Review Summary: True Norwegian Black Metal
Let me begin with a rather brief but informative tale on what I see as the reason as to why I listen to perhaps the most misshapen (and probably misunderstood) genre of music in existence. Before all of this began, before I had heard such names as Burzum, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor or the like I was but a keen and avid death metal fan. However, I knew there was something out there which had delved further into the realms of darkness and those cold, chilling atmospheres which I so loved. I had yet to find it. As time went on I had gone back into my melodic death interests, until one day I stumbled upon a series of documentaries which would change my musical portrait from that day forward. The series, aptly named “True Norwegian Black Metal”, was a look into the genres underground culture and history through not only the eyes of the filmmakers, but through the eyes of Gorgoroth vocalist Gaahl.
It was within this video, namely the last two parts that I found what I was looking for. At the end of the video, Gaahl embarks on a walk into the cold, desolate mountains near where he lives, bringing the film crew along. They walk nearly all day in the freezing cold snow and sleet, up to the highest reaches of the icy peaks. At the top of this one particular mountain, high above where trees grow, lies a small wooden hut. Gaahl goes on to explain that the hut was built by his great grandparents, and how they had to haul every single piece of wood up the mountain in order to build it. The film crew sees almost no purpose or rewarding material in return for their exhausting hike, but I sat there staring at the landscape for a while afterward. It was exactly what I was looking for. I can’t explain how or why it captivated me, but I knew that this
was black metal.
It may seem a completely irrelevant story, but if you take one single look at the album cover of Panzerfaust
you will see a scene not unlike the one I mentioned before. The snow covered ground, the darkened trees, the full moon, and the shadowed figure of a man. Indeed a photograph to marvel over, this is but a piece of what exactly black metal of this variety is intended to convey…
True Norwegian Black Metal. I can say it as many times as one can bear to listen and there will still be people arguing about what “true” black metal is. It was mentioned in that documentary I was talking about, and it is so boldly stated on the back of Norwegian black metal band Darkthrone’s fifth offering Panzerfaust
. Considered to be their last “classic” black metal album, it marked the end of the era when Darkthrone were pretty much the unwritten “kings” of true Norwegian black metal. If I could name a band which pretty much encompassed what it takes to write good black metal, it would be Darkthrone. “The most hated band in the world”, proclaims the statement on the back cover, but I think quite the contrary. What Darkthrone has accomplished for the genre is simply immeasurable, and it is safe to say that the raw, harsh nature of black metal may have faded away if it wasn’t for the efforts of this band to remain true to their roots.
“Unholy Black Metal”
If one thinks of the stereotypical black metal band, what comes to mind? Blast beats, repetitive riffing, no bass whatsoever, terrible production, headache-inducing vocals, unrelenting blasphemy, and the countless other staples of other, more uninspired black metal bands. It was Darkthrone who helped come together with this sound, and it is they who play it best. It seems difficult to repeat riffs over and over again throughout a 5 minute song and make it interesting, only to do the same with another riff in the next song. However, Darkthrone is capable of doing this with the sort of professional talent that you would expect from such highly regarded veterans of the genre. The way one describes the first minute of the album, the beginning of the song “En Vind Av Sorg” is nothing short of epic, with fantastic riffing and vocals which are reminiscent of Garm from fellow Norwegian black metal outfit Ulver. They take the first fantastic opening riff and repeat throughout, and I’m not joking, the entire track. It is strange how this riff seems to sound just as good as it did when it was first introduced, but it does.
They do this recycling of riffs with such subtlety that the listener won’t even notice. During a song, a new riff may be introduced for maybe 20 or 30 seconds, varying things up a bit, before going right back to that main riff, which sounds as good as ever. The thing with these riffs, however, is that they capture some really fantastic melodies within them which add lots of atmosphere to the album without the use of keyboards or other symphonic elements (something which many, many other black metal bands do). It’s also the fact that they don’t go full-throttle throughout the whole album which adds lots of atmospheric moments while also giving the listener a break from the onslaught of high-tempo guitars and drums. Take “The Hordes Of Nebulah”, for example. Who would have ever fathomed that Darkthrone was capable of producing such a strong doom metal styled riff? The song continues at a slower, mid-tempo pace before a final chugging riff brings the song back up to a usual standpoint.
The album is undoubtedly extremely guitar-oriented, so it’s a welcome gift that Darkthrone put forth a completely amazing showing of melody-laden riffing with a fresh take on their tempos. I could honestly see this album being one, giant, black metal blur without the inclusion of the slower riffing in “The Hordes Of Nebulah” and “Quintessence”. The real key with these tempo changes, though, is how much they add to the album, not take away. Feel free to rip your neck to pieces headbanging to these stunning tacks, I know I did.
With the guitars comes one of the biggest and most prominent issues with the album, and I have to drag in the vocals on this issue as well. While the vocals are great, with a real screeching effect at some points, they sound like an exhausted and desperate cry for help. However, the vocals are mixed too loud in the production, so it sounds like all of the instruments quiet down when the vocals come into play. This is such a big error by the producers and mixers because it takes away from the amazing guitar riffs, shifting them somewhere into the background with the drums and seemingly lost bass guitar.
However, more often than not the production is perfectly fine; something which I have gotten used to is bad production. But let’s face it here; you cannot like black metal if you cannot stomach bad production values.
“Monument of Misanthropy and Wrath”
Shifting slowly, the last track “Sno Og Granskog (Utferd)” inches in by way of a sinister and altogether depressing chorus of horns. This shows perhaps a different side of Darkthrone and comes across as completely unexpected yet utterly enticing. Once the voice of Darkthrone vocalist Nocturno Culto works its way in, the listener may be either captivated or dumbfounded. Not often do tracks of solely spoken word vocals get put so highly in my regard, but this one is nothing short of fascinating. It is the only I way I would want an album like this to end, and it is the only track which embodies the overall atmosphere of this album. Forget the typical eerie ambience which closes most black metal albums, this is something totally unexpected yet totally and undoubtedly enthralling it cannot go without mention.
Overall, the grim and bleak atmosphere accomplished by Panzerfaust
is one worth noting as Darkthrone’s last “true” and classic offering. It brings together and shows exactly what Darkthrone, and black metal as a whole is all about. It is a staple of the stubborn (or brilliant, depending on your point of view) unwillingness to evolve a genre, a move I consider to be a noteworthy attribute of black metal. This genre is more than just music, this genre is a following, and this genre is an undeniable scar upon the culture of an entire nation. This genre is true Norwegian black metal, and Darkthrone show that they continue to play it best.