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By the early 90s, several of the European Death Metal acts along-side Darkthrone like Entombed, At The Gates and even Dismember, seemed to have had “lost” the extreme, raw and brutal edge to the Death Metal genre. Death Metal is or was all about being aggressive, raw and down-right primative. Not to say that those bands weren’t damn heavy, because they were, but Darkthrone saw a decline in extremity when it came to what was called “death metal” during the time, which included their Soulside Journey album as being a perfect example of that decline as well. Pretty soon, Darkthrone wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with the current Death Metal scene, in which they wrote it off as being wimpy and trendy.…
So what does Darkthrone do? They don’t progress. They release one technical Death Metal album, Soulside Journey, and then go back in time into mid 80s (not literally, but musically speaking), and release an album full of hate, rawness, aggression and minimalistic musicianship, VERY MUCH similar to what Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom were putting out during their prime. This particular album, A Blaze In The Northern Sky, marked the start of a new beginning for Darkthrone. Three of the four members obtained this “less is more” mentality, reducing their music into minimalistic, raw and hateful Black Metal. Nevertheless, the music on A Blaze In The Northern Sky isn’t as simplistic, raw or minimal as their later works like Under A Funeral Moon or Transylvanian Hunger. Instead, this album is kind of a cross between Black and Death Metal, leaning more towards the realm of Black Metal. Even those of you who despise the bands later works MIGHT get into this album after a few listens since there is enough Death Metal riffing to be heard here. It’s just the raw production that will turn most people off. As for the band’s later offerings…well…they’re a totally different story.
Kathaarian Life Code kicks off with some evil chanting, followed by a voice that’s whispering something of which I cannot understand. This kind of intro sets the mood perfectly, probably causing the listener to assume that this is going to be another atmospheric Metal listening experience. But if they assume that, then they’re in for a total shock! The intro lasts for about 1 and a half minutes, and then after that, a raw and furious metallic assault of noisy riffs and thrashy drumming comes thundering through your speakers, accompanied by screechy, high and raspy vocals that are almost harsh enough to freeze the blood in your veins. At first, it seems almost like a wall of pure evil noise, but after awhile, you’ll notice that this is nothing more than a reminisce of Bathory’s 1987 masterpiece, Under The Sign Of The Black Mark. Everything here just sounds overall thicker, noisier, and downright more harsh. Okay, so this isn’t Bathory quality Metal, but this is still some good shit. Spanning over 10 and a half minutes long, the song manages to undergo many changes, including standard thrashing, sort of in a punk-ish style, all the way to mid paced, thick and heavy, chugging riffs. Overall, this is a killer beginning to the album.
In The Shadow Of The Horns, in my opinion, is the best song on the album, as well as one of Darkthrone’s all time best. The majority of the track flows at a mid pace, though the riffs are heavy as hell, raw (duh!), and thick in sense that they CRUSH, much similar to the way Autopsy formed their slow, chugging riff work. The vocals of course are harsh, angry and hateful, bellowing out one hell of a chorus “IN THE SHADOW OF THE HORNS!”. It’s not too long though before the thrashing takes place, speeding things up sort of in the vein of early Venom or Motörhead, fusing a nice mix of speed metal and old school punk. Then once again, the thrashing is followed by a furious assault of pure black/death Metal in the Bathory vein, accompanied by Nocturno Culto screaming “In the shadows of the horns!” over the wall of noisy, chaotic Black Metal. Oddly enough though, there are some acoustics that overline the music towards the end, which sound so out of place, that they fit perfectly IN PLACE with this type of music…if that makes any sense to you.
Paragon Belial is another mid paced, heavy track that is kind of a reminisce of Bathory’s Enter The Eternal Fire or any of the Viking-era stuff from the band. Well, that’s at least how the song begins. The double bass soon starts to kick in and then these groove-like, thrashy riffs come into play, making me to assume that the music to this track was probably written during the band’s Death Metal era. The ending of the song, though, is completed with some semi-epic, bombastic riffing, which fits perfectly well with the formula for this song. Overall, another one of the band’s best. Where Cold Winds Blow is just one tremendous thrasher!! If the Bathory/Hellhammer/early Kreator and Sepultura influences aren’t obvious here to you, then either you’re deaf, you’re an idiot, or you haven’t heard any of the aforementioned bands. There’s also some loud, extreme guitar soloing going on that sounds like it’s all over the place at first, but that’s obviously the way it was meant to sound. Don’t think that Nocturno Culto can’t play the guitar accurately, because his work on Soulside Journey proves that wrong. This is the way that he chooses to play on this album, and I wouldn’t prefer it any other way.
The album’s title track is yet another death-like, Black Metal thrasher in the vein of the opening and previous tracks. Pretty soon though, the pace shifts, changing from loud, thrashing material to swinging drum beats in the vein of Bathory’s Viking works. Things to seem to slow down even more towards the middle of the song as the mood and atmosphere appear to become more epic, despite the song only being roughly 5 minutes long. Hey, there goes another pace change! Back to the groove/thrash riffing that was present on Paragon Belial. Oh boy, the band really knows how to make good Metal, don’t they? There’s also some pretty interesting riffs towards the end, or shall I say…melodic? Yes, even a grim, cold and harsh album such as this has its melodic moments, although they’re quite rare.
The record comes to an end with The Pagan Winter; a solid, angry thrasher, spewing forth rapid amounts of blast beats and double bass in the beginning, yet slowing down a bit during the middle, blasting a fair amount of semi-melodic riffs. Overall, the majority of this song is quite aggressive, yet still has its epic, Viking-era Bathory moments as well. Another one of the band’s best songs, overall. The entire track length is roughly six and a half minutes long, but the music tends to stop around the five minute mark. This is because the album’s ending consists of an outro that’s just like the album intro. Dark and evil chats with a voice that’s whispering some jibberish stuff that I cannot understand. But oh well, I think it was a great choice for the band to add an outro like this. Seems more like a tribute to Bathory than anything, since it’s almost identical to the outros that are featured on the first four Bathory LPs.
So yes, this was a MAJOR change in direction from Soulside Journey. If you like your Metal to be precise, accurate and full of complexity, then stay away from this. You might be able to appreciate this for what it is if you can get past the low-fi production and overall cold, harsh sound. I mean, even the casual Death Metal fan may like this. But I’m warning you, if Soulside Journey was the first Darkthrone album you heard and if you enjoyed it, then approach this release with caution, because this just doesn’t seem like the same band at all.