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Say what you will about Darkthrone's transformation over the past several years it certainly has not been a static stylistic shift, more a continuously evolving transmutation. The first seeds were laid a full decade ago with the attitude-laden “Fucked Up And Ready To Die” track from Hate Them, whilst the Punk influence was first really tested with the cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees' “Love In A Void” on the Too Old, Too Cold EP 3 years later. The next 2 albums, F.O.A.D. and Dark Thrones And Black Flags, typified the Blackened Metalpunk style that most people seem to associate the Darkthrone name with these days, but after shifting focus more towards lo-fi 80's Heavy Metal on Circle The Wagons that Punk edge has now been moved on from, seemingly as much of an afterthought on this album as even their Black Metal roots are.
With that in mind it seems fitting that this is the first Darkthrone album in 6 years without cover art from Dennis Dread, instead joining the rarified circle of Metal bands, along with Thin Lizzy and Manilla Road, to have collaborated with legendary Celtic artist Jim Fitzpatrick. As a fan of Fitzpatrick probably even more than I am of Darkthrone it is somewhat disappointing to his see his usual style of vibrantly coloured battle scenes replaced by such rusty and muted tones (though the drawing itself is unmistakeably his), but this almost sepia tint to the sleeve design suits the dust-hazed and vomit-fuelled filter with which Darkthrone reimagine 80's Metal here.
The lead riff of “Dead Early” evokes early 80's Judas Priest which announces this latest stage in Darkthrone's evolution perfectly, though a D-beat quality to the drums is still present but “Valkyrie” is the track that really shows the duo's new direction. The log-cabin production values and highness of the cymbals in the mix keeps thing suitably crust-ified and consistent with previous releases but that Bathory/Candlemass-referencing Epic Doom intro is like nothing Darkthrone have ever done before, and nothing could be a bigger ditching of convention for this band than introducing clean vocals. Naturally they are sloppy, untrained, out of time and out of tune, but not entirely out of place and certainly better than you might expect for Fenriz trying his hand at them. There's a definite early NWOBHM vibe to this track thanks to the vocals and although it is certainly something that should be worked on and improved for the next release no one can say that Darkthrone rest on their laurels and don't try new things.
Even more ambitious though are the final 2 lengthy tracks of this 6 song album. Firstly “Come Warfare, The Entire Doom” is the longest Darkthrone song since “Wreak” from 2001's Plagueweilder, and closing number “Leave No Cross Unturned” is the longest track they have ever penned, smashing “Kathaarian Life Code” by a full 3 minutes. The first of these two is far and away the strongest track on here as it rocks back and forth between Dream Death and Cirith Ungol vibes and even a bit of classic Transylvanian Hunger-style riffing, but the final track doesn't quite repeat the brilliance. In spite of at times successfully evoking early Mercyful Fate and being the most directly melodic track in terms of vocals and guitar leads they have perhaps ever done it is still essentially 13 minutes of done to death bog-standard Motör-beats and early Bathory riffs.
Even with such long songs taking up over half the playing time Darkthrone's notoriously lax approach to rehearsal and songwriting still manages to find a way to produce filler here, and aside from a bit of an Accept buzz on “Lesser Men” both it and “The Ones You Leave Behind” add absolutely nothing of value here. A bold attempt by Darkthrone then to move on yet again to new musical pastures, but ultimately an experiment yielding sub-standard results. [5/10]
From WAR ON ALL FRONTS A.D. 2013 zine- www.facebook.com/waronallfronts