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This is the point where most better educated followers of Darkthrone’s lengthy career agree was the beginning of their transition into what they are now known for, which is a good distance from what is considered true black metal, but not all that far from the characteristic sound of the genre’s pioneers in the early 80s. It consists of a careful blending of the low fidelity character of the band’s old sound, though in something of a warmer feel than the old frostbitten approach, along with a helping of minimalistic crust punk and hard rock influences. It’s naturally geared towards a very different audience than that of their Peaceville Trilogy days, but it does retain enough of the darkened characteristics to be accessible to fans who have stuck through all of the changes that happened between 1990 and 1996, which were pretty massive, though gradual enough to be classified as an evolution rather than a series of abrupt mutations.
“Ravishing Grimness” is, in a subtle way, within a similar realm to the famed “Transylvanian Hunger” release in its simplicity, though stylistically and atmospherically it is far from comparable. The production is a bit colder than that of “Total Death”, but still much warmer and smoother than that of their 1992-94 practices. The song construction retains a consistent sense of droning and slow development, but the perpetual blast beats have been fully phased out in favor of a rather groovy feel that is, if one can forgive the expression, moderated. The riffs, be they the signature 3 chord approach of the album opener “Lifeless”, or the more involved and evolving method of “Across The Vacuum”, are memorable, though a bit too predictable and sort of run together. In fact, the real weakness in this album, as well as that of several albums that followed this one, is that many of the songs run together.
As a whole, this is the best representation of this newly developing sound before “The Cult Is Alive” re-established the band’s credentials as a more metallic beast. It is pretty consistent from one song to the next in terms of energy, but the overall quality develops little by little with each song. “Lifeless”, “The Beast” and “Claws Of Time” tend to set the stage for the second half of the album, which is where the band’s more blackened material resides, and don’t really stand out as being above average. But as soon as “Across The Vacuum” kicks in there is a reintroduction of the band’s melodic character, and what ensues from thereon in is a solid 1-2-3 punch of ugly vocals and fuzzy guitar brilliance that runs pretty close to the otherworldly aesthetic of “Total Death”, but in a more tempered manner.
Although this is a notable step down from the last 2 albums under the Moonfog banner, it still shows a band with a strong sense of direction and a clear ability to keep a minimal number of ideas interesting for over a half hour. If one wanted to experience a rather interesting mixture of Hellhammer and Black Flag, but without the frequent lead guitar breaks heard on “The Cult Is Alive” and “F.O.A.D.”, this is the best place to go out of their middle era releases. It retains a bit more of their “true sound” aesthetic, particularly in the latter 3 songs, than their current material, but it is definitely pointing away from the more commonly lauded past of this band and towards a very different future.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 28, 2010.