Last Updated on 11:21 by Giorgos Tsekas
As light comes to us from a dead star that is in a distance of million years of light away, in the same vein the sonic waves of Astral Fortress comes to our ears from a variety of sources from the past that some of may have been dead for the music industry, (but thankfully not for Fenriz and Nocturno Culto), Darkthrone set the story as a triple narration of: Saint Vitus, Trouble, Candlemass, and Pentagram inspired Doom, Cult Traditional Heavy Metal in the veins of Manilla Road, Omen, Cirith Ungol and gloomy (always present in their music) Celtic Frost-sque Death metal meets proto Thrash, in which all three inevitable stories meet in one; the story of two individuals that managed to merge a 36 year course from Kolbotn, Norway to the top of the world…without even leave their small hometown once (as a band for touring).
Mixing genres isn’t something new though for them. Wasn’t A Blaze in the Northern Sky mixing genres also or The Cult Is Alive as well? But this time there’s another factor that shows up in their discography since the 2016’s Arctic Thunder. The band drags inspiration from their glorious past. No, no hell NO I don’t mean recycling ideas or already warmed over food. But as the works of Darkthrone are divided to eras then we should notice that since 2016 there’s a coming back to the roots approaching blended with elements drawn from the different periods in Darkthrone’s catalogue. Now we can clearly say that after Old Star and Eternal Hails that we are in the 70’s analog/doom years of the band. With a footnote that brave elements from Darkthrone past are injected carefully here and there.
If we try to condense in one (big) sentence the bare bones of Astral Fortress then I could use the following: ‘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 metal in the Darkthrone odyssey.’ I believe that is one of these rare occasions in which the press release of a new album says it-almost all- about the album. But let me grab the opportunity to answer to many out there that felt annoyed about the word eclectic as it is a bad word for a Heavy or Black Metal band. Eclectic doesn’t mean elitist in or for a few or chosen ones. Darkthrone was always “flesh out of its own flesh” of the metal community, with a “from the boys to the boys” attitude even when they were living their satanic or pure evil Black metal years. Their spirit was like their loyal fanatics and were acting as if they were fans of their own band, they played what they should expect from their beloved band to play or hear from. So eclectic means actually deriving ideas, music style, or influences from a broad and diverse range of sources, something the Norwegians have done from their very early beginning up to now.
‘No Metronome Since 1987’
Now that’s another sentence/motto that describes fine and accurate this release and as 1987 indicates, the band’s entire career up to now. Actually it says it all. The album was again recorded in Chaka Kahn Studio as Eternal Hails (the band recorded in their own studio from 2005-2019). The duo plays all instruments together with vintage analogue gear, not with a computer. This allows to their music to breathe and be dynamic.
But let’s see the music track by track:
The album opens with a frosty acoustic guitar in “Caravan Of Broken Ghosts”, is another tribute to Bathory through Celtic Frost. “Impeccable Caverns Of Satan” is mid-tempo, simple and luminous in which we can summarize its grandeur, in the Tom Warrior’s chest coming growl “ough” that Nocturno roars. As in Eternal Hails, Astral Fortress features (here different though) synthesizers as also there is a re-visit from Mellotron (always in analogue) in “Stalagmite Necklace”. “The Sea Beneath the Seas of the Sea” shows how you can pay tribute to something you love without being consequential; The Lovecraft reference is given with humor and sardonic smile. The song is great composition, 10 minute long, epic, B’ side opener is based on hypnotic riffs and simple drumming, before it bursts through clean vocals into a melodic atmospheric (with the use of synths guitar effects) and extensive instrumental closing part. “Kevorkian Times”, is opposite to the album’s basic rhythm (which is rather slow and mid-paced) while it isn’t what we call fast one, still gives a variety to the LP as it is the only moment that will bring in mind the Crust/ D-beat era. A strong song with chugging guitars and doomy vibes. The album continues until the end on the same pattern of prehistoric sounds and straightforward attack. “Kolbotn, West Of The Vast Forests” isn’t actually a song closer to the prologue to “Eon 2” (remember “Eon” from 1991’s debut Soulside Journey?) and a salute to Celtic Frost’s “Danse Macabre” (at least to my ears and logic) which was originally featured on 12” EP “Morbid Tales” (1984). “Eon 2” would also fit in 2013’s The Underground Resistance, featuring excellent lead guitar parts and a galloping drumming that reminds me of Maiden. A proper and grand finale of the record.
Darkthrone are on their 20th studio full length (in April 2023 the duo is entering again the studio!) and yes they have in mind their legacy and not personal attention or more money or something. Actually they have said no to a lot of money for just a single show or a full tour for years and years. Darkthrone are ordinary men just like you and me having day jobs and they act like normal guys who love music and don’t see themselves as something else other than simple men with a passion for music.
As for the purists that hated the artwork, really what do you exactly see when you stare at the back of the guy with the hoodie and the Panzerfaust back patch? Is it the ice-skating or the faux fur collar that bothers you? C’mon you can do better. Get a life…
Astral Fortress is available on the following formats:
- Limited Edition Deluxe boxed edition: includes Astral Fortress on CD, an exclusive clear vinyl LP & cassette, printed letter from Fenriz and exclusive art prints all housed in a heavy duty lift off lid box
- Limited edition curacao blue coloured LP – exclusively available through the Peaceville stores
- Plus other limited edition coloured vinyl LPs are available in stores across the world – gold, white, yellow, green, purple and silver .. a collectors dream .. if you can find them!
get a copy here