Darkthrone – Astral Fortress (Album Review)

Darkthrone – Astral Fortess
Released: October 28th 2022

Line Up:

Fenriz // Drums, Vocals, Bass, Guitars
Nocturno Culto // Vocals, Guitars, Bass

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Bonafide legends of the black metal world, Darkthrone have created a commanding legacy in the heavy music underground – on their own terms. Signed to Peaceville Records since their debut and having last seen the live stage in 1996, the duo of GylveFenrizNagell and TedNocturno CultoSkjellum have toiled away for over three decades, consistently releasing albums. While their triumvirate of releases between ’92 and ’94 are untouchable Norwegian black metal, it didn’t take the band long to incorporate other genres into their raw and primal sound. Crust punk, classic metal, doom and John Carpenter-esque synths have all been explored.

Darkthrone’s two-piece dynamic sees its members wearing many hats. Group founder Fenriz handles the drumming and lyrics, as well as the occasional guitar/bass contribution. Nocturno Culto – who joined the troupe two years into their life in 1988 – takes reign of the vocals and the lion’s-share of guitar and bass work, while songwriting duties are diplomatically shared between the two. With Astral Fortress their 20th studio full length – the duo’s third in just over four years – it shows Darkthrone embracing their mid-career past, whilst keeping one foot in the epic black heavy metal of new.

Caravan Of Broken Ghosts’ is the perfect way to kick off a Darkthrone record. After a brief acoustic intro, the band gets into gear with a raw, lumbering attack. Of course, in classic Darkthrone style, the tracks bob and weave across different passages and feels, never repeating themselves. ‘Impeccable Caverns of Satan’ and ‘Stalagmite Necklace’ are perfect slabs of primal metal. The mid-paced former is built around some excellent riffing, and just touches on black metal with its main instrumental hook. The latter keeps the same vibe moving with a more complex riff, before the subtle introduction of synthesisers.

The brilliantly/ludicrously titled ‘The Sea Beneath The Seas Of The Sea’ is the LP’s epic centrepiece. The 10 minute voyage starts off (and finishes) with Hendrix/Robin Trower-style clean guitars, before distorted six-strings and Fenriz joins in with a trudging pace. An absolute riff banquet, the mammoth tune has so many great parts for metal fans to dig into. The last four minutes – following a fun and somewhat rough drum solo – are immense, with emotive and morose lead lines floating at top of a classic heavy metal slow burning outro. On Eternal Hails… Darkthrone started touting the term ‘epic black heavy metal’ – no better phrase could sum up ‘The Sea Beneath The Seas Of The Sea’.

Kevorkian Times’ is possibly the most black metal sounding track on the release. Some minor chord passages and a fair bit more trem picking brings in the blackened vibe, and while not Astral Fortress standout moment, it’s a fun, old school effort. ‘Kolbotn, West Of The Vast Forests’ is a two-minute instrumental tribute to duo’s hometown – though it doesn’t add much admittedly, other than a moody interlude before the album’s closer, ‘Eon 2’. Again dipping into the classic metal playbook, it features an almost uptempo intro with an array of guitar harmonies and fist-pumping tempo, before climaxing with a galloping outro.

Darkthrone’s stubborn refusal to bend to outside trends in the metal scene (and beyond) has made them kings in the heavy music underworld. With their previous LP Eternal Hails only dropping 18 months ago, Astral Fortress is born from one of the hardest working songwriting teams in heavy music. It doesn’t get a perfect score, as – in all fairness – everything post ‘The Sea…’ pales a little in comparison,  but the production is certainly a lot more tighter and focused than Eternal Hails… and the album is better for it. It’s immediately grabbing, yet it reveals more of itself with every listen. With something on there for every fan of the group, Astral Fortress is a triumphant walk throughout the Darkthrone storied history.

Darkthrone – Astral Fortress tracklisting

  1. Caravan of Broken Ghosts
  2. Impeccable Caverns of Satan
  3. Stalagmite Necklace
  4. The Sea Beneath the Seas of the Sea
  5. Kevorkian Times
  6. Kolbotn, West of the Vast Forests
  7. Eon 2

Rating: 9/10
Astral Fortress is out now on Peaceville Records. Get it here.
Review By – Andrew Kapper. Twitter: @andrew_kapper

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