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It is madness to think that Circle the Wagons was Darkthrone's fifteenth album. Through thick and thin, they've been releasing albums at a relatively steady rate, never losing sight of the DIY mentality they've sported since adolescence. A lot of the albums they released between Circle the Wagons and their widely acknowledged golden period weren't all that great. A few were downright mediocre. At the end of the day though, Darkthrone were the ones left standing.
Not a review of Darkthrone's more recent material could spare mention of the band's propitious shift from black metal to a crust-infused traditional metal blend, one parts Motorhead, three parts Celtic Frost and Hellhammer, and two parts sizzling grease and faded denim. I'm a stronger follower of black metal than any of the genres they've drawn from recently, but I definitely count myself among those who support Darkthrone's transition into distilled true metal wholeheartedly. They got lazy with black metal. The crusty authenticity was the spark they needed to revive the passion and creativity. Ironically, in making albums that are essentially shameless rip-offs of their classic metal influences, they inadvertently began to make more distinctive and colourful albums than they had done in several years at last.
Listening to Circle the Wagons, I'm slightly amazed that Darkthrone are able to stick to the same old-school aesthetic and show artistic progress without compromising a cent of it. While their major turnaround F.O.A.D. still arguably reigns as the most significant record they've done since the glory days, Circle the Wagons is about as much fun, and easily more impressive from a more technical perspective. Even if the stylistic advancements aren't as bold as they were on past albums, Circle the Wagons tends to one area I felt Darkthrone struggled with on past albums. I'm referring to the songwriting here. While I'd consider myself lucky to find three songs memorable on one of the last several albums, this album's weighted heavy metal influence has been instrumental in helping them carve out more memorable tunes.
Circle the Wagons doesn't have the same soft spot in my heart that F.O.A.D. will always claim, but it's easily more listenable, tight, and mature in a good way. While Darkthrone's past three records sounded like a sincerely felt parody (and I say that as a fan of at least two of them) I do get the impression they tried to make Circle the Wagons a more serious, hard-hitting sort of metal record. The condemnations of posers and "plastic metal" are still rife and common, but Fenriz and Nocturno Culto wisely put the jokes on the back burner. Not that jokes are a bad thing per se-- Fenriz's one of the funniest dudes in music after all-- but when it got to the point where it felt like Darkthrone weren't just a parody, but a parody of a parody of themselves, it was probably a good idea to reel in the silly.
Circle the Wagons is every bit as fun as its predecessors, so don't go mistaking maturity for boredom. The self-conscious references to the band's legacy and the state of modern metal are hard to take seriously, but the rest of the lyrics bolster the music in a way that fits the aesthetic they already had. The subject matter for "Circle the Wagons" always reminds me of Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills", and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Heavy metal's always been big into subjects like that. The hardest hitting material are the personal reflections however. "I Am the Working Class" technically fits precisely with the band's greasy sound, but it's not like the lyrics are made up or embellished. Music isn't the thing that's kept Fenriz's belly full after all. I thought Darkthrone sounded sincere when they were barking about hailing the Church of Real Metal and other ridiculous shit. Just imagine the kind of authenticity that runs behind lyrics about work and the economic recession. Fuck.
Darkthrone's music got a bit more interesting on Circle the Wagons. The riffs are way more intricate than they were on Dark Thrones and Black Flags, and the more consistent fast pace of the album keeps any of the songs from dragging on. Of course, this is still post-golden Darkthrone we're talking about. They're obviously reliable when it comes to good riffs and raw atmosphere, but they're not the sort of band you should be listening to if you want anything other than a straightforward, greasy, beer-friendly half-hour ahead of you. For what it's worth, Circle the Wagons was the most musical these guys had sounded since Ravishing Grimness 11 years prior.
To be honest, I bought this album completely on a whim. I had just decided I wanted to delve into black metal, since a few friends of mine listened quite frequently when I was around, so I decided to go a bit deeper than just the tidbits I heard from them. I knew Darkthrone was supposed to be some excellent BM, I decided to pick up [i]Circle the Wagons[/i], figuring I’d be getting some pretty dark and frostbitten stuff. I had no clue that Darkthrone had written anything but BM. I was shocked when I put the album into my CD player on the way home from my shopping excursion, and had no idea what to think. I didn’t dislike the music at that time, but it certainly wasn’t what I was looking for then. I immediately shelved it and forgot about it for a few months. I had run out of things to listen to and noticed [i]Circle the Wagons[/i], and decided to give it another shot. I listened to the album at least four times a day for almost two weeks after that. A blind buy quickly turned into one of my favorite albums.
One of the first things I noticed about the over sound was the production: The level of the vocals, guitars, and drums, perfectly complimented each other: Nothing was overpowering anything else, and I found that this particular type of balance that the album provided was something I hadn’t quite heard before, and something I immediately wanted more of. The energy that the album was recorded and written with is almost tangible while the album is blasting through the speakers, and fills the listener with that same energy, this positive, raw energy. Not very many albums, metal or non-metal, have made me feel the way [i]Circle the Wagons[/i] did.
Upon the first spin, I was shocked to hear these punk/heavy metal inspired riffs. They are a perfect balance in between punk and heavy metal that I’d never heard before, creating a totally unique sound. Along with the riffing, I loved the guitar tone that was used; it sounded very raw, and a little muddy, but with just enough bite to it to really cut right through and sink in. The drumming was good, a bit simple, but I really don’t think it needed to be anything more than what it was, and definitely nothing less. The only thing I had any real issue with was the vocals. I liked the tone of Fenriz’s voice , but some of the harmonies he chose were a bit odd, and some of the raspier/shouted vocals sounded a bit too forced. Other than those few things, I really liked the vocals.
Over all, this album was a complete surprise, and a great one at that. I went in expecting one thing, and got something totally different, yet better than I could have hoped.
Stand out tracks:
Those Treasures Will Never Befall You
Running for Borders
Circle the Wagons
I Am the Working Class
With a career spanning back to the late 1980's, black metal heavyweights Darkthrone are still making music. In their later years they have developed their own precise sound, blending the lyrics and vocal aspects of black metal with the speedy fast intensity of early punk and hardcore (along with a few aspects of speed and thrash metal). With their new release "Circle the Wagons," I found myself rather confused at the end of the album.
On the instrumental aspects of this album, it's pretty solid. I'd even go as far to say as it's pretty damn good in terms of staying true to the intensity and musical structure of the early thrash and punk bands of the '70s and '80s. This album provides straightforward speed riffs that don't aim to impress, or expand on the genre. All they aim to do is rock face and provide the listener something to bang their head and thrash out to. I viewed this album as an homage, of sorts, simply because it's so reminiscent of the early days of heavy thrash metal. In tracks such as "Stylized Corpse," both the fast groovy riffs, and intense melodic guitar solo that closes the track almost gives you the feeling that an old Judas Priest album.
The aspect that really bummed me out, and singlehandedly ruined the album for me were the vocals. I've never really been a fan of Darkthrone's vocals, but I've always been able to see past them and appreciate the "bigger picture," so to speak, of the album. With "Circle the Wagons," the vocals are so overpowering and have this tendency to hang in the foreground of every song, that it is damn-near impossible to ignore them. The random touches of reverb that were applied, along with the bloody-ear educing clean singing featured on this album come completely out of left field. I'm not exactly sure what the band was going for when they recorded the vocals, but they landed far off the mark.
The production on this album enhances both the pros and cons of the album in which I just listed. Darkthrone has never been known for top-notch production on their albums. But, again, it establishes them as who they are. The grimy tinge that the mix on this album gives the guitars tones makes the listening experience feel more D.I.Y. But, the production is definitely a double-sided sword. The low-end production, in turn, ends up making the vocals sound more atrocious on the final product. It really creates a giant conflict in giving this album a grade.
Though this album features so intense riffs, and a fun atmosphere for fans of early metal, the vocals overshadow all, leaving the wheels to fall of this dingy old wagon. The vocals tie it down, and leave it destined to sink, dead in the water.
I find it quite humorous when people refer to such albums as Circle the Wagons, Dark Thrones and Black Flags, and F.O.A.D. as "their punk stuff." Admittedly, there is an undeniably strong dosage of punk influence on the aforementioned records, but in all honesty, The Cult is Alive was the peak of the punk influence in Darkthrone's sound. Since then, the punk element has been slightly reduced (the keyword is "slightly") with each album since in favor of a substantial inclusion of more heavy/speed metal and 70s hard rock elements. It just seems silly to refer to the last few albums as "their punk stuff" (or "Punkthrone" if you're feeling especially creative...) when heavy metal is playing a much larger role in shaping the sound.
I greatly appreciate punk rock and I think The Cult is Alive is still phenomenal to this day, but heavy metal is my first love and because of this, I couldn't be more pleased with the decision made by Darkthrone on the last few albums to make old-school metal the main focus, while still retaining that punk edge. This is precisely why I think Circle the Wagons is such a fantastic album - the heavy metal influence has never come through stronger on a Darkthrone album. In fact, I think it is a fair assessment to state that this release shows Darkthrone going even further back in time!
Fenriz utilizes his clean vocals quite a bit on the record and the title track features his best vocal performance ever. In fact, the title track off of the album is probably one of the greatest Darkthrone songs ever made. It's under the three minute mark, but man... it makes every second count! Think heavy metal of the early 1980s American style mixed with the stripped down nature of punk. Actually, when I first heard the song's intro, I thought of Blüdwülf! Lyrically, I suspect the song to be against modern metal (big shock, huh?). "I Am the Graves of the 80s" is a little more blatant in its message and serves as another testament of Fenriz' ability to make superb old-school metal anthems complete with one of the most badass choruses in metal history!
Some may complain that tracks like "Stylized Corpse" and "Running for Borders" are boring, but I disagree. These two slow-pased numbers are growers (with some awesome 1970s-sounding parts at that!) and must be given a chance. At least let "Stylized Corpse" run its course towards the end, as this song has a part that almost sounds like one of Dio's slower numbers! In fact, rockin' "big riff" songs seem to be Ted's main export in the band these days as just as they were on the last two albums. I have yet to hear a Nocturno Culto-written song top the F.O.A.D. track, "The Banners of Old," but the track "Black Mountain Totem" comes about as close as he's going to get for a while. Fantastic.
Darkthrone has an absurd ability to blend together many different elements from an arsenal of different bands and still manage to have a unique sound that is genuinely theirs. It is because of said diversity, that I felt it was a necessity to talk about individual songs so much. After all, if a band was just blasting the whole way through, it would be ridiculous to talk about every single damn track on the album, but on this album, there is really too much diversity not to. There aren't too many albums out there in which one can hear a song like "These Treasures Will Never Befall You" and then later on in an album, hear a blue collar punk rock anthem like "I Am the Working Class."
The end result of this volatile mixture is either amazing or terrible depending on your stance on metal, punk, and hard rock. I for one, enjoyed my visit to The Church of Real Metal and I can't wait for the next sermon. As usual, no modern metal twats allowed, of course.
Circle the Wagons is an album that purposefully evokes a metal era where simplicity and songwriting were king. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have succeeded mightily in that endeavor, creating a pile of tunes that I find completely addictive. Circle the Wagons has been my fist pumping soundtrack to many-a mundane activity of late. These songs all but beckon you to sing along with their preposterous vocals and twisted lyrics.
Circle the Wagons is filled with elegant yet uncomplicated riffage that's rooted in a bygone era, but is ultimately timeless. The tracks feel like they rolled out of bed in 1983, threw on their denim jackets and delivered a case of beer directly to my ears. You'll find everything from traditional heavy metal chugging to punk inflected pre-thrashification to darker, proto-black metal. There's no real need to injure your brain trying to pick out the influences at work; Fenriz has annotated the album booklet with an explanation of just that. He name-drops bands like Motorhead, English Dogs, Agent Steel, Metallica, Deathside, Puke, Slayer, Omen and Savage Grace. 'Nuff said.
I've been evangelizing metal long enough to know what will happen if I try to sell this album as a nostalgia trip to my conservative and traditional heavy metal friends; they'll hate the vocals. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto split the writing and singing duties evenly, alternating tracks on the album. While recognizably different, both men predominantly ply gravelly proto-death vocals, with some rousing unclean singing and pseudo-operatic sauce mixed in. Nothing about the vocals is conventional, and I can easily see this as off-putting to the aforementioned crowd. Fuck them; it's their loss.
Lyrically, this thing is a hoot. Fenriz sings “I am the graves of the 80s, I am the risen dead. Destroy their modern metal and bang your fucking head!” Do I really need to say anything else? The songwriting and composition on Circle the Wagons is what puts it head and shoulders above Darkthrone's formidable recent output, at least in my eyes. The title track is just goddamned infectious. “I Am The Working Class” is completely anthemic, with memorable riffs and lyrics that never cease to make me smile. Track for track, this might also be the most consistent album Darkthrone have put out lately.
I don't think I need to tell you that the drumming is fantastic and the production is perfectly laissez-faire. Circle the Wagons certainly doesn't stack up to the classics of the eighties, but I don't think that's the point. It does, however, share the ethos. When I spin this album I usually follow it up with some Piece of Mind, Mob Rules, Melissa or even some Stained Class. It makes me want to rock out with those old albums as much as it makes me want to reach for a beer. That's simply metal.
Originally published here: http://atanamar.blogspot.com/
Since “F.O.A.D.”, these guys have made blackened punk music, and this album is no exception. The production seems cleaner than ever, with audible bass. It’s a first time to hear something this clean from this band. The vocals are usually harsh, but some songs have some singing too, which sometimes sound okay. Well, sometimes it’s not. The guitars and drums play more punk and less black metal, just like their last album. Nothing much has changed much, so if you have heard of" and "Dark Thrones and Black Flags", you know what will this sound like.
I usually find the fast songs to my liking, like “I Am the Graves of the 80s”, for it gives a lot of energy, enough to make your head bang, since it has a lot of punk edge (than black metal) here and there. It sure is catchy, but it’s quite repetitive. "Stylized Corpse" and "Running for Borders" put me in such boredom that might put me to sleep if I’m not doing this review at all. It sounds like a punk version of "Panzerfaust", which is just weird. "Black Mountain Totem" a mid-tempo song I found to my liking in a number of listens. Nice song indeed. “Bränn Inte Slotten”, the only instrumental, starts off by chanting the title and bored me ever since. It feels meaningless, and is lacking direction. Again, this is filler.
Although it has more real songs than fillers, I don’t think that this album is good enough. It still needs a lot of improvement. More punk maybe? But still, I think this alum has more edge than "F.O.A.D." or "Dark Thrones and Black Flags". Buy if you like punk (and black metal, of course) or if you're a Darkthrone fan.
Originally made for http://mystifymyserie.blogspot.com
So here we are with yet another release from the iconic Darkthrone. As expected, the band has taken another step towards a blackened crust punk sound, as can be witnessed by their previous work; F.O.A.D. and DTBF. Their new sound is quite a departure from what was present in their older albums when they played black metal, but by no means should this album be ignored. If you are one of those people who believe that Darkthrone died after A Blaze in the Northern Sky or Transilvanian Hunger then leave this album alone, because in no way is this album a return to those days.
Although some riffs seem reminiscent of the two previous albums, many new ideas and riffs are brought forward to this album. The skill of any one instrument on Circle the Wagons would not stand out by itself, as none of them are played with extreme precision or speed like some modern metal counterparts; but that is not to say the overall sound isn’t great. The point of a band is not to have one person wanking over the rest of the group’s background noise. You even get to hear some clean vocals on a few tracks, which aren’t exactly my favourite part, but are done rather well. When placed together, all instruments do their part and contribute to some incredible music. Nothing is over-done.
Circle the Wagons does at great job for what it is. Clocking in at a little over 40 minutes, it is a complete assault on the senses of pure blackened punk. The song writing skills of Nocturno Culto and Fenriz are astounding and they never seem to let you down. Inspired by ‘80s metal, the music is straight to the point. This album stands as a big ‘Fuck You’ to modern metal, and attempts to bring it back to its roots. The riffs are filled with raw power and the musicianship is aggressive. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Darkthrone, either.
Considering the ever-so diminishing black metal sound in their music, Darkthrone continues to push the envelope by releasing yet another quality album. Only ignorant elitists who can’t get over the fact that Darkthrone’s sound is evolving should forget about Circle the Wagons. Check it out, you shouldn’t be disappointed.
Highlights: Running for Borders, Black Metal Totem, I Am the Working Class, Eyes Burst at Dawn
Written for http://www.britof.net/zine/
Two of Norway's finest releasing new albums at the same time you ask? Why of course, get me involved! While the new Burzum release may have been a more momentous event than another Darkthrone album given the productivity of both bands in recent years, I will always have time for the works of Ted Skjellum and Gylve Nagell. Exposing the kind of attitude that I profess towards elitist (black) metallers, albeit on a more public scale than I, Darkthrone have always been in a league of their own, and none more so than now around the release of their fifteenth (!) studio album. Giving the 'requirements' of BM the middle finger in the vain that the original templates of the genre did to the rest of the music world upon it's formation in the 80s-early 90s, this duo in my mind will forever be a breath of fresh air to the scene, of course ironically conducted through the medium of fetid, dirty punk-infused blackish metal, that has been needed for so many years.
Since 2006's "The Cult is Alive" Darkthrone have been moving further from the field of black metal from which they came, with "Circle the Wagons" merely being another step away from the overbearing sonic limitations of the True Norwegian Black Metal™ sound which they were a key part in forming. The influence of punk and early metal classics has but merely grown through each successive album, to the point of calling these guys black metal an act done through more historical referencing than anything based on this or recent releases. Tracks such as "I Am The Grave Of The 80s" and the albums' title song bleed such verminous dedication to a sound so ancient I doubt even the dinosaurs had died out by then, that it does make you wonder why more acts haven't jumped on this bandwagon (pun intended?).
As has been the case ultimately with all the recent Darkthrone albums, I have never found my appreciation of the music contained within each opus reaching the level of respect I hold for Messrs. Culto and Fenriz. I love Fenriz' clean vocals, however average they may be, in songs like "Black Mountain Totem" and "Those Treasures Will Never Befall You". I love too how stripped down the sound is, allowing the power of the RIFF to do the talking; but I also still believe that in this current incarnation Darkthrone have it within them to release something truly classic. The elements of old punk and classic metal, ala Saxon and Angel Witch, which are all too obvious for anyone listening and so emotionally honest to the sound, have in them the potential for the creation of a great release, if, I can whisper it gently, the Darkthrone guys spent just a little more time honing their songs.
Given the choice however I'd take any day the ethic that Darkthrone propose over the modern and plastic sound that they so vehemently oppose. Supporting Culto and Fenriz these days is as much an act of backing their crusade for the true spirit of metal as it enjoying albums like "Circle the Wagons" or "The Cult is Alive", but thankfully all their recent albums have been positively infectious pieces of dirty and crusty, yet pure, metal. These LPs have been consistently solid in quality, yet "Circle the Wagons" does edge it over 2008's "Dark Thrones and Black Flags", but if you knew that already you'd yourself already be a worshipper at the temple of that darkest of thrones.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
Of all the many metal bands in the universe, there are an immense number that I enjoy, but far fewer that I consider myself such a fanboy as to 'line up' for. Or to eagerly anticipate the dropping of each album. Darkthrone is one of those bands. I'll watch or read the band's interviews in advance of the next album. I'll download the cover art and set it as wallpaper. I'll download the samples. I'll order the CD. I'll order the vinyl. And it all stems from how reliable the band has been in their delivery over the past 20 years. No rock star pedestal. No trends. No nonsense. Just two guys recording metal albums that are important to them, and typically also important to me. They've made slight developments in their formula through the years, and I've hung along for each and every transition, because I trust the band completely and they rarely fail to impress me.
2008's Dark Thrones and Black Flags was my favorite metal album that year, and it's one I still have playing in a fairly frequent rotation today. From the self-referential lyrics to the amazing fabric of the vocals and riffs (the first few ringing guitar lines of "The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker" are all you need to sample to hear just how fantastic that album was), I was hooked, and I really consider it one of their very best efforts alongside the classics like Transilvanian Hunger and A Blaze in the Northern Sky (with many others close behind). For their 15th album, Circle the Wagons, they have come up with both an intriguing and original title and cover concept, with a Native American theme that seems somewhat unusual. This aesthetic is primarily reflected in the title track and cover art, however, as the lyrics cover a variety of topics and more of the band's poorly veiled references to metal music at large.
The biggest distinction to this new album is that the band have slightly shifted away from the more punk-dominated songwriting of F.O.A.D. and Dark Thrones and Black Flags towards an infusion of classic metal riffing and primordial thrash. But if you enjoyed those albums, fear not, because the sound here is much the same, there's still a touch of the punk energy, and the band continues to share the vocal duties. What's more, the band have taken their occasional use of clean vocals to a new height here, as in the title track, which serves as another metaphor for the band's path, with some extremely entertaining dual clean vocals that make for one of the most memorable bits on the album. The guitars, too, are notably derived more from a wider host of muddy, primal 80s heavy and thrash metal influences than the usual Celtic Frost/Bathory blood that has steadily beaten through Darkthrone's heart for decades.
Unlike Dark Thrones and Black Flags, I didn't quite take to every single song on this album. It's a little disappointing, and it doesn't really belong in the top tier of the band's discography. But it's still a lot of fun to listen through, and several of the tracks are exceptional. "Stylized Corpse", one of the darker songs on the album, and perhaps the closest to some of the band's older, 90s material, was one of my early favorites, with its slow escalation of the grooving Hellhammer inspired verse rhythm and the dense jangling of the bridge riff. There are also some killer breakdowns waiting within, one leading to a majestic and minimal melodic tension. "Black Mountain Totem" is also huge for its unforgettable plucky thrashing and the disturbing, decaying vocals of Nocturno Culto, spackled in speed metal fervor. "Eyes Burst at Dawn" is another rager, with some amazing, manly clean vocals ala "Dungeon Shaker" from the previous album, and some of the best melodic riffing on the album (that bridge kills). And it would be foolish to not mention "Bränn Inte Slottet", a very different instrumental track which begins with ritual drumming over a looped chanting sample, then picking up into simple but effective old school metal riffs akin to the rest of the album, and a little taste of doom.
A few of the other tracks also satisfy, though not as strongly. "Running for Borders" has a cruel twist to the guitar rhythms that builds a strong momentum under the vocals, and "I Am the Working Class" shakes out just enough punky perspiration to inspire. As for the opener "Those Treasures Will Never Befall You", I enjoyed it enough as a light appetizer, but aside from the great bridge section with the somber guitar melody and the raging bass pomp, it didn't sink in as deeply into my skin. The same goes for "I am the Graves of the 80s", which seems like a fun enough tribute with some soaring, clean vocals, but failed to blast me out of my seat. "Circle of the Wagons" itself did little for me with its punk momentum, but the clean vocals are at least entertaining, especially hearing just how far these guys wanted to take it this time.
Yet, I still find myself singing along, even to these. And despite my failed connection with a few of the tunes, it's still a Darkthrone album. As many of us are aware, even on its worst day this band is more impressive than nearly anyone else releasing records in the 21st century. That they've so successfully let the trends of the past 15-20 years slide off their armor and kept their career afloat is a testament to both their devotion to sounds that never quite should have died, and to the fans who still celebrate them above all the awful, modern setbacks that metal has suffered (nu metal, soulless tech death wankery, commercial metalcore, bad thrash throwbacks, hipster coffee shop metal, and so on). Circle the Wagons is immensely enjoyable, provided you are open to the band's adventures and don't care that it's not a direct re-write of Under a Funeral Moon. There's no "Hiking Metal Punks", "The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker" or even a "Witch Ghetto" here. But some of the songs are mighty close. It's like a 'bases loaded' situation, with a few single hitters driving up the score, rather than the outright home run with everyone screaming from the rafters that I felt of the last album.
Highlights: Stylized Corpse, Black Mountain Totem, Eyes Burst at Dawn, Bränn Inte Slottet, Running for Borders