Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance 12 inch
When you think of Darkthrone, you think of fun, right? If you scoffed, guffawed, or simply disagreed, don't worry-- you're safely in the majority. The Norwegian band are best known, of course, for what their 1999 album labeled "ravishing grimness"-- savage, belligerent, and unfiltered black metal, epitomized by a blitz of icy hot classics that started with 1992's A Blaze in the Northern Sky and end, depending upon your stance on Second Wave orthodoxy and eclecticism, sometime just before or after the turn of the millennium. They're the dudes that epitomized ghoulish corpsespaint covers, brandished the credo "True Norwegian Black Metal," and fended off Aryan allegations as Varg Vikernes headed to jail. So, no, maybe fun isn't the first adjective Darkthrone conjures.
But it's hard to imagine two middle-aged men having more fun than Fenriz and Nocturno Culto-- the band's lone multi-instrumentalists, songwriters, and singers for two decades now-- do on The Underground Resistance, their inescapably enthusiastic 16th studio album. Darkthrone long ago gave up on black metal, turning instead to an open-ended and unmitigated interest in recombining the metal they loved as kids: thrash and crust punk, high-flying British metal and blustery hardcore. Those influences were always tucked within Darkthrone's most famous albums, but lately they've given over to them entirely. The simple joy of these influences is the thread that ties together The Underground Resistance, an album about unfit enemies and deserved death that nevertheless delights in its own music-making élan. Darkthrone's already been involved in a movement that revolutionized heavy metal both sonically and stylistically; The Underground Resistance, then, is simply the latest and most propulsive homage to the bands that sparked that revolution for them.
In the early days of Darkthrone, Fenriz didn't give many interviews, or at least he didn't say much in them. These days, though, he writes liner notes in which he conveys his influences and intentions. And his Metal Band of the Week blog advocates for young acts he likes and older acts he thinks went overlooked. He's made up for that early media quiet by seemingly giving interviews to most anyone who has asked. In doing so, he's often surprised journalists with his forthrightness and humor. "Isn't it normal to want to communicate your life's work?” he asked That’s How Kids Die, questioning those surprised by his newfound verbosity. For a guy who once posed in corpsepaint, he sure uses a lot of emoticons and knows a lot about Pink Panther.
But Fenriz rightly insists that there's not a lot of humor in Darkthrone's new music. (With a song sporting a name like "Leave No Cross Unturned", though, there is certainly some.) Still,The Underground Resistance flaunts the sort of vigor you'd expect from old friends out to have a good time: "Dead Early" is a menacing five-minute race that suggests Motörhead loaded on piss and vinegar, while the relentless chug of "Lesser Men" pogoes from circle-pit invocations to head-down, horns-up headbanging. "Valkyrie" begins with a classic doom feint, craggy acoustic guitars introducing a riff that unfurls over cascading drums. They return to that slow burn for the coda, but the middle is all blustery thrash, with Fenriz chasing himself in circles behind the drums while his falsetto peaks above the din. The album's real clincher, "Come Warfare, the Entire Doom", is a series of swivels and sprints, once again teasing doom before harnessing the band’s death metal past in an eight-minute anthem. The aforementioned "Leave No Cross Unturned", the disc's 14-minute finale and the longest song ever in the Darkthrone catalog, confirms the band’s gumption to simply go for anything. They hint at Saxon and Maiden with operatic vocals and an incredibly sharp hook and then at punk with the blissfully simple but successful outro. What’s more, Fenriz and Nocturnal Culto even circle back toward their weighty black metal reputation with the blanket of serrated guitars near the song’s start. A few minutes later, Fenriz howls from some deep abyss. In turn, they leave no relevant idea unturned.
Fenriz and Nocturno Culto own one of the great unimpeachable brands in all of heavy metal, and they've protected it not by limiting it but by letting it expand and fluctuate as need be. Rather than retread what's made them famous, Darkthrone have continually confirmed their status by refusing to kowtow to old expectations. They don't play live, and they don't depend on this band for their income; therefore, they don’t need this band to sound like it did it 1993 so they can cash in on the past rather than risk their image on the present. Amid tides of ceaseless band reunions and reissues that more often than not repeat what we already knew, Darkthrone in 2013 find themselves in an extremely enviable position because they have done exactly what they've wanted. Legends encumbered by being legends, they stick true to the title of The Underground Resistance-- they are two veterans having fun by continuing to play like they're carefree teenage rebels.