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Darkthrone has always been a very divisive band for me personally. From the minute I heard Under a Funeral Moon I was in love with their particular brand of stripped down, raw black metal; beyond the corpse paint and cover art, they were a no frills, no unnecessary elements, neck-destroying band. A lot of this could be attributed to the heavy Celtic Frost influence their music contained, especially on Panzerfaust, which one could easily call a love letter to Tom G. Warrior's innovators of extreme metal through tracks like "Quintessence". On the other hand, the then-excellent Transilvanian Hunger style of black metal was copied by hundreds, probably thousands, of bands that merely took the template that record used and recycled it until it overtook black metal and became what many people generally believe the genre to mostly or entirely consist of at first glance, leading to dozens of bands that in my own listening tenure with extreme metal I wanted to reach through the record player and strangle someone for making such bad music. Many of these same copycats decried the band with their shift to a more punk influenced sound with The Cult is Alive in 2004, a style they continued with through 2008's Dark Thrones and Black Flags. 2010's Circle the Wagons brought the introduction of speed metal elements to the band, a sound which has become fully realized with The Underground Resistance. Make no bones about it, this is the best Darkthrone record not only of their post-black metal era, but since Under a Funeral Moon.
A lot of this album's charm comes with the balls out rocking atmosphere that Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have created here. In the 42 minutes that The Underground Resistance plays for, you just know that these two men are having the time of their lives playing it, something that many of the more modern sounding albums of the here and now sorely lack due to their over-processed, sterile nature. Even with the louder, room vibrating volume this record plays at, you can sense that there is some genuine rock 'n' roll magic taking place in these songs. Musically, as alluded to earlier, the speed metal influences from Circle the Wagons have overtaken the album, leading to a unique yet very entertaining mixture of influences ranging from Agent Steel to Celtic Frost to early Mercyful Fate even. The former two are the most prevalent musical influence on The Underground Resistance, with the latter only really showing itself through the use of high pitched falsetto vocals that are occasionally sprinkled throughout the record (or in the case of "Leave No Cross Unturned", the second main vocal style). About half the record is slower and more on the doomy side of things, with "Come Warfare, the Entire Doom" best showcasing this, while the other half is balls to the wall speed and intensity, seen through tracks like "Dead Early" and the 13-and-a-half minute barnstormer "Leave No Cross Unturned". The latter I feel deserves special mention, as to me it encompasses the entire record in one song; half crazy speed metal, and half Celtic Frost, not feeling unnatural in the slightest when the song transitions between the two styles. The record could be construed as a throwback album to speed metal's glory days in the 80s; if that's the case, then I am all for it. Retro-inspired metal has been shown to produce some excellent music, be it the Satanic Blue Oyster Cult of Ghost or Attic's pure King Diamond worship, right down to their vocalist potentially being easily mistaken for one Kim Petersen himself. As long as the music is good, I'm game for anything.
Now this is not to say that the band's most famous style, black metal, is entirely missing from The Underground Resistance. Tracks like "Come Warfare, the Entire Doom" mix this hybrid style with some blackened riffage peppered throughout the tune. The whole record in fact has this very distinct feeling to it that one will almost instantly recognize as being Darkthrone. Performance wise the group is just as good as they've always been, if not better. Fenriz and Culto split vocal duties on the record, and it's generally not too hard to discern one from the other; Fenriz uses the Tom Warrior-inspired groan and falsetto voice, and Culto's distinct blackened snarl is noticeable the moment he opens his mouth. The duo's traditional roles throughout most of Darkthrone's discography are no different here, with Culto taking guitars and Fenriz handling drum duties. Culto blazes away with reckless abandon and Fenriz pounds his kit into oblivion throughout the record, best showcased, once again, on "Leave No Cross Unturned". The abilities of both are on full display, Culto shredding and Fenriz smashing. It only adds to the sheer fun one will have when listening to the album, something, as mentioned earlier, sorely lacking in many albums released nowadays.
Darkthrone have shown with The Underground Resistance that not only are they in top form, but they are wiping the floor and ringing the wet out of all the bands that aped their early-to-mid-90s style with no care to add anything to it that would make them stand out from the squillions of other bands using that style at the same time. Even nowadays many bands prefer to just use the formula Darkthrone made popular and throw all ingenuity out the proverbial window. Merely rehashing the same ideas over and over again is most definitely not Darkthrone's preferred method of thinking, as The Underground Resistance takes inspiration from the great bands of yesteryear and builds on that inspiration to create a very easy contender for best record of 2013. With its balls out rocking feel, unique mixture of various metal styles, and the sense that the band is having a bigger blast than the Tsar Bomba playing and creating this material, Darkthrone and The Underground Resistance exceed all expectations and firmly secures their place as a band and record you will have no choice but to headbang to. A job well done indeed.