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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.