Darkthrone
Astral Fortress


4.0
excellent

Review

by Sunnyvale STAFF
October 28th, 2022 | 119 replies


Release Date: 2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Lords of the Rink

There are other contenders, but Darkthrone has the most obvious claim to the title of best long-running black metal band. This statement doesn’t just take into account their famous trilogy (plus Panzerfaust) in the ‘90s, which are highly revered to this day. Rather, the whole discography, now up to twenty LPs in total, is rather diverse while also remaining rock-solid. Don’t let the middling Sputnik scores of a few of Darkthrone’s records fool you, the band has never made a bad album. Even more than that, these Norwegians embody an admirable sort of spirit: while they’ve never taken themselves too seriously (most egregiously during the era of The Cult Is Alive), they’ve always understood that their music has great value to the fans, and taken this responsibility to heart. In short, you can always count on the fact that a new Darkthrone release will be fun, but also that it will absolutely jam.

Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are now firmly in what I’d call their “Motorpsycho” phase. Like those compatriots, they are decades into an impressive career, but not resting on their laurels. Indeed, both groups have seemingly found a latent font of inspiration in recent years. If late-stage Darkthrone isn’t quite as prolific as late-stage Motorpsycho, their output is still remarkable: Astral Fortress is the duo’s third new album in four years, and it does nothing to diminish the group’s streak of excellence. If anything, this record is one of Darkthrone’s finest recent efforts.

Astral Fortress follows, at least in broad strokes, the path of its predecessor, 2021’s Eternal Hails. By that, I mean that the band is still delving into a sort of blackened doom style, with tinges of traditional heavy metal here and there as well. That said, this new effort feels somewhat more expansive, taking its sound to more places. To put it in a different manner, Astral Fortress achieves a more “epic” feeling, even if it feels wrong to use that word to describe an album which manages to maintain an unassuming sense of grit as well.

With seven songs in total, Astral Fortress hews close to forty minutes in duration, in keeping with Darkthrone’s tradition of trim album lengths. In this case, the runtime feels just right. The record takes listeners on a journey, but brings them back home before their feet get sore. There’s an impressive scope of sonic diversity, particularly considering the fact that the band’s style here is a rather simple amalgam of two or three metal styles. In the end, it’s the small touches which manage to keep things interesting, and the songs are tightly-constructed enough to keep flowing from section to section with ease.

Examples of these “small touches” are all over. There’s the acoustic guitar which breaks in the opener, “Caravan Of Broken Ghosts”, before the tune is overtaken by doomy riffs and harsh vox. Then there’s the backdrop of eerie synths which elevate “Stalagmite Necklace” from just another slow-paced (if heavy) number. Meanwhile, the absurdly-titled centerpiece “The Sea Beneath The Seas Of The Sea” is all over the place, featuring a moody intro and outro, a break into unexpected clean vocals, and extensive instrumental sections, before feeding directly into the heavy blackened riffage of “Kevorkian Times”, which is probably the most balls-to-the-wall song here. Throughout, the album uses varied tempos to break up the danger of monotony, while most of the record is rather slow-paced (perhaps not a surprise given its doom leanings), here and there chugging heavy metal-esque moments serve as an effective reinvigoration.

Opinions will presumably vary on where Astral Fortress ranks within Darkthrone’s storied discography, but it’s undeniably a well-crafted beast of an album. For myself, the record’s strong refinement of the already-successful formula of Eternal Hails gives it the inside track for the group’s best since the absolute heavy metal romp which was The Underground Resistance. The bottom line, though, is that Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are still having fun and still delivering the goods. Let the torrent of “m/ m/ m/” comments begin.



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user ratings (187)
3.5
great
other reviews of this album
PsychicChris (4)
Astral Fortress may not bring much new to Darkthrone’s larger trajectory but it’s nice to see it...



Comments:Add a Comment 
Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
October 28th 2022


5627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album rules, as expected.



m/ m/ m/

Deathconscious
October 28th 2022


27321 Comments


Cant believe thats actually the artwork lol.

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
October 28th 2022


5627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Cheers, @Willie!



@Deathconscious, it's really something, isn't it?

Pho3nix
October 28th 2022


1570 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I had no idea this was coming out



Absolutely love the album cover.

Hyperion1001
Emeritus
October 28th 2022


25469 Comments


gonna check asap, eternal hails was one of my favorites from 2021

Gyromania
October 28th 2022


36905 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This damn near put me to sleep after one spin

Eakflanderyof
October 28th 2022


5228 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Some of this is pretty cool but then there are sections that sound like someone's drunk dad decided to plug their guitar into the amp in the unfinished basement for old times sake

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
October 28th 2022


5627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

LOL @Eakflanderyof, I know the parts you are referring to... I don't mind them though, fits the atmosphere for me.

Eakflanderyof
October 28th 2022


5228 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah, I don't hate it. It's still a fairly fun listen overall and it's pretty much what I expect out of darkthrone nowadays anyway



I do feel like the album would benefit from a little more low end and layering though. Sounds almost like just one guitar and drums most of the time. But I assume that's also an intentional artistic decision

Hyperion1001
Emeritus
October 28th 2022


25469 Comments


"there are sections that sound like someone's drunk dad decided to plug their guitar into the amp in the unfinished basement for old times sake"

as i was listening my thoughts were essentially "this is old guy metal"

its basically fenriz and nc playing the hits of all the stuff they grew up on. but theres a certain charm when its actual old metal dudes who still know how to write a riff.

Aluktodolo
October 29th 2022


533 Comments


How does this compare to Hate Them and Sardonic Wrath? I’m probably in the minority here but that’s my favourite era of Darkthrone.

Eakflanderyof
October 29th 2022


5228 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Naw I also love mid era darkthrone. That era through circle the wagons is all my favorite stuff. But this sounds nothing like that at all

Heppasodge
October 29th 2022


549 Comments


love the shitty/amazing drumming. this reeks of whisky

Eakflanderyof
October 29th 2022


5228 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I think the drums are pretty solid overall. Just not flashy. Fenriz hasn't been flashy since soulside

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2022


5627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"this reeks of whisky"- Yeah, one of the things I like about late-era Darkthrone, nothing flashy but feels like two dudes jamming out.

Slex
October 29th 2022


16228 Comments


Opener for this was pretty cool, keen to check the rest

Also, [2]

zaruyache
October 29th 2022


27202 Comments


sowing you've never cheqd darkthrone before? O:

DType
October 29th 2022


2456 Comments


This has the most trve kvlt artwork ever

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2022


18178 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

great review. love early era darkthrone, not so much the newer stuff, but i'm gonna check this after honey harper

Archelirion
October 29th 2022


6594 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Jesus Christ, I hate that main riff on Impeccable Caverns of Satan.



So far I'm with Hyperion on this one but I'm hoping it picks up.



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