assault returns for the brilliantly unhinged ‘the ones you left behind’ which is arguably what would happen if Iron maiden, Black Flag and Jello Biafra met up for a jam in the Sex Pistols’ rehearsal space. It’s raw, unencumbered by commercial concerns and utterly brilliant.
With the first side comprising four tracks, vinyl lovers may feel perplexed by the second side featuring a mere two tracks. That is, at least, until the realisation dawns that the final track (‘leave no cross unturned’ is a mindboggling thirteen minutes in length. First, however, there is ‘come warfare, the entire doom’, which is itself over eight minutes in length. Tapping into the same nihilistic strain of bleakness as Paradise Lost’s ‘Gothic’ album it is as dry as bones that have been left to freeze dry in the arctic tundra, and although it is faster paced than doom metal at its most malicious, it still taps into a primal vein of fury that throbs and pulses with hideous glee. The album’s undisputed masterpiece arrives last, however, and then proceeds to dominate every other track on the album by sheer Nietzschean will. A searing cross between the raging NWOBHM bands that the diabolical duo so admired in their formative years (even down to the “leave no cross unTURNNNNNEEEDDDD!” scream that opens the song like a high octane assault on Bruce Dickinson by a gang of rampaging Vikings) and the whirlwind fast approach of Venom and the thrash and black metal bands they inspired, the guitars here are razor sharp, the vocals a mess of twisted heavy metal enunciation and the drums a thunderous roar that threaten to detonate any household player they sully. It is awesome and you can only imagine how many beers were sunk during the making of this epic track. It sounds and feels as if Darkthrone had a lot of fun, first and foremost, in making this album with the result that it is one of the most human efforts they have turned in yet, the passion and enthusiasm Fenriz and Nocturno Culto having shown for their music in the revealing commentaries found on many of the recent Peaceville reissues seemingly having carried over directly into the music.
Every so often I’ll have a conversation with friends or family where they try to gauge my love of Darkthrone and every time I give the same answer – they’re one of the few bands on this planet who, despite being moderately successful, honestly do not care about being so. Their music is produced, first and foremost, to satisfy their own creative needs and their abhorrence of the cult of celebrity that threatens to suck all bands into its wake at some point or another, demonstrates a pair of musicians for whom music is the sole motivating factor. That sincerity is present in every album that Darkthrone have ever done and while you may love or hate their various stylistic changes over the years you can’t ever say they were done for reasons other than to satisfy the bands own creative impulses. On top of that there is the band’s dedication to crafting each album as a work of art in its own right. Everything about a Darkthrone album, from the awesome cover art (particularly in recent years) to the photos inside, speak volumes of the care that the band take over their material and finally (and possibly most to the point) Darkthrone plain fucking rock. Like no one else. Their raw, untamed sound is as visceral, as exciting as invigorating as anything I’ve ever heard and as ‘leave no cross unturned’ reaches its climax in a welter of furious guitars and gang-chant vocals, there is no question that ‘underground resistance’ is without a doubt the best of Darkthrone’s recent albums. A storming, anti-commercial masterpiece it could have been written and created by no other band. All hail Darkthrone for their fiery, primitive passion and undiminished spirit – this will be hailed as a classic in years to come.