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I am actually surprised a band like Darkthrone is even capable of releasing less-than-stellar releases. They've been host to many of black metal's foundational innovations, yet their aesthetic has never required originality to succeed. It's not like they've ever fallen short of passion for their art either; just watch a recent interview with Fenriz and tell me the guy doesn't still have a young man's enthusiasm for heavy music. I think self-awareness would keep them from putting anything that was truly weak, but for a band so legendary, mediocrity feels almost as inexcusable.
The painfully underwhelming Total Death is the only truly mediocre record Darkthrone have ever put out, but I feel a lot of the same disappointment towards the band's 9th studio album, Plaguewielder. Fan reception has been lukewarm at best towards this album, and it's generally down there with Goatlord as a Darkthrone album people seem to love to shit on. While in Goatlord's case this divisiveness could be justified on the basis that it was a half-baked (but brilliant) mess, Plaguewielder is smote for the sake that it's just, well, not all that great.
Darkthrone had invested the decade prior to this exploring the furthest reaches of extreme metal. They had done some stuff, seen some shit, and generally knew the ins and outs of black metal like the backs of their respective hands. The album before this, Ravishing Grimness, basically sounded like Fenriz and Nocturno Culto had finally settled into a comfortable black metal niche but were still passionate enough to put out great records in doing so. I think taking things back to a rawer level with Plaguewielder was a good idea in theory, but I don't hear evidence of great songwriting here. The riffs are solid, sure, but that's something we've always been able to count on this band for at the worst of times.
As was the case for Total Death, all of the ingredients for a great Darkthrone record are technically here. It's the way they fail to spark that makes the problem. Plaguewielder is still a fair bit superior to that album, but for little reason other than the fact that this album has a steady grasp of character; Darkthrone were seasoned riff-conjuring black metal veterans at this point, and another straightforward black metal record a la Ravishing Grimness was what they were probably going for. It doesn't take past the first track to notice they sound somewhat weaker than usual. After a promising ambient intro, Fenriz and Nocturno jump into their familiar territory with simple-but-effective riffs and a no-nonsense aggression. The riffs on "Weakling Avenger" feel less hard-hitting than they should. Is it because their repetition of riffs wears on a bit long? Or the album's muddled production, which seems to suck power from all instruments but the vocals?
Even so, this is still Darkthrone we're talking about. What counts as a failure compared to other Darkthrone records is still at least a mixed success by general standards. If there's anything I think could be the explanation for why Plaguewielder didn't turn out as well as it could have, it's that Darkthrone were trying to backstep by combining their recent "controlled" black metal sound (see: Ravishing Grimness) with a rawer, angrier mentality (see: Panzerfaust). By all means that should have worked, but it obviously wasn't handled the right way. The vocals here are some of the best I've heard on a Darkthrone record, but Fenriz's drums still feel too restrained to suit what they were going for. They would come much closer to their aim on Hate Them and Sardonic Wrath. As for Plaguewielder... Well, it's definitely one of their weaker albums, but I'm sure you could do a lot worse overall.
I suppose that every time Darkthrone prepare themselves to release another album there are shockwaves of fear - little tremors of uncertainty - that run through the 'true' black metal underground, separate sections or cloisters of people throughout the world who are preparing themselves for disappointment. Hidden away, they drown day by day in their pessimism, wherever they may be, hoping (maybe) against hope that Darkthrone will give in, capitulate, release something that is blatantly commercial, or (even worse?) modern . 'That day must come, sooner or later', they think to themselves, having been taught by years and years of formerly viable (or in any way special) bands giving in, accepting a dollar, letting their stomachs and alimony payments make their musical decisions. Of course it isn't as simple as all of this, and I'm really not trying to judge anyone in any way (the specifics for why a band goes over towards playing pop are always inherently difficult to understand, and unique to that band's position, although they all seem to share a common thread or two), but Darkthrone have not made it a secret that they hold their music to be something completely separate from commercialism, and they have never tried to 'earn a living' from it, supposedly prefering to work normal jobs in order to leave the music unsullied, or being motivated to live outside the music business altogether - aside from the practice of making the music, of course. Ethics like this have a long tradition, in fact, and some of the most moving music in the history of composition has in fact been given over to history by amateurs - or at least by people who considered themselves 'amateurs' - especially over the last thirty years in the various musical genres that have descended from straight rock and roll. In fact, I think in black metal (more than in the other subsections of metal) 'amateurism' has given the movement all of its best moments.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise to you that this album, 'Plaguewielder', is once again a massive, freezing-cold outpouring of Northern darkness, even harsher in many ways than the record that came before it. It's certainly faster (if you want to just consider tempo), as if composed in order to express a deep sense of urgency or anxiety, which was something that was lacking from 'Ravishing Grimness'. While that album mainly moved through sedate, traditional anthems, falling to a sort of wistful melancholy in certain places out of sheer exhaustion, this album breathes new life into the Darkthrone clichés, and Nocturno Culto lets his fingers wander a bit in order to spread new tonal colors around the fretboard, or through the main melodies. I hate to say this, but 'Plaguewielder' just sounds a little more 'mature' than the prior release, 'mature' meaning that they aren't so tied down to formula melodicism, and allow some breathing room for innovation or experimentation. When it comes to the songwriting patterns, however, you shouldn't really expect anything completely new...no, it's almost as if their convictions concerning song structure just couldn't be shaken, no matter how hard anyone tried (to influence them), or how many new ideas as to black metal composition they may originate in their time away from songwriting. Walking alone by himself, Nocturno Culto may come up with an idea for a riff or song segment that he'd like to try, but when it comes down to what he actually writes before the recording process, you can almost always bank on the fact that it's going to be rock solid, traditional, Bathory/Celtic Frost riff-based structures. In 'Sin Origin', for example, he employs a few dissonant chords that jar noticeably with the smooth rock riffs they are enslaved inside, but their ultimate effect on the complete impact of the song is almost negligible. I do like the slow, trance-like picking of chords that finishes this song, however, as it sort of reminds me of Burzum, and the atonal drive towards strange melodies that used to be at the heart of these Norwegian bands. 'Command', the fourth track, is something of an oddity, being almost completely based around the ideas of power and 'solidity' or basic strength (I don't have the lyrics, so I have to guess what Fenriz penned here) - and if the general structure and melody/riff choices are any clue as to the thematic material of this song, this should be about some abstract form of 'domination'...starting out slowly, it soon builds into a blasting frenzy, before subsiding once again into traditional riffing, and then going back and forth between the two tempos. Fenriz unleashes some of his fastest drumming, really, since 'Transilvanian Hunger' - a blurring lightning beat of flying sticks and cymbal crashes. This really just plays out like some form of war metal, I suppose, in the vein of Motorhead crossed with a little Sodom, at twice the normal speed, of course.
It should be noted that the production on this record is just a little better than the sound on 'Ravishing Grimness', allowing the bass to sound out its backing accompaniment with a more powerful array of tones, and even though the drum sound is, as usual, blurred a little in order to hide it beneath the guitars (which almost always take precedence in Darkthrone's recorded output), they are clear enough for one to notice that Fenriz is not limiting himself to simple rhythms and/or fills in order to stay close to any kind of 'tradition'. Overall, the sound is warm and embracing (analog?), which ironically goes very far in revealing the icy shards of Nocturno Culto's best moments on the six-strings. I should also add that his voice sounds absolutely excellent here.
The two best songs on this record are probably the opener, 'Weakling Avenger', and the closer, 'Wreak'... the latter being something of a return-to-form for this band, and which features a very nice tremelo-picked riff that echoes some of their earlier work, which was so much more haunting and ethereal than what they have been coming up with lately. 'Wreak', as all of the songs on this record do, works its way steadily through a few different riff choices or specific segments before settling on a lurching, moving Hellhammer rhythm that Fenriz then spins separate drum patterns beneath, ending at a point just right when you think the drummer is going to splash through a quick fill and then push the song forward yet again - in fact Fenriz's powerful drumming at this point is so catchy that you just want it to break and go to a faster riff...instead we have a burst of silence, and then the howling of wind, and behind that the sound of a fire raging... or is it the burning of churches? In the midst of this life, all this joyfulness in bringing forth music, death descends like a flaming scythe, and cuts away everything that matters.
I suppose I will probably always want this band to go back to what they were doing almost ten years ago, at a time when they created a couple of albums that will always rank among my favorites, but I suppose that just isn't feasible anymore, and while Darkthrone certainly don't want to 'evolve' into something that is completely different from what they are doing now (and have been doing for so long now), they surely also don't want to overtly repeat themselves. Why would they? And so, within the tight confines they have limited themselves to, they now reach out once again, trying to completely explore the purity, powers and/or flexibility of an approach that has been seen by some to be completely inflexible. Oh well, Darkthrone is Darkthrone, as solid as ever, and as always you know they will deliver when you ask them to. This is yet another brick in the wall that divides them from every other band trying to play in this style, and yet another reason why Darkthrone will always be the black metal band to listen to, above everyone else... lay your fears to rest.
Plaguewielder is quite a unique album that features the traditional black metal production but manages to pack a punch. We also see Darkthrone mature as artist, incorporating more complicated song writing without sound too pretentious. Sometimes Plaguewielder sounds like newer Emperor, for example “Command” features some Emperor like riffing around the 6:30 minute mark. The best way to describe the tone of this album would be Satyricon (Rebel Extravaganza) meets A Blaze in the Northern Sky.
Plaguewielder, features six lengthy tracks, ranging from 5-9 minutes. The exciting part is that these tracks feature lots of beefy riffs. Nocturno Culto isn’t the best guitarist but he knows how to make catchy riffs. Check out the chorus’ of Sin Origin and Command, both feature anthem-like riffs that will have your foot tapping. The final track, Wreak features some of the catchiest mid-tempo riffs and tremolo picking ever. During the three-minute mark, begins a build up that eventually hits a minute later. This build up features Nocturno Culto playing a simple lead over some crazy blast beats. At the four-minute mark we get a big Transylvanian Hunter type of tremolo riff, which will hook you on the first listen!
Most of Plaguewielder’s punch comes from the drums. The band’s previous album, Ravishing Grimness (1999) saw Fenriz playing half assed beats that simply kept the pace. With Plaguewielder, Fenriz breaks through the icy grimness and releases a plague upon the ears. This album is full of drum fills that bridge the gaps between riffs seamlessly. His high-hat taping always seems to carry an extra groove, for example the middle section of I, Voidhanger. The snare and bass kick are perfectly mixed with the buzzing guitars, unlike older albums such as Under a Funeral Moon or Transylvanian Hunger. Like A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Fenriz’s drum set takes a beating. Unlike Blaze…, Plaguewielder’s production allows the listener to hear that beating MUCH clearer.
Overall, Plaguewielder sounds much more inspired than their previous black metal albums. The only downfall is that this album seems to be dismissed within the cannon Darkthrone collection. Perhaps this is because it’s more complicated nature, or not so grim production. Recommended for fans that want to hear a more professional Darkthrone. Plus if you buy the album, you’ll get to see Nocturno Culto in some nu-metal baggy jeans!
It seriously doesn't surprise me that this album is generally marked as Darkthrones lowest point in definition, after the monumental black metal albums of the 90s (marked by rough production and ludicrous primitive musicianship, meant to be atmospheric but was rather ridiculous) and before shifting into their new punkish style. Both of this styles were generally well-received in public, while they musically never appealed to me. Plus I hated their early work for musically discrediting and sustained ruining the black metal genre by inspiring so many cult kids to clone their primitive style resulting in a rush of incompetent fag bands.
On the other hand, by shifting their style in the '00s, they greatly lost in credibility, best displayed in their self-ironic lyrics about metal which took over starting with "Too Old, Too Cold", but already started to mobilise on "Hate Them".
Before I start reviewing the music itself, I have to mention one thing about this album that caused controversy: the cover. It is their only colored cover (except from the death metal stuff) and is definitely not trve and thus was heavily criticised, but for me it is a further indicator that this is their most mature and earnest album.
Now for the music. First thing to be said is, this album has little of what would NOT be expected by mid-career Darkthrone, but they have left out the terrible things and surprisingly successfully managed to create an album of very consistent, serious and credible style. I'll get more specific on this now.
Plaguewielder kept the typical minimalistic song structures, resulting in repetitive songs with little variation BUT, instead of one might assume, this doesn't make this album boring by any means, it's more like Nocturno Culto manages to keep the songs interesting with a perfect production, meaning that the sound is clear but not overproduced nor 'atmospheric' and makes all instruments audible but clearly prefers the guitar (the sound of which is similar to Satyricon's “Volcano”, but less screeching) and the drums; and a solid guitar work with riffs that somehow just don't get boring but are neither attention-whoring. The riffs are still in the style of straight-forward thrash/black metal, power chord-based and rhythm-accenting, but not mindless thrashing nor overly fast, tremolo-picking is still to be found, but even this is used intelligently and doesn't makes such an childish impression as on “Transilvanian Hunger”.
The drums, the only instrument played by Fenriz on this record, have slightly developed and are a bit more varying than on earlier records, but they are played with mind for their purpose and therefore not trying to be spectacular but rather serving the music as a whole. They are more often played at fast speed than the guitar and do really work here in being a driving force.
Nocturno Culto's vocals are, as always, a solid performance. They are mid-pitched, raspy and have decent echo and reverb effects on them. Also, they are not so present on this album (maybe as a result of the longer tracks), creating more place for the music to unfold.
One more good (for me) thing about this album is that it has some doomish tendencies, best seen in last part of “Sin Origin”. Some instrumental parts are stretched over several minutes at a medium (or sometimes even low) tempo, displaying the willingness to hold on one idea for a longer time and giving it a last edge and the music time to last and to work in, instead of rushing uninspired ideas all over the place. The doom influence also results in longer tracks and therefore less tracks.
This said, I will now try to interpret this album in a greater context. An obvious album for comparison would be Satyricon's Volcano, being released about the same time, bearing a similar musical style (of course Satyricon still had some industrial and experimental contents) and marking the mid-carrer of the respective band. Both bands were pioneers of the Norwegian black metal scene, but the style Satyricon was known for in the mid-90s was not the simplicity of Darkthrone, but rather sophisticated and party progressive black metal, which they dropped in the late 90s while Darkthrone conversely maintained their overall style, which is the main reason I don't find this comparison really fitting, also added the incident that for Satyricon, Satyr was the all-time mastermind of the band, while for Darkthrone the mastermind shifted from Fenriz to Nocturno Culto on “Ravishing Grimness”.
The Comparison that I prefer is to post-Cronos Venom, therefore the Venom albums “Prime Evil”, “Temples of Ice” and “The Waste Lands”. The meaning of Venom and Darkthrone in the history of black metal is equally high, both lost public interest in their mid-career (again a difference to Satyricon) while both maintained their straight-forward music style. Venom dropped Cronos, the notorious self-ironic clown of the band, Darkthrone dropped the cult-bearer Fenriz' proportion of their musicianship. So this Venom-era is like “Plaguewielder” - solid musicians maintain their style of black metal but gain in maturity and credibility, resulting in competent works of music.
It has been widely purveyed by the more savvy of black metal enthusiasts that Darkthrone’s career can be separated into 5 distinct eras, most of them trilogies. But whether this was an intentionally controlled micro-evolution of sound, or just the way that the chips fell, after the turn of the millennium Fenris’ and Culto’s song creation process took a pretty severe nosedive. Granted, “Ravishing Grimness” was a small step down from 2 highly impressive yet mildly conservative preceding albums and there was also a rather unfortunate butchering of a potentially great follow up to “Soulside Journey” in “Goatlord”, but the decline that crept in when “Plaguewielder” was put together is about as steep as they come.
Long story short, this band just completely lost their direction and focus, resulting in something that resembles a black metal album, but can’t really articulate itself apart from that. There have been a number of generic sounding releases out of various acts from France, Austria and Canada that are stylistically similar to this, but even they articulate some sense of dread or sorrow. By contrast, this album just sort of coasts along, touting a fairly slick and smooth production job (at least as far as this band is concerned) and not really much else. Sometimes the impression that attempts to manifest itself within the unmemorable yet highly repetitive riff work and thrashing drum beats is a poor man’s “Panzerfaust”, but without any of the distinctiveness or intensity. But for the most part, what comes across is a cesspool of just about every 1st wave act from Hellhammer to Bathory; all mixed together into a mushy mess, that neutralizes any of the positive and negative effects of all of them.
Nowhere is the spirit of this album captured more completely than in the longer concoctions that appear on the track listing. After a rather comical atmospheric intro that I am assuming is meant to invoke a similar feel as that of “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, what emerges is an extremely bland tribute to a series of 80s and 90s influences in “Weakling Avenger”. Ideas are drawn from Venom, Motorhead, Emperor (minus the keyboards) and Saytricon; but instead of a coherent epic being the result, the song meanders from one idea to the next with little sense of structure or direction. “Wreak” is a similar story, but longer and with some elements of Darkthrone’s own 1993-95 material thrown in to add to the confusion. “Command” is a little bit better, in part because it has even more ideas thrown in and a few of them consist of fairly interesting Celtic Frost inspired proto-thrash riffs.
When things are kept a little bit shorter, “Plaguewielder” offers up a less confusing, but still largely uninteresting set of songs. “Raining Murder” is a full out homage to Emperor and Dimmu Borgir, but without any keyboards and a guttural death metal sounding vocal performance. The combination of almost perpetual blast beats and gloomy minor chords is welcoming because it is a little familiar, but doesn’t do much for anyone who has already experienced “In The Nightside Eclipse” of “Stormblast”. “I, Voidhanger” jumps back into mid-80s Celtic Frost territory, particularly the more doom oriented aspects, and doesn’t deviate too far from typical 1st wave clichés, save the vocal performance. “Sin Origin” shows the somewhat crust punk sound of “Ravishing Grimness” still lingering, but largely doesn’t go far beyond restating what was already heard there. Essentially, when not being completely incoherent, the most that can be hoped for here is a predictable, tried and true set of ideas that don’t really do much beyond being listenable.
Many have been quick to pan this as a downright awful album from a seasoned outfit that should know better, but I tend to see this more as being the epitome of mediocrity. I can’t really say that I hate this album to the point that I would recommend it to masochistic metal heads who want to hate something, but there really isn’t much to like here. It’s not a good representation of what these guys are capable of, and it definitely goes against the steady path of stylistic evolution that was pretty well constant up until before this. It is an album that shouldn’t be lauded, nor trashed, but rather forgotten for the sheer sake of being forgettable.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 7, 2010.
It's pretty much par for the course for 'elitist' black metal scrubs to harp on anything Darkthrone have accomplished beyond their first 4-5 albums, but of their entire body of work, Plaguewielder is the only album that might actually deserve a little flogging. No, not for the color cover art. Seriously, there were individuals who hacked this record to pieces because it had a color cover...even though the band had already used color covers...including their fucking debut album... So the band logo is also in color. Who cares? When did metal heads start getting their panties in a bunch over senseless details, and why don't they just leave the nerd rage to the nerds? This is the world we live in, folks, these are the people breeding among you.
But you've got about as much patience for my sociology lessons as I do in writing them. I had mentioned that this album may actually deserve a little ribbing, because truth be told, it is probably the worst Darkthrone album ever recorded. Gasp. Yes, this is perhaps the lowest point that the band has reached as of 2010, if you discount some of their rather useless EPs or singles. It's not that Plaguewielder is in any way terrible, or even bad. It's actually a very good record, with a few dull moments that hold it back from the greatness, and unlike so much of their work, I have not grown fonder of it through time, quite the opposite. I'd say, of the six tracks (only six, like the last album), there are four great ones, and two that have their high points and then a little lagging behind. As far as the production, it's not a lot different than Ravishing Grimness, only a bit more raw, as if the band were bridging back from its predecessor to their twilight years. Fenriz and Nocturno fill out their same roles as that album, with a few guest vocals on the track "Command", including Apollyon from Aura Noir, Immortal, etc.
Part of the problem with Plaguewielder is that it doesn't put its best foot forward. "Weakling Avenger" might open with an entertaining sample of the band members groaning and creaking as they clear their throats, a strange intro before a fairly majestic carousel-sounding black metal rhythm enters the fray, soon shifting into faster territory with a pretty average Norse rhythm one would expect from many of the band's peers. This goes on for nearly 8 minutes, and until about half way through at 4:00 where the band does a breakdown, I can feel a tinge of ennui coming on when I listen to this. It's not terrible, and the sound is nice and savage, it's simply not one of the better sequences of notes strung together here. "Raining Murder" feels as if it might suffer the same fate until the turbulent bridge rhythm, over which a rumbling storm erupts, and the song begins to emit an air of psychotic mayhem true to the implications of its title, and the breakdown here is a lot better than in the first track. "Sin Origin" feels a lot more like the old Darkthrone of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, albeit in the brighter, bloodied hacking tones of Ravishing Grimness. The melody at the minute mark is excellent, with a firm, circular rocking rhythm that descends into a more disjointed take on their Hellhammer-ing doom.
'Absurd hopeless rivalry
the damned one, swan and sunray
Sick engine; the piston hammers away...'
"Command" is another of the album's longer tracks, at 8 minutes, but it carries this well, with some churning grooves that collapse into a rainbow of desolate chords, Culto's vocals springing out like a shadowcat stalking wounded prey. The rapid transition feels immediate and reminiscent of something the band would have written for Transilvanian Hunger, and the backing vocal eruption is pretty fucking sweet. "I, Voidhanger" reminded me a little of Voivod, if only for the stream of spacey, grooving chords and rolling footwork, which eventually builds into a solid, memorable thrashing rhythm before the blasted outbreak of its climax. "Wreak" is over nine minutes of utter havoc, but like the opening track "Weakling Avenger", it doesn't fully carry its weight. Some of the riffs are simply repeated a few times too often, and while there are numerous dynamic shifts, all of which produce positive short-term results, I feel as if it could have been two separate tracks or at least trimmed down to a more digestable form. That being said, the riffs themselves are decent, and I've definitely heard a lot more numbing waste of space in a black metal song
As you can tell, this album is not quite the disaster it is often painted as. For a career low, it's still pretty entertaining, and in fact, I can think of numerous black metal bands who have yet to even release something of its quality. The lyrics are still interesting, Fenriz and Nocturno are in fine form, but there is just something missing...some almost intangible, voracious spirit that temporarily removed itself from the studio or songwriting to smoke a cigarette this time out. Anyone can have an off day, or an off record, and it's a testament to the mighty Darkthrone that even their off days are pretty fabulous.
Highlights: Raining Murder, Sin Origin, Command
Many closeminded Darkthrone fans who hailed the "black metal trilogy" as absolute pinnacles of human achievement dwarfing even Metal Heart era Accept and Powerslave era Iron Maiden, as well as fellow contemporaries Emperor and Dissection, have also been quick to trash everything made since Panzerfaust.
Well, Plaguewielder isn't bad. It isn't good by any stretch of the imagination. It's noticably doomier than their past efforts, which gets plus points in my opinion, but it's darkthrone, and we all know Darkthrone never do anything resembling innovation. It's usually just something resembling 0-0-0-1-0-0-0-1-0-0-0-1-0-0-0-1 repeat. Basic 4/4 stuff. Plaguewielder is no different. Sure, the songs are longer. That does mean I have to listen to it more, which, knowing Darkthrone, is a bad thing. But the good thing is that the production is mellow enough that I don't have to really pay attention to them. The good thing is that these are probably the most listenable riffs Darkthrone has presented to us since Under a Funeral Moon. Let's face it, guys, neither Fenriz nor Nocturno Culto is Zephyrous, and it's Zephyrous that's written all the good Darkthrone riffs. That's why Transilvanian Hunger sucked (or at least part of it) and why Darkthrone have failed to come up with anything good after Panzerfaust, which was ok as well. Here, given Nocturno Culto's inability to come up with the thing known as "riffs", the riffs are comparitively good. Note, comparitively is the key word. They're still painfully average.
The drumming is mediocre, but Fenriz was never a good drummer, even on the album everybody said he drummed well on (Soulside Journey). However, I figure if anybody wanted quality music, they'd look elsewhere than Darkthrone.
Comparing your band’s upcoming new album to a return to your classic days is practically the worst mistake to make whilst promoting its release. For instance, Metallica’s “St. Anger” and Slayer’s “God Hates Us All” both suffered hugely from such build-up, with both bands boasting a triumphant return to form yet blatantly failing to live up to their own glorified promises. In a similar fashion, Darkthrone’s drummer Fenriz made such a blunder by ambitiously contrasting their approaching album “Plaguewielder” to the immortal “Transilvanian Hunger” masterpiece. Naturally, as soon as these words were uttered, expectations from the band’s followers were massive. Could the band possibly be about to deliver the sequel to one of Black Metal’s timeless models or were standards perhaps simply set too high from the beginning? Unfortunately, it is the latter statement that holds the most truth but, realistically, the album was no catastrophe.
And so, after two relatively disappointing studio albums, “Total Death” and Ravishing Grimness”, “Plaguewielder” opens with a completely different sound with first track “Weakling Avenger”. Gone is the standard atrocious production, replaced with a clearer yet still distinctly garage-like sound. The track begins with a haunting, murmuring intro akin to the band’s 1992 masterpiece “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, as Nocturno Culto painfully groans the words, ‘It’s not by death but by life that death kills life’ before moving straight into the album. The opening track itself, although immediately reassuring the listener that this will be no classic-sounding Darkthrone album, still emphasises one important aspect of the band: their ability to construct simple song structures and to pummel them into their listeners heads over and over again. Fenriz’s drumming is as straightforward as one can expect in Black Metal and Nocturno Culto’s riffs are uncomplicated, yet repeatedly effective. With the following track, “Raining Murder”, it is apparent that his vocals are still harsher and coarser than most other vocalists of the genre and, like most Darkthrone albums, these vocals are a real highlight and treat to listen to.
However, with only six tracks lasting over forty minutes, the album’s main flaw is that many of the songs have a tendency to go on for an unneeded extra few minutes. Closing track “Wreak” is a prime example of this flaw, coming in at over nine minutes in length. Although most probably the standout track of the album, and with some of the most melodic Black Metal passages that the band have ever written, there is simply an extravagant amount of repetition and duplication, even for Darkthrone’s standards. Nonetheless, “Plaguewielder” is an extremely interesting and unique listen for fans of the band and will most likely divide opinions from the outset. Yet the album without doubt shows a band back on their feet after a long period of disenchantment. Quite simply put, this is not Darkthrone’s very own “St. Anger” and the listener should give it time to allow its great aspects to shine through above a perhaps uneasy first impression.
Originally written for http://www.blastwave.co.uk
This is probably on of the better of Darkthrone's later material, but it's still a waste of time. For this album Foamriz and Nocturno Vodka try a few (very few) new ideas, but it still feels tired, generic and like it was done just for the sake of doing a new album, which I'm sure it was.
When I first got "Plaguewielder" I liked it. It wasn't anything original or special by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a little more interesting than the albums since "Transilvanian Hunger," which I must say was a pretty ridiculous album. Strangely enough though, I've always enjoyed it. I can't explain why. Anyway, I listened to this a few times and then forgot about it for a while (no surprise), but when a friend and I were going to hang out and smoke I decided to bring it along since it was beginning to collect dust. It was then that I realized just how bad it really was. Funny how when I listen to things alone I am a lot more tolerant of bad music.
As with any time I listened to this, the downright corny intro made me regret even buying it, but when that goofy riff came in I couldn't help but cringe. Of course the intro wasn't the only thing that was corny. These lyrics couldn't suck more ass. "life is just a shadow of death" That and all the rest of the lyrics remind me of tv shows about school kids where there's that goofy, faggoty goth kid in the class who gets up to read some of his terrible poetry about dead leaves and loneliness. These guys and most other foreign bands should just stick to their own languages so that if their lyrics are weak, most people can ignore them.
Everything on this album feels so pointless and uninspired it's almost torture to listen to. Everything is rehashed from earlier releases and the only difference between this and other Darkthrone albums is that some of the riffs (like the first one) sound more like Satyricon rejects than Darkthrone ones.
I would have been more specific in this review, but after listening to this about 5 times nothing stuck with me. I'm sure I'm not the first one to say this, but "Plaguewielder" and most other Darkthrone albums (any after "A Blaze") are shit and only give black metal a bad name. Don't buy this. You would be better of just spending your money on drugs or fast food. Both would probably stick with you longer as this is an utterly forgettable release... I think the last time I listened to it I only made it to track three before I couldn't take any more and needed to hear some GOOD old-school style black metal instead of shit. I put in DHG's first album and was as happy as can be.
2001 was a dark period for real Black Metal. The trendy symphonic bands had claimed most of the attention from labels and fans alike and those bands that were attempting to keep true Black Metal alive were forced deeper underground. The truth of the matter is that most bands were trying to jump on the synth bandwagon and abandoning the core values of this music, while the few that did their best to keep the flame burning were doing a poor job. Nocturno Culto and Fenriz were in an odd position, by this point. They did not wish to join the masses, yet their own trademark sound had been stolen and the underground was being flooded with sub-par clones. Not quite ready to make a huge musical shift, and already reeling from the fact that the two previous records were not well-received, Darkthrone made a safe record that was not too similar to the early output yet contained no real signs of change of experimentation.
Plaguewielder is the ninth studio album from this Norwegian band and it is rather mediocre compared to most of their releases, though still being a few steps ahead of Total Death and Ravishing Grimness. Naturally, it does not compare with the "Unholy Trinity" of A Blaze In the Northern Sky, Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger. As a matter of fact, it isn't even up there with Panzerfaust, but it is the best of Darkthrone's mid-period and the last one to be recorded in this style before they began the major shift in sound.
The album begins with an intro that hearkens back to their first Black Metal record, soon followed by the type of sound that fans had come to expect from the band by then. The opening tremolo riff is accompanied by more of Fenriz's sloppy drumming, as seen on the previous album. Thankfully, he wakes up after a minute or so and the song sounds a bit more appropriate. The variation in the drumming adds a new dynamic, and may have been done for the sake of not sounding like the old stuff, but most would agree that the songs were clearly written to be faster. The same thing occurred on the last album, with Fenriz choosing drumming patterns that went against what Nocturno Culto had in mind for the songs. A slower section arrives, around the middle of the song, and doesn't do much to add to the atmosphere. While containing some of the better riffs on the album, "Weakling Avenger" is a little too long and needed the more primitive style of drumming that was present on the band's classic releases. It's not bad, but it could use improvement.
The next song is "Raining Murder", and it begins with another decent tremolo riff that is joined by some rather boring drum-work. After a minute, the drumming shifts and then compliments the guitar melodies a lot more. Unfortunately, there are some effects added to the song that only serve to create more noise and distract from the riffs. One cannot be certain, but it would really seem that, by this point, Nocturno Culto was doing his best to keep the band alive while Fenriz was rather apathetic and doing his best to create a feeling of mediocrity. He was clearly bored with the type of music that they had been making but wasn't ready to move forward yet. As the song progresses, there is a mid-paced section that actually fits in in rather well. As it nears its conclusion, the pace slows down even more, giving a feeling of dreariness and doom.
"Sin Origin" shifts gears and goes right into Hellhammer-mode, which somewhat kills the flow of the album. For one reason or another, most bands fail to remain interesting when they aim to rip off Hellhammer / Celtic Frost. While they succeeded in doing this on Panzerfaust, it simply isn't as good this time around. With the two previous songs containing slower and mid-paced sections, the last thing that was needed at this juncture was another plodding tune. The track is excessively long as well, though the ending riffs create an uneasy feeling and are a worthy addition to the record.
This is followed by "Command", which is another mid-paced song. It definitely would have benefited from being preceded by a faster and shorter track. Despite this, it is actually one of the more impressive songs on the album. The slower riffs are dismal while the fast sections do well to create a sense of tension and this is one of the few times where the dynamic range of the songwriting is actually a positive thing. This is one of the most impassioned vocal performances of Nocturno Culto's career. Everything slows down in the middle, leading to a new riff that introduces incredibly fierce screams that are absolutely inhuman. The drumming that follows is a clear sign that the punk vibes were always present in Darkthrone's music, just not as overt as they would be in later years. The song is repetitive at times, and could be slightly shorter, but is the best track on the album.
"I, Voidhanger" opens with some odds riffs and odd timing. About halfway through, the pace picks up and resembles something more normal for a Darkthrone record. Like most of the other tracks, this one sounds over-analyzed and goes on a little longer than it should.
Plaguewielder ends with "Wreak", which clocks in over nine minutes in length. It starts out with a catchy riff that soon transitions to something faster. The shift is a little unnatural and one gets the sense that the riffs were kind of thrown-together. The production of this album is not as raw as most fans would have liked, and that may have contributed to the negative impression that it left on many listeners. Much like the cover artwork, the production is too organic and lively. A cold, minimalist approach would have really suited these songs much better, as well as removing some of the unnecessary parts. The final song really drags until the four-minute mark, when a brilliant tremolo riff finally breaks free from the stagnation and reminds one of the glory of Transilvanian Hunger. Has this track been stripped down and only the best riffs left, along with a production job more similar to the Necrohell sound of the past, this would have turned out much better. The song plods along for another couple of minutes before the mournful tremolo melody returns, accompanied by the correct style of drumming, which creates a sorrowful atmosphere and also imbues the listener with a sense of disappointment, seeing how great this could have been.
Darkthrone's mid-period was a sad thing to behold. Total Death was completely neutered by the dull production job and the random song arrangements. Ravishing Grimness was killed by more awful production and incoherent songwriting (with the two members working against one another, rather than together). Plaguewielder was lambasted from the beginning for the colourful cover art alone, but the music is not as awful as many would claim it is, though it does clearly show that the band had no clue what exactly they wanted to do. It would appear that Fenriz was ready to move on to something else, while Nocturno Culto wanted to keep some connection with their old style. The Hellhammer influence was a little too noticeable on this album (as with the one before), though one could almost sense some inspiration from Burzum and even their own earlier works. While there are a few really good riffs and a couple decent songs, this record could have been so much more. It would take the band several more years to work out their creative problems and finally make the transition to what they are doing now, but the path was a painful one.
This is not recommended for anyone new to the band; however, die-hard Darkthrone fans should give it a listen and judge for themselves. If possible, adjust the stereo with the bass all the way down and the treble on high and it will nearly sound like it came from Necrohell. This isn't a great album, but it contains some good riffs that are worth hearing and it is certainly more enjoyable than some of their other offerings from this era.
I’m going to be blunt with you right now, straight out; Plaguewielder sucks ass. Well, at least the majority of this album does. It seriously sounds like nothing more than half assed Satyricon without the folk and medieval influences in the music or even like Dimmu Borgir without the keyboards. This is the shit that modern, new wave “black metal” bands are made of. Before I even gave a listen to this album, I heard many complaints about it, even from the most die-hard Darkthrone fans. I heard that “it isn’t raw” or “it doesn’t sound like the traditional, old-school black metal that Darkthrone usually play”. My first thoughts were “Wow, I have to check this out. Can Darkthrone really sound that bad without their usual raw production? People need to quit whining just because a band experiments a little”.
Well okay, so there is a far more decent, yet horribly average production job on this album, but that isn’t the real issue here, at least not for me. The REAL problem is the song-writing that’s used for this record, for where there are areas of decency on the album, the majority of the song writing just lacks. The production itself isn’t exactly slick and clear, but when compared to what Darkthrone has released before, there is indeed an overall “clearer” sound to the album. The song structures themselves are far less minimal and even a bit more complexed at times. The riffs can all be deciphered, yet, there are moments on the album where Darkthrone attempts to be their traditional selves again. It’s like they couldn’t decide what the fuck they wanted to release. Were they going for another Total Death/Ravishing Grimness type record or for another Soulside Journey sounding release? Seriously, if they’re going to make an attempt at technicality and clear production, then they should just use the best of their skills by going full-out with their ideas and releasing another Soulside Journey album or at least some kind of technical, Death Metal release, because the shit on this album sounds like nothing more than average, sub-par modern “black metal” without the usual faggoth elements that bands like Dimmu and Cradle of Filth add to their music.
There are only two or three decent tracks on this album, yet even by Darkthrone standards, those songs are merely nothing short of decent Black Metal with serious potential that lacks in all aspects of the music. I won’t bother wasting my time on elaborate descriptions of the songs. This time around, they’re going to be a bit more brief and to the point, because while this album isn’t horrible, it isn’t good either, meaning that I pretty much pointed out all of the bad aspects of the music already. In other words, I can’t complain much more about it nor can I praise it. It’s just a boring, sub-par album from a great band; plain and simple.
1. Weakling Avenger - For such a cool song title, this song ranks as being one of the worst on the album. It begins with some eerie, raspy croaks, sounding as if someone or something was dying in the studio during the time this song was being recorded. The song itself is nothing but a half-assed rehash of Darkthrone’s older material played at a mid-paced, very similar to Ravishing Grimness, yet overall more mediocre in sound. It seems like Nocturno Culto is attempting to make interesting riffs that vary, yet fails. Fenriz attempts his usual rapid blast beats done with a slicker production job, meaning that the outcome is going to be really shitty and mediocre. Why is this? Because his drumming used to be one of the important elements in Darkthrone’s raw, minimal sound. Mixing it in perfectly with the rest of the instruments was really a bad idea.
2. Raining Murder - Aside from the few rather interesting, yet slightly mediocre riffs during the middle of this track, the remainder of it is even shittier than the opening song. Same fucking problems, same damn structural technnique in the both the riffs and the drum work. By now, the album already almost bored to death.
3. Sin Origin - Here’s one of the two or three decent songs on this album. Of all the tracks on here, this one is the most “old-school” sounding, coming off as another thrashy/punk-ish Black Metal tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on Ravishing Grimness. With that being said, even if it were to be placed on that album instead, it would still be a filler track because it sounds so damn average and mediocre. But on here…it’s one of the album’s best tracks.
4. Command - I honestly don’t know what to think of this song. Part of it thrashes pretty fucking well, while in other segments, I feel like I’m going to die of boredom from listening to something so uninspired. It’s like…half kick ass Black Metal in the old Darkthrone vein and half shit that consists of rapid blast beats and shitty, sub-par riffs that so many nowadays “black metal” bands use. Hey, I guess this song could be worse, but I can still care less for it.
5. I, Voidhanger - This really has to be the best song on the album. While it contains its crappy parts as well, there enough classic Darkthrone elements to be found here. In think that this beats most shit on Ravishing Grimness, by the way. Now why the fuck couldn’t the rest of the album be like this? This is more of a reminisce of Panzerfaust without the Celtic Frost-esque riffing. In other words, the guitar strings aren’t played as openly here as on most other Darkthrone material. Instead, they have a certain thickness and heaviness to them that goes really well with the production of this album. Sadly, that means that this record had much potential, as I stated earlier above. The band just chose not to use that potential.
6. Wreak - The last track on the album is WAY too damn long for its own good. It’s the second longest Darkthrone song ever composed next to Kathaarian Life Code off A Blaze In The Northern Sky. At least Kathaarian Life Code is nothing short of amazing. This song, however, is not. It’s nothing bad, but it just isn’t Darkthrone quality material. I’d probably rank this as one of the better tracks off the album if it wasn’t so damn long! It just isn’t that good to span over 9 minutes without me growing tired of it towards the end. Musically, this is everything that one would expect from Darkthrone. It’s one of the rawest tracks on here next to Sin Origin, but needless to say, it still isn’t that great. Sure, it has the traditional Darkthrone rawness, thrashing, coldness, aggression and trademark tremolo picking, but it ceases to be the aggressive, epic masterpiece that Kathaarian Life Code Is. This song is enjoyed much better if it’s listened to individually without hearing the rest of the album. You won’t grow bored of it so quickly that way.
While not COMPETELY horrible, Plaguewielder stands a major disappointment when one considers what Darkthrone are really capable of. Oh, and I forgot to talk about the album cover. For once, Darkthrone has added COLOR to their artwork! And when I say color, I really mean color. The album’s art work comes off as some sort of abstract painting. It’s very different in the sense that this is Darkthrone, but it looks pretty damn cool either way, especially the band’s blood-red logo. Now, if only the album itself was as good as its cover art, then this would definitely have been a good release. By the way, the best art work on a Darkthrone album goes to Total Death!