One of the world's top black metal bands, Oslo's sporadically active Darkthrone prefer it to be acknowledged that there have been two distinct phases in their career. Originally formed in 1986, the band consisted of Gylve Nagell, Ted Skjellum, Ivar Enger and Dag Nilsen. Playing under the name Black Death, they performed satanically themed death metal, as their name might indicate. The 1988 Land Of Frost demo saw the name change to Darkthrone, and a two song promo was also recorded, which the band called A New Dimension.
By this time the quality of the band's recordings was near-professional and two further tapes, 1989's Thulcandra and Cromlech, led to a deal with the UK label Peaceville. Songs from both demos were included on the debut album Soulside Journey, recorded in 1990 at Stockholm's Sunlight Studios. Although the album was a competent mix of technical riffing and raw aggression, Ted and Ivar decided that death metal had become over-fashionable and started to write songs heavily influenced by the newly formed local band Mayhem. Other sources of inspiration were Celtic Frost and Bathory, all of which were evident on the ensuing album Goatlord, on which Satyricon singer Satyr guested. However, the album was shelved and remained unreleased until 1997, when Moonfog issued it to much acclaim.
The next 'proper' Darkthrone album, the classic A Blaze In The Northern Sky, was released in 1991. The band's new direction was apparent in the liberal use of corpse paint and the fact that they had adopted devilish aliases - Gylve Nagell became Fenriz, Ted Skjellum was now known as Nocturno Culto and Ivar Enger became Zephyrous. Dag Nilsen had left the band, unhappy with its new direction.
Fenriz has since stated that the 'first' Darkthrone died after Soulside Journey and that it was only at this point that the Darkthrone of today was born. The aggressively black metal stance continued on the next recording, Under a Funeral Moon(my favourite), which was released in 1993. The label "True Norwegian Black Metal" appeared in the sleevenotes for the first time, and as A Blaze In the Northern Sky had contained one or two death metal riffs (a hangover from earlier days) it has been said that Under a Funeral Moon was the first wholly black metal album to emerge from the fast-growing Norwegian scene. The sleeve notes also stated "This album is for the Norwegian Black Metal Mafia".
Released in 1994, Transilvanian Hunger was rumoured to have taken its title from the circumstances surrounding the suicide of Mayhem singer Dead - he was wearing an "I love Transylvania" shirt at the time of his death, and Mayhem guitarist Euronymous claimed to have eaten parts of the man's brain. Whether or not this is true, the album brought Darkthrone to the forefront of the tragically violent Norwegian black metal scene. Many of the album's lyrics were written by Burzum's Count Grishnackh, who included a backwards message at the end of the song "As Flittermice As Satan's Spys", which ran "In the name of God, let the churches burn".
None of this endeared Darkthrone to the Norwegian establishment, and worse was to come. Peaceville were initially reluctant to release the album after the following controversial statement by Fenriz: "We would like to state that Transilvanian Hunger stands beyond any criticism. If any man should attempt to criticize this LP, he should be thoroughly patronized for his obviously Jewish behaviour." Darkthrone later defended the statement by saying that the apparent anti-Semitism of the comment had been inadvertently introduced in translation, claiming that the word "Jew" is commonly used in Norway as a synonym for fool or idiot.
Thanks to toalight
: "True, "jew" (jøde) is sometimes used as a derogatory term for things you don't like, but it's so non-PC that people don't use it anymore." So they were probably just trying to stir up some emotions and promote their record in the process.
The band then signed to Moonfog - run by Sigurd Wongraven (aka Satyr) of Satyricon - and released the Panzerfaust album in 1994. Count Grishnackh wrote lyrics for the song "Quintessence" and the album was dedicated to Satyr. This time around, the album sleevenotes included the statements "True Norwegian Black Metal", "Unholy Black Metal", and "The Most Hated Band in the World", but the band also state that they are not Nazis, as had been rumoured. After the release of Panzerfaust, Zephyrous decided to leave the band and what he has been up to since then no-one seems to know. Rumors said that he became a homeless bum wondering the streets of Oslo and begging for money, which is why Fenriz doesnt want to give out any more info on Zephyrous's where abouts. In 1995 Fenriz and Nocturno Culto recorded Total Death, with contributions from Insahn of Emperor and Garm of Ulver. A farewell gig was announced, to the surprise of the media, and played in Oslo on April 6, 1996. However the band returned in 1999, with an eighth album Ravishing Grimness which cause longtime Darkthrone fans' jaws to drop with its inclusion of more melody than on previous recordings. The three year hiatus in activity has still not been explained by Fenriz, and the band continue to plough their own furrow, admired and despised in equal measure. Since then they have added two more highly acclaimed releases to their belt: Plaguewielder and the aptly titled Hate Them
Darkthrone is certainly not for everyone. Their abrasive, raw and unpolished sound will inevitably be very alien to unaccustomed listeners. Their hateful, misanthropic stance is not very accessible to everyone either. If you are a fan of black metal however and still somehow had no chance to check them out I certainly recommend it. Their hellish, tortured screams and raw riffs are certain to freeze the blood in your veins.