Circle The Wagons
8 March 2010
by Tom Dare
Legendary black metal pioneers Darkthrone began moving away from a conventional black metal style some time ago, and with Circle The Wagons, their fourteenth album, it could be argued they have stylistically abandoned black metal altogether. However, this would be a mistaken impression – because although this record initially sounds very much like a punk record, it still has the consummate feel of traditional Darkthrone.
Musically, Circle The Wagons owes more to Dead Kennedys or Doom than it does to Bathory, Celtic Frost or Venom. The riffs have the feel of the early hardcore and crust bands from the Eighties, and there are some serious reminders of Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables at times. Having said that, the shortest song on the album is nearly three minutes long – an epic in hardcore terms – and the longest is well over seven minutes, so there is clearly something else going on. It may not be immediately apparent, but there is still a large dose of metal infusing everything on the album – even at the most simple, straight-up three-chord punk moments. The net effect lends a quirky reminder of early Mastodon – the heavily hardcore influenced sound but with a very metal feel and a much greater technicality of riff, and while it is certainly the case that there is some genuine progression in the song structure, the feel is such that it could only ever be a Darkthrone record.
Black metal, it has been said, is really more about ethos than about the nature of the riffs or about how the guitar is distorted. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto – the twisted geniuses who make up Darkthrone – are certainly more qualified than most to know, and if Circle The Wagons is their method of proving this point once and for all, they have done it. Despite the vocals being more of a shaped roar than a shriek, and the radically different sound and use of guitars, that eerie, unsettling feeling that marks the Darkthrone records that helped define black metal’s second wave is not lessened one iota. In fact, given how accustomed to black metal the listening public has become in the last fifteen years and more, it could be argued that this is actually more of an uncomfortable listen than Transylvanian Hunger. The production might not be as horrendous and the riffs less inhuman, but the colossal power is deeply disturbing and there is still a distinctly evil twist to the riffs, although of a more subtle nature than their output in the Nineties.
Whatever the style, whatever the effect, the simple fact is that the songs on Cirle The Wagons are absolutely smoking. Opener ‘Those Treasures Will Never Befall You’ sets off at a furious lick and assaults the ears in an unholy battering. It cannot be an accident that the immense and evil progressive epic ‘Stylized Corpse’, the longest track on the album, is immediately followed by the shortest, the furious hardcore attack of the title track. The menacing horror of ‘Black Mountain Totem’ follows before the vitriolic ‘I Am The Working Class’ sneers and seethes. The album is closed by the doomy punk of ‘Bränn Inte Slottet’ which, while maintaining the punk style, is as menacing and horrible as anything Marduk have released in recent years.
Watch our favourite clip of Fenriz from Until The Light Takes Us
This is an absolutely staggering record, furious and evil, punk and black metal in equal measures, and the most essential album to come along this year so far. Simple in style yet with the progressive structures inherent to classic black metal, it is both accessible yet more rewarding with every listen. Anyone who rejects this on the grounds it is not trve kvlt black metal has utterly missed the point – it is a pure expression of black metal, it is simply that Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are far too accomplished to be limited by the constraints of that style.
Sounds like: Dead Kennedys, Mastodon, Darkthrone (bizarrely enough)
Top tracks: Stylized Corpse, Circle The Wagons, Bränn Inte Slottet
Darkthrone- Circle The Wagons tracklisting:
Those Treasures Will Never Befall You
Running for Borders
I am the Graves of the 80s
Circle the Wagons
Black Mountain Totem
I am the Working Class
Eyes Burst at Dawn
Bränn Inte Slottet