Metal lifers Darkthrone launch fresh wave of heavy adventures on killer burst ‘Astral Fortress’

You know that whole “there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes” thing? Well, it’s wrong. There’s a third. Darkthrone will return every few years with another record that isn’t a callback to their black metal roots that’ll continually annoy the so-called purists. But for the rest of us, it’ll be a joy in a life of constant pain, a lifeline from metal’s roots that always seems ready to nourish.

Yes, we have a new Darkthrone platter called “Astral Fortress,” and yes, it’s a fucking great time. The duo of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Nocturno Culto and everyone’s favorite metal lifer/cool uncle drummer/vocalist Fenriz are back to spread more metallic tidings, this time with seven tracks over 40 minutes. This follow-up to last year’s “Eternal Hails……” and 19th full-length overall definitely sounds like the Darkthrone we’ve come to know the past decade or so, but they always have some new twists and turns that leave you guessing. They label themselves “old metal,” and that’s a pretty good descriptor as they traverse the genre’s history, grab components from their lifelong journey, and color it with 2022 vibes. They’re as reliable as one can get from any metal band, and while this won’t satisfy everyone, you have to either be a miserable bastard or just too set in your ways not to smile a whole fucking lot listening to this.

“Caravan of Broken Ghosts” starts not with a gust but acoustically, giving a slow burn before things starts to scrape, the humidity increasing and barreling toward you. The guys then start thrashing, firing up and bringing heavy lumber, defying all times and eras. Darker riffs emerge, the vocals are gruff and grisly, and the final churns eat into the earth. “Impeccable Caverns of Satan” delivers strong riffs and Nocturno Culto’s unmistakable howls, the ominous tones getting into your blood. Guitars trudge and then take on a glorious sheen before the playing gets dirtier, mashing your fingers and stretching your muscles before dissolving into thin air. “Stalagmite Necklace” lights up the guitars, brings strange and hovering synth, and devious and echoey playing makes your flesh crawl. “You cannot see the forest for the fear,” Fenriz howls, “I see you with your stalagmite necklace,” sometimes sounding like Tom G. Warrior. The murk thickens as the doom lands, pummeling before burning out.

“The Sea Beneath the Seas of the Sea” is the longest track, running 10:10 and unloading psychedelic guitars that help the ambiance get more intense. Vocals mar as the playing chugs with a filthy underbelly, the steady playing keeping the blood flowing as the howl of, “Drying out in the caves of apathy while I am the sea beneath the seas of the sea,” jolts you to your core. Mesmerizing thrashing makes its presence felt, the leads smear, and a huge, raucous finish melts everything to goo. “Kevorkian Times” opens with sooty riffs and vocals that feel like they’ve rolled around in the dirt, speeding up later and jolting your bones. Darkening swirls add immersive shadows, sinking you in dark waters before washing away. “Kolbotn, West of the Vast Forests” is an instrumental piece with chimes, chants, and odd strings, adding an eerie aura that leads into closer “Eon 2” that responds with charging riffs. Everything soars as classic guitar work makes you feel the pit of nostalgia, the vocals creak into a lush acoustic bed, and manic energy fills your every pore. The energy charges and takes you with it, finally letting you breathe a little, ending in a pocket of warmth.

There are plenty of things you can expect from a Darkthrone record—boundless energy, the love of every era of heavy metal, the frosty gasp of wintry winds—but they always have a few surprises up their sleeves as they do on “Astral Fortress.” Likely those who expected black metal from this duo every time long have fucked off, and they’re not missed as Darkthrone keep releasing fully enjoyable and honest slabs of “old metal” that feel tried and true. This is as true an expression of heavy metal one is going to find, and leave it to the trusty Darkthrone institution to satisfy all over again.

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