Sardonic Wrath

The End Records

Strip it down! Colder than the frost giants of myth, minimal and low-fi, Sardonic Wrath is the sound of stubborn intention and laser-beam focus. Darkthrone have as much, if not more, disciplined attack than the Ramones in their early prime and all the unhinged “fuck it!” desperation of the metal pioneers that they pay tribute to (Bathory, Hellhammer) in every insectoid riff.

“Order of the Ominous,” a moody piece of ambient soundscaping, starts things off on an uncharacteristically restrained and experimental note. But … “Information Wants To Be Syndicated” rolls through that icy haze like a ravenous berserker legion. And it’s bruising business as usual for Darkthrone. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto summon up this choking wave of hate all by their lonesome. Brittle waves and sheets of trebly, distorted guitar noise interlock with deceptively primitive but absolutely tireless drumming (where blastbeats sound like a painful throb at the temples and right above the eyes). Both Culto and Fenriz handle vocals, mostly strangulated howls, troll-like grunts and subhuman screams, all echoed and haunted.

What they do, which really sets Darkthrone apart from their peers (besides the almost instrumental telepathy and absolute commitment to their outsider, “regressive” aesthetic, that is) is that they’ve become adept at interrupting Tasmanian Devil-esque speedfreakouts with catchy thrash sections or, most crucially, fabulous, meaty doomy passages that go off with buzzbomb brutality. Check out “Alle Gegen Alle,” Fenriz slows down the drum assault while Nocturno Culto just sneers out this repetitive saw-toothed, codeine riff o’disgust which slowly morphs into a satanic Dark Angel attack. No verse, no chorus. One straight line.

The change-up is welcome. Darkthrone “do” doom metal with the same kind of subjective impetuosity they bring to black metal. Fenriz sums up the aesthetic perfectly, “I let everyone dress up whilst I dress down, basically.” Brilliant. In rejecting the symphonic and sub-progressive grandiosity and pomposity of “modern” black metal, Darkthrone have essentially drawn a line in the sand. Not only are they denying the legitimacy of anyone who took their basic formula and prettied it up for mass consumption, they’re basically aligning themselves with a pioneering, spontaneous spirit of rock and roll that includes their metal idols, as well as outsiders like the Cramps, the Ramones, Hasil Adkins, Samhain and probably, much to their horror, elder iconoclasts like Gene Vincent. Hey, it’s like I tell ya, the Devil takes many shapes.

Lots of tempo shifts and experiments with different attacks. “Mann Tinker Sitt” is executed at a mid-level thrash-crossover pacing throughout and it doesn’t suffer from any taint of softness or sellout. It’s opaque and uncaring. “Sjakk Matt Jesu Krist” is total thrash heaven/hell, just this one head-tossing riff repeated ad infinitum while Fenriz slurs and growls intermittently. Dumb like Motorhead, Brilliant like Motorhead. “Straightening Sharks In Heaven” (these lyrics are pure fucking dada goodness) is surrealist metal; thick walls of serrated guitar forming a towering monument to instinct and feeling over technique. “Alle Gegen Alle” is almost art brut/avant garde in its simplicity — easily the highlight of the album — all black metal speed-drills are totally abandoned to fetishize one nagging, diabolic riff (like Guitar 101 here) that will burrow into you and have your neck snapping back and forth in no time. It’s just alterations of that one fucking riff, over a menacing groove that they play the shit out of, before they give in to their base impulses and with a guttural “oooooh” upshift into a death-thrash war march.

“Man Tinker Sitt” hearkens back to SOD and Bathory’s early works (incidentally, this album is a tribute to Bathory’s mastermind, the recently passed Quorthon). “Sacrificing To The God Of Doubt” (best song title this year, bar none) grinds down to a savage doomy stomp, with a killer riff seemingly drenched in tar. Ditto “Rawness Obsolete,” just a painful plodding, beautiful stuff, kinda like early Asphyx, but with wayyyy more punk context. “Hate Is The Law” melds their earlier Transilvanian bloodlust with a classic proto-hardcore chorus.

Is it their best? Moot point. Every Darkthrone album is an extension of the last, another piece in a puzzle that will eventually form a huge fucking middle finger to the world.

The End Records: www.theendrecords.com

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