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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