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One of the more embarrassing habits that tends to be exhibited by critics of any art form, be it those annoying well-known ones or those slightly less-known and less annoying ones (mostly because they never get read), is that of speaking too soon. The writer of this review is himself guilty of an all too common sub-species of this miscalculation which could be dubbed the "this is the strangest shift in style ever heard of" fallacy. This could be seen as a forgivable offense when used in reaction to Celtic Frost's "Cold Lake" or Discharge's "Grave New World", but even those aberrations fail to capture exactly what has transpired with the premier of Darkthrone's newly concocted 15th studio album "The Underground Resistance".
In contrast to the expected motive of audience pandering, what occurs here is about as far removed from anything that could be mistaken for seeking after sales from either mainstream circles or the growing wing of fashionable non-conformists lapping up the so-called "cult" side of black metal. It is still recognizably possessed of the earliest black metal influences attributable to Bathory, Celtic Frost, Venom and Mercyful Fate, but also loaded with epic power/speed metal elements that hearken towards something a lot closer to Manilla Road mixed with Quorthon's Viking era material. The songs are generally up tempo, yet simultaneously avoiding the blast happy tendencies of the 2nd wave sound in favor for the traditional speeding approach of early 80s Motorhead. Truth be told, this is arguably the most overtly 80s album that Darkthrone has ever put out, if going by the roads a bit less traveled during said era.
The first thing that leaps out from the opening throws of "Dead Early" is a combination of light rawness meshed with a somewhat polished production, not all that far removed from the last couple offerings out of Mark Shelton's projects, though the drums are actually a good bit more thunderous and exuding an uncharacteristic amount of clarity compared to Fenris' previous stints behind the kit in the studio. Soon following is a duality between doom leaning guitar themes and a generally speed/thrashing rhythmic demeanor that is not unheard of, but definitely uncharacteristic of Fenris and Nocturno's numerous works. Special attention should be given to the frequent lead guitar breaks, which don't quite reach the level of indulgent jam shredding that Shelton does with Manilla Road, yet is far more adventurous and captivating than anything that this band has done since "Soulside Journey".
For the most part, the arrangement tends to be simply and doesn't really exploit the frequent switch-up approach known to thrash metal bands from the 80s, but there is definitely an effort at development at play here. The album pretty much starts on a decent note and proceeds to get better and better with each song, culminating in two very well accomplished epics at the tail end of the album. "Come Warfare, The Entire Doom" proves to be an intricate mix of dragging doom themes played at high tempo with a smattering of tremolo picked riffs that hint at an early death/thrash sound, complete with a semi-guttural snarl that was the common vocal approach before Chris Barnes and David Vincent started going deeper. "Leave No Cross Unturned" kicks things off in a driving thrash fury not all the far from early Exodus with a denser guitar tone, before navigating through a variety of high tempo changes and shouted ravings, topped off with the occasional vocal homage to King Diamond out of Fenris.
It's a foregone conclusion that a lot of Darkthrone's regulars who managed to weather the change in sound that came in with "The Cult Is Alive" will be scratching their heads at this one, let alone what the archaic purists who swore off everything after "Transylvanian Hunger", and it is equally inevitable that this band will hardly be bothered at such a turn of events. These guys are making music entirely on their own terms, refusing to even dignify the calls for more cliche black masses at moonlight, and it is a delight to follow them as they continue to buck the trends and the naysayers while continuing to make great music in a variety of forms. Unsheathe your swords and prepare for a different kind of battle, and don't skip up on the mead.
Later submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 8, 2013.