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These early Darkthrone albums are pesky things to write about, since you're either sure that others have already said all you want to say or that your point of view hasn't been represented at all. With 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky', it was more of the former, while I don't feel that 'Transilvanian Hunger' has been described in a way that I entirely agree with. In the first place, has anyone looked very closely at that title? Transylvania? Vampires? True black metal? Excuse me while I deliver this letter to Cradle of Filth telling them that all is forgiven. The title track is about "warm blood" and "daylight slumber", but I don't suppose anyone is paying attention to that, since the focus seems to be the raw and "pure" black metal. What really confuses me about that opinion is how anyone could term this album pure black metal when the preceding 'Under a Funeral Moon' is actually that much frostier, evil, and mysterious. I'm going to take a risk and say that, for me, this is actually an extension of black metal into more epic realms, capturing not a little of the nascent Viking spirit that burgeoned in the second wave.
Of course, with Darkthrone, any kind of progression always has an eye on the past, and the dirty churn of Celtic Frost, the punkish forthrightness of Venom and Motorhead, and the tarnished epic sprawl of Bathory all feature here as much as they ever did before, if not more. Much of 'Transilvanian Hunger' is a blastbeat-heavy listen, packed with crusty bass and swirling guitars that come on with the energy and blatancy of Motorhead, though the subjects and guitar themes often have more than a touch of adventure and windswept bravado to them, which is totally at odds with the grim, morbid, and even lamenting style chosen by Burzum and Mayhem. Darkthrone have never been completely without human qualities: all those interview videos of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto drinking and smoking, the increasing lack of mystery throughout their career, plus a frequent tendency to just rock out in their music without worrying about being "true". There are plenty of instances of that here, notably in the placement of riffs at the forefront of the sound, always giving plenty of power to the guitars and allowing a few bonafide concessions to headbanging, such as the introduction to 'Skald Av Satans Sol'. As such, this album actually possesses a sense of fun and carefree abandon, which is certainly not one of the precepts of pure black metal.
This is what brings it into the realms of epic or Viking metal in my mind. Notwithstanding some dreadful sounds of impending darkness, the rush and clatter of this album is a close cousin to the sounds of battle, as is the atmosphere of heraldic triumph that rings clear in many of the ascending tremolo riffs, such as that of 'En As I Dype Skogen' and the title track. Unlike with Burzum, where the blastbeats tended to monotonize the sound, smoothing over the roughness of the guitars, or with Mayhem, where Hellhammer's more diverse battery had some purely musical aspirations, Fenriz's drumming is an accelerator that whips the flowing guitars into a frenzy, providing energy and excitement that would not be out of place in classic heavy metal, whatever the difference in extremity.
The reason why the pace and excitement are both so necessary is because the "pure" attribute of 'Transilvanian Hunger' means it comes dangerously close to being plain and boring. This is pretty simple music and the basic chord progressions would get dull very quickly if they weren't played with spirit and sufficient backup from the clattering drums and thundering bass. That background roar of the rhythm instruments is very helpful at turning the repetition into a force of nature rather than an invitation to nap, plus some of those riffs, however easy to learn, almost take the skin off your face with their raw potency. Combined with Nocturno Culto's hungry and desperate screams, 'Slottet I Det Fjerne' and 'Skald Av Satans Sol' in particular soar and rush through alternate rabid onslaughts and transcendental swoons of riffs, proving that the visceral and the (pseudo-)spiritual can go hand in hand. That intensity and conviction in the art make all of the songs a success, barring 'Over Fjell Gjennom Torner', which seems underdeveloped, and 'Graven Takeheimens Saler', the first half of which is plain and uninspired. The lack of variety can cause problems at first, since it appears that all songs follow very similar patterns, though after a few listens, the planning and minor details start to come through more quickly and it becomes easy to love the minute guitar diversion (it would be impossible to call such a small thing a solo) near the close of 'Slottet I Det Fjerne', the dipping bends in the riff for 'I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjod', or the deep ripping sound in Nocturno Culto's voice.
If I have a complaint about this album, it would be the lack of variety, which can make 'Transilvanian Hunger' a tiring listen at times and prevents it from being a frequent choice of listen. There is also, of all things, a substantial problem with the gaps between tracks, which on my edition (the 2003 Peaceville digipak) leaves a lengthy break of 10 seconds between songs, meaning that the ferocious energy and forward momentum is lost as a new song begins. One would have thought that should be easy to fix, but it's a minor bummer when listening to the entire album, even if it doesn't really efface the blitzkrieg enthusiasm of 'Slottet I Det Fjerne' or the troubling rise and fall of 'As Flittermice As Satans Spys'.
If there's anything that sets Darkthrone apart from their Second Wave peers, it's that they make you take the tropes and clichés seriously. Even if Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are less sombre sorts in person, there's a grating authenticity to virtually everything they've done. Is it because they were actually great musicians that wilfully sounded sloppy for the sake of atmosphere. Was it even merely the fact that they got around to doing it first? A monochromatic image of a young man garbed to the nines in spooky regalia would either be laughed at or wearily dismissed today; enough imbeciles have dipped their wicks in black metal to ruin the look for the elites in their midst.
Transilvanian Hunger is easily the most conventional, straightforward and predictably 'black metal' album of Darkthrone's early career, and if it had been released much later into the genre's development, I can't see it having made a fraction of the ripple it's ended up making in black metal spheres. This is a far cry from the unpredictable eclecticism of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and the pristine coldness of Under a Funeral Moon, both of which would sound just as spooky today as they did twenty-odd years ago when I was still shitting myself in diapers. To its credit, Transilvanian Hunger didn't rest of the laurels of Under a Funeral Moon; it instead continued the band's ravenous hunger for change and evolution. The result? One of the most straightforward black metal albums I've ever heard.
Just because I think of it as the weakest in Darkthrone's 'Unholy Trilogy' shouldn't imply I don't think it stands out in its own way, much less that I don't like it. Nevertheless, I can't see too many bands other than these guys really pulling off something so barren and unfrilled. Under a Funeral Moon was arguably even rawer than this, but from that void came a sort of spontaneous magical essence. A lot less on Transilvanian Hunger seems like it was left up to chance. Darkthrone played this album much more straight than the one before it; there aren't the same sort of abrupt tempo changes, exaggerated tinny tones or oh-so-possibly intentional fuck-ups in the musicianship. Nocturno Culto's vocals lack the same creepy resonance effect in the recording. The recorded tracks have been left about as plain as can be.
As a performance and style, Transilvanian Hunger was a step down from its predecessors, I think, although I don't think you can fault them for seeing how barebones they could take the sound. It's not quite as twistedly pretty to listen to as Under a Funeral Moon, but the atmosphere is still here in spades. If anything really defines Transilvanian Hunger in my eyes, it's the songwriting they brought to bear. All things considered, Darkthrone are working with a very narrow palette here. The tempo is very consistent and laden with everpresent blastbeats. The riffs are vaguely melodic and minimalistic. Nocturno Culto's garbled snarl is hard to make out, even on the English-sung title track.
The spectrum is practically narrow enough to paint these tracks as variations on a theme, but Darkthrone's songwriting manages to pull through. Although the atmosphere took a few listens to really appreciate, there were songs here that instantly grabbed me, as though I'd heard them countless times before. "Transilvanian Hunger" stands out in particular in my mind for its fuzzy guitar harmony and droning melody. "Slottet i det fjerne", "I en hall med flesk og mjød" and "En ås i dype skogen" hit me equally as hard, and all for the same reasons; all are cold, punishing and unfriendly. Darkthrone do so much with so little here; despite the wilful simplicity of the art they've created here, I only find my admiration growing with each time I listen to it.
So, the question remains: What would people have made of Transilvanian Hunger, had it been released sometime in the new millennium? I'm honestly not sure. It lacks the chilling high concepts of the two preceding works that would get people excited in this day and age, but when it all comes down to basics, memorable songwriting has an eternal shelf life.
Around 1994, something interesting started happening in the Norwegian black metal movement where many of the movement originators, such as Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor and Enslaved, as well as then newcomers Dimmu Borgir, began taking the genre in a direction distinctive from what Mayhem had laid down. Whether this was the result of Euronymous' murder (and thus Mayhem's diminishing influence on the Norwegian movement) or a coincidental shift in tone, the Norwegian black metal bands began to take inspiration not just in the first wave bands such as Bathory or Celtic Frost, but in their own history, culture and natural landscapes, hence an increased interest in Norse paganism, a lyrical focus on the natural world and the usage of the Norwegian language in the songs. I mention this bit of history because, at first glance, Darkthrone's "Transilvanian Hunger" seems and sounds like a fairly conservative black metal album. The guitars are raw and fast, backed up by constant blast beat drumming and the cover features a corpse paint sporting Fenriz in a black background much like their previous two albums. Look deeper into the album, and instead you will be presented with an interesting case: an album cloaked in the traditional, darkness obsessed approach of black metal, but underneath is an album as grandiose as anything by a classical composer, with a lyrical approach that goes beyond the death and Satan trappings that black metal is associated with.
Although nominally a Darkthrone album, the final product can ultimately be attributed to two musicians whose contributions are equally important, though separate in effect: Fenriz, the instrumentalist, and Varg Vikernes of Burzum, who wrote much of the lyrics for the later half of the album. The musical decisions Fenriz made on this album must be emphasized first, as that is what immediately catches the listener's intention. From the opening strains of the title track, we are presented with guitar work that is about as equally primitive as it is melodic. Underneath the guitars for this and other songs such as "Scald av Satans sol" and "En as I Dype Skogen", you can hear a tune that could have easily been played as part of a movie soundtrack or a classical symphony. There is also an increased emphasis on allowing the buzzing of the guitars to create a cold atmosphere reminiscent of the blowing winter winds in a dark forest (you can almost make out the sounds of leaves crunching in the title track, further heightening this feeling), which sets this album apart from it's predecessor "Under a Funeral Moon", which was focused on creating an absolute musical attack without much thought for transporting it's listener to a world elsewhere.
This approach to the music is not without it's flaws however, and at more than a couple of points throughout the album, the music seems to stagnate, emphasizing passages that are not particularly interesting and repeating them ad naseaum. The real culprit here is "Slottet I det Fjerne", with a riff that is certainly dark, but lacks the melody of the title track or the sinister, foreboding qualities of "Graven Takeheimens Saler", which sounds like it could be a villain's theme song or "Scald av Satans sol" with a dark riff that sounds surprisingly Arabic. To the credit of "Slottet I det Fjerne", it is one of the only tracks on the album that makes an attempt at a guitar solo, which is a welcome change of pace from the largely riff driven sound on the album. I don't believe guitar solos have to be on an album, but on their previous works, Darkthrone were more than capable of doing leads and the occasional inclusion of such leads offered a change of pace that kept the music from staying at the same level throughout. "Transilvanian Hunger", by contrast, is stripped down significantly in terms of song structure, though the cold feeling the riffs convey make up for the lack of pace changing.
As far as the lyrics are concerned, I would first like to point out that of the eight songs on the album, only two are in English. I don't know whether this was the influence of lyrical collaborator Varg Vikernes, but the shift to mostly Norwegian is important, since it also comes along with a shift in lyrical content. Find a translation of the lyrics, particularly those written by Varg, and you will see that while the approach to the lyrics still has that dark, blasphemous quality to it, there is also a focus on the pagan world, on ancient mead halls and battles with Christian warriors that seem removed from the musical and visual aesthetic of the album. The best lyrics are naturally to be found on the best song on the album, "En As I Dype Skogen", with it's Lord of the Rings references ("Nine armed men, nine gray proud horses, carrying a banner on which the eye turned out" is, translated in English, one of the passages in the songs) and the choral vocals set in the background that make this seem like it could be on a modern symphonic black metal release if not for the production quality. Even some of the lyrics of Fenriz have a similar elevated subject matter, such as can be found in "Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner" and "Slottet I det Fjerne" the first of which describes the heat of battle, the second calls to mind ancient pagan rituals. Today, such a lyrical focus is commonplace, but at the time it was a step up from the Satanic obsessions that Darkthrone expressed in their previous records.
"Transilvanian Hunger" is not the perfect Darkthrone record or even the perfect Norwegian black metal record; the music is far too stripped down for my black metal taste and almost never changes pace, if even for a moment. This doesn't mean that the album's value is purely historical, however. The importance of this album to black metal in Norway cannot be underestimated, since it, along with many other albums at the time, signaled a shift to writing songs in their native language with a focus on the more pagan side of mysticism. But the album also works as an example of how you can meld two different approaches to a genre together, and come up with a product that is not only consistent, but enjoyable to listen to. Even if you are not a fan of the buzz saw guitar aesthetic, the music has enough melody hidden underneath the fuzz, the overall sound of the album is cold and otherworldly enough and the lyrics are surprisingly poetic enough that may find yourself listening to the album more than once.
Take any song from this album, it doesn't matter which one, and play it to someone who likes raw music and needs an introduction to black metal. Chances are they'll like it. Also, chances are that song will be their favorite song from this album. My first exposure to this album was Graven Takeheimens Saler, so that remains the song song I find the most tolerable from this album. But even that is fleeting.
There's really no point in anyone describing the general style of this -- you already know it, as it's pretty fuckin' obvious from looking at the front cover. In fact, you've probably heard everything this album has to offer elsewhere, by bands with much more creative juice than Darkthrone. There's nothing here to be gained. There's no point in loving it, no point in hating it, no point in anything to do with this turd, because there are so few ideas in this album, many of which have already been sufficiently expressed in other albums who's record date precedes this one. I detect Mayhem riffs, Burzum riffs, and even a Bathory riff here and there. As expected, originality is not Transilvanian Hunger's strong suite. As well, this album is so well known, it goes without saying it it's pretty obvious that this is raw, ultra-minimalist black metal, but you already knew that. However, it is not GOOD raw, ultra-minimalist black metal. Want good minimalist black metal? Any band from Arkona to Mgla to Hate Forest does the job a helluva lot better than this album did. Hell, even Darkthrone's past catalog does a much better job. Essentially, the concept behind Transilvanian Hunger is to take the weakest song from Under a Funeral Moon (Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn) and make an entire album out of the ideas behind that song. That's the concept, folks -- that is, that's what they were TRYING to do. That's their ambition. Needless to say, the execution fails this admittedly unambitious idea. It's like someone who is doing terrible in high school, tries to get his/her GED, and then even fails at that. It's like Darkthrone have failed at failing here; their other albums are usually of a higher quality, but this is just beyond the pale.
The production isn't even the biggest problem here. I've heard worse, although the paper-thin nature of Transilvanian Hunger does lend it a two-dimensional feel that reduces its staying power (before listening to it right now, I hadn't listened to it in at least a year) and makes it age terribly. Like, I found it tolerable at one point, but that point has long gone. But I digress; the biggest problem here is the lack of effort by Fenriz (I have read, including interviews by Fenriz, that he performed this entire album) and the sloppiness of it all. While most albums where the band "leader" records everything are usually lackluster, (think Divine Retribution by Slayer), this takes the cake. Like I said, take the monotony of Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn from the previous album and make the guitars sloppier with plenty of fuckups and mistakes, make the drums sloppier (I swear to god in every song he slows down by at least 25 bpm by the time every song is done, and that's not on purpose) and, of course, make the production thinner. There's not even aggression here; usually I'm able to forgive sloppy performances and sloppy production if there is genuine aggression and vitriol (think Gorgoroth's early albums, Bathory's early albums, really almost any other black metal legend is better than this). There is none here. The tremolo picking is so slow and staid, it sounds like Fenris shot up china white heroin prior to recording this. That's the only explanation I can think of for why every instrument here sounds so lazy and lifeless. Perhaps that's what Fenris was going for? Either way, that doesn't make it any more listenable. Even if they were trying to make it crappy and succeeded at that, it's still crap and succeeds in only a dadaist, defacing manner. Although, I'd have to seriously question the creativity of someone who defaces their own work.
As well, the riffbase for this is extremely sparse, and I get the feeling that if they took every riff from this album and condensed it into a 20 minute EP, and given the same (paltry) level of performances, it probably would've earned this a 70 or so, but having to listen to an album with very few ideas, very poor execution, and an unflattering production (if the performances were better, the production wouldn't matter) that kills whatever ideas this album DOES have, is not what I would consider a fun musical experience, nor especially gratifying. I like raw black metal, but I'm not a masochist, and I'll stick to better and more able bands for now. Frankly, this album is almost like a phase of shitty music that bored teenagers go through -- most of the blackmetallers I've known who were in their twenties distanced themselves as far as they could from this. In a way, this is less a creative statement and contribution to the metal world and more a retrospective of the state of black metal at the time. Every single cliche' is in place, and all the elements for a stylistically "correct" black metal album are in place, but none of the passion, ambition, and drive behind the roots of the genre are present. As it follows, it's then a good album for newbies to black metal (as well as those who forget that black metal exists outside of Norway) to get into. I guess as well closeminded black metal fans who want nothing but sloppy blastbeats, sloppy guitars, and sloppy production would enjoy the shit out of this album; it means they don't have to actually think about the music they listen to. However, once you have been listening to black metal for at least 8 or so years and gotten a good handle on what the genre can REALLY offer, this album just feels empty, worthless, and more than everything else, overly monotonous and soulless. Going back to the beginning of this review, the reason why the first Transilvanian Hunger song you listen to will be your favorite is because this album is so monotonous, that one song is literally ALL you need to get a good picture of this album. Also, one song is about all I can tolerate at one time from this album nowadays. So I'll just listen to Graven Takeheimens Saler, and let the rest of this sorry excuse for an album rot in the depths of my hard drive.
The year was 1996, I was just discovering metal. A friend and I got a hold of a Relapse Records mail-order catalog and had been using it as a guide to explore the wild and new world of extreme metal. We'd pick out albums based on the cover artwork and descriptions, then go hunt for them at our local record store. One day while shopping around my friend came up to me holding an album. He proudly held it up. The artwork was more gritty than anything I had seen before. I was familiar with the works of Deicide, Dismember, Dissection, but this. . . this was something different, this looked serious. "This is some real vampire shit' my friend proclaimed. I couldn't read the name of the band. All I could make out were the words at the bottom of the album: Transilvanian Hunger
This was the story of my first black metal purchase.
So what makes this album so special after all these years? Transilvaian Hunger is not only a gem of old Norwegian black metal, it is one of the earliest "pure" (a term I try to avoid) examples of the genre. With this album Darkthrone shed every last trace of their musical influences. There isn't a hint of death metal, heavy metal, thrash, punk, or classical. This album is comprised of nothing but the distinct black metal elements that had developed within the scene up until the point, and this was (to my knowledge) the first black metal album to do so.
But what of the music? Purity implies nothing of the musical quality. Transilvanian Hunger sounds like one large, sweeping cold wind blowing through a forest at night. The music on this album might be raw and minimal but the pacing and variation is just right that there is enough here to keep things interesting all throughout the album. The riffing is almost completely comprised of multiple guitars tremolo picking single notes to weave a dense, grim tapestry. To my knowledge not many, or possibly no other bands were using this style of riffing before this album. These grim riffs are the core that leads this album. The bass just follows the guitars and the drums usually play a constant 16th note semi blast-beat which became so distinctly black metal. There isn't much point in going on endlessly about the music on this album. The songs are a well-written, consistent bunch with little variation.
In conclusion the world needed Transilvanian Hunger. It needed this pure, undiluted example of black metal. What it didn't need was the thousands of Darkthrone clones which would come out of the woodwork immediately following this album. If you haven't experienced this album yet, I highly recommend listening to it during some type of solitary activity such as a long walk.
When I think of modern black metal, or black metal that has been stripped of the all-too-self-conscious revisionist leanings of the metal historians, metal that doesn't try overhard in its own inherent proclamations to lay claim to being 'influenced' by Quorthon's early fumblings or the 'theatrical' blasphemy (is there any other kind?) of Venom, I always return to this seminal album. To be sure, Darkthrone were already well on their way to establishing themselves as the legitimate primogenitors of something original with their second album, and they further cemented their necro convictions with the utterly raw and brilliant 'Under A Funeral Moon' (try getting past the production for once and listening to the actual music - especially the interplay of bass and guitar), but it is this album, I think, that finished their blueprint for Norwegian black metal (I remember Fenriz originally saying at the time that they were only going to record three 'black' albums and then break up), and fulfilled their ambitions for creating a new sound that was so monstrously misanthropic, cold, sterile, and hate-filled that it would leave a mark on music that could never be equaled or surpassed. Quite simply, I believe they achieved this on 'Transilvanian Hunger'. This albums stands out among all their others, and completes, I think, their most original phase. After this they would mix the style/aesthetics of cold black metal with Celtic Frost/Hellhammer grooves that, while being original in their own right, somehow didn't seem to carry the weight of conviction that is burned into these songs. I know of no more misanthropic music than this - for here we have a handful of incredibly talented musicians basically turning their backs on the music 'scene' and 'industry', if not the whole of mankind: their masks/paint have become their true identities, their convictions as to the style of their music have become solid reality, and feeling (I believe) completely confident in their abilities and the path they had chosen, they decided to write some of the most emotional, beautiful, obscure, mysterious, despair-ridden, sorrow-filled music ever brought into being or recorded. By playing, one can sense, solely for themselves, using a melodic language that was now strictly their own - so strange, so subjective and personal - Darkthrone created an album of universally applicable music: they brought into the light a landscape freed from the inner darkness.
The production on this album is absolutely 100% perfect and surely must be seen as the benchmark by which all other 'cold black metal' recordings are to be judged, if you were in the frame of mind for 'judging' (I leave that to the pundits and 'critics'). Recorded, supposedly, on a four-track (Fenriz's 'Necrohell Studios'), the production covers the music in a freezing miasma of dejection: you must pierce through this funeral fog in order to even hear what's going on.... but there, right beneath the surface, hides some of the most inspired black metal guitar work ever conceived: layers of ice, the roar of tearing Northern winds, the falling of snow, the howling of wolves, the crisp cold of the night air, the falling away of the Norwegian fjords beneath you as you stand on a mountain side, the steel glint of the mocking stars high above, the sound of the midnight breeze walking through the dark forests; all these various emotions or sensations: an all-consuming hunger, a hatred towards the light, the swooning storm of unconsciousness, slowly sinking, the deafening silence of depression's nadir - all these I hear, or feel, in the guitars. But it goes way beyond these invocations/evocations - there is something so utterly alien, so 'anti-human', so abstract and expressionist in the melodies presented on this album that you can not help but seriously wonder about their frame of mind (or their sanity) when they composed this - and also, how much Burzum they were listening to, if any. Much like the early Vikernes material, this music tends to concentrate on a repetition of simple (but highly evocative, mysterious, spectral, almost overwhelmingly eerie) melodies, and in doing so I am convinced a difficult choice had to be made as to which chord progressions to use. For the most part, if examined closely, the structures used here are not overly complex, and so the most important characteristic of these songs is not the manipulations the melodies are put through but rather the defining, singular, black essence of each theme and the way it blends with the production to form a mesmerizing wall of sound. At its most potent, in the crucible of art for art's sake, through sheer subjective solipsism, this technique reduced the constituents of evil, misanthropic inspiration down to their barest contours and presented these naked, unadorned, chaotic, inchoate, shreds of obscurity in what can only be termed their purest form. This is a purity almost 'religious' or spiritual in its effects, and at its summit it produces a wondrous stillness of the senses, a quiescence of the soul.
For the last year I have despaired of writing this review - how, I felt, could I ever put into words how this album makes me feel - what it stirs up, what it brings to the surface within me? I could write for hours and hours about this album, detailing all its fine points, ruthlessly cataloging all the images or impressions it forms within me, and then where would I be? There would still be the unspeakable, the ineffable - that which can not be communicated, but which I feel somehow must still be translated across... and I would be left where I had started. Such is the power of music - or rather, this is why there is music and we do not delegate all of our attempts at communication to speech alone. All I can say, in the end, is that I recommend this album as I could never recommend another. If the entire history of the Norwegian black metal movement somehow disappeared tomorrow, vanishing into time and space, and all I was left with was this one album, I would not be disappointed - I would be fulfilled, satisfied.
Darkthrone's 1994 release Transilvanian Hunger is considered one of the classic and best albums in the genre that is Black Metal. It's raw sound has captivated many for over a decade now, and has been cited as an influence on black metal bands since it's release. But does it hold up, and is it really that good?
The album was released in 1994 under the seal of the record company Peaceville. This was Darkthrone's fourth album, and their third as a Black Metal band. The album was recorded in two separate sessions; one in December of 1993 for the instruments, and one in 1994 for the vocals. The album was actually recorded in it's entirety by the band's founding member Fenriz himself. While some people have considered this a rumor, Fenriz has stated in two interviews at least.
As with most early Darkthrone albums, a member of the band is featured on the cover. For this recording, Fenriz takes the cover. The album originally had a little controversy with a phrase on the back of the cover. Originally, the back cover featured the phrase Norsk Arisk Black Metal, which translates to Norwegian Aryan Black Metal. However due to the negative reception by many distributors, it was later changed to the band's signature phrase "True Norwegian Black Metal." Another little fun fact that some people might not be aware of, is that Varg Vikernes is credited on the album under his name Count Grishnackh. This is due to the fact that he wrote the lyrics for the lost four songs of the album. Many people who heard this back in '94 thought that because he wrote the lyrics, that he was the one who appeared on the cover.
The track list for the album is as follows:
1. Transilvanian Hunger
2. Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner (the unofficial English translation is Over Mountains and Through Thorns)
3. Skald Av Satans Sol (the unofficial English translation is Scald Of Satan's Sun)
4. Slottet I Det Fjerne (the unofficial English translation is The Castle in the Distance)
5. Graven Takeheimens Saler (the unofficial English translation is Tombs in the Misty Halls)
6. I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjød (the unofficial English translation is In a Hall With Meat and Mead)
7. As Flittermice As Satans Spys
8. En As I Dype Skogen (the unofficial English translation is An Ás* in the Deep Woods)
* A Norse deity
The entire sound of the album is for the most part raw. This has never been uncommon when it comes to Black Metal recordings, especially for those from Norway and Sweden. Due to this, it helps paint a picture with the lyrics. If you close your eyes, and listen to the album in the dark at night, with headphones on, you can begin to imagine the landscape of Transylvania, and the interior of the castle sung about. I might get stabbed by my fellow metal heads for saying this, but this album could be a fun companion to the old classic Castlevania games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Each instrument can be clearly heard. The guitar and drums are at the forefront as are with most Darkthrone releases. The riffs that drone out are some of the most classic in the genre, and can paint a bleak sound for the listener. The drums pound about throughout the album, bringing a thunderous beat to these black hymns. Hell, you can even make out the sound of the base on some tracks. The sound which is featured on Transylvania Hunger is what I myself, and many others consider the quintessential sound for Norwegian Black metal albums. It's one of the band's most complex and mature releases, and shows the progress from when they started as a death metal band in the mid to late 80's, and transformed into the cult black metal band they became and are now.
In conclusion, Transilvanian Hunger is one of the great albums of Norweigna Black Metal, and Black Metal as a whole. Is it the best album? Well no. Some of the production is not at it's best here. As I alluded to earlier, there are times when the atmosphere of the songs really comes through and can paint a picture. However, on the other side of the tracks, it can do the complete opposite and kill whatever atmosphere it had going for it.
Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it a piece of a crap? Not at all. But it isn't the be all album that many fans consider it, and go head over heels for. Of course, this is all just opinion. So don't start bashing the album because somebody says what's bad about it. And to that degree, don't attack the reviewer.
No matter what you think about the album, it is very enjoyable. I highly suggest this to anybody who comes and asks me for a good metal album, no matter what genre they prefer. It's not perfect, but it does the job of helping to cement Darkthrone, and it's members as some of the elite in the Black Metal scene.
***Originally written by myself for my review Blog***
There's never been a time in music like the winter of 1993-1994. Being only a one year old, I can't say that from experience, but looking at the albums released at that time (Transylvanian Hunger, Hvis Lysett Tar Oss, Pure Holocaust, In the Nightside Eclipse, Vikingligr Veldi, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas) is basically looking at a list of greatest black metal albums ever.
Even though Hvis Lysett Tar Oss may have been the best album in the group and In the Nightside Eclipse may have had the greatest influence, Transylvanian Hunger is perhaps the most significant album here. Without a doubt, it's become a bible among minimalist/atmospheric/mother's basement bands the world over. It was the first and most successful instance of the genre and has been copied, for good reason, ad nauseum.
The production is perfect for what they were trying to achieve. The vocals stick out like a lead instrument should, the guitars are harsh, the bass is fully audible, and the drums provide a nice atmospheric rhythm. The instrumentation is pretty much a non-issue when it comes to atmospheric black metal. The one thing I would like to share is that, contrary to popular opinion, songs like these can be surprisingly hard to play on a guitar (as far as drums and bass go, I have no idea). Playing perfectly-executed tremolo power chords five minutes straight requires a fair amount of stamina in your wrists that takes some time to develop.
With the lyrics mostly being in Norwegian, I doubt I could have much to say in this respect. Judging from the many amateur translations, I'd say their pretty much the awesome, satanism/paganism-inspired narratives you would expect. “Slottet I Det Fjerne” is no doubt inspired by Grendel in “Beowulf” and is a stand out.
The two English songs are very far apart in quality. “Translivanian Hunger” has classic, albeit clichéd, Norenglish lyrics (apparently memorable, since the queer phrase “delightfully immortal” is always popping in my head for some reason...). The lyrics to “As Flittermice As Satans Spys,” courtesy of Varg Vikernes, are probably my favorite lyrics to any black metal song ever. These lyrics are great simply for all of the words it invents (“plenilune” = full moon; “Flittermice” = bats; use of “umbrage” as a verb). It also pretty much summarizes the ideology of all of black metal in one song, like in the lines:
“Beholding the son recrucified, beholding gods race browbeaten (yes, for better or worse, anti-semitism will always be apart of black metal...),
Beholding the Devastation of all morals built by them.”
In terms of composition, a lot of people hate this album because they somehow perceive it as “lazy” or “unskilled” for repeating riffs. I suppose when they hear the words “minimalist atmospheric black metal”, they think of Necrophagist or something. Of course riffs are going to be repeated – the key to not becoming boring is asking yourself how often, when, how long, ect. Darkthrone answers these questions perfectly on this album. For all of the simplified drum beats and lack of variation in song composition, I very rarely, if at all, feel bored when listening to this album. That says a lot.
Most of the time what makes a great minimalist band, of course, are the riffs. This is where Darkthrone shines the most as the melodies on these riffs are simply amazingly atmospheric. There's only maybe one or two riffs here that I would consider substandard and a little boring, but the rest are pure gold. Solos are implemented to tastefully augment the effect of the music (the end of “Skald Av Satans Sol” is a good example), which is a must because solos can easily ruin the atmosphere if they run amok.
The other thing to mention is that this isn't what I'd term “cut-and-paste” riff compositions like some other minimalist bands (not just black metal). That is to say there is a lot of variation and, perhaps, improvisation outside of the regular riff progression. The guitar feedback and ominous drums at the end of “Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner” is a good example. The wriggling bass line under “Transilvanian Hunger” is another. These seldom-noticed aspects prevent the music from becoming merely robotic, “riff A to riff B” shit.
Positive Points – the riffs are hypnotizing; the production fits like a glove; the lyrics are classic.
Negative Points – none
As if to infer some grim parody of the legendary KISS solo albums, the cover to Darkthrone's fourth album (and second pure masterpiece) features Fenriz on the cover, in beautiful newsprint tones with candelabra, inverted cross, corpse paint, and the perfectly placed corner logo and gothic album title font. Zephyrous and Nocturno Culto had their 15 minutes in the spotli...dark, and so now should the drummer. Surely, of their entire discography, this is the most iconic of the album art, and possibly the most memorable black metal cover of all time, even if it's not quite the best. It's the type of image that screams 'what more needs be said', and in that way, it is COMPLETELY loyal to the music of this album, a minimal masterpiece which contains hypnotic wave after wave of blissful torture, blood thirst and sorrow.
By this point the band was down to just two members, those same two that we would come to know as important personalities in the black metal scene due to their insights and tasteful endeavors through side projects. It can be argued that Darkthrone are the 'truest' of the original Norwegian black metal sect, due largely to the lack of narcissistic tendencies, and the adherence to isolation and obscurity which the musical message implies. Show me the last video this band made where the member were being lavished by goth models in leather? The cover images from 1992-1994 are about as self-centered as the band would ever get. And aside from a few rare live performances in their old days (as a death metal band), the band made the decision rather early that they would not be a touring act, not even at off-gigs in their own backyards. Though they've probably gotten a solid stash from their recorded works and tightly knit merchandising, the lack of live shows has probably put a severe dent in their earnings. But they don't care. And it is this 'nemesis of the music industry' business which I have always found refreshing in the world of superficial, idol worship that has extended its plastic fingers even into the black metal realm. Thus, I am proud to say my own obvious fanaticism for this band's work is based not only on their astounding ability to craft mood and rhythm, but on a healthy respect for the individuals involved. I can't say the same for a lot of bands...
Where Under a Funeral Moon was a slight shift from the sounds of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, this album is an even wider gyration away from its source. The lyrics here are almost entirely in Norwegian, with the exception of the title track and one other, a practice they used only on one previous song ("Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn"). The guitar tones are much cleaner, now that Fenriz had taken over all the instruments. You saw that correctly: Fenriz writes the music, Fenriz plays the drums, Fenriz plays the guitar, and Fenriz plays the bass here. Culto is on vocals. So you have what is essentially the 'birth' of the one man bedroom black metal act, even if they are cheating with two. At any rate, the guitars no longer maintain that same level of harsh fuzz as the past two albums, and while some might see that as a crippling mutation, it actually works in favor of the compositions, which are bleak and barren landscapes that one must penetrate before one can walk in step with its many glories.
As the melodic force of the title resonates immediately over the rather lazy tint of the drumming, you become quickly attuned to the fact that this is not the same Darkthrone of the year before. Here the guitars paint a palette of fallen majesty, of an archaic history that still stalk at the edge of European folklore and perceptions. The lyrics are rather blunt and obvious, and yet it's still one of the better vampire black metal tunes of the 90s, almost making Ancient and Cradle of Filth irrelevant for their flashier tributes to the subject matter. "Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner (Over Mountains and Through Thorns)" is brief at under 2:30, but nevertheless a beautiful blast of icy northern stream water with scintillating, beautiful notes in the bridge that crash and echo against the stone walls of a mountainous atmosphere, in tribute to the band's native land. If you could bottle this track, I would gladly purchase it over Poland Spring or any other spring water I could buy around here.
"Skald Av Satans Sol (Poet of Satan's Sun)" is a more brutal onslaught of savage riffing, like a call to warfare, each riff a razor drawing blood across the scenery and a steady pounding beat that simply does not cease, ever, until the end. Distorted, bombing basslines thunder beneath, while the chord changes glisten off the fresh viscera of organs strewn about the battlefield, the band yet again proving the power of their simplistic compositions. Rather than break for a different tempo, "Slottet I Det Fjerne (Castle in the Distance)" rages forward, and the bridge rhythm truly does capture the image of its title, in particular if you can imagine the sun descending, shadows beginning to dance across the stones of its foundation. This is dense, forceful and atmospheric material, aped by countless artists and yet eerily still perfect here at the source. By the arrival of "Graven Tåkeheimens Saler (Tombs in the Misty Halls)", any sane person would probably feel redundant at the familiar drum eruption and the simple replacement of the chords, but one might argue that Darkthrone isn't FOR the 'sane' person, and this song is as perfect an expression as any other on the album, with colossal, crashing chords that sweep across the neck like a scythe.
"I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjød (In a Hall With Meat and Mead)" continues, you guess it, at the same passionate pace, another charge of subtleties expressed entirely through the gleaming, beautiful chords, though this one features a crushing bridge before the 1:00 mark in which the band recalls the heavy Hellhammer/Celtic Frost style they polished on some of their previous effects. Monolithic and foreboding, one can feel the tension and horror of a lodge full of Northmen, taking what could be their final supper before being claimed by a murderous grendel. The riff before 3:00 is also a suitably awesome variation, with the hypersonic bass line slugging below its sharp edge. "As Flittermice as Satan's Spys" is the only track aside from "Transilvanian Hunger" to have English lyrics here, and it's another fast, cutting piece with guitars that swell in overture to the fallen angels of hell, represented by the tiny, winged ugly rodents our civilization often fears in the night. "En Ås I Dype Skogen" is a longing, desperate climax to the album, with riffs that feel like arms outstretched to touch the warmth of a faded sun, repeating like a ritual of futility against the onset of wintery death, with a majestic, haunting bridge rhythm.
A valid criticism often leveled against this album is its unwillingness to shift up its pace, and I could see how that might affect some listeners. In fact, were the riffs and atmosphere on this album not as good as they are, I myself might see this as a negative trait. However, the material composed for Transilvanian Hunger is so bloody good that it becomes a roller coaster I just don't want to get off...even if that means I race up and down the same skeletal tracks for nearly 40 minutes. There is a such a sense of unity and semblance among structure of the songs that I could imagine the following conversation take place:
NC: I love the riff you just recorded, but what if you were to shift to these frets here, and then ascend to that note there...
F: That's great! But I've already recorded the other sequence...
NC: Who cares? Just play the same drumbeat and write some different lyrics.
F: But...but...people might get kind of tired of...
NC: Fuck people.
F: You fiend! Big hugs.
Transilvanian Hunger is compulsive and addictive, like taking heroin shots while you snort lighter fluid. Sooner or later you are bound to catch fire, and sooner or later you are bound to fall for this album's monstrous level of charisma, despite the bland consistency of its surface to air missile drumming and ceaseless barrage of riffs which belong to the upper atmosphere by day, descending to the twilight world like a cloud of demons to settle upon the necks of the innocent and suckle their vitae. I can't say that i feel any less strongly about it than when I first picked it up, it is simply one of those eternal sensations which my imagination fondly drifts about with both cold nostalgia and aural satisfaction. The band's disconnect from all worthless trends continued here, another fist in the eye of the Creator and the scenester horseshit which was already beginning to poison the black metal scene of its day.
I suppose this is another of the band's 'love it or hate it' albums, but I place myself at the extreme edge of the left column, beating my little angel wings and firing arrows at passersby as I tune them into its grim and foreboding luxuries. Transilvanian Hunger might be perfect in a different way than A Blaze in the Northern Sky was, but it's still perfect, and you can take that to the blood bank and cash it.
Highlights: no Van Helsings in sight, kill at will and bleed to feed.
Preceding Transilvanian Hunger, Darkthrone were able to conjure up some of the best and most important black metal of the second wave. Their unique take on the music put forth by bands like Venom, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, and Bathory created the gem that is A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and finding their own niche they developed their signature sound with Under a Funeral Moon. According to interviews, drummer and main force behind TH, Fenriz claims that it took a mere two weeks to record Transilvanian Hunger. Usually a fact like that is not enough to pass judgment on the album, but when listened to it, it makes perfect sense that the album was recorded in such a small passing of time.
Right from the beginning of the album changes should be apparent to listeners. Darkthrone stripped themselves down to a level of minimalism practically unmatched at the time. Creating a large schism amongst fans, Transilvanian Hunger has constantly been heralded as a development, and perfection in minimalism, while others lay claim that it is a piece of music that anyone could of done and that it acts a ploy because of the musician's understanding of what would be accepted and how people would perceive it. Much like the well known painter Jackson Pollock, this work is fiercely debated and often sold to people as something they would not conceive on their own.
To claim, in anyway, that this album is mature, developed, or complex in anyway is a huge overstatement. Technically speaking this album is painfully simple: a constant drumbeat, an average of two to three riffs per a song and your run of the mill vocals. The riffs used are often simple, but catchy and enjoyable, they work greatly on songs like "Transilvanian Hunger" but fall completely flat on songs like "Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner" and others are mediocre and become a chore to listen to.
The fault of this album is that at its heart, it is a good idea and something that could greatly work, but much like other early works of minimalist black metal (Filosfem) it suffers from some really poor choices and when thought about too much comes off as childish and uninspired. Part of me edges towards the notion that Fenriz and Nocturno Culto knew fans would eat this up and set out to task, not a passion, to create something that would raise their reputation; for the most part i disregard such a notion, but it's not a good sign that it floats around.
Beyond the stagnation of many songs, another sore aspect of this album for me is the production. The production is horribly weak and really hinders a lot of the atmosphere that many claim is present. I would like to say this album acts as a melodic response and nod towards a style of black metal bands like Von pioneered, and i guess that would make sense.
Giving way to countless imitators, Transilvanian Hunger has become a staple in black metal. Part of my disdain that surrounds this album is the fact that people are so head over heels about it. When it boils down to it, the album is mediocre. An album like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, or Vikingligr Veldi deserves so much more praise then the monotonous workings of Darkthrone's fourth album. The fanaticism and fanboyism that surrounds this album acts a miasma of ignorance and submissiveness. While I, like everyone else, have no right to impose my views as facts upon anyone else, I can't help but feel that people think that they should like this album and follow in a sheepish trend as an attempt to seem "true" in the underground's most judgmental eyes.
Many, as a reaction to the overwhelming fervency of this album, dismiss it as complete crap, while others adhere to that said fervency and just as mistakenly as the other party, build the album up to a gluttonous level of praise. The "goodness" of this album, as with any work, is in the eye of the beholder, and try as I might I cannot enjoy this album as others do. While I dislike the album in question, it is hard to deny its importance, and it is that importance and the influence it has espoused that I do not write it off as complete crap. A testament to its influence is a lot of modern black metal, a good example is Demony's Joined in Darkness, which takes the ethos behind Transilvanian Hunger and creates something a lot more powerful (and something as to which I greatly enjoy).
Listen for yourself, if nothing else, the album serves as an interesting point of reference and evidence to the Norwegian scene. I keep this album around in hopes that I someday will stumble upon it and fall in love with it, but that day has not come, and probably never will. In no way should this album be built up as some heavily inspired and thought provoking piece of work, if anything it should be a simpe enjoyment. Make of it what you will.
How can this album be described? Fans of it will say it is minimal. Detractors will likewise say it is minimal. Fenriz says it is minimal. I say it is minimal. Indeed, Transilvanian Hunger is a work of minimalism. Three riffs per song, generally with two alternating main riffs and a third bridge riff; little variation in song structure; simple drum beats and bass lines that usually follow the guitar riffs; and raw production. It is minimal. What this minimalism creates is a hypnotizing ambience and an atmosphere that unfolds around the listener. Every riff is tremolo-picked, and except for the first riff of Skald Av Satans Sol and the second riff of I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjod, none of the riffs have any sort of rhythmic emphasis. This album is a continuous flow of melody with little disturbance.
It is apparent that Darkthrone is not one of the bands that hide their simple core with a flashy outer coating. Darkthrone is also not one of the bands that mistake simplicity for minimalism and boredom for ambience. They distinguish themselves as the masters through subtle manipulations. The bass guitar provides unexpected contrapuntal twists while the second guitar occasionally switches the harmonic backdrop. Howling, tremolo arm-based guitar leads and pick scrapes are also employed. Nocturno Culto knows exactly when to scream to heighten the dramatic effect and Fenriz plays some essential fills. None of these are conspicuous. Instead of disrupting the atmosphere, like some flamboyant attempt at appearing complex would, these subtleties work unassumingly to sustain the magic of the atmosphere, fueling it with small does of warm blood to keep the listener from being completely frozen, or bored, by the cold trance.
Individual tracks, however, are little more than good black metal songs with predictable structures. The true brilliance of this work only becomes apparent when the album is taken as a whole. That which once was a simple riff becomes something of a theme to be developed throughout the album. There is more than a passing melodic semblance between the second riffs of Skald Av Satans Sol and I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjod, and most of the riff can be divided into largely two groups: the frosty, more consonant riffs and the aggressive and fierce riffs. But this is not to say that riffs are merely recycled, for the context in which each riff enters is constantly adjusted. While the basic structure of the songs generally adhere to the ABABCAB riff pattern, as perfectly exemplified by En As I Dype Skogen and Skald Av Satans Sol, and the to a lesser extent the title track (which has riff "A" played again at the very end), there are slight changes in the arrangement: ABC (Over Fjell Og Gjennom Troner), ABCABC (Slottet I Det Fjerne), ABABCBA (Graven Takeheimens Saler), ABABCA (I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjod), and ABCA (As Flittermice As Satans Spys). This, however, is but a minor aspect. The way riffs interact with each other makes the album much less predictable than the individual songs, for the climaxes occur at different moments in different songs (e.g. the title track and As Flittermice As Satans Spys reaches their climaxes as the first riff enters again after the bridge and Nocturno sends out a scream, while in the case of Skald Av Satans Sol the cathartically consonant yet ambiguous third riff drives it to the climax), with some songs showing an equivocal attitude toward the concept of climax (e.g. Graven Takeheimens Saler, I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjod). Despite of having each song clearly defined, with fully resolving cadences and moments of silence between the end of one and the start of another, Transilvanain Hunger is like a river, with songs naturally flowing from one to the next. This is mainly a result of the fact that the riff pattern is organized from a larger perspective, rather than from a point of view confined to a single track. The way the menacing opening riff of Graven Takeheimens Saler towers above its surroundings in a grim manner after a beautifully consonant riff closes Slottet I Det Fjerne, or how the cold riff of En As I Dype Skogen drives forward after the dark and heated ending of As Flittermice As Satans Spys, is even climactic in itself.
No review of Transilvanian Hunger will be complete without mentioning the production. Fans will say it is raw. Detractors will say it is raw. I say it is raw - and perfect. Each instrument is clearly audible, yet they all come together as a singular force. Nocturno Culto's vocals feel ventriloquial, with the component of human throat almost being removed from the voice - thus the vocals feel abstract, like evil itself personified, rather than a voice coming out from a human being. The guitar tone is very fuzzy and inflated, but lacks the aggressive sharpness from the previous album. It is harsh and raw but not filthy or ugly. The cold treble is there, but it feels more like snow than ice. The lyrics of the title track really described it best: "So Pure...Evil, Cold." This also applies to the music at large. It is remarkable that the two albums that represent the pinnacle of Darkthrone's artistic achievement are, while technically similar, almost like polar opposites in mood. Whereas Under A Funeral Moon was utterly demented and eerie, Transilvanian Hunger is the essence of pure beauty, transcending the mere ear-pleasing aesthetic and arriving at a state of meta-beauty through the juxtaposition and the mutual struggle of the beautiful and the ugly. Transilvanian Hunger is minimal, but not simple; it is complex.
Transilvanian Hunger, one of the most cited works in the black metal genre. The sound on the album is without a doubt one of the most replicated in black metal, along with Burzums black metal albums. Anyone interested at all in the genre would do well to give this album a thorough listen for it has influenced many bands, though the sound and atmosphere has never been fully replicated to sound quite as good as the original.
The formula of this album is very simple, and also very effective. This is one of the finest examples of riff based black metal. Songs feature a very small amount of riffs, usually two main riffs (verse and chorus) and sometimes a bridge or middle section riff. The riffs don't vary, they aren't expanded upon and they are just repeated ad infinitum. With such a simple formula I think it is safe to say that the success and effectiveness of this album are not derived from the song structures nor the song writing, but rather from the riffs themselves. The repetition is an essential factor to the album, but without the excellent riffs we would not have the classic that Transilvanian Hunger is.
The riffs are perfectly written, usually extremely simple in nature. The whole albums centers around simplicity. There is never an unexpected moment (perhaps the ending of Over Fjell Og Gjennom Turner is a little abrupt) and all the songs follow the same formula. Mid to fast paced tempo, a simplistic blast beat and some riffing over the top. The riffs are mainly tremolo picked diads (two note chords) and usually change about once a measure, in other words nothing really amazing. Except that the actual result is amazing. I don't think I could find a better riff than the main theme of Transilvanian Hunger, a riff that is so simple it is amazing how well it works. The riff basically does a harmony on one pedal note (the lower note) and then for the second half of the riff switches the pedal note, giving the harmony a dark twist that is ingenious in its simplicity,
The drumming is something that should be noted as well. It is perfectly in the pocket, and what is more it sounds extremely natural and organic. A lot of modern black metal is grossly triggered, especially the kick drum, and the authentic low and round sound of the kick is a wonderful sound in the mix of this album. The snare drum is mixed very low and meshes in with the hats and ride. Cymbals stand out to call attention to changes in riff or to mark where a riff repeats. The drumming does little more than play the same blast beat throughout most of the CD, adding more monotony and repetition to the sound, and also giving all eight songs a very cohesive sound. Vocals are similar, they sound extremely organic and raspy, probably the best performance of Nocturno Culto captured on a record. The range is pretty low, no annoying high shrieks of any sort, and once again the range is rather monotonous, not varying much in pitch.
So why does all this monotony work? Apart from the excellent riffing and vocal delivery the reason is the production. As I have already stated the album is extremely organic in sound, and is centered mostly around the mids of the frequency range, which is why I encourage you to seek out an original recording of this album. The remaster (from 2001 I think) has made the treble levels higher and has made the album sound to synthetic and electronic for my taste, which is why this actually one of the few cases where I listen to the actual CD and not mp3, because simply put, I think this is one of the few cases where listening to the original release in the format it was meant to be listened to makes a difference worth paying attention to. The production is so important to the atmosphere that it is worth getting out your cd player to listen to this one.
Put in another way, this is an atmospheric masterpiece. Not in the same way that some bands are atmospheric with the whole string ensemble orchestral sound, but because the production and sound of the album are such an integral part of it. The riffing is superb, the drumming is furiously consistent, and the vocal delivery is on par. Essential listening for all metal fans.
The year is 1994. Black Metal has existed for a little over a decade, but only recently has it hit the spotlight. Bands like Emperor, Burzum, Mayhem, Ildjarn, and of course Darkthrone made up the so-called second wave of black metal. Shunning the death metal scene of the time for being too overproduced and poppy, these bands attempted to re-create the true death metal sound, their interpretation of which would later be known as black metal. Of course, this review is not a history lesson. It is a lesson in why Transilvanian Hunger is one of the finest albums to emerge from the second wave of black metal, and perhaps metal on the whole.
Where Emperor chose to represent its black metal with elaborate counterpoint and complex songwriting, and Mayhem originally played a blend of pseudo-thrash riffs with a rhythm section right out of death metal, Darkthrone preferred minimalistic styles more akin to the piano works of John Cage and the Baroque drones underpinning some of the best works of Georg Philip Telemann. Written almost exclusively in the minor, every riff on Transilvanian Hunger evokes a sense of longing, regret, and a glimpse at the ultimate downfall of civilization. Darkthrone themselves say it best on their lyrics of the title track:
Beautiful Evil Self to be the Morbid Count
A part of a Pact that is delightfully immortal
Referring literally (and obviously) to the legend of the modern European Vampire that Bram Stoker first created with Dracula, this simple couplet represents the entire vision of the album, that is the unavoidable fact that we mere mortals will eventually be extinguished from this Earth and only our immortal creations will remain. Darkthrone is unpretentious however, and they are not suggesting that they have created anything worthwhile. Instead, they allow their creation to speak for itself.
It would be far fetched to call Transilvanian Hunger an experimental or avant-garde album, but the influence it has had on black metal is undeniable. Even more than Darkthrone's earlier black metal output, this album is a force of minimalism that takes shape not through the meshing of individual instrumental parts like Soulside Journey did but instead through the product of the whole. The production is raw, gritty, but still balanced between extreme treble or bass. The vocals of Nocturno Culto are generally impossible to decipher without a lyric sheet, but they are still a vital part of the music. Rhythm is a strong component of Transilvanian Hunger and the guitar is the driving force behind it. In an interesting and unorthodox move for black metal, it is sometimes the vocals that provide the lead and substitute for melody over the rhythmic riffing of the guitar. Darkthrone's latest albums show their heavy affection for early punk music and rock n' roll, and the drumming of Fenriz as early as 1994 pays homage to his influences. A steady repetition of blastbeats and d-beat patterns keeps time and meter while generally serving to enhance the playing of the riffs. Interesting this was the last album Zephyrous played on, choosing to leave before Panzerfaust. Perhaps it is his role as guitar player on this album that gives it such a unique sound, even compared to earlier Darkthrone albums he also played on.
The mistake many may make in listening to Transilvanian Hunger is not an intentional one. Instead, it is one brought on by simply listening to too many modern bands that have been inspired by Darkthrone. The sound of 1349, Dark Funeral, and even so-called suicidal black metal bands like Xasthur owe their entirety to Transilvanian Hunger (and to a lesser extent Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas). The unfortunate outcome is that these bands miss the mark by far - Transilvanian Hunger was not an album intended to be copied; Darkthrone did not want countless clones to rip off their sound. For some listeners, it may be hard to realize the superiority of the original when they have been spoiled by overproduced and stereotypical black metal, the stereotypes being created first by Transilvanian Hunger.
Transilvanian Hunger is not an easy listen for the beginning black metal fan, and at first it may be cast aside in favor of more recent bands that simply copied its formula. But this is an album well worth sinking listening time into, for under the surface it is easily one of the best black metal albums of the 1990s and one with the most longevity. Transilvanian Hunger is true, pure, raw, cold, and worthy black metal that is nothing else. It is black metal. It is one of the classics of the second wave. It is Darkthrone. Nothing more need be said.
One of the problems with legendary albums is that they often steal the thunder of other great albums, which is unfortunate regardless of how good the opuses granted such elite status may be. There is even a sense of legend attached to the year 1994 insofar as the 2nd wave of black metal is concerned because of the large number of legendary albums released at that time. Darkthrone’s disposition at this time is unique because they seemingly joined the scene quite late (there is some question regarding the 1988 demo “Land Of Frost” being a black metal release or not) yet had also put out more full length albums than several others, mostly due to their label being willing to take a chance on an already signed act changing styles, thus giving birth to the black trilogy that this release is the 3rd and final installment of.
With regards to this famed black metal trilogy that comprised Darkthrone’s releases on their first stint with Peaceville Records, this is arguably the weakest. There is definitely a strong sense of Burzum’s style of minimalism, though presented in a much more barebones fashion. There are no keyboards to speak of to augment the atmosphere, the songs will often begin abruptly and mostly end with either a traditional fade out or an equally abrupt final stroke, most of the songs consist of 3 or 4 very clear cut riffs/melodic ideas, and the tempo remains almost completely linear throughout. Guitar solos are extremely few in number, reserved in their presentation, and ultimately a slave to what is going on around them, which is a departure from the technical flair of “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” and the grimly cold yet intricate “Under A Funeral Moon”.
This entire album could be described as a collection of 8 poetic narratives, only two of which are in English, thus necessitating translations for anyone not of Norwegian descent. What surrounds them is an almost uniform wall of sound, built with hundreds of icy notes and chords played in rabid succession with a rhythmically precise, perpetual blast beat. The voice track towers over the rest of the arrangement, yet is simultaneously garbled under the weight of its own moroseness and often listens like a faint, incoherent whisper trapped beneath 20 centimeters of frost. Its charm is not immediately obvious, but repeated listens develops a gradual impression that eventually unfolds into a waking sleep of emptiness.
Although the production definitely reaches for the fuzzy bleakness that typifies “Filosofem”, it falls short of achieving the same mesmerizing affect, and there is this sense of perpetual sameness to most of the songs that further hinders the album’s flow. The opening title track individually listens like a brilliant prelude to a very dark endeavor, complete with a sorrowful droning melody implied in the guitars that could freeze the soul of the bravest day walker. But then we get another similar idea, in almost the exact same tempo, with no hearable variation. It’s almost akin to listening to Buddhist or Gregorian chants for 39 minutes, but with electric guitars and a good deal of static.
The idea behind “Transylvanian Hunger” would have greater potential with a more ambitious attitude towards musical arrangement. This doesn’t mean to suggest that the album need be the theatrical and heavily technical feats that “In The Nightside Eclipse” and “Vikingligr Veldi” were, nor thrash riff happy extravaganza that “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” was, but a greater sense of variation can occur within the minimal style that this is presented in without robbing it with its stylistic attributes and further expand its charm. Nocturno’s vocals could stand to vary a little more as well, as they are just as restrained and minimal as everything else here, jumping out to the listener mostly because they are too high in the mix.
I can’t say that I’m in love this album, but I can’t bring myself to dislike it because individually each of its songs possesses a sort of impressionistic charm that isn’t lost on me. Sometimes I see frozen landscapes under a full moon with the immortal Dracula standing stoic in its light, other times a scene not all that removed from what Cocytus might look like. But the canvass sounds incomplete, and stops short of any real sense of climax, denouement, and closure.
Later submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 10, 2009.
Darkthrone- a bunch of seemingly pretty laid back dudes cranking out some fierce, minimalistic black metal. Perhaps it's just me, but with my first experience of this band being Nocturno Culto's 'The Misanthrope' DVD (which I thought was really good, personally), it's always been hard to take these guys' older, more grim albums all that seriously.
Still, dudes seem to love them, so surely there must be something about them. And there is- this album kicks off with a quality riff, everything a lot more bassy then I expected, everything all buzzy and with a repetitive, hypnotic feel. It's great.. the problem is that it doesn't really vary, at all, for the whole album.
For the record, I know that it's a bit unfair for me, the resident drone fanatic of MA, to single out something as 'boring' or 'repetitive'. But that's what this is, and while it's highly enjoyable in short sharp bursts of three or four songs, listening to it in large doses turns the whole thing into a dreary, blurred smear of hypnotic blast beats and endless guitar riffs belted out with the same tremelo'd rhythm.
Most songs are good, even great, on their own. The title track's opening riff can simply be described as perfect, (and I'm certain that Ulver ripped a few of these riffs for their Nattens Madrical album) and indeed, most riffs on their own are really solid. Perhaps I had just got a bit caught on the mythology of this band, but it's all a lot less extreme then I expected- the riffs, while not melodic in the 'Hey guys lets rip off Iron Maiden' sense, are still very memorable, surprisingly catchy, and you will find yourself humming them. 'Skald Avc Satans Sol' has a vague NWOBHM vibe too it (the production increasing that sort of obscure early 80's vibe), while 'Graven Takeheimens Saler' is probably the heaviest song on the album, Fenriz supplying some excellent, kinda galloping beats while Nocturno summons an epic wall of guitar. It's a great song, probably the best on the album. I was also quite surprised by just how 'good' the production is- the guitars are muddy but still quite thick, the bass is surpisingly audible, and the whole production is suitable raw but still somewhat pleasant on the ear.
Honestly, I'm not entirely sure why I get so bored of it, as the songs sound great on their own.There's a few bands I like that do a similiar, perhaps even more repetitive styles of this sort of music- Paysage D'Hiver, for one, but whereas PDH achieves some sort of 'blast till transcendence' thing with me, Darkthrone just leaves me bored after a few minutes. I guess one of the main reasons is that I'm a pussy- whereas PDH offers some sort of spacey vista in his music, Darkthrone offers up something monochrome and bleak. While the music may not be all that fierce (or at least not as much as I'd thought), the bleakness of the songs and endless tremelo'd guitar riffs seem to exude a massive amount of nihilism and hopelessness. I guess that's a good thing for most people reading this review- but as a fairly cheery dude, I don't really see the point of it.
I guess the ultimate question, then, is 'Why did I bother writing this review then?', and I don't really know how to answer that. In the end, I'd recommend that if you have a passing interest in black metal that you should give this a listen. It's heavy and fast and what not. I just don't really derive any enjoyment from it. Those who like their music bleak will enjoy this, but those of us who are pussies would probably be best finding something else.
Naysayers can eternally rot! This is raw, minimalistic, nihilistic, grim black metal, a milestone and eternal classic in the genre. Joke if you want about the production (which sounds great compared to Mutiilation or Beherit, I don't see what the complaining is all about), but the production is just one of the great things about this album. Really everything about the album is great, it deserves its rating. It is the epitome of evil in black metal music, impossible to access by the mainstream, metal or otherwise. Fans of popular newer black metal may be disgusted to find out not all evil can be that clean. This is dirty, this is raw.
The overall sound of the album has been described by many, but I'll do it too in case you don't know yet. The drums are very repetitive, mid to fast tempo blastbeats. The drum sound is muffled, and essentially becomes "white noise" to a casual listener unless you are listening to the album very closely. This repetitive and "background noise" nature of the drums is a blessing. The drums serve only to keep a steady, trance-like rhythm to the music. This allows the guitar to be the focus of the instrumental portion of the music.
Which brings me to my next point: the riffs of Transilvanian Hunger. They are mostly sad-sounding, and all definitely evil. The riffs of this album are the soundtrack to darkness and sadness. They are all played entirely open: no palm muting or fancy guitar work here. Strictly open notes, open strings, and power chords with open strings for dissonance create a wall of sad-sounding riffage. The bass is essentially unheard on this album due to its nature and focus on guitar, however at some points it is heard, generally playing one or two notes over and over (essentially a background-music extension of the drums). The guitars, leading the instrumental sound of the band, are fairly high pitched in terms of metal, which runs parallel to the vocals of Nocturno Culto.
Nocturno Culto's vocals are top-notch to creating an evil, black metal atmosphere. He has throaty, evil sounding growls that are neither very low (ala death metal) or very screechy (ala Hat from Gorgoroth's Pentagram). The vocals are mid-range which is really great for the music- high vocals would simply be over the top in this sort of minimalist rampage of bleak nihilism, and low vocals would take the emphasis off of the repetitive (this is a good thing here) two or three black metal riffs per song.
This album's effect on black metal is profound- there are a slew of bands who play Transilvanian Hunger-influenced style. Generally they fail to meet the mark- one generally cannot create evil beauty like this over again. Darkthrone didn't try to create the sound again, as they haven't had an album like this since.This album shows that a band can play only a minimal amount of a few riffs in a cold atmosphere and create an absolute classic.
Darkthrone are mostly known for their triptych (a work of art divided in 3 sections) of A Blaze In The Northern Sky, Under A Funeral Moon and, finally, Transilvanian Hunger.
These three albums represent the pinnacle of their black metal work. Later albums just aren’t as grim or as “black” even though they still are great for the most part. Transilvanian Hunger is the last of these three godly black metal albums and, in my opinion, the greatest.
One aspect this album is famous for in black metal circles is its completely awful production. I say awful not in a negative sense but in a sense that compares this to the vast majority of artists who try to make their music sound…well recorded. Here Fenriz and Nocturno decided to produce their fourth studio album in a way that makes it sound about as grim, raw and generally evil as possible. As much as I personally consider good production a good thing, I am forced to say that many extremely well-produced black metal bands out there just don’t sound evil at all. Most of these are symphonic bands such as Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth but also some “tr00” bands like Immortal and newer Darkthrone. In any case, the production here fits the music perfectly. This is as raw as it can get.
Musically we have raw and simplistic black metal played by what is undeniably one of the best black metal bands ever. Fenriz’s drumming is extremely simplistic and in the background, as should be for any good black metal. One interesting aspect here is that even though this is raw as fuck, the riffs are quite melodic in nature. Not to mention well-played, even if they are quite repetitive: there are only two riffs on the title track. That’s 6:09 in length. And these two riffs manage to create on of the greatest black metal tracks ever done by anyone.
As for the lyrics I can only judge the title track since the rest is in Norwegian, a language I still can’t understand (yet). However, if the rest of the album is lyrically similar to the title track then we’re in for one extremely well-written album. Transivanian Hunger’s lyrics deal with the coldness of death, vampires, and generally Transilvania. Now it’s not really that cold in Transilvania (not even during winter) but this song really manages to make Transilvania seem like it were in Norway or even further north. The last four tracks are written by Burzum’s mastermind and only member Varg Vikernes, a.k.a. Greifi (Count) Grishnackh. Judging by Varg’s work with Burzum, these tracks must be excellent as he’s a fucking genius when writing music. And while performing it.
One thing that’s made this album considerably more infamous is the nature of some of the statements on the back cover. First of all is the statement made by Fenriz about the album’s quality which was to be printed on the back cover but was refused by their label:
“We would like to state that Transilvanian Hunger stands beyond any criticism. If any man should attempt to criticize this LP, he should be thoroughly patronized for his obviously Jewish behavior.” Obviously, as we live in a completely fucked up society dominated by political correctness up everyone’s ass, this was seen as racist by their label Peaceville and they made a huge fuss over nothing, leading to Darkthrone’s signing onto Moonfog Productions 2005, when they’ve returned to Peaceville.
The second statement that sparked controversy was the Norsk Arisk Black Metal (Norwegian Aryan Black Metal) written on the back cover in very large print, under True Norwegian Black Metal.
These four words made it into early prints of the album but were censored from the recent digipack version. Again, everyone’s mass hysteria about something being politically incorrect caused a huge crisis with the band having been accused of being National Socialists by the lovable Norwegian media and then having to made a statement as to which they are not a political band. Of course the word Aryan (simply meaning White, Caucasian) has been almost banned in the world since 1945 as a symbol of the evil of whites being proud of their heritage and culture.
Transivanian Hunger is Darkthrone’s best effort ever and one of the greatest black metal albums written. This is perfect when considering its musical genre and has absolutely no flaws to it. This is essential to everyone who claims to love black metal and is sincere about it. One must really have something wrong going on in his/her brain in order to claim this is bad while pretending to be a black metal fan. This IS black metal in its purest, unaltered form.
As Darkthrone progressed from death metal to black metal, another evolution took place: the distillation of the music itself. Under A Funeral Moon was significantly grimmer and darker than A Blaze in the Northern Sky, which was in its own right already a classic. (And a total inversion of what was done on Soulside Journey.) Fenriz and Nocturno simplified the music as time went on; not out of laziness, but to emphasize the real essence of what black metal was about. Fenriz as a drummer became more bare-boned in his approach and playing style, and his contribution in songwriting became increasingly minimalistic, but darker. The band eventually reached the musical formula that would form Transilvanian Hunger. This is the raw essence of black metal without frills.
Darkthrone's aim in their early career was to express the unbridled essence of black metal music through continuous simplicity in playing technique. Transilvanian Hunger shows the product of their ventures; a concentrated, distilled, and ultimately accurate collection of songs that got the point across. Whereas previous albums had some shades of grey with the bleak nature of the music, Transilvanian Hunger is monochromatic, one-way, and unchanging. Many of these songs only consist of two or three dissonant, atonal, ugly, power-chord driven riffs, all of which are repeated during long, narrative phrases. Fenriz' drum beats now consist of a never-ending bass/snare pattern with very few fills that would become a staple of black metal. Some may not like this at all, but the heart of the album lies in the droning, suffocating, and cold atmosphere put off by everything. The drums have been pushed to the background as more of a pulse than an actual guidance tool in the songs, to emphasize the guitar riffs.
Riff-wise, this may be one of the most important albums for black metal. Needless to say, it's minimalist; a series of notes will revolve around one chord for any given amount of time, before switching to another riff of the same nature. All of the playing is based upon mid-paced, tremolo-picked chords, as I mentioned; and it doesn't change. There is no melody, mind-blowing technique, or anything that will make you play air guitar; but it will fucking freeze you to the bone. The opening title track possesses one of the most famous black metal riffs ever; a semi-melodic 4-note rotation filled with emotions of despair and coldness that drones for the entire song, except for one or two different power chords riffs scattered throughout. "I en Hall Med Flesk Og Mjod" is a clear exception to the rule; it hearkens to a dominant Celtic Frost feel with a battering D-beat and ugly-as-hell riff before launching right back to the throbbing bleakness that lays out the rest of the album. The bass usually only plays the root notes of the guitar for the whole song, though it will sometimes shift frets for dissonance and ambience. (Example: "As Flittermice as Satans Spys")
Of course, the production plays a huge role in atmosphere and aesthetic for the album. If you thought Under a Funeral Moon was gritty and lo-fi, this is pure black dirt. Nocturno's monotone and terrifying croak comes to the forefront and sets the stage with a nightmarish performance. All of the lyrics are in Norwegian, (except the title track) which adds a ritualistic feel to the music. The guitars use the famous trebly, dirty distortion that became signature for the genre, and the drums are barely miked for a super lo-fi and distant sound, which helps when the drums are already in the background.
We'll never see another album like this again, so it's worth checking out. It may not be black metal's best, or even Darkthrone's best, but it does have a legendary status behind it. Hell, after spawning so many clones, why wouldn't you wanna see what the hype is about?
There are few albums in the metal scene more stripped, examined, and dissected than Darkthrone's seminal 'Transilvanian Hunger'. Every person who has come in contact with black metal, fan and detractor alike, has heard and most likely commented on the qualities or lack thereof in this LP. Is it the extreme polarity of opinion that drives listeners to make their views heard? Or perhaps it's that aesthetic, that ultimate purity of black metal expression that pierces the darkness, shrieking all the way. Either way, this is an album that has been at the center of stormy controversy for thirteen years now.
I wouldn't be a misnomer to say that 1994 was a crossroads for black metal. The genre seemed on the threshold of a great change, one that might make or break the genre. Irony, always the amused commentator of this musical community, decided to step in and make everyone disagree with whether the making or breaking had actually occurred. This was a year that many claimed carved the epitaph for black metal as a genuine form of musical expression, while others say that it was indeed only the beginning of a new era. Albums such as 'Pentagram', 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas', or 'In The Nightside Eclipse' all seemed to be a natural evolution of previous works, yet oddly distanced, as if emerging from a world removed from Dead's suicide and church arsons. Not to say the music was any less spiteful; just, like Darkthrone's 'A Blaze In The Northern Sky', even more disconnected from the average and mundane. Indeed, one could also say that this was the root of the split between raw and melodic in the black metal community; the latter being represented by Emperor's debut LP, and the former by this piece here.
It's not so much that the sound of 'Transilvanian Hunger' is so unbelievably raw; much more abrasive material had been heard on Mayhem's early demos, for instance. It's more that 'Transilvanian Hunger' exposed so many people to this level of production, as well as being one of the first albums to postulate that a degraded level of recording could be a boon to the atmosphere and quality of the music rather than a detrimental coincidence. I can't actually imagine the music here with 'quality' production; the static shimmer and murkiness adds a layer of otherworldliness to the proceedings that's so necessary to Darkthrone's work. In a similar form of distance, it goes even further against their death metal roots, with such bands attempting to gain higher and higher fidelity in their music. On the same note, only two of the tracks here possess English lyrics, as if Darkthrone was intending to distance themselves from the predominantly English-driven music of the time.
To put this album in perspective: around three weeks ago I was spending time with a couple prospective band mates. We were discussing how to create atmosphere in music, and while he was speaking, I was idly playing the main riff to 'Transilvanian Hunger'. He immediately stopped and said, "You see? That gives the feeling of being on a frozen Norwegian mountain." After asking about his reaction later, he stated that he had never heard the song. And herein lies the quality of this album; the ability for every person that hears and understands it to identify with the thoughts and feelings that went into its creation. While all music requires more or less interpretation to determine meaning, 'Transilvanian Hunger' is an entity of such absolute purity in form that each and every person that hears it can inherently understand the meaning of such a work.
Indeed, that first track is easily the best on this record. I would have no qualms with someone who stated that it was the peak of black metal as an artistic form. It is an entity of complete, heart-wrenching beauty and simplicity that will be forever remembered by the metal scene. Six minutes, four riffs, and one drum beat, and Darkthrone instantaneously conquered everything that black metal had done, was doing at the time, and ever will in the future. Most of the songs here are structured in the same way: Riff A alternates with riff B, while riff C acts as a bridge. And despite the repetition and simplicity of construction, it is still potent due to the incredible beauty of the music. Each riff peels off and spears through the echoing soundstream, bringing an entirely new vision to the proceedings. Songs like 'Skald Av Satans Sol' are entities of absolute steel beauty.
Numerous people complain about the album for its low technical skill and recording quality. However, this is exactly the same thing as criticizing, say, Psyopus for NOT having those same qualities. When one stops viewing technicality or fidelity as linear entities, where there are only directions up or down, one can much better grasp the objective of this disc. This is music purely based upon atmosphere and melody, and to judge it for qualities that it has no intention to pursue in the first place is a foolish and ludicrous idea.
'Transilvanian Hunger' is an eternally timeless record. It stands as being possibly the greatest achievement of black metal, and cannot be properly justified through words alone. One must listen to it, and soak in the grandeur of night skies and deep forests.
Darkthrone's Transylvanian Hunger hardly needs any introduction to anyone with even a passing interest in black metal. But what makes this lonely record such a monstrously important album? The importance lies in the regression. Darkthrone regressed at a time when bands were attempting to progress. With this album, Darkthrone were one of the first bands to look at regression as progression.
As soon as title track opens, your mental state is immediately transformed, rearranged. There is no pretentious guitar noodling here, no jazz interludes such as were finding foothold in death metal. This is black metal at it's blackest, most pure state. Eight tracks of musical malice. As Transylvanian Hunger fades out, you are expecting another pitch black composition but instead you are confronted with Over Fjell Og Giennom Torner, an entirely different beast of evil. Subtle melodies hint at some unknown joke. This album exists to play with your mind and does through the very last track. It pokes and prods relentlessly at your fears.
The production is primitive, yet surpasses most black metal releases in it's atmosphere. Each instrument is audible. Zephyrous' guitars cut through Nocturno Culto's trebly, wobbly bass tone, with knifelike sharpness. Tremlo picking is clearly the method to the madness. Fenriz's drums are primitive, basic back and forth between the bass and snare with some crash and ride thunder hear than there. Even though each song is very similar, you can tell each one apart instantly. Quick leads and accents hear and there blend into the album's aesthetic perfectly. Not pretentious, not ovedone, just there, leaving a signature. Vocally, Nocturno Culto's vocals are un-earthly. Each time something erupts from his mouth, it sounds like his throat is ripped and scarred more severely.
These are well crafted songs meant to leave not only an impression but a mental scar, a memory of this album's impact. Songs like Slottet I Det Fjerne are simply epic in their melodies. Each song can be a soundtrack to a journey to hell. The second half of the album, with lyrics written by Sir Varg Vikernes, is conducive to the overall feel of the album. My only complaint is that the noise inbetween songs cuts off. I would have loved to hear the static, hiss and shit there at all times instead of cutting off. For what it is worth though, this album is a classic example of what black metal evolved, devolved from.
This is a very difficult review to write. Transilvanian Hunger is not like other black metal albums. In fact, its not like any other album period. How Fenriz and Nocturno Culto made the artistic and stylistic decisions that birthed this album is beyond me. Like Neo in The Matrix, Transilvanian Hunger is an anomaly in the metal world; this album should not be the album it is. It should be either ignored or looked down upon. By all the normal "rules" of music, this should be a bad album. But it...isn't. In fact, its something much more.
Everything about this album is completely different than anything else in Darkthrone's library, almost shockingly so. The most obvious thing that people will immediately notice is the now infamous production. Transilvanian Hunger has, without a doubt, the dryest, most muffled production I have ever heard. The reasons for this are often debated; while some would say this was a concious decision on the part of Darkthrone, others have said that Peaceville pushed them to release this album at a specific time, and as a result the production was left unfinished. While the riffs are easily identifyable, as are the vocals and even to a certain extent the bass, the aspect of the music that is most affected by the production is the drums. Fenriz's constant attack behind the kit is almost complety washed out and buried in the mix; sometimes its next to impossible to make out the snare, and the bass drum seems like you are hearing it through a wall two doors down.
This would obviously be a huge detriment if not for the nature of the drumming on Transilvanian Hunger. Fenriz's performance on this album consists of a constant one-two punch of bass, snare, and hi-hat that literally almost never changes. I think there are maybe eight or nine fills and maybe two tempo changes on the entire album; everthing else is the same not-quite-blast beat, over and over and over...This coupled with the muffled production gives the drums an indistinct yet strangely hypnotic role on the record, the repitive nature lulling you into a trancelike state where your full attention can be given to the riffs.
Oh, the riffs. Transilvanian Hunger is a riff-based album if ever one existed. Most of the songs consist of three to four chord progessions played in a tremolo style, and there are rarely more then two riffs per song. With that being said, the riffs are absolutely fantastic, displaying a cold, uncompromising sense of melody that would never surface again in Darkthrone's catologue. This is not the kind of grand sweeping melody displayed by Emperor on In The Nightside Eclipse, however; Transilvanian Hunger's melody is of a simpler, more heartfelt kind, combining grace and beauty with the cold malice that every black metal band wants to portray. The bass lines generally follow the guitar, with the raspy vocals topping off the whole sonic picture, like an old man sitting up in a mountain commenting on the misery and despair he sees in the world below him.
All of these unique musical aspects meld together and create some of the most hypnotizing, dark, disturbing songs ever recorded. The now infamous melody of the title track, the strange churning notes of "Over Fjell Og Giennom Torner" (with the opening melody being one of my favorites on the album), the metallic fury of Skald Av Satans Sol, the flowing repition of "I En Hall Med Flesk Gg Mjod", and the misanthropic vibe of "As Flittermice As Satans Spies" sounding like it could be the soundtrack to Hell itself; everything comes together as something complete and whole. Transilvanian Hunger is an ALBUM; all the music shares a pattern, a thought, an ideal.
With its muffled production, unifying drum beat, cold, repititive melodies, and hypnotizing nature, Transilvanian Hunger is unlike any other album in metal or rock. Honestly, it seems strange to even call this "metal". Much like Burzum's Filosofem, this album has done something truly spectacular in my mind, which is carve out its own unique niche in music, sounding unlike anything else, yet sounding somewhat familiar at the same time. How much of this album's unique sound was on purpose on how much of it was a fluke is irrelevant, as Darkthrone has repeatedly stated that they will never make another album like Transilvanian Hunger, and I can't see any other band making one either, no matter how much they tried.
People have repeatedly stated the "flaws" of this album, and I am well aware of all of them. Yet for some reason, on this particular album, by this particular band, these are not flaws, but parts of a unique sound-one might even say, the perfect black metal sound that every like-minded band wants to capture. In this way, like the infamous statement issued on the inital pressings of this album, Transilvanian Hunger is truly beyond criticism.
Let me just start by saying that Transylvanian Hunger makes Under A Funeral Moon sound like fucking Soulside Journey in so many ways! The minimalism that is obtained on this album is fucking incredible, so fucking minimal, that it will put the listener into a trance like state, with the whole point of the album being to hypnotize those who listen to it. Honestly, I think it requires great talent and accuracy to play the same riff for over 6 minutes straight without screwing up once, so those of you who start to accuse Darkthrone again of being talent less fucks, you can suck Satan’s cock in Hell for all I care. I respect anyone who can get into this, or at least appreciate it for what it is. To get a clear idea of what the album sounds like, take the two most minimalistic tracks from Under A Funeral Moon and subtract one or two riffs from them. Then remix all of the instruments together to create a hypnotizing wall of noise, lower the vocals into the mix, and there you have it; the dark and evil masterpiece known as Transylvanian Hunger. Nothing more and nothing less.
The album kicks off with my all time favorite Darkthrone song, Transilvanian Hunger! The entire track is based on two riffs, the same drum pattern through out, yet spans over 6 minutes long. Needless to say, the hypnotic atmosphere that is created by this song is purely incredible, and one would only have to hear to understand. Do yourself a favor; turn off all the lights, light some candles, play this tune full blast on your stereo, relax and let your mind wander into the evil, haunted bat-ridden forests of Transylvania where Dracula’s castle stands in all its might over the hills. That’s really what this song does. Pretty amazing, huh? All of that based on 2 riffs, repetitive beats and harsh vocals? I tell you, it’s all in the mix and production! The band really did it this time. I mean, that one main riff is catchy as all hell and will stay nailed into your skull for a very long time. I guarantee you that! In Over Fjell Og Gjennom, believe it or not, there is only ONE riff through out this entire song. Yet, this is the shortest track on the album, lasting only 2 and a half minutes long. The English translation of the title is Over Mountains And Through Thorns, and is based on battle and Norse pride. The last lyric, which is “Den Norríne Rase ma Slakte den andre nar blammen dunker for tungt pa var dír”, translates to “The Norse race must slaughter the other when niggers pound too heavily on our door”. That later on caused some confusion on whether Darkthrone was a neo-nazi act or not.
The next song, Skald Av Satans Sol, consists of more than four riffs at least. The drumming of course remains the same as with the previous two songs, but the main riff in this track is catchy as fuck! It may be quite repetitive, but hell, I don’t care. This is one badass riff, and is also another that is guaranteed to stay nailed into the back of your skull. The riffs do change slightly through out though, but the main focus and highlight here is the main riff. By the way, the English translation of the title is Scald Of Satan’s Sun. Much in the vein of the title track, Slottet I Det Fjerne relies on only 2 or 3 riffs which are executed well enough to keep the listener interested, or at least in a trance like state. The harsh, Norwegian lyrics only add to the evil atmosphere that this song conveys. The English translation of the title is The Castle In The Distance. With Graven Takeheimens Saler, unlike most of the other tracks heard here, there is more variation in the riffs. There are maybe about…4 or 5 through out the song? Regardless, this track still delivers the same cold and harsh tone that places you into a trance like atmosphere. Don’t expect any variation in the drumming either. The English translation is The Grave In The Misthouse Halls.
Len Hall Med Flesk Og Mjod is merely like every other song on the album, as it begins with a blast of rapid drum beats, frozen, icy riffs, harsh vocals and an atmosphere of darkness and mysticism. It isn’t until the middle of the song that the riffs tend to vary, allowing Nocturno Culto’s vocals to come a bit more forward in the mix so that his harsh, Norwegian accent shines in all its evil glory. This is one of the most evil sounding songs on the album, and is without a doubt, one of Darkthrone’s best. The English translation of the title is In A Hall With Pork And Mead. As Flittermice As Satans Spys is by far one of the most minimalistic tracks on the album. Much like Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner, this one is based solely on one riff, maybe two, yet sustains a much harsher, colder feel than that aforementioned song. It conveys more of an atmosphere as well since it spans almost six minutes long! Let me tell you, if this doesn’t pull you into a trance, then you’ll get bored of this song easily. That goes for the rest of the album as well.
En As I Dype Skogen is the album off on one incredible note! Okay, so it’s simplistic and repetitive just as the rest of the record is, but riffs and atmosphere here…wow! That’s all I have to say is…wow! This isn’t aggressive in the sense of A Blaze In The Northern Sky. This one is just pure fucking atmospheric chaos all the way through, something you’ll have to hear to understand. I mean, how the hell do they do that while relying only on one or two riffs?! Honestly, this song will take you into a deep haunted forest where the cold winds blow along with many mysterious creatures that inhabit it. Seriously, when you translate the lyrics into English, that’s what this song is about. It’s called A Hill In The Deep Forest. Funny thing is, is that although the lyrics are in Norwegian, you don’t have to understand them to experience the atmosphere that this song tries to convey. The music just speaks for itself.
I know, I know, I stated in my review for A Blaze In The Northern Sky that Darkthrone’s goal when making albums was not to take the listener off into another realm with their music, just as Emperor, Satyricon and Burzum were doing at the time. Well, they sure did it here with this album, but this is very different from those bands. VERY different. How? Well, there’s no use of keyboards, symphonics or constant riff changes like Emperor includes on their records. There’s no use of sad, melancholic and/or depressive atmospheres used with keyboards and mid paced beats like Burzum used. I mean, this just sounded pure evil and mystical, not depressive. Last but not least, there’s no use of folk and medieval instrumentation that Satyricon used on their early releases. This album is just a few different riffs put together over the same pattern of drum beats, managing to have a much greater effect on the listener than any of the other Norwegian bands that I just mentioned. Well, that’s all in my opinion. So really, you either love or hate this album, which seems to be the case with most people. Some call it godly, while others claim that it’s one of the worst pieces of shit ever released. Still, if you claim that this is “no-talent-minimal-bullshit”, then you can just continue sucking off Opeth and Dream Theater, or some shitty flower power band out there. Not that I have anything against Opeth or Dream Theater, but if you think good music has to be solely complexed with crystal clear production, you couldn’t be more wrong.
A lot of folks have gone on and on about the greatness of Emperor, Mayhem, and Burzum. Emperor because In The Nightside Eclipse is supposedly the most beautiful black metal album ever recorded and because Emperor have probably influenced the largest amount of non-black metal bands, more than any other band to emerge from the second wave of black metal (they just about invented symphonic metal); Mayhem because some people seem to latch onto the idea that De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was the most important debut black metal album of all time and because the history of Mayhem has pretty much reached legendary status; Burzum because Varg’s music was distinctly different from the rest of the second-wave pack, and because some people seem to think controversy=musical greatness. Unfortunately, Darkthrone had little influence beyond the realm of black metal, had no “legend” about them, and had little in the way of controversy (save some unremarkable comment about Jews that wasn’t nearly as bad as anything Varg did); thus, Darkthrone is probably the most overlooked of the Big Four and, in my opinion, criminally underappreciated.
What Fenriz, Zephyrous and Nocturno Culto did on this record is simply amazing. They took all the normal trademarks of black metal—necro production, raspy screams, tremolo-picked riffs, inaudible bass lines, lack of palm muting (unheard of in most other metal genres)—and made black metal that was far from normal. On the surface, it may not seem all that different from Under a Funeral Moon. The songs are minimalist in technique as well as composition, the production is trademark necro and the vocals are still a mix of throaty growls and raspy screams. However, the entire atmosphere of the record is vastly different than its predecessors. While A Blaze In the Northern Sky and Under A Funeral Moon were a mixed bag of evil and grim atmosphere, the third part of the Darkthrone “Black Metal Trilogy” has a haunting, hypnotic and beautiful aura. Yes, that’s right folks, a black metal album that has all of the beauty of a thick pine forest glistening with newly fallen snow. I’d say this album’s beauty is definitely more atmospherically striking than the beauty in Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse.
However, the hypnotic qualities are what really make this album shine. I’m fairly positive the band’s goal was to record an album with the intention of putting the listener into a trance and possibly lulling them into sleep. It’s really quite astounding that riffs this simple, riffs so easy to play and compose, can have such a profound effect on the listener. It hypnotizes you into a trance and….god dammit, I can fall asleep to this album. There, I said it; there’s actually a black metal album someone can fall into a peaceful slumber to whilst listening to it.
Transilvanian Hunger is damn near perfect; from the heartfelt impact of the title track’s opening riff to the way Fenriz’s repetitive drumming gives the album a uniform rhythmic constancy, everything fits together and works to achieve a trance in its listeners. This is a must-listen for black metal fans.
Album highlights: “Transilvanian Hunger,” “Graven Takeheimens Saler,” “As Flittermice as Satan’s Spys.”
I do not believe this to be as epic, much less good as most tend to make it out to be. This album is simply good, nothing more. Although I do take much more pleasure in listening to this over the tunes of the likes of other kvlter and tr00er bands, this is over worshipped. This is another black metal band which practices minimalist art, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I happen to like minimalism in many cases, but in this instance you may as well take the first sixty seconds of each song and then replay it for another two or three minutes; you’ll get the same effect as listening to an entire song.
Minimalism is not bad. Lack of variety is what erodes the greatness of this album and only forces me to ponder about how good this could have been. The band had the right idea; they just needed to expand upon it a little bit with more riffs. On the level of skill, I’m sure any guitar newbie could learn any of these songs, they aren’t hard to play. What makes this attractive more or less is the sheer nature of this recording.
The blurry production gives Darkthrone a bit of an advantage for their quest to sound as if they recorded Transilvanian Hunger while camping out in a forest on a snowy winter night. Actually, this sounds more like it was recorded in a studio, then that recording was recorded on a tape player if you want to be realistic. The vocals sound like a growl in vein of a rasp; Nocturno Culto somewhat resembles the late Mayhem singer, Dead, during songs like “Slottet I Det Fjerne” with his “ARRRGH!” Like the guitar playing, the drumming is pretty simple; Fenriz mainly just uses mid-paced blast beats. However, I happen to have a soft spot for the drumming here because of the way the non stop pounding adds a nice dosage of chaos to this album.
Even though the guitars are just fast strumming, there is a lot of melody within the simplicity. Yeah, the sound is cold and grim, but even that isn’t an excuse to cut corners like this. The guys in Darkthrone have a knick for creating good melody with little effort involved, but I know they could have done more with less recursive riffs to make this album really scream ‘epic’. This is worth owning if you’re a fan of black metal, without a doubt, but I wouldn’t call this essential by any means. If you hate repetitive minimalism then you may want to download this before you consider purchasing it.