Darkthrone — Old Star
One of the metal world's most interesting and respected bands, Darkthrone, issue their seventeenth studio album, Old Star. Throughout the years, the band has changed musical directions on many occassions; the only thing you can safely expect from Darkthrone is the unexpected. Initially formed as an 80s death metal band, the project has since released classic black metal records like A Blaze In The Northern Sky and Transylvanian Hunger, before dabbling in crust punk, thrash and speed metal on F.O.A.D., Hate Them and The Cult Is Alive. The band's last album, Arctic Thunder, saw Darkthrone fuse their grimey, no-frills black metal aesthetic with 80s-style traditional heavy metal in a really compelling fashion and Old Star expands on this concept to even greater effect.
This album is absolutely packed full of riffs, spanning 6 songs and 38 minutes of running time. The lead single for Old Star, "The Hardship Of The Scots," was a very good preview of the record as a whole. Nocturno Culto's uniquely distorted vocals work with these melodic guitar tones a lot better than you'd expect — even better than on Arctic Thunder, a highly enjoyable record in its own right. This is still very much a Darkthrone effort, so the production is very listenable but the material still has a very unvarnished feel to it. There aren't layer-upon-layer of guitar tracks or any obvious signs of digital editing; nothing feels locked into a digital workstation's grid. Old Star is extremely raw without being obnoxiously low-fi — the recordings sound eminemtly human.
While much of Old Star is moderately paced, opting for a lot of deep grooves and doomy crawls, there are some speedy passages — like the very blackened first half of "Duke Of Gloat" — and a variety of tempos within each track. Really, the whole album is an excellently varied blend of styles, balancing Darkthrone's abrasive fringe metal with elements of melody and mood-building. The average song-length on the record is roughly 6 minutes, these tracks take their time but don't waste the listener's either — everything builds to a payoff. Not normally known for such things, Nocturno Culto lays down a twisted, unsettling guitar solo a little more-than midway through the album's closer, "The Key Is Inside The Wall" that I would consider some of his best work. Fenriz remains one of the most underrated drummers in metal, laying down a sturdy foundation for each track and seemlessly stitching their constitutent sections together.
For a project that has existed for as long as Darkthrone, simply getting new material that sounds decent is a victory. The fact that this duo continues to evolve their sound after 30-plus years is impressive enough — that they potentially dropped one of their best records is truly exceptional. While I still hold the band's older material in very high regard, Old Star is the most sonically impressive, ear-catching batch of material they've ever released. Different periods of Darkthrone almost feel like separate bands entirely — even if there's always that distinct Darkthrone feel imbued into each record — so there is a lot of room to debate their best work. Still, Old Star checks off all the right boxes: high musical variety, concise song-writing, tasteful production and a seemingly endless stockpile of riffs.
Easily the best modern Darkthrone record, and a serious contender for my pick of Album Of The Year. Old Star is something metal fans of any stripe should be able to appreciate.
For a band as peculiar and tenured as Darkthrone, they continue to release quality material and avoid falling into a predictable routine. Old Star continues the band's forray into celebrations of old school metal mixed with their blackened, fringe metal leanings. In spite of the band's extensive discograhy, Darkthrone continue to reinvent themselves and release fresh, compelling material. Old Star not only keeps the trend going, it is easily the band's best work to date. One of my favourite albums of 2019, from one of my favourite bands of all time; all metal fans should give Old Star an attentive listen.
Release date: May 31st, 2019
Record label: Peaceville Records
Nocturno Culto — vocals, guitar, bass, production
Fenriz — drums, bass
- I Muffle Your Inner Choir
- The Hardship Of The Scots
- Old Star
- Alp Man
- Duke Of Gloat
- The Key Is Inside The Wall
Published: June 26th, 2019.