Yep I know this is in the shops (what few remain) already but we are not exactly late to the party. The old stars behind the album should need no introduction Gylve and Ted aka Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have been in this game for well over 3 decades now and know how to work the press. This time the album was only sent to us mere hours before it was released and even the press officer at Peaceville Records had not even heard it till then. I almost deleted it in a strop as I thought it was a stream only, something which we won’t cover as frankly it is rude even sending albums to us like that but went for a sneaky “shall I buy it” listen a couple of days later and found it had been made downloadable. If it were a cinema film with no previews available you know that it means it is likely to be a bit shit and that was the question mark hanging over this. But it’s Darkthrone it can’t be crap can it? Well luckily not.
The dastardly duo are one of the most highly regarded in the Norwegian black metal scene and have been there and done it all although never quite finding the notoriety of the other Lords Of Chaos. Well there was that one instance way back…. But we don’t really need to dig that one up again do we. As we have seen and heard more recently you couldn’t truly even refer to what they are doing as black metal now and true to form Old Star with its 6 tracks and highly odd song titles is a natural progression from predecessor Arctic Thunder of 2016. The Cult is still very much alive but it just smells a little different.
No doubt the tracks are written and decomposed equally between the two of them, we are told Ted’s are the faster ones and Fenriz more of the classic metal and doom mould. I’m sure you can work it out if you have the CD booklet in front of you, which I am assuming many have by now. The full lyrics are no doubt being pored over too I mean those song titles like the one we arrive at are ‘I Muffle Your Inner Choir’ frankly a bit barking aren’t they? Actually finding them online they don’t particularly help but musically we do at least somewhat know where we stand as the song in question crunches in and canters off mid paced and sweaty. A very good description to sum things up is gnarly and with the weathered vocals it has a real craggy feel like a mighty rock face blasted by extreme elements but refusing to give in and still standing testament to its strength. There’s lots of groove and some underlying melody here that embeds itself into your head over repeated listens, a trick the duo have worked well over recent albums. Simplicity is sometimes the best weapon and here with the long lolloping riff flowing through things that is very much the feeling you get especially when a doom laden tempo is injected and things slow down, all that’s missing is a death grunt but this album is obtuse vocally and you won’t find any of them or those earth shattering ball busting falsetto shrieks. I suspect this unruly child being Nocturno’s bastard son and the proto metal hook on the next attributed to Fenriz. All that’s missing is cowbell as ‘The Hardship of the Scots’ digs in lifts its kilt and really stirs the porridge. This is pure old school and made with salt, not a hint of sugar to be found as it steadfastly defends the boarders (sic) employing pure vintage nirvana at its heart and soul. Rock along albeit slowly as this true bay city roller takes root and earthily works its magic and the clamouring riff that suddenly rears up is very much one that will have you deliriously playing the fret-board along with it. It’s kinda like picking one of the most obscure records in your collection, un-played for decades, blowing off the dust and dropping the needle on it and just losing yourself from a blast from the past. I’m sure Fenriz has stacks like this in his collection and he has woven the best parts of them into this song. The title track is next and the shortest number on the album. Plenty of ballast about it, steadfast and unmovable as it quakes and shakes with some hefty drumming and thick tar like riffs. Melody is strong and speed again unnecessary, fists don’t need it to pound along. “Mankind Dies” well we get that bit!
B side) ‘Alp Man’ seems to be a tale of a bounty hunter in the Swiss Alps. Perhaps someone recently watched Cutthroats Nine Or The Hateful Eight. It’s a flare shuffling riff and near enough a boogie going down here at first before powerful trembling guitar work juggles things about and a classic doom metal sound takes over and injects gloom around the low gruff vocal gun-slinging. Waiting for something fast? Duke Of Gloat is your go to guy with some flurrying fret-work close to speed metal compared to what was before it this one rears out the trap and winds and grinds manically infecting as it dashes all over the shop. Settling down and coasting along there’s quite a bit of substance here and the guys sound like they are naturally jamming away and having a great time of it. Yeah I got to say it, shame it’s only ever going to be in the studio they do so. Things are finished off with one of the albums most persuasive rollocking grooves and ‘The Key Is Inside the Wall’ is a glorious case of solving the puzzle of the album and putting all the pieces together as in effect working it out has been a bit of a mystery. One listen to this one though and you’ll be hooked and it’s hard not to shout from the rooftops about it being the favourite song on the album.
This is definitely an album that couldn’t be rushed, anyone putting up a review in the first couple of days is frankly a bit of an ass. It needs time to gestate like a good cup of tea and has proven to be a bit of a strange old brew. At the end of the day though it’s Darkthrone, it has a classic vibe to it and even if drinking it down causes dizziness at times, whatcha gonna do?
(8/10 Pete Woods)