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The first snow; Darkthrone before the storm - 80%

Evil_Johnny_666, April 7th, 2010

So here it is at last, the full collection of Darkthrone's demos and - surprise, surprise - the complete (because the prior available issue wasn't) Goatlord rehearsal session in its original, unedited form. Throw in a couple of bonus songs, live tracks from Denmark, some liner notes and a priceless picture of their baby faces, and you've got along with Soulside Journey, Darkthone's complete death metal output - well A Blaze in the Northern Sky isn't totally black metal, neither death, but with the help of Goatlord, you can clearly see some songs were intended as such - this is truly essential for any fan of their debut.

The collection starts with some cold - seems so - wind blowing on Land of Frost's title track, and as you would guess, it's raw. But it's quite a surprising listen given how Soulside Journey sounds. Like I said, it's raw, it gives a malevolent feel, the vocals is very echoed death metal (?) vocals - sometimes it's some talking - and the faster drumming is more like a black metal performance. Well, even if you can recognize the death metal riffs and some doomy ones - more akin to the traditional bands than the death breed - the sound of the faster parts is strangely reminiscent of the ones found on A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Also weird for a first demo from such a then young band, is the variety of influences found. Some tracks are really different from one another, but while not perfect in execution, it's still remarkable.

Then comes the treat of all the demos, A New Dimension. It's barely 10 minutes long and beside some short intro, it contains only one song. And hey, it was released the same year than Land of Frost and they already show some evolution - and one at that! The sound is already a lot better, enough so I don't have any complaints about it; it wasn't recorded at Sunlight studio, and as much as I bow before Soulside Journey's sound, the rawness really goes well with the song. But the track, "Snowfall", is definitely one of Darkthrone's best songs. While it was surprising how talented the band was on their first demo, here the same year, they totally outdo themselves by doing some kind of not progressive, but thought-out, evolving, not without any direction death metal. There's some doomy parts, some faster kickass headbangable ones, dark melodic riffs, some acoustic guitars, great drumming as always from Fenriz as well as no vocal presence whatsoever. It goes to different paces, moods, riffs and riffs, and the transitions are made like death metal regulars do; they know their art. Also surprising, is that it was recorded in '88, it's way ahead of its time, death metal was just in its unrefined beginnings. We all know how early death metal had a thrashy edge, but here it feels as if it is separate from the death metal sound, it is present, but as the little black metal influence and doom one, the riffs go seamlessly from one another style forming some kind of coherent and unified sound (a death metal one). Really, it is truly an underrated gem which is, as I said, way ahead of its time (there is even some Sabbat (the Japanese one) sonorities (a couple of slower melodic notes ending a faster riff) to a couple of riffs which is something I always felt unique of the band, something that gave a supplementary dark or evil edge to the riff). It's kinda ironic, "Snowfall" is truly the antipode of the minimal Transilvanian Hunger and it would make its die-hard fans cower in terror had this demo been released after that album.

Next is Thulcandra which consists of "Eon", which will be available on Soulside Journey two years later, and two only available here tracks. Except for the rawer production, differences in the opener are barely noticeable. So we are served "Thulcandra" and "Archipelago" which are in the same vein of "Eon" and their debut but have a little punkier vibe going on. Again, it's a very worthy addition to your Darkthrone discography. To end the demo portion, we are treated with 4 demo versions of Soulside Journey tracks. While not being something new, here it is presented in a much rawer form. As I said with "Snowfall" even if I'm a big fan of Soulside Journey's sound, death metal era Darkthrone always sound good raw, and it kind of give a different life to these tracks, the vocals are also quite different - not as deep and more raspy - so you'll still won't skip those. Only thing is that "Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia" was recorded in a different session and sounds noticeably better, Nocturno Culto is also closer to his style on their debut. Before Cromlech was also a bonus track entitled "Soria Moria", again nothing too different, only that the guitars are somewhat buried in the mix.

"We're Darkthrone from Norway. We came all the way to this show. I hope you like it." Are the young and inexperienced Fenriz's greeting to the audience when the live portion starts. You can hear that the band had their little sense of humour back in the day and it almost comes as a surprise they didn't particularly enjoyed playing live. Beside the raw and un-mastered (at least it seems so) nature of the recording, you can still witness the band giving a pretty solid performance, Fenriz drumming as convincingly as on the album with everything having a similar sound. Since there's no unreleased track played on that show and that the sound isn't particularly good, the recording is pretty much only there as an historical piece of Darkthrone, as their only live recording officially available.

Then comes what almost stood out of whole package, the whole Goatlord rehearsal session left untouched, thus without those oh so reviled "female vocals". While I initially hated the idea of using an old instrumental death metal rehearsal and transforming it into a black metal record 4 or 5 years later with lyrics and vocals, I at some point found in Goatlord something really unique and enjoyable despite its awkwardness and apparent treason of the spirit of the original recording. While more elaborate thoughts on my feelings on that release is matter for another subject, I was rejoiced to be able to get hold of the untouched rehearsal. What you get here, is truly the whole recording untouched; you can really hear a difference in sound. Everything sounds less... contained, as if some sound waves escaped, it loses a little of the atmosphere that was present on the reworked version. But without the vocals, as the nature of the recording posed limitations on the quality of the whole thing when adding additional sounds, every instrument is more audible. All in all, it sounds more death metal which is of course what the recording is. Also, as worthy of mention, is that it originally featured the song "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" as well as a drum solo. While the later is definitely interesting and showcase how Fenriz was a good drummer, it is the former that truly picked my interest. If you are a minimum perspicacious and know a little of Darkthrone, you should've realised that it is the title track of their A Blaze in the Northern Sky album. So you can really draw a lot of similarities between the aforementioned album and Goatlord as well as death metal. A lot of the riffs in there have a certain evil A Blaze sonority, as well as similar construction. In fact it surprises me they decided to scrap the album as it isn't that different as the one they wrote instead, provided you change a little its make-up. There's of course black metal riffs and elements in there, but it was still very death metal-ish. In fact, I think the main difference between both recordings beside the black metal elements is the more linear structure of A Blaze, Goatlord being not progressive but has a more "free-form" songwriting style. But that is another question for another subject.

So all in all, Frostland Tapes is the ultimate death metal-era Darkthrone package, the only thing missing from that period being the debut itself. Unlike Preparing for War, you get the complete demo collection without all those filler tracks you already have. It's essential for any Darkthrone or Soulside fan. But hey, I'd get this only for the Goatlord rehearsal.