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I don’t think Darkthrone just changed two times its genre during the career. The first demo was unquestionably black/thrash in old Hellhammer style but with the shrieks and the a bit heavier black metal component. So, they already had a sort of knowledge in this genre that was far before the release of their second full-length in 1992. After awhile I believe they were so fascinated by the new direction metal had taken that they decided to follow it, filling their sound with the death metal elements. The death metal groups, at the time, were coming also for the near Sweden with the very first demos by the end of the 80s and thanks to them, Darkthrone passed in the death metal side, before, as you all know, turning black again with the second album.
This last demo in their career was a sort of prelude for the first album to come and shows several similarities in songwriting and style. We begin with “Watchtower” and its first, heavy and mid-paced section to restart on the brutality of the up tempo. The various stop and go parts acquire a lot of power while we can already notice the chainsaw guitars distortion. The vocals are generally on the borderline between the death and the black because they always conserve a hint of the past influences and they are not easily labelling. However, the power at the instruments by this band is truly remarkable, even during the various doom parts that fill the songs here. The very first gore/death metal influences of the time play a truly important role.
The musicianship of this young band is also well-displayed in several duets by the guitars and the less impulsive sections. “Accumulation Of Generalization” has a lot of evident solo bass sections and the more energetic riffage of the guitars. Here the complexity is more present and it comes along the natural fast restarts. By the way, on this song what really counts is the doomy and massive atmosphere to create a truly dark scenario. “Sempiternal Past / Presence View Sepulchrality” has a lot of riffs and tempo changes and marks the return of the vocals. The vicious fast parts are really out of the blue and we always don’t know what to expect because they are always well-stuck among a forest of more complicated and less impulsive riffs.
“Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia” was not included on the first press of this demo and we can hear the difference in terms of production. The tracks before weren’t astonishing in sounds and here we have found a sort of fuzzy and dark production. Everything is a bit “distant” in sounds and with a strange, almost ritual reverb. The vocals are growly and always surrounded by the echo. The style and the music is more or less the same in structures for the duets and the furious, sudden restarts. All things considered, I still prefer the first demo for its catchiness and originality, but this one too is not bad! Here they play death metal and it’s quite different but the structures are now mature and they were ready for the first album.
“…crush not only our surrounding walls of curiosity, but also the hordes of blind believers…”
Anyone who’s done even an hour's worth of research on early death metal has to know that demos of the style, even in ’89, were as narrowly distributed and spread out as towns and hamlets across Siberia. Yet the sound was there. Bands like Grave, Obituary, Amon, Dismember, Death and Morbid Angel are the logical first in this fact-finding expedition, acts that tried their damnedest to plow through anonymity’s slush by feverishly snail-mailing tapes to every label, magazine/fanzine, and indie metal radio show they could find, across an ocean or in their backyards. These demos paved the proverbial way for horrific late ‘80s/early ‘90s slabs that would nurture the malevolent creature after the umbilical cord had been hacked and cauterized. Rarely mentioned in this inquest is Darkthrone – absolutely no surprise to me, their death metal heritage somehow considered more a misguided indiscretion than a conscious attitude by many stalwart face-painters, yet after four demos and an album’s worth of the stuff it’s kinda ignorant to say the route wasn’t dead set in their minds.
Needless to say, there was no grand revelation when the sound on Soulside Journey mirrored this, at least not to those who had spun Cromlech or material prior. With that in mind, if the debut had blared something more akin to A Blaze in the Northern Sky, these unsigned works would be a little more important now.
But the proof is in the pudding. In addition to earning them a deal with gloomy n’ doomy Peaceville, Cromlech’s “The Watchtower”, wordless “Accumulation of Generalization”, and “Sempiternal Past/Presence View Sepulchrality” (spelled “Wiew” on the inlay) predict the future sound of many including the rhythmic grind on Necrophobic’s debut lp as well as the pubescent, not-yet-so-downtuned cacophony of the Sunlight Studio Swedish invasion. Unorthodox doom shambles like early Paradise Lost with one tied on and unashamedly entangles with Gylve’s unsettling speed-sworn drum work, sweating quite frantically in the final track. Scattered throughout are vocals soaked in as much guttural malice as any of the other fledgling death metal bands on or off their way, and what little lyrics are penned show an imagination geared more toward the arcane than the frank, nocturnal yet timid.
Hindsight colors much of this review even if someone in the Darkthrone camp thought I should hear this, and in ‘89 I was pleased to see a package from far-frozen Norway stuffing my parents’ quaint New Jersey mailbox. In that light, it can be said the hindsight here is a conscious effort on my part, ‘cause no one could know what would become of Darkthrone, Tomas Skogsberg, and all the bands around them that perished shortly thereafter. In real time, Cromlech was an exertion of strong-willed death metal that didn't really take the dread music of Morbid Angel and Death to a different level, yet provided something very solid, very serious, and would probably beguile the fan who hadn't heard either. And for some, it's what Soulside Journey did.
Nowadays if someone comes along swearing that Cromlech roams with gross deviation over demos by Nocturnus, Greeting Death, Messiah Death, and Nihilist, it’s based on the bias of the band’s future accomplishment, sentiment, and time, not what’s at hand.