Review Summary: The retrograde resistance...
While this direction had been going on for quite a while with Darkthrone, the primary reason for this review’s focus on this particular album is due to the fact that it seems to be touted as the pinnacle of this era of the band. This does not mean much at all and frankly, the praise this thing has managed to garner is baffling as it appears to be one of the laziest and dullest albums in their entire discography. If there were ever a prime example that I could show to someone when I describe an album as “empty influence-milling”, this one is practically the exemplar of that very description.
The music here has been referred to as a great deal of things and connected to quite a few bands from King Diamond to Mercyful Fate to Celtic Frost as well as a variety of other metal bands from the 1980s. However, despite this, the end result is simply pitiful as it suffers from thoughtlessly monotonous songwriting, some genuinely awful performance (which is only amplified by the sheer clarity of where they’re taking “inspiration” from) and the utterly shameless amount of plagiarism in what should be the band’s most developed songs here. I’d really put the songs here into two separate categories. In the first category, there is the more Motorhead/Celtic Frost-influenced stuff with the tracks “Dead Early”, “Lesser Men” and “Come Warfare”. These contain some of the better moments on the album as they are clearly the ones that they have been most familiar with going as far back as the early ‘90s. It contains some of their better lead playing as well as Tom Warrior-esque vocals that are much more well-suited to Darkthrone.
The biggest problem with them is that, for the most part, they don’t do much at all to mix things up. It is a lot of plodding mid-tempo riffage that is not particularly memorable and has already been seen in the band’s own material and in the likes of their prime influence. With little in the way of twists and turns or even aesthetic touches to make them stand out, this becomes especially bothersome on tracks like “Come Warfare” where the length clearly does not support the subpar quality of the writing and really has no reason to actually be 8 minutes long. After all, this is the one track Nocturno Culto pens where it’s all just Venom/Hellhammer influence and unfortunately, not enough is done in order to make it less tedious as a result. These problems are only exacerbated by the aforementioned plagiarism with examples like the intro riff to Lesser Men being an amateurish ripoff of the intro riff of Mercyful Fate’s A Dangerous Meeting. All that being said, the worst aspects of this album easily reside in the half penned by Fenriz where the more traditional heavy metal and power metal influence comes in.
His portion of the album is comprised of Valkyrie, The Ones You Left Behind and the 13-minute “epic”, Leave No Cross Unturned. All three are absolutely awful. Valkyrie not only drones on with this absolutely trite and repetitive lead melody in its more pensive moments but the faster sections practically sound like Quorthon doing a bad imitation of a Walls of Jericho-era Helloween track. There’s also the problem of Fenriz’s cleans not having any strength or interesting melodies to speak of. The biggest offender, though, has to be Leave No Cross Unturned which pretty much rips off the intro/chorus riff to Agent Steel’s Evil Eye/Evil Minds for half of its runtime. On top of that, Fenriz even tries to emulate John Cyriis’s vocal style with all the hilariously inevitable failure that entails. Not only does the band just not have the skill to appropriately build on the likes of what Fenriz’s stuff is trying to pay tribute to but it’s also just outright inferior in every possible sense.
One could say that this assessment of this album is much too harsh for a band like Darkthrone given their prior material but given the direction they have chosen for this album as well as the way the band has to resort to practically ripping parts straight out of the albums that are the subject of their inspiration, such criticisms are warranted. Especially for Darkthrone, who themselves helped crystallize the iconic sound of Norwegian black metal and are basically doing nothing but aping elements of bands that are 30+ years old in an entirely unimpressive fashion, not representing the best aspects of '80s metal in the slightest. Not only does The Underground Resistance just fail to breathe new life into the sounds that it attempts to evoke but it is also something that would have appeared stale and boring even in 1983, let alone in the year of its release. Avoid this.