Darkthrone – A Blaze In The Northern Sky

It takes serious nerve to entirely redefine your sound on only your second album; nerve that Darkthrone obviously possesses in spades. In the harsh light of hindsight, it’s easy to misjudge Darkthrone’s turn towards the blacker side of things as something that ever could have been seen as ‘natural’. But go back to 1992, with Darkthrone as a young, promising band on Peaceville, coming off the heels of a well-received death metal release, and the perplexing case here begins to take form.

Before the nineties had passed and black metal was viewed as a commodity, just another subgenre, it was still a primal, dangerous, experimental force in the metal scene. Like the emergence of death metal before it, black metal was frequently scorned and misunderstood by the status quo. Such a time seems alien, particularly for those of us who got into metal after the tumultuous period of the early nineties, where the chaos of the Norweigian scene was not something relegated to books and collective fables, but a very real situation where the actions of those such as Dead and Faust were very real and very current.

And, stumbling out of that murky blackness, was Darkthrone, a band who, with the release of 1992’s ‘A Blaze In The Northern Sky’, seemed to capture that dangerous potency that black metal had in its heyday (or as close to a heyday as black metal ever had). Certainly, the metal scene had been exposed to what was referred to as ‘black metal’ before; mostly through the Venom-emulating sets of Mayhem and its ilk. But then comes Darkthrone, a band that entirely eschewed thrash, and instead stared into a Nietzschian abyss that few others had dared to. Aside from the collection of Celtic Frostian riffs and some lingering death metal influence, one could say that ‘A Blaze In The Northern Sky’ came from nowhere and related to nothing; it entered the room, and everyone paying attention could hear the audible screech of a record stopping.

Take off glasses jaded by a million clones and you can see how absurdly daring ‘A Blaze In The Northern Sky’ is. It’s easy to look at ‘Kathaarian Life Code”s ten-minute length or ‘Where Cold Winds Blow”s undulating ambiance and discard them as mere convention; but to do so is to ignore that this, right here, is where that convention was established! Entering the world a scant month before Burzum’s self-titled debut, this was easily the most extreme, demented, and progressive work on the metal market at the time. It wouldn’t be a long shot to say that one of the things that distinguished Darkthrone from the pack was their inherent theatricism and artistry, a level of which was probably only popularly matched by Celtic Frost, who at this time were no longer relevant to the community at large, leaving Darkthrone the sole group that was forging ahead with its specific music.

While not as assaultingly atmospheric as later works, ‘A Blaze In The Northern Sky’ enters the world on its legendary, ritualistic ambient section before entering the shimmering darkness of ‘Kathaarian Life Code’, the longest and perhaps most archtypically ‘black metal’ track on here. Follower ‘In The Shadow Of The Horns’, not unlike the title track, could be said to be helping the doubtful ease into this extraordinary new sound; while ‘Kathaarian Life Code’ tosses the listener directly into the stream of black metal, the second track’s Frostian crunch riffs act as a much easier introduction to the startling new world of black metal; at least, before Nocturno Culto’s howl ushers in towering blast beats from beyond.

The album continues through such a route; pure, undeniable black metal with periodic lapses into slightly friendlier territory. However, the emphasis is still on the pitch-black negativity of ‘A Blaze In The Northern Sky’ that infects every part of it, from cover to lyrics to music to the intentionally raw production that would snare thousands into starting their own bands. In a uniquely ominous twist, the album ends with the same ambiance that it begins with; however, in this case, it is viewed as an escape from this terrifying reality away from our own, as opposed to the entry into it. No, I doubt Darkthrone was attempting to replicate the cyclic nature of their own songs. It’s just a supremely devilish coincidence.

But I suppose supremely devilish coincidence does quite well to sum up an album such as this, doesn’t it?

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~ by noktorn on March 13, 2007.

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