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The Prototype - 85%

flightoficarus86, November 20th, 2014

This album is probably my least favorite out of the “Unholy Trilogy.” This is not an insult. If you won a bronze metal at the Olympics, damned if you wouldn’t be proud of it. Anyways, from what I can gather, my ears are just not kvlt enough to fully appreciate it. My favorite is A Blaze in the Northern Sky, which Fenriz himself rails against even on the commentary track for containing too much death metal influence and “fancy pants” drumming. Under a Funeral Moon, on the other hand, he calls their only true black metal album.

Being a guitarist and former drummer, his complaints about the first album are exactly what draw me to it. There are a number of deceivingly simplistic, but interesting and memorable riffs. The drumming showcases a lot of variety as well, more so than on later releases. But enough. This is a review of the latter, not the former.

The entire sound has been stripped down, likely to fit a much more prototypical template. The drum kit was literally broken down to a few pieces and the playing is far more simplistic. The recording of the drums is also purposefully reduced in quality. The blast beats sound like distant cardboard being beaten with spoons. You could probably recreate it with a busted microphone and your hands slapping on your thighs. There are really only two style here: blast beats and mid-tempo 4/4 with a simple cymbal fill here and there.

Regarding the guitars, gone are most of the hooks and almost progressive elements of the last album. They have been replaced by a handful of simple riffs consisting mostly of alternating power chords and tremolo picking. Occasionally there is a standout, particularly on the main riff of the title track which I absolutely dig. Everything else fits very much in with the buzz and drone of fellow band Burzum. The difference is that Darkthrone keeps the songs to fairly average length and follow a more conventional rock structure. As for the bass, you can actually hear it, which is more than can be said about a lot of “tr00” black metal. It has a nice heavy, distorted buzz that is similar to hardcore punk. Not surprising given Fenriz’s taste for the 80’s and crust punk.

There is not much to be said of Nocturno’s vocals other than that I like them. They are a bit less aggressive and volatile this time around, but they fit the overall atmosphere. They come through slowly with a nice echo, like a demon calling out from hell. Definitely creepy and not at all obnoxious compared to some of the newer groups that tried to adopt this style.

Now to an untrained eye, all that I’ve said seems to add up to a negative review. Wrong. All of my points about the changes in guitar, drums, and production come together quite well to create a masterpiece of atmosphere. While I generally see that term as a masturbatory way of saying “boring,” here it is not so. The album carries a nice cohesive darkness, the songs never overstay their welcome, and few have managed to hit a balance like this before or since. Just when I find myself thinking “okay…I’ve heard enough of this riff,” they move onto the next song. Standout tracks are Natassja in Eternal Sleep, Summer of the Diabolical Holocaust, To Walk the Eternal Fields, and Under a Funeral Moon. I will always recommend Blaze and Transylvanian Hunger over this album, but it is no less important to hearing the foundations of black metal and Darkthrone.