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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.