posted on 8/2008 By:
Darkthrone. Death Metal. Probably not an association you would normally make. Most fans of underground metal probably know that Darkthrone started as a death metal band, but they went on to far greater fame for their now legendary work as pioneers of the second wave of black metal. While being renown in the black metal genre is richly deserved, it tends to overshadow their admittedly limited, but excellent work in the death metal genre, the crowning achievement of which is their debut record Soulside Journey. Frostland Tapes covers the rest of the Darkthrone’s death metal output, from their first demo, to the rehearsal tape that is the only document of their aborted second record, Goatlord.
Frostland Tapes begins, fittingly, with the five tracks that comprised the bands first demo, 1988’s Land of Frost. The recording here is, not surprisingly, primitive, but listenable. Vocals are handled by drummer Gylve (a.k.a. Fenriz), as guitarist/vocalist Nocturno Culto has yet to join the band at this juncture. Musically, the band, in hastier moments, sounds quite similar to Master or early Death. For the most part, though the band, even at this early stage, is willing to stretch out and let songs develop at a more measured pace than many of their contemporaries. There are some amateur sounding moments to be sure and the robotic vocal effect is a bit off putting, but this is none the less a respectable demo from a very young band.
The next two tracks are from the promo tape A New Dimension, upon which Nocturno Culto or Ted as he was known then, makes his debut. The first track is a 45 second intro of mostly wind noise, but the second, entitled “Snowfall”, is a nine minute instrumental epic. “Snowfall” displays a startling amount growth considering it was recorded a mere four months after Land of Frost. With an intro eerily similar to Death’s “Infernal Death” (let us call it a loving tribute), the track is a seamlessly flowing riff showcase. The band throws the whole playbook at you, slow doom metal sections, frantic thrash riffs, clean guitar, harmonized melodies, etc. It is a shame that this track did not make it on to Soulside Journey.
Disc one of the compilation concludes with the Thulcandra demo from 1989. The sound here is much improved from the previous demos, with a fairly balanced mix and little in the way of technical glitches. The songs at this point are moving much closer to the style found on Soulside Journey (The first track, “Eon” is featured on the album.), but still feature a lot more speed and blasting than the band will later employ. A track entitled “Soria Moria” is included here that was not on the original demo, but I presume it is from the same era.
Disc two begins with the three tracks that originally comprised the live demo Cromlech, as well as the bonus studio track “Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia”. All four of these tracks will end up on Soulside Journey with their arrangements virtually unchanged save some additional lead guitar and slightly slower tempos. Vocals are also improved witch leads me to believe that Nocturno Culto assumes vocal duties on this recording, although I cannot confirm it. The sound is surprisingly good for a live recording and the band’s performance is tight. It is easy to see why, based on this demo, Peaceville signed Darkthrone to a recording contract.
Disc two concludes with a seven tracks recorded live in Denmark in 1990. The recording is that of a decent bootleg, muddy, but not unlistenable. Since Darkthrone made so few live appearances, it is nice that this set was included for posterity if nothing else.
The story of Goatlord is an odd one; the 1996 release bearing that name was in fact a rehearsal recording circa 1991 containing songs that were originally intended to make up the bands second album. At some point during ’91, Darkthrone decided they were more interested in black metal than death metal. The Goatlord material was abandoned (for a time), the band recorded A Blaze in the Northern Sky in a lunch box, and the rest is black metal history. As it turns out, Darkthrone was not quite finished with Goatlord; in 1996 they released the rehearsal tape but for reasons that forever remain a mystery they decided to add vocals to it. The vocals, done in a black metal style with little rhythmic relation to the underlying music and mixed way too high, came across as a decidedly half-assed effort.
Disc three of Frostland Tapes attempts to wipe away the memory of the ’96 abortion by featuring the Goatlord recordings in their original form, sans vocals. The recording is no gem from a sound quality standpoint, but it is the only glimpse we have of what might have been had the band continued in a death metal vein. Musically the band picks up right where Soulside Journey left off, venturing into even darker soundscapes, brimming with demonic melody and off kilter grooves. A pleasant surprise tacked on to the end of the recording is a death metal version of the song “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” that was not included on the original release of Goatlord. The song serves as a kind of missing link between the bands death metal and black metal periods, featuring a couple familiar riffs from the album that bears its name. The disc ends on a light note with a drum solo from Fenriz that proves he can bash the drums with a more speed and finesse than is usually present on Darkthrone recordings.
So who needs this sprawling compilation of fuzzy demos and rough live recordings? I do. I think Soulside Journey is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I will take all the death metal Darkthrone I can get. In fact, it feels as if Frostland Tapes was designed specifically for me. If your enthusiasm for Darkthrone’s death metal work is anything less than fanatical, I do not imagine this compilation will be of much interest to you. As far as I am concerned, Christmas is on August 19th this year.
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