without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
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.