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There are two things that ruin this album. The first is the vocals. The second is the timing.
Most people know that this was an album that was recorded at two separate times. This is most obvious in how much louder the vocals are than the instrumental portions of the recording. It detracts in my opinion from the overall fluidity of the record.
The main thing that makes me dislike this record more than any other album that Darkthrone has released, is the "female" vocals. First of all, they are inappropriate. It gives an otherwise decent album a cheap and almost comical sound. It seems that this was a joke to Fenriz, who did the normal black metal rasps, and apparently also performed the falsetto female vocals. What is the point I ask? For one thing, Nocturno Culto didn't do the vocals, even though there were many years that had passed since he took over as the vocalist for the band. It is nothing that the band was, or was moving towards...Vocally, this album was in left field with a hockey stick.
The female-like singing in the background is irrelavant and totally deters from the musical quality of the album. I think if these horribly mis-placed, terribly off-key, and irreperably damaging vocals were removed, this would actually be a pretty damn kick-ass album. Alas, the random, tone-deaf wails make people cringe, and shake their heads in disgust. This is a definite what-the-fuck-were-you-thinking type situation. Assuredly, just one of those things that make you go "hmmmm".
I am not saying that Fenriz did a poor job (except for those random faux-female noises), I just don't really see what they were trying to accomplish by having a different person perform the vocals in a record that, in my opinion, is supposed to be the best showing as to how the band transitioned from death metal to black metal. The musical content is definitely in line with the transition that was happening. In my opinion A Blaze In The Northern Sky is their heaviest and darkest recording. There is still deathy remnants in that album (although they were completely abolished by Transylvanian Hunger) and Goatlord straddles that fence of black/death; as it should.
Musically, though, the album is quite good. The strange beats that Fenriz used in Soulside Journey are still present in this release, the guitars are still on a death metal tangent for the most part, keeping the riffs crunchy, complex and refreshing. The quality of the recording is decent, and is much better than any of their previous releases, except SJ, where the fuzzy, unproduced sound was not as much a goal due to the different genre being played.
The band's lineup was the same, and that is to me the reason that there was still so much death metal influence, the riffs being quite similar and along the lines of SJ, the songs being exponentially shorter, and there being a much more fill-oriented drumming style. Fenriz used the other parts of his drumkit instead of the high hat, the ride, and the snare...and used a fair amount of double-bass. I think this was a nice addition to the blackened death metal feel of the album. Zephyrous and Nocturno played a diversity that falls between SJ and ABITNS where they were beginning to transmogrify their complexity, for driving and raw black metal riffs that were as predictable as a metronome regarding the strums for the chords.
This album was definitely a good release, if released when recorded. I feel that would have made this release much more widely accepted due to the fact that the sound, and song structure of SJ would be very fresh in the listener's mind, and it would be easier to see the relevance, and direction that Darkthrone was taking. Also, the stark difference between styles would have been much smoother, and possibly bridged the gap of fans of Darkthrone the death metal band, and Darkthrone the black metal band.
Whatever reasons Fenriz and Nocturno had for releasing this album, were probably not very sound. Some have put to question whether or not they did it for the money. That is indeed a good theory. Because why would they release something that had such an un-serious approach after 4 of the most monumental releases in black metal's short history? The step down from those 4 to this is something that is almost beyond comprehension. After all, their transition was completed many years ago, and what fan base they had knew what to expect from these artists, and to receive such a curveball jeopardized their fan-base so much, that I fail to see reasoning behind this release.
Thankfully, for me, this album is saved only by the musical content, and my interest in the history of the band. I appreciate seeing the musical grey area that existed before ABITNS, and after Soulside Journey. It is a good showing as to how the band progressed musically. The fake woman Fenriz funtime is what floors me, and makes me wish this album didn't exist.
But it is here, and I appreciate it for what it is: the best and worst of Darkthrone all in one single album. The best musical description of how an up and coming death metal band made the transition to black metal (and one of the most influential black metal bands at that), and the worst timing ever, and the biggest blunder that Darkthrone has ever made in their illustrious 21 year (and counting) career.