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Darkthrone find their passion again. - 75%

ConorFynes, February 26th, 2016

F.O.A.D. is a fucking ton of fun. It's inevitable that any talk of Darkthrone's unlucky thirteenth LP would involve putting two cents into the great "style change" debate, the likes of which seem to have haunted their fandom since their shift in 2006 with The Cult Is Alive. F.O.A.D. is the album where Darkthronefully realized their transition from cold black metal to their tongue-in-cheek blend of all things traditional, classic and true. A lot of the stances other "crust era" fans have used to defend this album are pretty misguided, but I can favour the artistic seriousness of their classic records and still get a major kick out of this. After years of relative mediocrity, F.O.A.D arguably stands as the best album these guys had done to date since the '90s.

F.O.A.D.'s detractors call it obnoxious and silly. I've heard it even said a few times that the over-the-top brand of self-awareness made them a parody of the band they used to be. I can't bring myself to disagree with most of that. F.O.A.D. is an album that was probably written with the intention of filling the beer-swilling regaliae their records had been host to from the virtual get-go. Instead of making music about being evil, they're making music about loving music about being evil. Unsurprisingly, that push into meta territory has done a lot to change the tone. Where before they were hateful and seemingly nihilistic with the '00s albums, the lyrics here are excitable. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto don't want you to fuck off and die-- not really, at least. Instead, they want to share their passion for a classic musical aesthetic.

F.O.A.D is a true-to-form tribute to the sorts of bands Darkthrone listened to while they were growing up. This would appear to be a step down for a band that once codified a cutting edge genre two decades prior through sheer invention. From a broad perspective, it certainly is, but this is what Darkthrone needed. Part of the reason F.O.A.D. is so compelling is because they were struggling with finding that inspiration. The last wholly worthwhile recording was Ravishing Grimness in 1999, and even then some people could rightly accuse it of being inferior to the material they wrote as young men. I think this goes to show why you don't see any longlasting black metal bands with fully consistent careers. A misanthropic air and "fuck the world" attitude is undoubtedly more natural coming from a youngster. These two were fast approaching middle-age. A no-frills passion for hard rock and heavy music is more simplistic than their darker themes, but that's clearly what it took to light a fire under their asses again.

Even if you hate seeing the quintessential black metal band turn in their guns for something new, I'd challenge a hater to say these guys don't sound leagues more excited about what they're doing than the string of albums before it. Darkthrone's best work emerged from a desire to do things their way, and for all its supposed triteness, there's a lot of fun to be had here. It's arguably the first time in Darkthrone's history where I've been specifically impressed by the songwriting itself. "These Shores Are Damned", "Canadian Metal", "F.O.A.D." and "Raised on Rock" are the sort of infectious earbugs that will force an "Ough" out of you before you know it. While The Cult Is Alivesounded like a compromise between what they wanted to do and what was supposedly expected of them, F.O.A.D is uncompromising through and through. It's got the DIY rehearsal tape vibe that is perfect for this sort of greasy metal. There are no illusions that it's somehow a notable artistic achievement, but this was the first time in ages that Darkthrone had felt truly dangerous, maybe even since the time of Transilvanian Hunger.

Darkthrone needed this. F.O.A.D. goes to show that it's never age itself that kills passion or creativity. It's circumstance. It's complacency. It's that inevitable feeling of needing to play a role you've already arranged for yourself; after all, exploring new roads is a pastime for the young. Or is it? In truth, the actual sound of this album isn't so much different from their black metal material. It's the tone and inspiration that ultimately sets it apart from the stuff that came before it. Even while I really like this album however, I've been a bit tired of the same rote defences the fans of this era give it, as if not enjoying a new direction is the fault of the listener and a failure to be "true" enough. Darkthrone are some of the sincerest musicians around, but their "no fucks given" attitude doesn't magically exempt them from criticism. Personally, I'm a pretty big fan of Darkthrone's early black metal and easily prefer it to this, but I've never been so obsessed with that sound that I'd be heartbroken if they changed it. For a band like this, the question shouldn't be about which genre is better, but how well they pull off a given style on a given album. If their quasi-crust era had turned out lame the way The Cult Is Alive suggested it would be, I would be the first to shrug it off as a misguided decision. No, F.O.A.D. is exactly the sort of album Darkthrone should have been making at that point in their lives, and as a listener, there are certain situations where no other album will do.