For better or worse, Darkthrone have existed in a vacuum, at the very least since the time of The Cult is Alive and probably long before that as well. By that, I mean that they seem to be impervious to anything that’s gone on outside their little bubble, nor does it appear like the outside world is influenced much at all by whatever they’re doing. Darkthrone were always immune to weak trends and the opinions of others, but at this point, it truly feels like the ‘scene’ doesn’t even register. Where once they were cutting-edge and out to provoke, the band has devolved—or developed—into something more along the lines of a hobby project. What kind of tunes have Ted and Gylve been listening to these days? If you’re not sure, just wait until they release an album, then all will be revealed.
When you consider the kind of weight albums like A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Under a Funeral Moon had and still have in black metal with their numberless clones, it is kind of remarkable to see them turn in on themselves. Depending on where my music taste has been at the time, I’ve never respected or dismissed them for this. While I can say I’m again impressed by Darkthrone’s thick authenticity as they return ‘to their roots’ on Arctic Thunder, I also think people would be a lot less forgiving towards the generally unimaginative and amateurish material if it was literally any other band playing. Darkthrone have embraced this self-conscious ‘fuck the scene’ mentality as a sort of armour. You could criticize them all you want, but it wouldn’t mean anything. They’re doing exactly the kind of music they want to make at this point in their lives, and to their credit, you can definitely hear that youth-like passion in almost every album they’ve made.
Arctic Thunder did come as a surprise. Even if it’s scarcely different than the slower-marching black metal they did on Hate Them a decade ago, they had given every reason to believe that the Darkthrone name was now permanently dissociated from future black metal recordings. I suppose calling it ‘black metal’ in the purest sense would be wrong; even if this is the closest they’ve gotten since Sardonic Wrath, you can still tell they’ve been listening to true heavy metal more often than not. The riffs are perfectly capable and plenty ballsy, proving that a passion for the classics is usually the most important thing involved in crafting heavy metal riffs. I’m most happy for the fact that Nocturno Culto‘s vocals are back in full, and they sound just as pissed off and aggressive here as they did on Panzerfaust. Even if Arctic Thunder comes across as more or less as another Hate Them informed by all of the vintage eighties worship they’ve concocted since, they haven’t lost their fire for their craft.
I was left dry by ‘Tundra Leach’ when I first heard it and felt a lot more interested when I heard ‘Boreal Fiends’. At worst or best though, you pretty much know exactly what you’re getting with a new Darkthrone album. It doesn’t have much in common with The Underground Resistance, but while this feels a league more authentic than the over-the-top heavy metal ham of that album, the riffs and songwriting aren’t nearly as compelling. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that Darkthrone are ‘back again’; for the ‘truer than true’ niche they occupy, there isn’t anyone else to fill that void. I don’t think I would be any better or worse off if Arctic Thunder hadn’t happened. It contains plenty of decent riffs and is true to form. I’m not surprised people were so excited when it first came out, and I’m not surprised that the excitement has all but vanished less than a month later.
01) Tundra Leech
02) Burial Bliss
03) Boreal Fiends
04) Inbred Vermin
05) Arctic Thunder
06) Throw Me Through the Marshes
07) Deep Lake Trespass
08) The Wyoming Distance