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Love 'em or hate 'em, this is the best! - 95%

blackoz, September 9th, 2006

Darkthrone’s latest album, “The Cult is Alive” sounds like it took as long to make as it takes to listen to, and is no worse for that. The band’s DIY aesthetic is well in evidence with a return to the home-studio ambience (little bass, phone-booth drums etc) of its seminal black albums. It’s what helps to make DT so special, or pathetic, depending on your point of view. No pretense or production, just raw, visceral riffs, then a few beers, not necessarily in that order.

The “Preparing for War” Special Edition box is the total overdose for fans of the “raw necro” DT rather than the later, more polished albums of the “Ravishing Grimness” era and style. The first disc has been available for some time and is a cracker, a genuine “best of” the Peaceville albums with demos and live tracks thrown in. On its own, Disc 1 is a must-have.

Disc 2’s compilation of demos and rehearsal tracks shows clearly the band’s transition from death to black metal. Strongly evident is Fenriz’ noble (?) intention of minimizing his drum technique over time. The demo tracks from the late Eighties show him to be quite a proficient, technical death metal drummer with a real native swing to his playing. As time goes by, his style is stripped back to the barest minimum. As he himself says in interview on Disc 3 (DVD), black metal is not about drums but riffs. The drums are there to serve the riffs. Nonetheless, Disc 2 highlights Fenriz’ great propensity for swing and backbeat. His two-beat polka romp propels the “Under a Funeral Moon” rehearsal at a cracking pace, even faster than the official version, and, as the last track on the disc, is fittingly its highlight.

The set’s third disc is a DVD containing video footage of (all?) the band’s live performances. Typically Darkthrone, the video quality is at best grainy and at worst as good as a fifth-generation VHS re-dub. Whatever, it’s great to have it just for its own sake. Highlights have to include the four-piece band’s TV appearance in 1989 playing tracks from “Soulside Journey”: lots of moshing blond hair in the two-guitar-and-bass frontline with Fenriz bashing grandly up on the riser. Preposterous stuff! No wonder they quit playing live! The “interviews” (Fenriz and Nocturno taking it in turns with the handi-cam) are not as enlightening as the excellent interview transcribed in the accompanying booklet, but, again, it’s great to see and hear them in the flesh, so to speak. Fenriz lives up to his joker reputation and both clearly show the long-term effects of years of hard work and dedication to the black metal craft (nudge, wink).

All in all, unmissable for the DT devotee.