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The Underground Resistance

Peaceville (2013)
Rating: 8.5/10

Darkthrone’s latest album crawls from their dingy Norwegian dungeon like some armour-plated dragon, breathes a fiery breath onto the stark trees and retires to the darkest corner leaving me aghast.

The Underground Resistance is without a shadow of a doubt Darkthrone’s most “metal” record. The punkoid crust of previous records has been scraped away and this time Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have carved themselves a metallic monster steeped, if anything, in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal tradition.

Of course, the duo of darkness are still high on Celtic Frost and obscure 80s leather-clad thrash, but this is Darkthrone at their most polished and, dare I say it, tuneful? Even so, it’s still classic Darkthrone, wearing their influences on their sleeve, daubed in 70s-style barbarianism and yet somehow unpredictable as they take us through the battlefields of the North, flags and banners held high, all in the name and honour of heavy metal Armageddon.

This time around there’s only six tracks on offer; three featuring that distinctive Fenriz yelp, and the other three spattered with Nocturno’s riotous roar. Yet despite the apparent shortness of the opus (it clocks in at around 40 minutes but seems a lot shorter), this is certainly Darkthrone’s most rewarding platter.

‘Dead Early’ begins the record with a classic 80s-inspired metal riff before upping its pace to a steady gallop. Nocturno’s growl bleaches the riff before the it picks up pace once again, while Fenriz clatters away, and in the distance am I hearing the faint sound of darkly atmospheric keyboard effects? Either way, Nocturno reminds me more of Voivod’s Snake in that primitive snarl and three minutes in we’re treated to a killer riff, which swerves through the darkness leading us back to that original clattering structure.

On The Underground Resistance I’m hearing Darkthrone at their most clinical, professional and, if anything, slowest. Fenriz’s ‘Valkyrie’ is probably my favourite track on the record; five minutes of epic sounding metal that begins life as a sweeping acoustic lead into an anthemic trudge. Darkthrone fans will be struck by Fenriz’s vocal display, which is certainly of warrior-esque might as he warbles his way amidst those doom-laden riffs. When he stated in December 2012 that his songs were “torn from the wombs of the riders of Rohan of metal”, he wasn’t wrong. ‘Valkyrie’ mixes 70s-style euphoria with mid-80s melody and (JRR) Tolkien-inspired fantasy, while grasping at power metal structures, particularly with the raging drums and speedier parts. This is probably Darkthrone at their most melodic too.

Third track, ‘Lesser Men’, skips into the room on a razor chug which is laced with a doomy kick. This is another song dredged up from the graves of the 80s, Nocturno vomiting his best Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost) vocal. Of all the tracks on offer, ‘Lesser Men’ is probably closest to that once typical Darkthrone sound which we’ve come accustomed to over the last couple of albums, but it also contains some of the best shredding – something I’ve never expected from these guys. The stark guitars and clanking drums give way to an infectious riff, but at almost three minutes in we’re ambushed by a searing solo which re-appears a minute or so later after we’ve been battered by another juggernaut riff. Staggering stuff, blending mid-80s speed metal with a classic metal feel.

‘The Ones You Left Behind’ is another power metal epic with more infectious vocals, Fenriz becoming leader of the metal tribe as he resurrects NWOBHM values on this war-horse of a track. At just under two-and-a-half minutes in, the track takes on an Iron Maiden-esque structure with that galloping guitar sound. If you were kid in the UK growing up in the 80s you may be familiar with the classic cartoon Dangermouse, and however bizarre it is to say it (and admittedly, it is a bizarre comparison!) there are parts of this epic track (mainly Fenriz’s pre-chorus bark) which remind me of the theme tune! Even so, it’s still a glorious track which leads us to the more down-tuned sludge of ‘Come Warfare, The Entire Doom’, an eight-and-a-half minute Nocturno Culto number that barely shifts beyond a sinister crawl. I’m hearing early Voivod, particularly in that spiky vocal, and certainly classic, colder Darkthrone in the guitar sound.

The final track on the record is the serpentine ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’, a 13-minute slab that begins life as an 80s thrash classic, steeped in speed metal mayhem, plucked straight from the mid-80s. Fans of old Agent Steel, Slayer and the like will find much to savour here. Even so, there’s much more to this track than creaky thrash, the band clearly not afraid to inject proceedings with a dash of doom, inspired by the likes of Celtic Frost at their most warped, Black Sabbath (obviously) and oaken Pentagram, which beefs up the mid-section. Vocally, Fenriz resorts back to those battlefield cries, giving the track an even more epic, yet melodic atmosphere.

And so, after my eighth spin in a row of this sterling opus, I’m finding myself plucked from the safety of the modern era and dumped back into the 80s, a place I never wanted to leave in the first place. The Underground Resistance is Darkthrone’s most gargantuan record, a weighty affair that forces the listener to don helmet and shield and take to the fields, sword in hand, to fight for the true spirit of metal. Hail!

Neil Arnold