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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.