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Darkthrone is interesting because, despite what anyone says about them, they just don’t give a shit. Their entire aesthetic and songwriting practice seems to be based on emulating their old heroes and, consequently, winging out a never ending stream of cool riffs that gallop and flay like medieval crusaders on a blood-thirsty rampage. It’s hard to tell them that they’re being unoriginal hacks because really all they’re doing is getting drunk off their asses, putting on some Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate and Venom records and just turning them up to 11 while penning down songs, and if they can write such awesome music as they have in the last 5 years while doing that, who are we to complain?
The fact that they don’t care is part of the whole idea! It’s almost satirical of the entire metal scene after 1990 – here are two old school vets, with several classic holy-cow albums under their belts, and rather than succumb to that black-metal superstardom that morons like Gaahl and Varg Vikernes have succumbed to and just ride on controversy and infamy, the Darkthrone boys have chosen to release albums with no coherent theme between them, no real songwriting aesthetic besides ‘80s!!’ and no real credence given to any kind of serious philosophy or lyrical ideology – all things that are directly anathema to what the black metal kiddies want. Darkthrone do what they want and it’s pretty hilarious to see the reactions sometimes. However, on this new album The Underground Resistance, in which they’ve decided to turn their crosshairs to Manilla Road/Omen-style epic metal, I can’t help but think they’ve fallen a bit short of expectations.
For one, maybe it is just a personal thing on my part. After all, I listen to bands like Manilla Road and Omen all the time, so my expectations are naturally higher. It’s not that I don’t think this is good – it is. But it’s not that great. The previous new-era Darkthrone albums like FOAD were masterworks of loose, jamming guitars and the mastery of the rocking guitar riff – they exuded attitude and style like it was natural. On this album, I don’t really get that at all. The production is muddier and less sharp, so the riffs stand out less, and what riffs there are just don’t really gel as truly awesome – a lot of them repeat way too much in the confines of the longer song structures, and while Darkthrone tries their hands at making longer more “progressive” songs, it’s not totally there yet.
I just don’t think this is as memorable an album as the last couple. Everything is sufficiently old school and retro, without ever sounding poser-ish, but the songs aren’t as good – there is nothing here to match killers like “These Shores Are Damned” and “Oath Minus” off the last few albums, let alone the killer “Stylized Corpse” or “These Treasures Will Never Befall You.” For the first time, a Darkthrone album just makes me want to turn on albums by the bands they’re aping, rather than listen to the full Darkthrone album. I’m not going to say it’s bad or anything, as on songs like “Valkyrie,” “The Ones Left Behind” and the awesome Mercyful Fate-esque “Leave No Cross Unturned,” they do a good job at busting the heads of any posers in the vicinity. But none of them are really that memorable, maybe save for the howling chorus of “Leave No Cross Unturned.” None of them really stick in my head much. And generally, there’s also much less of the unhinged craziness that those other recent albums had. There’s a lot less of the odd lyrical musings, the strange vocal inflections, et cetera – Darkthrone has dialed down the humorous “ironic” touch to their music that made it so gleefully fun in recent years, and as a consequence, I don’t think this is quite as enjoyable.
I’ve been listening to this for a week or so and I enjoy it; really I do. But for an album like this to work, you really need to get awesome fucking riffs, which this album largely does not have. It has good riffs, sure, but the other recent Darkthrone albums have all had better ones in spades. There’s really just no comparison: between the jagged, flailing, head-stomping riffs on Dark Thrones and Black Flags, the searing Paganized heavy metal ownage on FOAD and the total Maiden worship on Circle the Wagons, this album falls short. I applaud Darkthrone’s efforts to go for this kind of sound, because it’s a good sound to copy, but they’ll need better songs next time.