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Atmosphere from beyond the fog. - 81%

ConorFynes, October 27th, 2015

Darkthrone have had one of the most interesting careers in metal history. For the band arguably most closely associated with black metal cliché (alongside Immortal) they remain deceptively unique and strange, even in the wake of countless would-be successors. With each album I've explored from them, it's forced me to reconsider my opinions on the albums around it. The basement fodder sloppiness of A Blaze in the Northern Sky seems that much more like a badge of honour when you consider the technical finesse the Darkthrone boys demonstrated on Soulside Journey the year before. It's taken some hours of intent listening to Under a Funeral Moon then to realize how deceptively sophisticated they actually were on A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Darkthrone cloaked themselves in a murky lo-fi fog with that one, but progressive riffs and ambitious song structures were still present for those with the ears and patience to dig a little deeper.

I now think of Darkthrone's second album as complex because of the new standard Under a Funeral Moon set for terms of sheer minimalism and rawness. A Blaze in the Northern Sky was weird and diverse. This is real black metal. This is the archetype for the cold and frostbitten legions that came hereafter. Darkthrone's third album is rough and completely void of professionalism. Of course, this is not at all because Darkthrone didn't possess A-list musicianship; rather, they knew that spare trinkets and furnishings would only serve to take away from the essence of their atmosphere. The same has been said of Under a Funeral Moon ten thousand times before, but fuck it, I'll say it again: This album is as evil and frigid-sounding as anything ever derived from the Norwegian canon. For whatever it lacks in individually memorable moments or distinctive soundbites, it totally makes up for with regards to its monochromatic, unyielding atmosphere.

Once you're under the funeral moon, you are trapped. Darkthrone most themselves cited this album as the only true black metal album of their whole career; while most of their post-Soulside, pre-crust material revels in an aura of blackened enshrinement, I would be inclined to agree this is the album that most closely resembles the black metal archetype they're so often accredited for imagining. Darkthrone really are one of the last among the real essentials I got around to checking-- I think I wasn't too excited purely on the merits that I thought I knew exactly what to expect. After all, so many others have done what they've done... but is that really truthful? Minimalistic song structures, repetitive and cold riffs, a treble-fetishizing production and vaguely animalistic vocals are all extremely familiar and probably overdone by this point. I don't think I'm being controversial when I say Under a Funeral Moon would not work, were it not for the band's grasp of atmosphere. As to how Darkthrone managed to perfect atmosphere through the most imperfect of means is beyond me. Unlike some of the other go-to black metal classics however, there's nothing supposedly tongue-in-cheek about the tone of the music. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto may be fun-loving blokes most of the time, but you wouldn't guess from the music itself. The latter's vocals here actually sound possessed, and the omnipresent tinny fuzz does strange things to the psyche, particularly if you listen to the album more than once in a sitting.

Darkthrone's musical endowments take a total backseat to the atmosphere here, though I suppose atmosphere is itself a product of good musicianship. What I think a lot of people tend to overlook here is how interesting (if not conventionally solid) the band's performances here are. The next time you're spinning Under a Funeral Moon, try to pierce through the atmosphere and pay attention to the way they structure songs and write riffs. There is something so counter-intuitive about the way they will abruptly switch paces and ideas in their songs, with precious little to suggest a great deal of thought or intent behind it. Darkthrone were most certainly inspired in creating this album, but it's a wonder how much of the magic was actually intentional. I think that's a great part of the appeal behind this album compared to other, otherwise stronger albums in their discography. Darkthrone tapped into something Otherly here. A certain x-factor that can't be channelled into words so much as felt by the listener attentive enough to give themselves over to the atmosphere. This is what distinguishes Darkthrone from the hordes of soundalikes after them; while most others were making music based solely on their musical influences, Darkthrone were getting part of it from somewhere else entirely.