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Flawed concept, but this has a purpose. - 82%

hells_unicorn, October 12th, 2008

If there is one thing that would appear to be an oxymoron it’s the idea of Darkthrone putting out a best of compilation. A self-respecting fan of this band would sooner sell himself on the streets of Soho at 6 pence a pop than be without their first 4 albums at his immediate disposal. However, a compilation carrying a large collection of songs that can’t or, at the time, couldn’t have been acquired is another matter. When approaching this particular album, you have to see it more as a collection of rarities than a best of; the fact that some of the band’s classic tracks from their more famous albums thus becomes something of a nice bonus to aid the listener in getting into the concept of the band’s pre-black metal demos and performances.

Insofar as the best of portion of this release, the band did an excellent job of selecting the stand outs of each album, particularly the “Transylvanian Hunger” selections. The principle flaw in that album was that when taken as a whole, it was a flat and near one-dimensional listen. But when taking these songs individually, they are a lot easier to appreciate in their unique blend of melodic minimalism and darkened atmospheres. “I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjød” in particular takes on its own individual character as it stretches out a singular chord for 80% of the extended main riff, frustrating the listener’s desire for harmonic cadence until the very end where a sudden three chord pass marks the end of the idea. When heard without the other seven similar sounding songs, each song establishes its own identity, as they contrast very heavily with the surrounding songs from the other 2 albums of the black trilogy and the pre-black material.

Indeed, the pretense of pointlessness that this album might otherwise carry completely vanishes when you take note of how heavily the material from the 4 various albums contrast with each other. The clean cut yet vintage 80s sounding death/thrash of “Soulside Journey” has a sense of commonality with the black metal material, particularly with “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, despite the radically different approach in mixing technique. Nocturno’s lead breaks are a good deal shorter and simpler on the latter album, Dag Nilsen’s bass is not as heavy and raunchy but it’s still recognizable, and Fenriz’s drums employ more blast beats than thrash beats but still sound pretty close in both cases. The material from “Under A Funeral Moon” is actually the most distinctive of all in its snowy, almost entirely static oriented delivery, and harkens back heavily to the primordial origins of the genre established on the Bathory’s debut and Sodom’s pre-1986 releases.

But the real point of interest here is the non-album rarities that have been included, particularly the live recordings. Most of these are in instrumental form, save the live version of “Neptune Towers”, but all of them prove unequivocally that the reason this band never plays live has nothing to do with an inability to pull the stuff off in that venue. Even without all of the mixing and vocal doubling that probably made his voice sound so much like a demonic tyrannosaurus on a few select spots of “Soulside Journey”, Nocturno’s vocals sound really large and powerful. The music is pulled off perfectly, including the agitated guitar solos, and is thankfully without all of the crowd noise that you often get with live recordings. The stuff from the demos is very different from even the “Soulside Journey” material, almost becoming technically oriented enough to sound like an instrumental 70s progressive rock meets Sepultura’s “Morbid Visions” style, particularly in the case of the 9 minute riff fest “Snowfall”. Even though in a few places the guitars either phase in and out or even cut out completely on one side from the flawed recording methods of the day, the song is highly enjoyable and a necessary step in the evolutionary ladder that led to their ingenious debut studio effort.

Although this is a great listen when taken by itself, rather than a compilation of material from other albums, the only point in picking this up is the live material. The demo tracks were another reason until the release of “Frostland Tapes”, which is definitely an essential pick up for anyone interested in the origins of this pioneering 2nd wave black metal outfit. This is more of a sample pack for some newcomer to the band who may or may not actually get into the black material than anything else and is only recommended as such. If you’re too poor to own the entire discography, at the very least, pick up “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, as it provides a versatile listen and can function equally well as a gateway to appreciating the later material put out by this band.

Originally submitted to ( on October 12, 2008.