Released: 2008, Peaceville Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Darkthrone are back and they don’t give a damn what you think. For many, the band is a love ‘em or hate ‘em affair - either you get their stripped down, lo-fi approach or you don’t. For those that do, their latest opus, DARK THRONES AND BLACK FLAGS, will certainly please as it continues the raw approach that they’ve built their legendary career on. While most of their contemporaries from the Norwegian Black Metal scene have opted to progress forward with symphonic elements and slick production values, remaining stalwarts Nocturno Culto and Fenriz continue to wave the flag of minimalism with middle fingers extended prominently in the air.
Recent Darkthrone releases have put the corpse paint back in the makeup cabinet and the traditional black metal posturing to bed, adopting elements of NWOBHM, crust punk, and outright Bathory worship. DARK THRONES AND BLACK FLAGS continues in that vein and is compelling in its simplicity. Production wise, the album sounds like it was recorded circa 1992 on an 8-track recorder in a friend’s basement during the middle of winter. Unsurprisingly, the disc comes across as cold and stark, the perfect atmosphere for the ten songs that make up the platter. “The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker” opens the disc with old-school thrash riffs and a chorus that will compel you to throw up some horns in appreciation. “Oath Minus” recalls Satyricon (or does Satyricon recall Darkthrone?) with its discordant buzz saw guitars, pledging “the great death of all oaths.” “Hiking Metal Punks”, “Blacksmith of the North”, “Hanging Out in Haiger” and “Norway in September” are all pretty much exactly what the song titles imply but are still ominously heavy. “Witch Ghetto” closes the disc with a dark rock n’ roll beat that sums up the Darkthrone experience perfectly – they do what they want.
DARKTHRONES AND BLACK FLAGS is a distant and cold album, right down to the album cover – a distinctly minimal black and white ink drawing that would feel right at home on a demo recording. It’s that stark atmosphere that makes Darkthrone so damn creepy and effective. We’re so desensitized to modern occult-driven music with outlandish album covers, seven band members, an oboe player and a female singer, that it’s refreshing to hear an album like DARK THRONES AND BLACK FLAGS. For me, Darkthrone is like a time machine – I’m an impressionable teenager listening to Celtic Frost, Venom, Possessed, and Bathory on vinyl after my parents have gone to bed, because they’re all so frickin’ evil. You just know that those guys are all having blood sacrifices in the forest to summon the dark lord, right? Combine that imagery with Darkthrone’s own history of occult hijinks, and you start to understand why Nocturno Culto and Fenriz will always be more evil than you.
Going back to my original statement, either you’ll love this or you’ll hate it. If you’re familiar with their work on F.O.A.D. or TOO OLD, TOO COLD, you’ll recognize this to be the next step in that cycle while still managing to stay rooted in the past. If you’ve got an open mind and can put down your Dimmu Borgir CDs for a minute, there’s a lot to like about DARKTHRONES AND BLACK FLAGS. Is it groundbreaking stuff? Maybe yes, maybe no - that depends on your train of thought. Only a band with a history like Darkthrone can continue to pull off these kinds of records with a straight face and complete conviction.