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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?