Posted by: Ian – Apr 15, 2010
Circle The Wagons, the newest album by Norwegian metal band Darkthrone, continues down the path the band has been exploring for the past few years, eschewing the hyperspeed black metal of their early days in favor of an extremely lo-fi punk/metal hybrid, for the most part sounding like Motorhead recording Amebix covers onto an answering machine from 1982. Lyrically, Darkthrone relies on many of heavy metal's standard death-and-gloom tropes, as evidenced by song titles such as “Eyes Burst At Dawn” and “Stylized Corpse,” all of which generally make the band sound like they learned English by listening to Venom albums. Thematically, much of the album refers to the current state of heavy music, specifically the band's disdain for almost every metal band in existence except themselves.
Lest this start to sound like a negative review, however, many of these traits are what make the album work. The rawness of the recording, the lack of lyrical subtlety, and the blatant tribute paid to the heavy music of yore combine into the sort of sledgehammer bluntness that has long been a rock musician's most powerful tool. When singer Ted “Nocturno Culto” Skjellum howls “I am the graves of the 80s / I am the risen dead / destroy the modern metal / and bang your fucking head,” he is not concerned with nuance or magnanimity, he is simply trying to make the last line of the verse come true.
Circle The Wagons is a rewarding album for its stylistic variations as well. While no discerning metal aficionado would mistake this for anything but Darkthrone, the band broadens their sonic palette on the newest record, employing quasi-operatic (if slightly off-key) melodic vocals in songs like “These Treasures Will Never Befall You” and, dare I say, catchy choruses in most of the songs. Lyrically, while much of the album beats the dead horse of contemporary heavy metal's lack of originality or intensity, songs like “I Am The Working Class” take a different tack by dealing with the daily life of a blue-collar worker – the sort of mid-tempo “rocker for the little guy” approach which has made good money for everybody from Bob Seger to Agnostic Front – made believable in Darkthrone's hands, however, with the raggedness and desperation of the manual laborer left unchecked by the melodic content.
These stylistic variations might alienate some of the band's long-term fans wanting a return to the black metal they helped define two decades ago, and the ramshackle roughness might alienate just about everybody else. Despite that, an open-minded fan of unpolished heavy music is unlikely to find a better release this year.
- Graham Scala