Darkthrone is one of the most influential Norwegian black metal bands. With three decades in the industry and 17 albums under their belt, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are definitely pre-eminent figures in the black metal community. The duo first came together in 1986, forming a death metal band aptly named Black Death.
The Darkthrone we all know and love today surfaced in 1991, after incorporating the influence of Bathory and Celtic Frost into their musical style. This marked the conclusive shift to black metal and birthed three of the most influential black metal albums to date. The revered “Unholy Trinity” included the albums A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Under a Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger.
This marked the “second wave of black metal” and firmly established Darkthrone as one of the pioneers of the genre. But where did this new, distinct sound originate from? Fenriz himself stated in an interview that their music was the band’s reaction to the chronic exhaustion of easy life. Although undoubtedly an oversimplification, we believe we understand what Fenriz was alluding to.
He was the band’s sole lyricist at the time, and the songs definitely reflected his outlook on life and attitude towards the Norwegian society. Much like other black metal bands at the time, Darkthrone always had a firm anti-religious stance and was rebellious against the mainstream. All the songs from the three purely black metal albums were always wrapped in anti-religion, occultism, and rebellion.
That said, the transition from death to black metal wasn’t the only change in Darkthrone’s sound. Quite the contrary, throughout their 33-year-long career, Darkthrone went through quite a few phases.
Moving to Moonfog Productions (1995–2004)
The first major shift involved leaving Peaceville and moving to an independent record label — Moonfog Productions. Their fifth album, Panzerfaust, was generally well-received, but the production encountered some criticism. As with Transilvanian Hunger, Fenriz handled the instrumental elements on the record. This time, the highlight was on powerful riffs — a testimony to Celtic Frost’s influence on the band.
During the nine-year period, Fenriz was involved in a few side-projects as a drummer as well. Nevertheless, Darkthrone dished out five albums under Moonfog’s production. Chronologically, these were: Total Death (‘96), Ravishing Grimness (‘99), Plaguewielder (‘01), Hate Them (‘03) and Sardonic Wrath (‘04).
Much to everyone’s surprise, Hate Them and Sardonic Wrath included certain elements of electronic music. Not to say that the band strayed from their core black metal sound or that these elements were out of place; it was merely something new and unexpected. Many fans love these records, while others don’t consider them “true Darkthrone.”
An Even More Significant Shift (2005–present)
Darkthrone never stopped experimenting and evolving their sound. Upon returning to record under Peaceville, Darkthrone’s music took another sharp turn. This time around, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto decided to throw elements of crust punk into the mix. Consequently, the newer tracks feature heavier bass and a more “dirty” sound.
This was most evident on the Cult is Alive, the band’s 11th studio album. The duo stayed true to their black metal roots, but the shift from their typical sound was quite noticeable. Two years later, with the release of NWOBHM (New Wave of Black Heavy Metal) and F.O.A.D., Darkthrone became a band that could hardly be categorized under a single genre.
The Underground Resistance, for example, is a unique blend of thrash, black, doom, and speed metal, with elements of punk as well. Their latest album, Old Star, released in May this year, is the duo’s way of paying their “debt” to heavy metal.
It appears as though Fenriz and Nocturno Culto wanted to pay homage to all the bands and genres that influenced their own music. So despite starting as a death metal band, then becoming one of the key players in the Norwegian black metal scene, their music now involves traces of punk, thrash, heavy, and even speed metal.
As a result of covering such a broad spectrum, Darkthrone appeals to nearly all types of metalheads. If you’re a genuine fan of this music genre, you’re bound to love at least a few of the masterpieces this iconic band released over the past three decades.