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Unholy Black Metal - 90%

Goatofold, August 28th, 2008

This was the very first album I heard by Darkthrone, many years ago.
Upon first hearing the album I knew that this was an album that I would come to love. Ironically though, I didn't quite get it at first. It hasn't got the apparent brutality of other iconic second wave black metal releases (such as Mayhem's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas") which is mainly due to a very thin production of the guitars and a heavily unbalanced drum-mix (one single drum microphone the rumours say).
The album starts out with a bizarre tune, dissonant and hypnotic, and sets the mood which I would describe as lugubre, unsettling, very dark. The mere implication of when "Natassja" ought to have lived adds a quality of immortality or longevity and I can't really describe how important this song (or rather: it being the opening song) is to the rest of the album.

As a side-track I might add that it wasn't until I, some decade ago, heard "Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner" on the Transilvanian Hunger album that I suddenly understood what Darkthrone was all about. That song's bleak minimalism and stark absence of any normal sounding production really evocates a feeling of complete abnormality, like both a fist in the face of humanity (not in a provocating way; rather in a non-human way) and yet that weird sense of retrospection - the remembrance of 'once being human'.

Anyhow, Under A Funeral Moon really came as a revelation of true black metal to me when Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner had shown the way.
The album captures a sensation of exclusivity, like a soundtrack to the fraternity of what/who once was/were actual black metal with songs such as Unholy Black Metal - which, if not particularly good in matters of musicality, is really invigorating and actually lifts up the rest of the album from what elsewise could've been a dangerously depressing (and I mean that in a bad way) set of songs.
In a way, Under A Funeral Moon is iconic to me because it truly marks the point where black metal no longer seemed an offshoot of it's thrash origins but really something very different.

Musically, this album is much in the same fashion as it's predecessor A Blaze In The Northern Sky, yet strangely different. I think this is much because whereas "A Blaze..." strives for brutality in combination with truly haunting, dark atmospheres (just take Kathaarian Life Code for example), Under A Funeral Moon - although similar in pace and overall execution - doesn't have as much of a Celtic Frost influence, and ultimately lacks any resemblence of death metal.
The truth is (according to me) that the nature of the album is defined not only by what it actually contains but (perhaps even more so) also by what it is lacking.

What is it that it is lacking then?
FIrst of all, it lacks the feeling of competition. Fenriz is not playing as complex or fast as he could, because he realizes that that is not what it is about.
Although fastpaced it never feels as if they're trying to play fast. Also, the general lack of bass (some occasional floor drum hits represents the only 'heavy' side of the whole album) and the thin, buzzing guitars creates something very different. Whereas most other bands at that time in a sense could be seen as representing urban atmospheres and minds this truly is the pinnacle of something more rural - and I mean that in a deeper sense than most people would understand. It is as if they truly have broke loose from human bonds, now being amongst the ancient entities which roam the primordial woods. Of course, this is not the case but the music is at times ever so convincing.

Although minimal on the verge of monochromatical the album is driven by melody and timbre, which are it's main components.
The guitars are in centre, displaying melodies that are much more of a feat to compose than to actually play (again that apparent lack of competitiveness).
The timbre then; again we could speak more of what is lacking than what is actually present. The guitar production seems to be made without any care for 'good sound', with buzz and static noise further putting the focus on the melodies. This is not mindlessly executed though, the lack of good production is not equivalent with lack of any production. The vocals are cavernous and bleak - raspy but not brutal per se.
The totality of the instruments - the actual sound - is very consistent, non-dynamic in a way, like a being of it's own.

It remains a true icon of Black Metal, perhaps one of the very best albums of the genre ever because it's an archetype in itself, self-defining. If you haven't heard Darkthrone (or any of their clones) this might be hard to grasp at first (I don't think it's for everyone, and I am absolutely certain it is not meant for everyone).
However, one should not dismiss the album as a mere antithesis, it truly dwells in a world of it's own.