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The Cult Is Alive

Peaceville (2006)
Rating: 8/10

For those of you not familiar with Norway’s Darkthrone, then it would be quite a task to explain as to the who’s, where’s and why’s of this incredible band. In a nutshell, they began life in the late 80s as Black Death, but released their 1991 debut album (Soulside Journey) of stark death metal under the moniker of Darkthrone.

The early to mid-90s saw the band change direction, being caught up in the grim Norwegian black metal scene which took influence from older bands, such as Sweden’s Bathory. In 2006 Darkthrone shifted course again, only this time existing as some type of black ’n’ roll style metal band with crusty punk edges. This seemed to come about due to current band members, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, being so passionate about the metal styles of old, particularly no frills thrash from the 80s and the underground metal scene the world over.

The shift in direction began with the band’s welcome return to Peaceville Records, which was marked with the release of The Cult Is Alive. This ten-tracker featured the expected cold, harsh riffs, but this time round there was more of a nod to the 80s with a stronger punk influence on the guitars of Nocturno. Fenriz’ drum sound had also changed. Despite the strong influence of Motörhead, the looser style of playing gave the album a far more underground feel with the opening title track inspired by the rusty grit of the Brit rockers as well as bands such as Switzerland’s Celtic Frost.

Darkthrone had injected their sound with a more traditional feel despite the vocals still being of hellish origin. This time however, especially on ‘Too Old, Too Cold’, the band had adopted a more typical metal stance, particularly in the dirty riffs and lyrical aspect which nodded towards a New Wave Of British Heavy Metal feel.

The Cult Is Alive is almost groove-based in its approach, applying a more doom-laden feel to proceedings, although the album’s third track, ‘Atomic Coming’, reverts to a thrashier guise with mid-tempo passages. The bizarrely titled ‘Graveyard Slut’ was once again proof of the band taking a more regressive direction; the track reeks of early Celtic Frost with Fenriz taking over the vocal duties. This track would pretty much become a great hint of things to come from the band that would grow stronger as a unit, refusing to bow to trend and continue to pay homage to the metal underground. The fury of ‘Whisky Funeral’ once again shows a band hellbent on recreating the past and bringing the underground scene back to the fore.

Fans of the blacker years will still find much to savour, particularly in those grim vocals and night-time riffs. It seems as if Darkthrone, like so many other bands from the Norwegian scene, grew out of the corpse-paint and overtly hellish imagery. While some bands adopted an almost industrial approach, Darkthrone opted to keep the metal flag flying by vomiting out their own brand of metal. Ninth track, ‘Shut Up’, a prime example of the clattering ram they had become.

The cult had very much awoken. This was only the beginning of a new metal revolution fronted by the tyrannical double act.

Neil Arnold