DARKTHRONE – Eternal Hails…… (2021)REVIEW

Forever hurling backwards in time and space is nobody’s fantasy. There is no infinite musical regression available to the human mind that’d satiate for long or, at least not without an all-important point of true north to return to. Aging is a terrible curse upon the mind for this reason alone — The further one shies from the societally defined span of time wherein one assigns the ‘self’ and latches onto futuristic potentiate patternation the sooner shockingly terrible “new shit” brings a profound fall back to Earth. In the past the elastic fate of nostalgia was a fluke, poor kids listening to old records and making music with timeless potential of its own, but now nostalgia becomes a feverishly cycling machine hoping to sate the “content” hungered masses who’d had the sorrowful fate of being born with an internet enabled device in their hands. As generations are able to cycle through corporate reskinned and censored material the hope is that some few key outliers become more and more aware of the absurdity of commercialized re-history and perpetual cycles of consumption rather than contribution. In the case of Darkthrone, yep you know who they are and fuck off if you don’t, making music for themselves has long meant isolation from most of the ugliness (touring, playing live, big deal production values, etc.) that could be associated with the music industry. Elder outliers within the extreme metal field and sure, key components of black metal somewhere long the line, these two fellowes appear more than content set within the dignity afforded as old-growth trees or, rocks left to their mossy undisturbed station. Album number nineteen, ‘Eternal Hails……‘, offers listeners music that appears tailor made for people who’ve been living under a rock or, wishing they were.

From my perspective that is direct praise yet it comes with the caveat that a lot of musicians today have similarly strong taste in early 80’s heavy metal and their black/heavy metal records (many directly inspired by Darkthrone) are beyond commonplace today. Does fealty to this nostalgic institution serve as a distortion upon the reception of the album? In the case of ‘Eternal Hails……’ it’d be hard to nail down this murky, bleakest epic heavy/doom and speed metal influenced record as a lifeline for direct Darkthrone nostalgia and in this sense they should never be considered black metal’s Motörhead, nor a Bowie-esque equivalent despite a constantly shifting focus on production values and stylized songwriting. If the previous record ‘Old Star‘ (2019) reeked of Dream Death, Celtic Frost and Sacrilege style “doom-thrash” records then this one aims a bit earlier 80’s and a bit less “dark” depending on your perspective. This modus of writing songs influenced by some of their favorite hybrids or ancient outliers is not new for Darkthrone but they’ve been more prone to embrace these references beyond ‘The Cult is Alive’ (2006). You can click on my earlier reference to ‘Old Star’ and read a bit more about my take on the history of the band, a few favorite albums and all that since the transition from album eighteen to nineteen is more a matter of stylistic modulation, differing production values, and none of the context has changed.

First exposure to ‘Eternal Hails…….’ came in a press release announcing the usual details including a (horizontally flipped) 1972 painting from British artist David A. Hardy, a fellow who has been depicting the wonders of outer space since the early 1950’s, as the cover art as well as the first of two singles and second song on the album, “Hate Cloak“. The messaging and the song make it clear that they’ve not strayed too far from ‘Old Star’ in terms of continued interest in classic doom metal influences but the production values are unusually muffled compared to the usual self-recordings sent off to a Enormous Door we’d grown accustomed to since 2013 or so. Does going into a professional studio for the first time since 2004 do Darkthrone any good? Yes, I guess if you spend much of your time listening to obscure demo tapes and the original, non-remastered versions of the greats this will be the exact right level of cavernous echo and fuzzed mid-70’s heavy metal meets mid-80’s German speed metal guitar tone. They’ve potentially leaned too hard into achieving a stomped-on cassette sort of analog production value, going for the deeper blur of mid-80’s doom than say Mercy‘s ‘Witchburner’ towards a tape-hissing and bumbling sound that is reminiscent of a rehearsal. I mention Messiah Marcolin‘s first band tangentially but the 9+ minute “Hate Cloak” suggests this album will likely again swing between faster black/heavy metal pieces and slower traditional doom metal influenced pacing. Even if I am a huge fan of traditional doom metal this piece wasn’t the most thrilling first impression, the murkiness doesn’t make much sense until the pace picks up and “Hate Cloak” doesn’t benefit from the neater structures of its influences.

His Master’s Voice” is the second single and album opener, the right song to introduce the album and a bit of a fast ride through a variety of impressive references. From Discharge and Motörhead mood swings to early Kvelertak riffs that transition into a fragment of Sepultura‘s “Desperate Cry” this first song is all over the place until it finds its slower doom riff and well, the glue that holds it all together is still this Celtic Frost muscle memory that has always been the key of Darkthrone‘s sound. Great song, exciting shifts in pace, the guitar tone proves itself right there in every way possible, and the production is far more dynamic than “Hate Cloak” had suggested. So, good album otherwise? Actually those first two pieces are the least interesting part of the whole gig, they drone on too long and hardly justify it. It isn’t until we’ve hit the eerie synth of “Wake of the Awakened” and its riff break around 4:30 minutes in that these longer songs begin to spill the pay off of their elaborate yarn. Culto in particular shines on the songs that are spacious enough to demand extended, multi-tiered riffs with ornate segue and reprise, we get fewer “interrupting” riffs and more intentionally lain pieces as a result since these songs hardly get their point across in less than 3-4 minutes. As much as I’d like to spend a couple paragraphs on “Voyage To A Northpole Adrift” alone the major piece on the album, closer “Lost Arcane City Of Uppakra” is my favorite piece in general. Not only are we getting the ‘To Mega Therion’ doom metal this album seems to do best but the narrative the rhythm guitar presents is that of a coming triumph, not unlike the best of Trouble until we hit the ~3:17 minute mark… a quiet bassline and spoken-sung Norsk leads us through the most eerie portal yet, space synth ringing out like an alarm warped by the pull of the abyss and they don’t just lean into it for a second and return: They never return… Well, distorted guitars ring out, the synth becomes the central riff, and the band plays us out. Until this song had hit me I honestly wasn’t up for taking more than a few rides through this record but I appreciated ‘Eternal Hails…….’ more once I’d realized it was giving me something new, actually strikingly new territory for the band in some respects and there is some serious charm to stuffing the production values into a sepia toned time machine.

Epic black/heavy metal, doom-thrash, black n’ roll, whatever Darkthrone ends up putting together arrives based on what they’re inspired by at the time and for the fifth time in a row this lines up pretty well with my own taste. ‘Eternal Hails……’ is a good album and a memorable one at that but not a -great- record for the sake of not trying too hard. It is among the most essential of their nineteen record discography? Sure, though I’ve only sat with it for a week and a half I’d place this one somewhere in the top ten for my own taste. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Eternal Hails……
LABEL(S):Peaceville Records
RELEASE DATE:June 25th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Epic Black Heavy Metal

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