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That this isn't your typical Darkthrone record is a fact well-known to anyone with a cursory knowledge of extreme metal history. Yes, they were death metal before they went on to define the blackened sphere, and I'm positive they could have gone onto a competent career if Soulside Journey had been the template for their future work. I'll throw out the obvious immediately: this is a fine album in the vein of Scandinavian death metal like Entombed. It's competently written and well-played. Most of all, it showed a band that emerged with an already fierce sense of musicianship and tact.
That last part, I think, is the most important thing about Soulside Journey. I've never been completely thrilled by this album, but it improves my experience of the classic albums they would put out come the following years. Here, Darkthrone are playing as well as any extreme metal band. It proves that the lo-fi ugliness and totally sloppy musicianship on the following three records was a matter of choice for them. Not that the atmosphere on Under a Funeral Moon would feel any less magickal had I known it were performed by weak technical players, but it certainly impresses me that Darkthrone pieced together that legendary archetype with total forethought and calculation.
While I don't think a death metal Darkthrone would have made such waves in the scene, it should be said that it sounds like they knew exactly how to wring the best from their chosen style. I've written before that I'm amazed that Darkthrone seemed to put an inimitable spin on any style they touched, and I think the same can be said for Soulside Journey. This is a much more reverb and keys-laden album than your average death metal. While I wonder whether the band would welcome the description, the way they perform the music comes closer to the progressive, over traditional death metal. Even if the band carries a fine punch, the background synths and general resonance make it seem like they were more interested in creating an atmosphere as opposed to sheer aggression. Either course would have worked in the case of this debut, but I think Darkthrone set themselves more apart from the crowd by going this route.
The atmosphere is appropriately cold and vast, and even if the airy production doesn't pack the sort of wallop I tend to look for in death metal, I'm completely impressed by the way they played here. In particular, Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell (credited here as "Hank Amarillo") gives a really nuanced and dynamic performance as the drummer. Again, considering the occasional difficulty Darkthrone would seem to have keeping up a steady rhythm on subsequent albums, the competence the band is showing here tag all following expressions with a wink and a nudge. Even Ted Skjellum (Nocturno Culto)'s vocals sound perfect for death metal.
If it's all that good, the question remains: What would have laid in store had they stuck with it? To be honest, for all I'm impressed by with Soulside Journey, the album doesn't hint at the promise of legend. Darkthrone could have been a solid death metal band, sure, but their innovation was put to much better use in a style that often values atmosphere over all else. The riffs are competently written, but there's little variety or surprise here. Every time I hear A Blaze in the Northern Sky, I somehow end up hearing something new, or noticing a trick that leaves me scratching my head. That's certainly not the case for Soulside Journey, but for the way it's benefited my love of the later albums, I can only thank the band for putting it out first.
I have a special relationship with this full-length, because it was my first album of an Norwegian band. Unfortunately, there are no further reasons to appreciate this record in a specific manner. "Soulside Journey" is stuffed with painfully meaningless death metal. Inter alia due to its then exotic status, I tried hard to become a fan of this work. But I had no chance.
Today they are dinosaurs, but back in 1991, Darkthrone were absolute beginners and did not know much about the art of writing enthralling songs. The gap between their ambitions and their abilities was greater than the distance between Oslo and Hammerfest. To be more precise, the songs start somewhere and end somewhere, but I cannot identify central ideas. Instead, it feels like listening to fragments, because the single pieces appear torn and inconsistent. Darkthrone spit on conventional song patterns and that is not bad per se. The problem is that the songs fail to create a comprehensible flow. Too much (mediocre) ideas show up, and, even worse, none of them is clearly defined. This leads to pretty obscure results, not least because of a high number of awkward breaks. "Grave with a View", to mention just one example, starts atmospheric with background chorals, but this approach remains incomplete and the following parts fail to evoke any kind of emotions.
Basically, I miss catchiness and velocity. Too many slow-moving parts occur and some of them have the potential to cause mental anguish. The longer the album goes on, the worse it gets. This is not so much a problem of the later songs. They are not better or worse than its predecessors. The annoying fact is the recognition that the entire album lacks of great compositions. In view of the omnipresent mediocrity of the song material, it is almost useless to philosophize about the quality of the production. Briefly, the nasty sound cannot be dismissed as amateurish or inappropriate. It does not lack of power and creates a cold aura, no more and no less.
One may call the compositional approach "progressive". Well, I do not support progressive metal actively, but I bet that no fan of this sub genre would use this term in connection with "Soulside Journey". It would be also unfair to speak of "free jazz death metal", because Darkthrone, there is no doubt about it, try to give their material a structure. Unfortunately, they are simply not able to form the songs successfully. Whenever they perform a good part, and there are doubtlessly a few pretty decent sections, they throw it away in a matter of seconds and turn to other ideas. It is therefore no wonder that the tasteful artwork of this wonky debut remains its biggest asset.
Some pitiless smart alecks criticise the Norwegian duo for being inconsistent. I do not care about their babbling, because Darkthrone mostly deliver high quality albums. But the most important reason for my lack of interest is that I really appreciated the stylistic modifications of the band after this half-baked debut whose only very little highlight is the opener. Therefore, come out and accompany Fenriz and Nocturno Culto on their journey if you like to do so. I stay at home.
Let's get the novelty out of the way before we start, yes this is in fact a death metal record by Darkthrone a band more well known as one of the pioneers of Norwegian black metal with seminal black metal records such as "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" or "Transilvanian Hunger" but "Soulside Journey" is a unique but brief look at history that could have been. "Soulside Journey" has become a bit of a novelty among extreme metal fans, to some black metal fans it's divine heresy against the genre. To some death metal fans a sorrowful nostalgic look at the best death metal band that never was.
"Soulside Journey" feels like it should have originated in Sweden, alongside the debut's from Grave, Entombed and Dismember. From the vocals right down to the sound of the guitar this album reeks of Sunlight Studio. The guitar tone isn't quite as crunchy as the tone found on Swedish death metal releases like "Left Hand Path" or "Into the Grave" but it certainly isn't clean by no stretch of the imagination. This is undoubtedly a Scandinavian death metal record. The vocals by Nocturno are low and not unlike Lars Goran Petrov's vocals for Entombed, a striking difference from Nocturno's vocals on any of the black metal records that followed.
Doom metal riffs permeate the fabric of this album, this isn't a fast album instead it focuses purely on visceral doom laden riffs to add atmosphere to the music, it's heavy but don't expect 200bpm or more. This doom laden approach is especially evident on the track "Neptune Towers" which frequently slows down with overlayed keyboards for effect and it actually works quite well without sounding too gimmicky. This album would certainly be more experimental than any of the Swedish death metal albums at the time. It features more layered keyboards and the bass guitar plays a prominent role in a few songs including "Accumulation of Generalization" and "Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia".
The production on this album is very good, as mentioned it feels like a Swedish death metal record. The album should ship with sticker emblazoned on the front cover "I can't believe it's not Swedish death metal". Sunlight Studio did an excellent job with the production on this album. Also to add to the peculiarity of this release it actually has a much superior production than the trinity of black metal albums Darkthrone released after this. But that isn't down to budget constraints it is more so to do with the bands change in musical direction.
"Soulside Journey" is a blast from the past, a record that time forgot, a record seen by some as a bit of a novelty due to the bands later work. But this in no way diminishes the quality of this record. This is for death metal fans, for fans of Entombed, Grave, Dismember or Unleashed among others of that ilk. It's just a shame there wasn't more after this, that is speaking as a death metal fan more so than a black metal fan. If you're a black metal fan only; then "Soulside Journey" may not be for you.
Soulside Journey holds an interesting place in the history of extreme metal. It was made by Darkthrone, who are one of, if not THE, archetypal second wave black metal acts, yet Soulside Journey is in fact a death metal album. That, however, for me, is the extent of Soulside Journey's appeal. It holds no appeal for repeated listens, and I find after I am done listening to it that I can only pick out a few riffs and lines here and there. Far from being either atmospheric OR brutal, it seems to be content with meandering around with no direction or substance. True to what would later become a plague among Darkthrone albums, Gylve and co. seem to have the idea that good enough is good enough; that simply playing a random assortment of riffs for 3-5 minutes is enough for a song. Dynamics are out the window, and the phrasing is about as comatose as it gets.
Part of the blame must lay on my expectations; I had heard Soulside Journey being described as a technical death metal album, or at least one where the musicians get to shine and "proves" they can actually play their instruments. I must wonder, then, whether we are listening to the same album. Fenriz (credited here as Hank Amarillo for some reason) doesn't really do anything that hasn't been done to death in the world of death metal at the time of Soulside Journey's making (c. 1990) and I can think of many albums made around the same time that have WAY more technical drumming. Sure, Fenriz can keep a beat on this album (which on a couple later albums he can't even make that claim) but his drumming never adds anything to the music; the best Fenriz can do, it seems, is not totally fuck up the songs. The guitar riffs are equally amorphous and anonymous, with few lines to hold on to, it seems the songs just plod on and on and on with no climax and no emotion from the guitars whatsoever.
Partially to blame, as well, is the production. I don't know who's idea this was, but the drum levels were jacked way up, and the guitars are left to wither at the bottom of the mix. The vocals dominate as well, making this sound like a vocals/drums show with the guitars and bass left in the dust. The guitar tone is actually surprisingly similar to the tone on the next two Darkthrone albums, i.e. cold and "snarky". The difference here is that they are mixed way down and as a result the production lends Soulside Journey a "safe", "sterile" sound that fails to excite me. The drums, as well, even though mixed high in the mix, have a dead, hermetically void sound. The drum hits decay very quickly, which, although the drums are loud, make them quite thin-sounding. In fact, the whole production sounds quite thin, and this isn't an issue of money; how much, after all, can it cost to just bump the guitars up a bit? Well either way the production, just like the rest of the aspects of Soulside Journey, is mediocre.
I can't recommend getting this album, though. Death metal fans will probably find it to be quite boring, and fans of Darkthrone's black metal works will likely pass on it due to the lack of any discernible atmosphere. A lesson that any musician should learn early on, is that good enough isn't ever good enough. Here, Darkthrone wrote a bunch of death metal songs that were good enough, with a production that was good enough; they never, however, aspire to greatness, it seems, and there's really nothing, other than the name and it's place in Darkthrone's history, that would make Soulside Journey stand out. With so many other, better, death metal albums out there, there's no reason to get this.
Before Darkthrone became one of the most important bands in the history of black metal, it released a single atmospheric death metal album—Soulside Journey. While the album does create an intensely alienating atmosphere, the disinterested pathos seems to infest the band’s performance. While the music is fairly interesting, the performance is lethargic and plodding. The result is a technically efficient but emotionally stale recording.
Musically, Soulside Journey is fairly standard Scandinavian death metal circa 1991. There is lots of muddy tremolo picking, a fair share of slow, harmonious passages and a few brisk solos. The vocals are husky, but not excessively deep. They are heavily reverbed, which gives them a supernatural sensibility. It’s as if some massive apparition were speaking to you from another realm. The elements that manage to distinguish Soulside Journey are the production and keyboards. In spite of the thick riffs, this album feels very open. Perhaps it’s all the echo and reverb, but this album creates immense space not unlike the landscape on the album cover. This is accentuated by the keyboards, which from time to time cloak the music in alien tones and ghostly choirs. The lyrics, which constantly reference vast landscapes, further help Soulside Journey create a distinct atmosphere.
Where the album falls short is in song-structure and energy. Many Darkthrone songs have unconventional song structures and on albums like A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Under a Funeral Moon they provide quite a few thrills. However, here the songs often feel directionless and unorganized. Songs often end out of the blue. A number of songs end on guitar or bass solos (i.e. “Neptune Towers” and “Sempiternal Sepulchrality”), which are played at a notably faster pace than the rest of the song. It is an unnatural and unsatisfying way to end a song. Considering these songs are all fairly short (3-5 minutes) Darkthrone should have taken the time to provide more fluid outros.
However, the biggest problem is that the album is just so low on energy. None of the musicians sound inspired. The riffs are dry and the though the vocals are atmospherically effective, they lack emotion. Similarly, the keyboards often feel exhausted. Furthermore, the tempo shifts are high in quantity but low in intensity. Most the album is played in a slow tempo, so it would be nice if when the band shifted into a faster tempo the music received a jolt of life. Unfortunately that never happens, and consequently, the tempo shifts are fairly unmoving.
Soulside Journey is a sedating album. The atmosphere is interesting and the musicianship is stellar, but when combined with the tired performance and emotional emptiness, Soulside Journey can be a somewhat dull listen. This is all quite shocking when one considers that Darkthrone would release one of the most cathartic and energetic albums in the history of extreme metal only a year later. Odds are that the bland flavor of Soulside Journey is a product of a band playing a style of music that is not their strong suit. That said, there are enough interesting riffs that it is worth listening to a song or two every now and then. Not a bad album, but by far the weakest of the early Darkthrone releases.
(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com)
I first discovered Darkthrone through their Black Metal release Transylvanian Hunger. While being a fan of Black Metal at the time, I was not necessarily impressed with the lo fidelity production values. When it came to Black Metal, I always favored the likes of later Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk Emperor. Then suddenly, I had accidentally stumbled across an album by Darkthrone entitled “Soulside Journey”. Judging by the album cover and the layout of the cardboard disc holder, I thought they had released a new album. To my surprise, Soulside Journey was actually their first studio album ever made, and upon listening, the best they’ve ever made.
In the vein of Nocturnus’ The Key, Soulside Journey is a Death Metal album that uses keyboards, which was (and still is) rare in Death Metal. Soulside Journey was actually recorded in Sunlight Studios, Sweden, the same studio Entombed recorded their debut release Left Hand Path. The typical high quality Sunlight studio production is all there, so don’t expect some raw lo fidelity quality here at all. According to an interview with Fenriz, the guys from Entombed actually helped Darkthrone achieve that typical Swedish trademark sound, which I can safely say did them well. Unfortunately, shortly after the release of SJ, Darkthrone caught the Black Metal plague and abandoned their unique trademark Death Metal sound. Although, few Death Metal traits remained for their A Blaze In the Northern Sky release.
The album starts you off with Cromlech which consists of an eerie synth intro then escalates into fast and menacing tremolo riffs and double kick style drumming. After the fast parts come to an end, the song reverts to slow dark Doom Metal inducing powerchords with keyboard fills to give it extra atmosphere, then repeats the process again. When you first hear Nocturno Culto’s “Into the abyss I fall” line it is enough to send shivers down your spine. There’s also one part where he does a pitch shifted growl that sounds very menacing and evil. In my opinion, the vocals here are much more evil than the vocals on Under a Funeral Moon or Transylvanian Hunger by a long shot. After Cromlech, the album progresses and becomes much more technical sounding.
I’ll skip ahead to the track Accumulation of Generalization. It’s an instrumental with no lyrics, but there are a few pretty cool pitch shifted vocal fills here and there. Neptune Towers features some eerie synth work, slow Doom inducing riffs, and gives you an overall feeling of impending doom. My favorite track of the whole album is Grave With A View. The lyrics are really brutal in which they tell a scenario of spitting into the mouth of a priest and killing him as “revenge” for those that died. An obvious reference to the Christian - Pagan massacres in Norway that happened in the middle ages. In a way, you could say Grave With A View is an almost Black Metal like track because of the blasphemous anti-christian lyrics.
Overall, everything on Soulside Journey seems reminiscent of the early Swedish Death Metal scene. Early Entombed, Grave, and Nirvana 2002 come to mind. I can perfectly understand why Peaceville would disagree with their sudden switch to Black Metal after SJ, it may be the biggest mistake they’ve ever made. Darkthrone will always remain a huge name in the Black Metal underground, but they could have been much much more had they stayed a Death Metal band. The production is there, but can’t be said for the latter releases by this band. Soulside Journey was often dismissed as being trendy by the Black Metal elitists who only favor the lo fidelity Black Metal and Crust stuff. However, to those with an open mind, Soulside Journey remains a technical Death Metal masterpiece.
"Into the abyss I fall..."
And with those words we begin our own soulside journey into What Once Was (sorry Varg.) Darkthrone will forever be known as a second-wave black metal band but in my opinion they were much more interesting as a death metal band. Raking in sounds from such sources as Bathory, Death, Celtic Frost, and the nascent Swedish death metal scene, this record is a love letter to the entire death metal underground.
You know, despite not being Swedish, Darkthrone wipes the floor with the faces of Entombed, Grave, Grotesque, et cetera. The closest parallel I can find to this album is perhaps At the Gates' Gardens of Grief EP. Both showcase atypical song structures, tremolo riffs out the wazoo, use of synths for atmosphere, and both releases being so much better than both bands' later works.
"Cromlech" opens the album and off we go. Ted's solo near the end of the song is very much like Schuldiner circa-Scream Bloody Gore, technically unimpressive but packed with lots of emotion and perfectly fits the context of the song. His vocals however aren't as impressive, it suits the music but isn't remarkable. Hank Amarillo is a fine drummer, particularly on "Accumulation of Generalization" (also check out that reverberated, multi-tracked, straight-from-ye-bowels-o'-hell RAUUUURGH around the 1 minute mark.) Ivar Enger is a terrific rhythm player and that's all I have to say about that.
Special mention must go to Dag Nilsen. This guy is one of the few people in death metal that can actually PLAY the bass. He doesn't just follow the guitar, he adds some texture parts, contrapuntal melodies, and he even gets to solo in "Sempiternal Sepulchrality."
For a debut, this album is shockingly mature. A keyboard player, as mentioned earlier, was called in to add to the dark atmosphere. "Neptune Towers" and "Eon" are shining examples on how to use keyboards in death metal. The songs on this album is diversely arranged and eschew the usual verse-chorus structure so prevalent in music. It makes one wonder how Darkthrone would have sounded if they had continued on this path. Goatlord offers a tantalizing preview of the abandoned second album, and even in such rough form it serves as a continuation of ideas first shown on this album.
The Peaceville digipak re-release offers remastered sound and an interview with Ted and Hank about this album. On board as producer is Tomas Skogsberg, soon to be catapulted to 'pimp-ducer' status with At the Gates and the rest of the melodeath scene. This album lacks his clinical sterility and thus it benefits greatly. Death metal should always have a reasonable amount of uncleanliness, not to the level of Transilvanian Bullshit, but enough 'grit' so that it does not seem robotic. Ironic that I prefer my death metal to sound alive neh?
Anyway, guitar tone absolutely rules. Can't get much better distortion than that in the early 90s. Another plus is the clean tone of the bass. So many bands use distorted bass, especially in early death metal, that most ended up sounding like loud wet farts instead of, well, a bass. Drums suffer a bit though, the cymbals aren't very audible during accented sections but the bass drum sound is suitably heavy. I mentioned before how the vocals aren't remarkable, I think it has something to do with the annoying reverb and how Ted's voice isn't as loud in the mix.
Highlights: "Cromlech," "Accumulation of Generalization" The title track, "Sempiternal Sepulchrality," and "The Watchtower." The rest of the songs are still good but are otherwise just OK. The interview is a neat bonus, it's nice to know that Darkthrone has not turned their back on this album.
In the end we are left with a relic of what could have been. Something that showed great promise but was ultimately abandoned. It's a shame really, Darkthrone could have been gods of death metal. But hey, I guess being a legend in black metal circles is good too huh?
One of the coolest things about Darkthrone is that they're not just one legendary band...they are actually two legendary bands. One of those is the Helen of Troy of black metal music, a pioneering force which would launch the careers of several thousand impersonators, dancing about their newsprint-colored album covers with swords, candelabras and woodland shadows as company, all ghouled up with nowhere to turn except to your stereo and shriveled heart. The other is the band that started off a fairly dimwitted, primal death/doom metal entity and then crowned that phase off with this excellent death metal debut album (there was a second Darkthrone album to delve into this region stylistically, but it wouldn't be released for years, when vocals were finally added to the material; this is due in part to the band's shift in direction). One of these legends has vastly outnumbered and outpowered the other, and to be fair, Soulside Journey is not nearly as strong as most of the band's massive body of black metal material, but how many other bands have made the shift and not only survived, but prospered with it? I can think of some who went the other way around, but not many that would succeed at this.
But we're not here to talk about all that, we are here to discuss the culmination of Darkthrone's death metal career, the album recorded for 1990 but released a year later through Peaceville Records, who were developing quite a dark roster for the time (Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and so forth). This debut fits in only too well with those other acts, because for all its grinding, ebon impulse, there is still an edge of melancholic doom which pervades the material. If I had to compare this directly to another album, it would be Entombed's masterpiece Left Hand Path, but you can definitely hear a little Florida influence (old Death, i.e. good Death), a smidgeon of Lost Paradise, and of course a host of the band's early black/thrash influences like Hellhammer, Slayer, Possessed, and so forth.
Everything about this album simply oozes with cool, the kind of maturity I expect whenever I go into a death metal album today, even though this brand of very honest, primal brutality has been largely replaced by the interests of progression and technicality. Even the fucking cover art is amazing...who could ever forget the image of that vast machine with the shadowy figures beneath it, one of the greatest album images ever for this or any genre. These were also the days before Darkthrone got whittled down to a two piece, so Ted Skjellum (who would become Nocturno Culto) and Hank Amarillo (Fenriz in one of his early pranks) are joined here by Dag Nilsen (bass) and Ivar Enger (Zephyrous, guitar), and strangely enough, Soulside Journey could be accused of being their most 'professional' sounding record, with a solid production that could compete (and defeat) most other death metal in 1991.
A lot of these tracks are not new to the album, having appeared on one of the band's four demos, but in every case, with NO exceptions, these are the best versions by far, due to the superior, crushing sound. "Cromlech" mixes a little of the old school Paradise Lost gothic/death/doom atmosphere into a faster paced rhythm akin to old Entombed. "Sunrise Over Locus Mortis" creeps like a tarantella, then at 1:00 it builds into a riff not unlike something you'd hear on Death's Leprosy. "Soulside Journey" itself is another mid-paced, grooving death that also slows into a somber, doomed sequence, while "Accumulation of Generalization" begins with a popping bass curl repeated by the guitars into a crushing sequence of death and doom that far exceeds its prior incarnation on the Cromlech demo from a few years past. The vocal effects here are entirely freakish, and the riffs dynamite on plastic.
"Neptune Towers", which coincidentally would also become the name of Fenriz' fantastic dark ambient project in future years, is another glorious epoch of mesmerizing doom, laden in simplistic riffs that carry forth the oblique tide of the album, chords alternate with speed picked notes and an eventually incline into low, grooving mutes and more of the monolith sculpting dreariness. "Semipternal Sepulchrality" follows with some of the best use of chords and melodies, and one of the most classic riffs on the album at about :20 seconds in. This is a beautiful thing, a triumph of grim old death with a barely pronouncable title (the song titles were a lot smarter than some of the lyrics on this album). "Grave With a View" is more resonant doom, with nice choral synths layered into the opening chords, abandoning all hope as the listener begins to rot and roll in the sepulchre. "Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia" features one of the better, fast rhythms of Soulside Journey, epic and sweeping melodic death that eventually breaks down into another moment of stunning, cryptic doom.
'Crush not only our surrounding walls of curiosity,
but also the hordes of blind believers.'
"Nor the Silent Whispers" has a lazy, rocking death rhythm to it which winds into the double bass rolling, and the 2nd, Death-like rhythm is decent, but this is not one of my favorites on the album. Nor is "The Watchtower", which has a few dull riffs in it that do not inspire nearly as much as the rest of the material here. The final track, "Eon" from the Thulcandra demo, is a solid execution of hope drowning, with another of those lazy beats, but this time it picks up into a decent gravestone flow with some quirky, eerie female choir synths for effect (I love it when old death bands would do stuff like this, access Morbid Angel's "Chapel of Ghouls" for perhaps the best example). And thus ends the 41+ minutes of the pivotal debut of Darkthrone, surely a trip into the soul searching, pseudo-intellect and imminent doom and despair implied by the cover image and the consistently evil sheen to the riffs.
Soulside Journey isn't perfect, there are a few songs I don't often feel compelled to visit and even beyond that, some of the riffs on other tracks do begin to feel repetitive, and not in the hypnotic way that would become characteristic of a lot of their later, black metal albums. But in a year like 1991, which was actually a lot thinner than you'd expect for quality output, this was a welcome voyage into despair which made almost anything else that year seem happy by comparison (excepting Paradise Lost, Root, and maybe the more rockin' but similar Entombed). This is certainly deserving of its cult status as far as Scandinavian death metal, and it still sounds excellent after almost 20 years have passed, but your enjoyment may be limited if you only care for the band's black metal material. And I know that I, personally, and probably most of the world, was not expecting what would follow this...
Highlights: Cromlech, Sunrise Over Locus Mortis, Neptune Towers, Sempiternal Sepulchrality
It seems that in recent years this album has made a shift in popular perception from 'that one album Darkthrone did before they were black metal' to 'forgotten oldschool death metal classic'. As usual, the answer is somewhere in between. Suggesting that this is in any way as important or enduring as the following three albums is a pretty massive exercise in historical revisionism that probably isn't worth undertaking, but sweeping it under the rug as many did for a long while is equally misaligned. In the end, 'Soulside Journey' is altogether a solid album that was unfortunately made by Darkthrone; had it been any other death metal band from the same period, this would probably be heralded as a second-tier gem from that era of death metal, but coming from such a legendary band it enjoys a more aggravating reputation.
This is not really as influential or unique as some would lead you to believe; most of the material on 'Soulside Journey' falls pretty neatly in line with material that other Swedish death metal bands were turning out at around the same time. Most of the lauded atmospheric and melodic touches were done elsewhere; a lot of the melodies owe plenty to Dismember (though the bulk of the riffing style is more along the lines of Entombed or maybe a bit of Morbid Angel), and the keyboards are hardly unprecedented even in death metal with Nocturnus coming into their own just a bit before this release. Now with all that out of the way, we are still left with a pretty engaging and enjoyable death metal album with just enough prog touches to keep things interesting and a solid sense of pacing preventing anything from getting too still.
The quality of this album probably owes more than a bit of itself to the production, which is cold, somewhat thin, and not entirely dissimilar to the band's later black metal works. The cover art is a pretty good representation of the album as a whole: frosty and somewhat mechanical. The riffing on this album is rather tremolo-dominated apart from occasional forays into doomier or thrashier territory now and then, and they have that moderately memorable but still fairly atonal quality that a lot of Swedish death metal bands had in spades. It's relatively technical music; the bass is about as good as everyone says and drums are rather notably musical, though the riffs are pretty typical single-string tremolo affairs for the most part minus the solos.
I think the biggest thing that hampers this album is a sort of undefined personality; there are seeds of something more precise here with its regular forays into less traditionally death metal territory, but they're in a very fetal stage, and I almost get the impression that the initial idea for this album is fairly different from how it eventually turned out. This isn't to say it's bad; 'Soulside Journey' is eminently listenable and very enjoyable, a great deal moreso I'd say that even certain Swedish superstars like Grave. It is not, however, particularly crucial in the long run and ends up being sort of a historical footnote more than anything.
After you've gotten Darkthrone's main three albums and maybe 'Panzerfaust' is when you should investigate this one; on its own it doesn't really tend to mean much without the historical context and the music just seems to carry more weight when juxtaposed with 'A Blaze In The Northern Sky'. It's certainly a good album, just somewhat buried and forgotten in the wake of what would come.
Before Darkthrone, the influential second-wave Norwegian black metal band, there was a band called Darkthrone. THIS older Darkthrone championed a new approach to death metal mostly coming out of Sweden and England at the turn of the 1990s. Known mostly as "Swedish progressive" death metal, the new tendency was to combine the thrash-derived sounds of 1980s American death metal with motifs and playing techniques from doom metal and grindcore, resulting in a lower-tuned, more bass-intensive, sonically more aggressive, and more atmospheric approach to the genre.
The first Darkthrone LP is all these things in spades. Soulside Journey is good enough of a death metal album, that I would argue they'd still be remembered as a good and influential band even if they hadn't decided to forge into black metal after this record. The recording quality fits the Swedish progressive style well. The guitars come from the extreme sides of the stereo, pouring right into your ears rather than sounding diffuse, and the equalizer definitely favors the heaviest and most carrying of the bass frequencies, giving the music the sensation of physically striking the listener. The drums, especially the snare hits, are prominent.
The music itself is classic Swedish prog death metal- crushing, heavily downtuned power chords, near-atonal arpeggios, and pseudo-gothic doom metal melodies in a pace that varies from ponderous and lurking to a rapid gallop. It can get a little "samey" or meandering at times, but at its best it's a good variation between ass-kicking death metal and brooding atmosphere. The guitar solos are fast, atonal, and full of urgency, and occasionally there's even a little synthesizer for extra atmospheric oddness. The bass guitar is usually submerged behind the guitars, but gets a few good solo moments here and there.
For me, what really carries this album is the drumming, though. As mentioned before, it's given priority in the mix, with a very punchy and aggressive snare drum and emphatically played ride cymbals. There is a lot of the typical death metal style riff drumming, but also a lot of rhythmic elaboration and syncopation. The style is not only driving and energetic, but almost...jazzy. In my opinion, it's what gives this album its drive, uniqueness, and a lot of its musical depth.
Overall, I'd say Soulside Journey is a great recording for anyone into the "Swedish progressive" style of death metal- solid, driving, well paced, and full of great rhythm.
If there is a single album that truly captures the very spirit of darkness, it is this somewhat underrated and definitely underappreciated death metal debut by later, 2nd wave black metal pioneers Darkthrone. Whether it was the dark and gloomy climate of Norway, the continuous historical states of bondage and struggle for independence that likely influenced the country’s metal culture, or just the will of the stars, something was brewing in the late 80s as Fenriz, Nocturno, Zephyrous, and Dag Nilsen began developing the unique pre-cursor to blackened death metal that is “Soulside Journey”.
In many respects, death metal became the victim of its own multi-faceted uniqueness in the later 90s as bands began to take segments of the progressive format exemplified by Death and Morbid Angel and developing more limited sub-genres such as brutal death, technical death, melodic death, doom death and death thrash. Darkthrone’s pre-black metal sound does the exact opposite of what later bands did and put forth every element developed by the originators of the style and actually added a dark, atmospheric, keyboard happy quality that was not explored very heavily by even the forward looking Chuck Schuldiner. All of the aforementioned death metal sub-genres can be applied to parts of this, and would still not do justice to its individualistic character.
Everything on here just breathes metal eclecticism, from the fast paced Slayer/Kreator inspired thrashing lead breaks to the dissonant, quasi-epic doom metal riffs that wander in and out of the majority of these songs. You’d swear that Black Sabbath and Death teamed up to perform the amazing mishmash of progressive death/thrash and traditional doom that is “Grave With A View”, or that the former got together with Iron Maiden and Sodom to nail together the bass happy doom/thrasher “Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocin”. The bass intro of the latter, in particular, is one of the most unique superimpositions of Steve Harris’ approach to patterned bass work on the more neo-tonal death metal style.
Things really start to get avant-garde with “Nor The Silent Whispers”, which basically marries vintage traditional doom metal with the tremolo picked riffing death style that Amon Amarth continually refers to when constructing their melodic fanfares, without the complex sensibilities of course. Meanwhile, mellow sounding atmospheric works like “Sempiternal Sepulchrality” and the melodic yet thrashing “The Watchtower” carry some elements of melodic death metal ala Gothenburg, but without the watered down Iron Maiden references. Likewise, the album is essentially devoid of all the slow section interruptions that plagued the later Gothenburg scene, as well as the sloppiness often exhibited in the tremolo riffs.
Bassist Dag Nilsen basically deserves his own review for the amazing performance he puts on here. Just about every even numbered track on this black frosted opus is loaded with well timed references to past figureheads, from Geezer Butler to Joey Demaio. Points of interest are found in the raunchy toned, minimalist intro to “Accumulation Of Generalization” which sounds like it could have occurred during Sabbath’s glory days in the early 70s, while that wicked bass solo towards the end of “Sempiternal Spulchrality”, which presents a shorter version of the bass shred insanity heard on Manowar’s “The Triumph Of Steel”. It’s saddening that this guy didn’t stay in the band, because even after the changeover to black metal, his input could have radically impacted the band’s style and perhaps even the greater black metal style.
In the same respect, credit should definitely be given to Nocturno for one amazing job on the leads on here. The list of various death and thrash metal guitarists whose influences can be heard smattered on every wild solo thrown into every single one of these songs is too long to get too specific, but definitely points away from any assertion of a one-dimensional character. The influences definitely tilt heavily towards the loose, agitated and chromatic nature of extreme thrash players in the German and American scenes, though hints of Schuldiner’s idiomatic sense of melody and structure temper it away from being pure Kerry King or Mike Sifringer worship. There aren’t any real highlight solos to pick out of any particular songs; every solo deserves your undivided attention and unending praise.
In retrospect, it’s difficult to say how I feel about the band’s break from the death style in favor of the 2nd wave of black metal. In one respect, I’m a little bummed because this continues to be my favorite album by the band, though several of their later releases come pretty close to matching it. But at the same time, given what ended up happening to the death metal style in subsequent years, maybe Fenriz and the others got out while the getting was good. Who knows, maybe it might truly be better to reign in black metal hell than serve in death metal heaven, it’s all relative to what sort of company you want to keep and what ears you want hearing your music.
One thing is certain though, any self-respecting fan of death metal, particularly the older, more eclectic style put forth by the pioneers should not be without this. It models itself after a rabid sense of individual expression that embraces the somber melodic character that was adopted by the Scandanavian black metal scene of the early 90s, while maintaining the complexity and brutality that typifies vintage traditional death metal. In my personal opinion this is not only one of the greatest offerings to bear the death label, but also one of the finest collections of complex musical works to every grace my ears.
First submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on August 14, 2008.
This is a fucking awesome album and, even though their next material would be black metal, Darkthrone will always be remembered as one of the most creative and interesting death metal bands from back when this was released. I just got this on picture LP, so here we go with this long overdue review.
"Cromlech" bursts forth with a great thrashing Scandinavian sounding DM riff. The lyrics are well-written and even nicely optimistic/thoughtful in some places such as the last line "We'll All Make It Through." The solo is well done and very well-written, so props for that.
"Sunrise..." starts with more thrashing and stresses some doom metal tempos early on in the song. One thing Darkthrone mastered on this album was the utilization of a bunch of different tempos and styles. From doom to some black metal influence (before they became full-fledged minimalists) to thrash, this is a really extreme death metal album with a little something for everyone. However, the style is prototypically "technical" (before that became cool) death metal for the most part, so you'll get lots of amorphous chord structures and weird riffs wrapping and weaving around your head until they change into completely different beasts. It's compelling, interesting and very, very satisfying.
Psychedelic and, of course, soul-searching psychological themes are explored in the title track, with equally "seeking" riffs aiming to develop some under-explored tempos here and there. Reaching a total plod, the band speeds up again with accurate double bass and competent drum fills from the mighty Fenriz (before he devolved to a metronome for the next few albums...kidding, of course!), attacking the listener with full-on thrash assault in an early Sodom or Kreator style...thrash 'til death, with a purpose! Great stuff here. Search the soulside!!
Accumulation Of Generalization (what a mouthful, eh?) begins with a GREAT memorable bass lick before plunging into primitive death metal sounds with the standard (by now, anyway) tempo changing, with some great pinch harmonic usage and TIGHT rhythmic interplay; check out how the bass syncopates with the drumming and the guitars also...really interesting and well done stuff. Fantastic. Also, this is an instrumental (aside from the pitch shifted/reverbed/echoed "R-R-RR-AAUUUUGH" in the first minute and a half). Some keyboard sounds even peek out on this one, recalling the minimal synth stuff Sami of Sentenced would sometimes do on North From Here or even recalling other underground classics like Phlebotomized or Illdisposed's first LP. The song ends with a great thrash riff, too!
Next we have Neptune Towers, the name of which some fans of mid-era DT will notice from being one of Fenriz's solo projects (Tangerine Dream/Schulze-inspired prog ambient), but this song is very different from that music. This features what is likely to be hailed as one of the most epic riffs, playing with a key shift if I'm hearing right and some EXCELLENT harmonized synchronized guitar parts. Just really stellar stuff. The solo is a little bothersome because it begins really loudly, cutting out everything else, but the actual content once it gets going is typically good, and the song ends abruptly with it.
Now I'm not going to go through every song (rather I just went over what I know as Side A of the LP, heh) because that is just totally tedious and you don't need to be walked through it...you're a music listener if you're reading this, and probably a metal fan. Just know that if you're a fan of modern technical death metal, this is its grandaddy (along with Suffocation, of course, but they did a more "brutal" and grind influenced style as we all know)...if you're interested in what Darkthrone was before they became trendhopping (yet still good and influential) black metal, be sure to check this one out...it'll fucking singe your eyebrows at the very least.
First off, screw what all the blackmetal dudes say, THIS is Darkthrones crown achievement of their career, NO QUESTION. Having bought this album when it was released, I was super excited for what the future would hold for this band... Of course many of us who DIDNT jump on the blackmetal bandwagon were utterly DISGUSTED with their direction after this album, as they totally jumped on the Euronymous/Mayhem trend and completely abandoned their roots. Hell, I have a friend who WROTE these guys in '92 telling them how much he liked this album, etc. only to have Fenriz reply that he should fuck off, as should anyone who likes this release, or death metal in general. That was the end of my support for these guys, and the end of this band in general to me. Their next album "a blaze in the northern sky" was an insult to their early fans from their demo era as were all of their later releases as a reformed "blackmetal" band.
On to this great release now, which is nothing short of a pure scandinavian DEATH-METAL masterpiece...
The album starts with the absolutely great song "Cromlech", which will have you feeling goosebumps of evilness from the opening riff even before the vocals ever even start... Then all hell breaks loose... "INTO THE ABYSS I FALLLL......" with the tempo picking up to a traditional 2-beat rhythm that will have your head banging! From there the album continues to rape your mind with brutal yet depressive and dark death all the way through to the end... So many classics on here, especially the demo songs... It could be said this album has a bit of an "entombed" feel to it, but that was pretty common for albums of this era from the nordic region... It is by no means a rip off album, and Dark Throne finds an identity of their own here. The guitar sound comes through in the traditional swedish style "buzzsaw" production which is clear, thick, and evil. Kind of reminds me of the production on Dismember's "Pieces" release, but is still noticeably different from a traditional sunlight studios production. This is by far the best slab of death to come out of Norway in history, even surpassing Cadaver in my opinion. If you love scandinavian death, and hell, even AUTOPSY you should have this record in your collection, end of story.
A true Masterpiece.... now I have to go throw it on again!
Having heard none of Darkthrone's material prior to grabbing this album, I was expecting some kind of horrid black metal with basement sound quality even if ripped at 320kbps. I have to say I'm utterly surprised and delighted at the overall death metal feel to this album. Sure, there's little gloomy bits occasionally but that's actually part of what makes this album so beautifully atmospheric and, most importantly, enjoyable.
However, vocals on songs such as Accumulation of Generalization seem to kick in when they're least wanted, and use a lot of annoying reverb, slight echo and maybe a minor pitch shifting, all combined to make an "evil" growl sound that's absolutely stupid, and would've ruined the song if Darkthrone weren't so musically brilliant on this album. Anyways, other than that little gripe the vocals are pretty much perfect for the feel of the album, think a slightly more aggressive Possessed - Seven Churches with just the right amount of "black" added.
The guitarist seems to tease you with riffs, constantly going from one bit to the next, never really settling on a constant overall theme for the song. The riffing can go from frenetic alternate picking to doom-paced power chords and back to standard thrashing, all in the course of one song. Coupled with this is the jazzy, technical-(yet relaxed) working of the drummer, using constant snazzy cymbal rides and pounding along to the riffs with near-surgical precision. Though it may be unfair to compare, imagine a Sound of Perseverance era Death without too much flash. Bass, as usual, is barely audible and irrelevant to this album.
Now unlike some other bands that do this, Darkthrone have managed to find a workable relationship between synth choir effects and their riffs, especially on the track "Grave with a View", even though the part only lasts half a minute or so. Other bands that have tried this ended up with an annoying bit that you have to skip past just to get to the enjoyable part of the song (like Carcass' Reek of Putrefaction off of Symphonies of Sickness, but it could just be a technology gap).
The only thing that brought this masterpiece down 2 points was the first gripe above, vocals can pop up in annoying intervals, but that's it. It still leaves an impressive 98% and will remain one of my favorite albums for a long time.
Let’s get one thing straight here; The material on this album isn’t the Darkthrone that we all know and love, yet that statement isn’t an implication that this album is necessarily a bad debut. Instead of the harsh, raw and cold Black Metal that the Metal scene has grown to recognize Darkthrone for, Soulside Journey is at the opposite end of the extreme Metal scale. There’s no cold or harsh atmosphere to be found here and the musicianship is highly complexed and technical, which is the COMPLETE opposite of the way the later Darkthrone albums would sound. For those people who claim that Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are bad, lame and/or sloppy musicians who can’t play their instruments, I strongly suggest that they REALLY check this album out. Despite the band hailing from Norway, the sound on this album sounds very Swedish, much similar to early Entombed, Grave, Unleashed and Dismember. After all, the album was recorded in a Swedish studio that was shared with the members of Entombed at the time. Darkthrone’s Soulside Journey is probably the most atmospheric Death Metal album I have ever heard. Even Grave and Entombed had more brutality than this, but I’m not saying that as a bad thing. The complexity and atmosphere adds such a uniqueness to the album that little or no Death Metal bands have ever been able to mimic. As for the production…well, it’s there, which is a surprise, considering that this is Darkthrone we’re talking about. As a matter of fact, the production here is crystal clear, allowing every instrument to be deciphered while still maintaining a dark and sludgy sound to everything. The bass and drums seem to have this technical jazz influence to them, though not to the extent that bands like Atheist had. The riffs are all down tuned, and the vocals are a low, mediocre growl instead of the high pitched, raspy shrieks that Nocturno Culto uses on the later Darkthrone releases.
The opening track, Cromlech is one of the best, if not, THE best track on the whole album. What starts out with a dark and moody hymn, leads right into a double bass and riff assault while still maintaining total complexity. The use of triggers on the drums are presented almost through out this entire song (and album as well), sustaining the speed at a constant pace; nothing overally fast, yet still providing something great to headbang to. There are also some incredible, highly atmospheric Doom Metal breaks during several parts of the track, as well as some killer Thrash Metal assaults, showing that Darkthrone had indeed taken their extreme Metal influence from the 80s onto a whole new level. The majority of the next track, Sunrise Over Locus Mortis, is very Doom based, yet the Thrash outbreaks are still quite present, particularly during the middle of the song. As for the riffs, well…they’re at a constant change. Like I stated many times so far, this album is complexed, technical Death Metal, and although the jazz influenced bass and drumming have much to do with that factor, the riffs really top it all off. This isn’t just guitar wankery either. This truly is some great guitar work.
The album’s title track is a relatively doomy number, coming off as one of the heaviest tracks on the record. Just check out that amazing riffing there! Sounds like an ode to Candlemass or early Sabbath to me. This just goes to show the diversity of Darkthrone during this era. However, this song doesn’t fail to also thrash things up as well. Accumulation Of Generalization is also a really nice instrumental. Pointless? Kind of…there’s nothing to be found here that won’t be found on the rest of the album, aside from a few random growls. Good track, needless to say though. Neptune Towers is very much like the title track since it consists highly of Doom inspired riffing that sets a quite darkly mood upon the listener, although much of the song still manages to thrash things up quite a bit. And just check out those church organ keyboards during the mid segment of the track. They give off quite a…shall I say…dark vibe? Okay, that’s such an understatement, but whatever…
Sempiternal Sepulchrality is one major thrasher! Yes, this track is by far the most aggressive and thrashiest on the whole entire album. I mean, just look at the title. An ode to Sepultura? Or perhaps Sodom? Sodom has a song called Sepulchral Voices on their In The Sign Of Evil EP. After all, Darkthrone claims to be inspired by the early works of both bands. I think the best thing about this song though are the riffs. Despite the majority of the album relying more on atmosphere and melody, the riffs here absolutely kill! In a way, they kind of remind me of Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains album, and if you’ve heard that record, you’ll know damn well what I’m talking about. That one’s a fucking riff fest! A Grave With A View is yet nother Doom inspired track. Dark and heavy as hell, and if that’s not enough to bring forth an atmosphere of darkness and despair, some of the track’s doom breaks are underlined with eerie chants. Just like most of the songs on the this record, this track does have its thrash breaks as well, but it’s nothing compared to the previous song.
The next track, Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia consists of some strange, yet highly unique bass work. Let me just say this; Dag Nilsen is a MASTER at great bass work. It’s no wonder he chose to leave the band after Darkthrone decided to acquire a more primitive, simplistic style of Metal. You’ll really have to hear this bass work for yourself to understand what I mean. As for the song itself, well…it’s just another great slab of technical Death Metal, much like every other song on this record. There aren’t many thrashy moments to be found on this one though. Nor The Silent Whispers is much in the vein of the previous song. It’s basically is no frills, non-thrashy technical Death Metal at its finest, yet along with the title track and Neptune Towers, it does have much doomier moments than the rest of the album. You know, there weren’t many bands back then that mixed Doom Metal with Death Metal, with the exception of Autopsy, of course. I know that Fenriz is a huge fan of Autopsy, so its no wonder why there are plenty of Doom inspired riffs on Soulside Journey.
The Watchtower, once again, manages to thrash things up a bit more, much in the vein of Sempiternal Sepulchrality. Of course, this particular song is much less impressive than the latter, while managing to stray away from filler territory. It’s just that by the time the listener is this far into the record, a track like The Watchtower offers nothing special. The last track on the album, Eon, is another instrumental that is far more impressive than Accumulation Of Generalization, which is the only other instrumental song on the album. The main difference? The dark, melodic chants in the background. They really give off an incredible atmosphere to it all. Not to mention that the riffs are far better as well.
For those of you who can’t stand Darkthrone’s later works, I strongly suggest that you check this album out. Like I stated earlier, Soulside Journey is at the opposite end of the extreme Metal scale when compared to other Darkthrone albums like Under A Funeral Moon, Transylvanian Hunger, Panzerfaust or even A Blaze In The Northern Sky. It’s not raw, it’s not grim or cold, it sure as hell isn’t primative and it isn’t extreme in the sense that you need an acquired taste to get into it. Even those of you who can’t stand Death Metal might even like this. Who knows, just check it out for yourself.