Released: 2001, Moonfog Records
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
In the nature of full disclosure I should state up-front that I’m not a tremendous fan of the old, “classic” Darkthrone. I recognize A BLAZE IN THE NORTHERN SKY is/was a groundbreaking black metal album and I’m fully cognizant of Darkthrone’s contributions to the genre of black metal. It just didn’t do that much for me personally. Whatever bias that may illuminate as I launch into the review of their newest one, PLAGUE WIELDER, is now yours to know.
In my honest opinion this is a decent album. It’s not amazing our outstanding, but Fenriz and his companion Nocturna Culto have made a pretty good effort. The pure coldness that the first track, “Weakling Avenger,” sets for the rest of the album is perfect for the twisted epiphanies that are to come. A lot of the riffs and rhythms sound very much alike here--and all are standard textbook black metal--but they’re competently done and passionately played. While the “sameness” of the tracks keeps a particular one from standing head and shoulders above the other, “I, Voidhanger” gets my nod, barely, as the best one on this short album, mainly for its unpredictable melody/key changes, generally lively structure, and ultimately some compelling melodic passages buried under layers of aural ice.
The production on PLAGUE WIELDER is very thin and scratchy. I trust that’s by design, given Darkthrone’s pedigree. Overproducing black metal, after all, is the equivalent of underproducing power metal--it just wouldn’t be taken seriously! Personally I enjoy black metal with a lot of crispness and thickness to the recording quality, but I realize the old school Norwegians who (thankfully) are still cranking out this stuff have differing opinions.
The thing that comes through most strongly on PLAGUE WIELDER, at least for me, is relief. So few of the early pioneers of the Scandinavian black metal scene are still around, and several--such as Mayhem--have gone terribly wrong. Darkthrone, however, are still out there, and are still at least giving it an honest attempt to remain as true to their roots and original style as possible now that it’s 10 years on. PLAGUE WIELDER is not A BLAZE IN THE NORTHERN SKY, that’s for sure. However, what it lacks in pureness or innovation it makes up for in accessibility and dependability. Darkthrone have done all right for themselves, and their new album deserves a listen.