Tuesday, December 27, 2016

And here begins my Metal Top Five countdown for 2016.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.


Number Five:

Arctic Thunder

It opens with a peal of guitar squeal and then bashes you on the head with a relentless, primal riff and drum pattern that rumbles forward and reminds you just why you love Celtic Frost and the venomous roots of black metal.  And then the vocals come in, gurgling like the cries of a corpse brought back to life.  The pace suddenly picks up, the riffing faster, the beat no longer lurching but running at you like a deranged killer with blood on his mind.  And such is opening track Tundra Leach, and such is this album.  Every time you think you’re safe, you find out you’re not.  This is the gift of Darkthrone; they never settle and they always go for the throat.  3:20 in and the beat changes yet again, grinding gears back into a pummel.  The killer has caught you, you’re in his clutches now, and he mercilessly beats you over the head with his hammering riffs.

Burial Bliss rolls in next, a colliding eruption of fast riffs and drum beats, closer to punk with its venomous attack.  This one is all business, all forward momentum, slowing only slightly at the 3:00 mark.  Slightly.

As the bliss fades out, Boreal Fiends throbs into life, slow, haunting notes played over a singular beat, seguing into a buzzsaw riff just as the vocals roar in, disturbing the tranquil beauty the opening passage gave us.  The song drops down again for an instant, letting you catch your breath.  This is mid-tempo goodness right here, moving along at a steady, metallic pace, the crashing of the prow of a boat against the large waves it rams through.  2:35 brings us a clean vocal/chant/cry to the gods, followed by foreboding licks, some cymbal shudderings, and then a heavy, doomy drum beat.  The tortured vocals return as the song turns almost to sludge, dragging along its broken limbs through a thick marsh of mud.  At 4:20 the pace picks back up, but just middling again, with a blessed riff that slides into a smooth guitar solo so clear and crystal it almost hurts your ears.

Another rapid number, but one closer to slow thrash than anything else, comes next.  Riff follows riff, the primitive drum sound pushing this Inbred Vermin along until about a minute passes and we get some more thrashy riffing, but nothing too wild until the switch is flipped and we’re rolling along, banging our heads to the pure black n’ roll that follows.  Oh, sweet, blessed metal.  The song drops into a valley before climbing back up to mid-paced territory again and then back to trashy thrash.  It finishes in sludgy fashion, making your head bob and your eyes close.

Arctic Thunder bang to life, an old-fashioned metal number, all riffs and thud with some drumstick on cymbal stand tinks that add to the old-school feel and rhythm.  This whole thing feels like a Voivod song from the early eighties, although it sounds nothing like Voivod, if that makes sense.  It bashes along, as does many of the songs on this album, carving a valley all its own.

Epic riffs start Throw Me Through the Marshes, the drums laid back and easy.  This is another head-bobber, one that begins like proper Bathory, the band just before it turned Viking, when it was still fooling with lo-fi but dreaming bigger.  About 2:00 in and the pace picks up, the riffing more insistent, the drumming more driving.  Like many of the songs, the riffs flirt with Black Metal proper but never really go all the way, keeping the traditional metal feel just enough to make this a hybrid sound.  At 3:46 the riff changes into an almost cock-rock swagger, big and swinging, daring you to look, returning almost instantly to the epic riff from the beginning of the song. 

Deep Lake Trespass opens with the most Black Metal riffs so far, although again, they do not go all the way.  There is no out of control whirlwind, the pace picking up in more of a punk rock fashion a little less than a minute into the song.  Nocturno Culto (who handles all the vocals on this album) howls out his usual acidic lyrics here, the defiance notably stronger and meaner in this song.  There’s a little soloing towards the end as the song returns to its opening signatures before ending with a lurch.

The final song, The Wyoming Distance, starts with a nice riff and the rocking does not stop there.  This is the most primitive of all the songs on the album.  You can feel the cymbals as they crash and the muted thump of the drums as if you’re in the same room with them.  Like the rest of the album, this sounds “live,” with no studio trickery, just the band in there, bashing it out, sweating and bleeding over their art.  The song ends with a crash of feedback and quiet studio chatter, like Nocturno and Fenriz said “screw it, we’re done.”  And then that’s it.

Everything is back to basics on this album, and that’s not an insult or to say it’s simple.  Darkthrone seem more determined with each new record to get to the essence of all that is dark and threatening about metal.  Yes, this is more “black metal” than some of their recent stuff, but the Motorhead influence is still just as important as the Celtic Frost or the Bathory.  It’s actually a perfect summation of their career, minus one balls-out epic pure Black Metal number.  They don’t do anything new with this record, but they don’t need to.  They write great songs and perform them.  The sound is warm and live and just like the obscure eighties band they named the record after, it feels like something you could have heard in that time period after Celtic Frost and before Mayhem.  In other words, it’s terrific.

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