From their formation back in 1986, to becoming one of Norway’s finest and enigmatic musical exports (with a number of highly revered black metal masterpieces released in the early 90’s helping to solidify their legacy), Darkthrone has continued to evolve and challenge in equal measure, throughout their illustrious recording career spanning over three decades. And now, the ever-productive duo of Nocturno and Fenriz continue their own metallic saga with a new selection of fine, vintage sounding headbanging classics in the making .. Astral Fortress
This new studio opus, out now on the Peaceville label, is a swift follow-up to 2021’s Eternal Hails opus, as a result of Darkthrone’s consistent and ongoing writing process, which has been in force for some years now. For Darkthrone does not sleep – it only waits…
Carried on the brisk wind of eager rock, with foundations in black, thrash, doom and heavy metal, Astral Fortress is the latest album of stellar, eclectic old-school metal in the Darkthrone odyssey. With a seemingly endless dungeon full of heavy metal influences channelled through Darkthrone’s dynamic riff-machine, plus also with many increasing inspirations taken from their own past catalogue.
Fenriz commented “As usual, Ted makes music by playing himself and riffs just come to me. I think since 2016’s Arctic Thunder, we have mostly been inspired by our own back catalogue. I can hear many of my riffs eventually sounding like a plethora of bands but this seldom seems to correlate with what others hear. As you’ll know by now I never talk about the lyrics or the inspiration behind them and I would never want any lyrics that I like of others to be explained to me but I will tell you this, it is darker than ever, it is seething with hell!”
Astral Fortress is sprinkled with atmospheric touches such as synthesizers and mellotron, but the characteristic Darkthrone sound you know and love is still there – heavy, heavy riffs and chords, relatively simple but punchy drums and bass, all working as tightly and moodily as ever. There’s something innately primitive and primeval about Darkthrone, it is a veritable beast in the metal world!
The album was recorded at Chaka Khan Studios in Oslo, the same location used for the Eternal Hails album, with Ole Øvstedal and Silje Høgevold. And straight away, you’re intrigued by the album cover, featuring the cover of a previous album (Panzerfaust) on the back of the figure’s jacket. Curious, eh! Generally speaking, the album again features that same classic doom metal vibe that flows through what passes for Darkthrone’s veins, but the overall production is definitely a bit cleaner, less massively soaked in flattened percussion – so it makes for a slightly less (by their standards!) brain-crushingly heavy mood. The tracks are also a bit shorter, only two songs being longer than six minutes, which again makes more space for a bit of light and shade?
First up is Caravan of Broken Ghosts. Acoustic strumming is gradually submerged in the intro by a sustained single chord, it’s so simple but wow it grabs you and says “hello”! I love this start, parts of this are distinctly Sabbath-esque, like I said there’s an nice old-school vibe to much of this. Impeccable Caverns of Satan is next, and again there’s something really “early 70’s” about the “very ‘eavy but clean, hard-hitting” riffing here. I do like this sound-mix! And it concludes with another Iommi-inspired riff that loosens concrete at fifty paces! Stalagmite Necklace is good, another five-minute workout around a whopper of a riff. Here’s the first of the surprises, with a touch of synths floating above the mayhem.
Then we have the biggie, all ten minutes of The Sea Beneath The Seas of The Sea. This is heavy metal as it used to be in the early days, shades of Iron Butterfly etc – albeit without Fenriz’s honeyed tones! It’s certainly a thorough riff-fest work-out, interspersed by some very heavy-prog interludes (and what’s wrong with that, I hear you say!). Enjoy!
Kevorkian Times follows, which the title would suggest is an ode to suicide, “kevorkian” basically meaning to assist or perform a requested mercy killing, named after an American pathologist and enthanasia proponent….By way of contrast, Kolbotn, West of the Vast Forests is then a very brief (1:54!) experiment with what sounds like tubular bells! And then we’re into the album’s closer Eon 2, familiar territory with Sabbathesque big riffs, ponderous drums, a touch of twin guitars twinning. I’ve often thought that stick Ozzy in front of these two and you’d have a global-beating heavy metal band to rule them all!
Harking back to Fenriz’s remarks, the very nature of Darkthrone songs is similar to a host of others – they are after all one of the leading lights of the genre. But – and it’s quite a big but – this song-set does feature some unexpected twists and turns along the way, in fact there’s a definite pre-black metal, proggy vibe recurring throughout, a trend that perhaps surfaced on Eternal Hails and continues here.
Astral Fortress is also available on the following formats: Limited Edition Deluxe boxed edition: includes Astral Fortress on CD, an exclusive clear vinyl LP & cassette, a printed letter from Fenriz and exclusive art prints all housed in a heavy duty lift off lid box. There’s also a Limited edition curacao blue coloured LP – exclusively available through the Peaceville stores!