Review Summary: Darkthrone finally finds their sound within the punk metal genre and releases their best album of the new sound.
Let's go back in time about 20 years. Around the year of 1991, the Norwegian band Darkthrone were just releasing their debut album, Soulside Journey
. The sound that could be found on that album is straight-up old-school death metal. Fast forward a year to 1992 and the release of their sophomore album, A Blaze in the Northern Sky
. Now with this release, Darkthrone released one of the very first second-wave black metal albums and marked an extremely drastic change in their sound from the first album. Let's fast forward about another 14 years from that point. Now we hear Darkthrone making another change in their sound for the first time in a very long time. The release of the 2006 album, The Cult is Alive
, saw the band starting to drop the black metal sound and picking up more of a crust punk sound. Finally let's come to the present day and Darkthrone's 14th full-length album, Circle the Wagons
. If you would've told me that in 2011 Darkthrone wouldn't sound anything like their former selves, I probably wouldn't believe it. But that's exactly what we have here.
Circle the Wagons
pretty much sets the crust punk sound of Darkthrone in stone. The two previous albums, Dark Thrones, Black Flags
were both very mediocre attempts at the crust punk sound, the latter being some of the worst music I've heard to be honest. But with this album, it seems as though Darkthrone has finally found a nitch in the crust punk sound they've been going for. The riffs are fairly simplistic, but they don't sound anywhere near as sloppy or poorly executed as they did on the previous two albums. You won't find any black metal tremolo picking here. What you get is straight-up punky, even thrash and hard rock-esque riffs the whole time. Nocturno Culto isn't trying to impress anyone with his technicality nor is he trying to put anyone in a trance like state as he did in the black metal days. He's just having fun writing the music he's playing. Fenriz's drumming is also extremely simplistic. No blast beats or techincal drum fills to be found here, just simple rhythms throughout. The drumming is also executed much better than it was on the previous two albums, like I already mentioned with the riffs. They've tightened everything up.
If you've listened to the past few albums then you've definitely noticed the change in Nocturno Culto's vocals as well. Nobody should go into this expecting a Transilvanian Hunger
type of vocal performance, because you'll just be disappointed. What you have here is a guttural howl almost as well as some cleaner singing here and there. When I say guttural don't think death metal guttural. It's almost as if he's talking, but just in a very deep and sinister voice, if that makes any sense. Let's just say that Nocturno Culto has gotten much better at utilizing this style of vocals. To be frank, he just sounded silly on the past couple of albums, but he's definitely improved and puts on an enjoyable and most importantly, listenable perforance vocally. Some people may still be annoyed by the sound of his voice here though, because it can be pretty grating on the ears at times, especially during the clean singing, which isn't incredible to say the least.
So if you're a black metal fan looking for the black metal Darkthrone, then you'll want to stay far away from this album, because there's no sign of that here whatsoever. Those guys are long gone and that needs to be accepted. What you're going to get here is two men in their late 30's who enjoy playing metal music and have lots of fun doing it. Both Nocturno Culto and Fenriz have pretty much made it clear that they don't care about transitioning to a more punk metal sound from their previous "kvlt" black metal days. They're just two drunken Norwegian bastards who want to have a good time and write some music in the process. While this album isn't complex in any way, it's by far the best of their new era and an enjoyable listen from time to time.