If you have even a basic interest in metal, you’re likely familiar with Darkthrone to some degree. The Norwegian duo of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto started off dabbling in death metal with a full band, pioneered black metal alongside the likes of Mayhem and Burzum, and have been releasing material with a love for everything old-school in the decades since. Every few years a new Darkthrone album pops up and puts a slight twist on the formula, with different periods of the group emphasizing black metal, punk, heavy metal, and even a healthy amount of doom. In recent years that last genre has popped up more often, as 2019’s Old Star transitioned towards longer song lengths and a noticeable doom influence while still staying true to the duo’s core sound. Two years later, for their whopping nineteenth album (or eighteenth if you don’t count the demo released as an album Goatlord) this direction has continued with some significant tweaks to the production values and songwriting as a whole. Appropriately titled Eternal Hails......, this is likely to be another love or hate effort from a band that continues to do what they want on their own terms.
Despite people having very strong opinions about which Darkthrone era is the best and what musical direction they should go in, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have never focused too much on popular or critical opinion. While I’ve had plenty of ups and downs with their discography (which was fun to recently revisit for our tier list video), I’ve never found anything to be outright unlistenable and always appreciated their sense of freedom and commitment to heavy metal’s past. The last few efforts, while decent, didn’t quite stick with me the same way that classics of the past decade and a half like F.O.A.D. and Dark Thrones and Black Flags did, and I admittedly went into Eternal Hails...... expecting Old Star 2.0. And though there are similarities between the two, this feels quite different. One of the first things you’ll notice is the production, which has some of the most stripped down and old-school tones Darkthrone has ever had. With the drums coming through as one of the most dominant elements, Eternal Hails...... sounds like a 70s or 80s album that was found lost in someone’s private collection and then given a remaster. The guitar and bass work has this warm, crunchy tone mixed with the duo’s rawer edges, and while the bass isn’t nearly as prominent this time around it all works to create this dark yet inviting soundscape.
But it’s not just the warm analog sound that makes Eternal Hails...... appealing to me. This is also the first time in a number of years that Darkthrone has written songs that all run for longer than seven minutes and don’t seem to overstay their welcome. The material still follows some simple and methodical patterns with riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on Black Sabbath and Candlemass albums, or even your favorite obscure proto-metal release from the late 70s or early 80s. But things are shaken up just enough from one track to the next, with “Wake of the Awakened” bringing just a hint of black metal chill back into the equation and closing number “Lost Arcane City of Uppakra” incorporating some keyboards that bring a much weirder, prog edge to the sound. Nuances like these make a big difference, and while these five tracks don’t quite reach the same level as some of the more anthemic and memorable Darkthrone material from over the decades the subtle details keep drawing me back for more.
What I’ve found interesting about Arctic Thunder and Old Star was that Fenriz really seemed to shift away from doing vocals after contributing a lot of singing on The Underground Resistance. That’s still true on Eternal Hails...... for the most part, as aside from a few spoken word sections Nocturno Culto is once again given the full spotlight. His raspy pitch is unmistakable these days and continues to be an element that I love about Darkthrone. Fenriz does belt out the album title in a disembodied voice on “Hate Cloak”, which is so cheesy that it’s likely to instantly make you grin or have you turn the album off entirely.
Darkthrone has expanded upon the doom influences seen on Old Star and also pushed even further into late 70s and early 80s hard rock, when what would become doom and heavy metal were in their formative stages. The core of their songwriting has remained the same, emphasizing simple yet effective riffs and very crisp drumming, but the warmness of the recording and weirder almost prog exploration towards the end show that Fenriz and Nocturno Culto haven’t run out of new tricks. Even though I can appreciate the longer song lengths there are still a few sections that drag and while this doesn’t reach the anthemic and timeless qualities that their absolute best albums have to offer, this is still the best effort I think Darkthrone has put out in quite some time. Eternal Hails...... is available from Peaceville Records. Also, don’t miss our tier list where we rank all nineteen albums, which will be up a few days after the publishing of this review!
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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