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Painfully mediocre - 62%

The_Ghoul, November 14th, 2012

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.