Album Title: Eternal Hails
Date of Release: 25 June 2021
I am literally the least qualified person on this Earth to review this album. And I include my six-year-old’s entire school class when I say that. I remember purchasing ‘Goatlord’ in the late 90s as I was starting to uncover some real gems within the black metal genre. Within a week, I had sold it. It was horrible. The music sounded dreadful to my untrained ears and the production was even worse, sounding like a wasp farting in a biscuit tin. It wasn’t until years later that I realised that it wasn’t a ‘proper’ Darkthrone release, but by then, the die had been cast. If this was what ‘trve’, ‘cvlt’ black metal sounded like, I wanted nothing more to do with it. Call me a poser or a loser if you like, but I was quite happy to stick with the Dimmu Borgirs, Cradle Of Filths, and Borknagars of this world. True black metal or not, at least they could write a tune and record it so that we could hear what was going on.
Suffice to say that it is now 2021 and until about a week ago, I’d not listened to another Darkthrone song in over twenty years. However, as I have rattled on endlessly this year about broadening my horizons and stepping out of my comfort zone, I felt that album number 19 from Fenriz and Nocturno Culto should serve as the catalyst to let bygones be bygones and see if I could understand what all the miserable black and white forest dwellers were on about. Exciting eh?!
Talking of broadening horizons, I think Darkthrone have actively done the same. ‘Eternal Hails’ is an album comprised of just five songs spread over forty minutes or so. It means that the songs are not quick affairs, with each one lasting over seven minutes. I wasn’t expecting that. I also wasn’t expecting to hear a clutch of songs that have more affinity with the world of doom metal than cold, frosty, and spiteful black metal. Although you can still hear flashes of old-school black metal at times within the compositions, the tempo is generally much slower than I was anticipating. It might not be an old-school black metal record, but ‘Eternal Hails’ definitely has an old-school vibe from a doom metal standpoint; the music has strong 70s echoes and it is organic-sounding with a demonstrable ‘live in the studio’ feel to it.
What I’m not surprised by, is the production. It has improved from sounding like it was recorded in the ‘Goatlord’ shoe box, but the overall sound remains lo-fi, fuzzy, echoey and basic. It’s not my preferred sound and it never will be. I’m afraid I will always prefer a more polished, less muddy mix when push comes to shove.
I’m also not the biggest fan of 70s inspired doom metal either, so whilst I can understand why ‘Eternal Hails’ will gain traction with both their existing fanbase and other curious listeners, I find the whole thing rather dull and uninspiring if I’m honest. That’s not because Fenriz and Nocturno Culto haven’t crafted good music, it’s just that this isn’t really the kind of thing I seek out to listen to by choice. If I listen to doom metal, I think along the lines of Sorcerer or My Dying Bride rather than the more obvious influences of Saint Vitus and early Candlemass.
There are some hight points however, most notably in the opening and closing songs when the overwhelming power of the guitar riff is replaced or supplemented by some melody. ‘His Masters Voice’ suddenly grabs my attention when, at around the 4:45 mark, it opens up to deliver a meaty but catchy melody that is then built upon by a solemn lead guitar line. It remains slow and ponderous but feels much more engaging thanks to the inherent melodic qualities within the riff. It’s a similar story with the closer, ‘Lost Arcane City Of Uppakra’ although when the song introduces the powerful melody in the latter stages, it is more of a NWOBHM-inspired affair rather than a melodic doom riff. The melody follows a period of strange, almost discordant minimalism and hits the mark more strongly because of it. The eerie synth sounds that sit alongside are bold and slightly odd, but they work well within this context it has to be said.
Other more interesting elements of the music can be found within the slow-burning catchiness of some of the riffs within ‘Hate Cloak’ or the greater speed within ‘Wake Of The Awakened’. But, ultimately, this isn’t for me. It has surprised me, that’s for sure, and I’m glad I have finally spent a little time with a band as highly revered in the underground as Darkthrone. But, when all is said and done, I just don’t feel as strongly invested in this kind of lo-fi 70s-inspired doom to think about spending much more time with ‘Eternal Hails’. One for the diehards and old-school doom afficionados only I would suggest.
The Score of Much Metal: 75%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: