Album Review : Darkthrone - Old Star (2019)
Darkthrone have seen it all. The Norwegian black metal legends are well into the third act of their career and have outlived everyone. And their longevity is not difficult to understand: Darkthrone is a band that is past trying to impress you. They create the music they want and if you don’t like it, too bad. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have reinvented themselves twice over the years and the blackened crust punk/black n’ roll era was slowly starting to get stale on their 2017 release Arctic Thunder. It felt like the band explored every possibility this sound had to offer.
It could’ve been it. The guys have nothing left to prove. But Darkthrone are back. Old Star is a revamped, rejuvenated version of their sound that opens up exciting new paths for the band going forward.
Of course, Darkthrone are still essentially their straightforward, filthy, lo-fi selves on Old Star. The album is being around creative use of guitar riffs like always, but man… these riffs are so fucking good. What differentiates them from other, more conventional Darkthrone riffs is how melodic they are. Once again, they have not turned into At the Gates overnight, but they incorporate elements from both melodic death metal and traditional heavy metal to their songs. The first single Duke of Gloat is a good example with its throwback guitar solo. Pseudo-clean melody here appears like a point of hope in a barren landscape and gives the song extra emotional pull.
Song structure is another thing that changed on Old Star and that change is a little more radical than the increased melodic input. The excellent The Hardship of the Scots is a multisegmented, tempo-shifting monster that transcends history of heavy metal throughout its seven and a half minutes. There’s the inclusion of breakdowns as well, like on the title song and most notably The Key is Inside the Wall. It’s a bold move from the Norwegian titans, proving that they’re not necessarily an antithesis to metal song construction. There is some more conventional material on Old Star, but the songs are, in general, looser and shiftier than ever.
The opener I Muffle Your Inner Choir is probably the most conventional Darkthrone song on Old Star. It’s an uncompromising, in your face,six minutes-long throwback to the days of Transilvanian Hunger and Total Death with slightly better production. Alp Man was a quite nice surprise, too. It almost sounds like a cover from Anvil. It’s catchy and unapologetic. Old Star is… dare I say diverse? But it’s driven by the idea of building songs around old, anachronistic heavy metal riffs. It’s sounds absolutely crazy and counterintuitive to everything Darkthrone stands for, but it works. Oh, it fucking works.
Some critics have called Old Star to be Darkthrone’s doom metal album and I don’t get it. Sure, there are some slower songs, but all the structures are dynamic and never really settle on a tempo. Old Star is Darkthrone at their boldest, most creative and don’t-give-a-fuck at the same time. I haven’t been this excited about one of their albums since The Cult is Alive in 2006. The Hardship of the Scots, Alp Man and They Key is Inside the Wall were the high points for me, but there’s not really a boring moment on Old Star. Thirty years into their career, Darkthrone are still driven by passion, creativity and integrity. It doesn’t get more legit and inspiring than that.