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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.