It's no surprise to find that Darkthrone's 15th release continues their fixation with vintage and archaic metal. Anyone familiar with the band knows that old-school metal reigns supreme in their world, and Darkthrone have always worn their influences proudly on their denim vests.
The presence of Motörhead, Celtic Frost and countless underground metal bands of yore has always remained strong in Darkthrone's sound, ever since they began their more punked-up blitzkriegs with 2006's The Cult is Alive. However, on The Underground Resistance, punk rock takes the passenger seat, with NWOBHM, proto-metal and European and U.S. power metal wrestling for control of the wheel.
The new album features six tracks split evenly between Fenriz and Nocturno (both alternating vocals), and given that Darkthrone aren't averse to indulging in a few metal clichés now and then, you'll forgive me for saying The Underground Resistance is 'all killer no filler.'
As soon as the hurtling first track "Dead Early" kicks off, it's clear Darkthrone have returned with a steely vengeance. Compared with 2008's Dark Thrones and Black Flags and 2010's Circle the Wagons, which were both high-spirited releases, The Underground Resistance sounds more righteous, and decidedly more ruthless.
That's not to say the album is lacking in Darkthrone’s patented sense of exuberance. The band still pluck elements from different sub-genres of metal's history—albeit drawing to a halt around 1987—and the pure pleasure of listening to metal's stock-in-trade fundamentals amplified so fervently is one of The Underground Resistance’s finest attributes.
"Valkyrie" is a hugely enjoyable anthemic romp—with an acoustic intro giving way to a rousing melodic gallop. "Lesser Man" and "The Ones You Left Behind" are both electrifying riots of ‘70s/’80s basement metal, and the gloom-laden, eight-minute plus dirge of "Come Warfare, the Entire Doom" is a wonderfully nostalgic glimpse of heavyweight smoky doom.
Throughout The Underground Resistance the scrappy punch of old-school speed metal and memorable riffing à la Saxon, Iron Maiden and Manilla Road meets the direful ire of Venom, Bathory and Celtic Frost. Operatic wails and guttural grunts from Fenriz and Nocturno mix with shredding riffs, soloing aplenty and powerhouse, dexterous drumming.
There's subtlety here too; lurking among all the greasy-haired, chipped-teeth, bullet-belted riffs are intricate flourishes, making for the most involved album from Darkthrone in well over a decade.
It may be bordering on heretical to say so, but this is Darkthrone's most professional recording yet, although, to keep that in perspective, The Underground Resistance retains all the subterranean rawness of yesteryear. The album comprises more prolonged passages of heads-down riffing, multiple chord changes and a few soaring harmonies, and its vintage tang is helped enormously by a thicker production—exhibiting exactly the right amount of clarity without sacrificing the essential grime.
Of course, "Leave No Cross Unturned," the 14-minute final track, is going to turn the most heads. It's the longest track Darkthrone have ever recorded, with a core cyclical riff that propels it on till doomsday comes. It is To Mega Therion via Bomber, Wheels of Steel and Mob Rules, a raw power sprint through 80s thrash, speed metal and warping doom, accompanied by grunts like those of Tom G Warrior and wails like King Diamond’s. Quite simply, it’s one of the best (if not the best) song that Darkthrone have ever released.
Not that it was needed, but "Leave No Cross Unturned" offers further proof that Darkthrone are not remotely concerned with expectations. They’re following their own torch-lit path here.
Darkthrone have been responsible for a slew of celebrated metal albums, and you can confidently add The Underground Resistance to that hallowed canon. It’s not revolutionary in any sense, but then, that was never the point. The album has a clear-cut mission statement right there in its title, and it more than delivers with a thunderous old-school metal rampage that rewards more with each listen.
The Underground Resistance is exactly the kind of album you can point non-metal fans toward to explain why we love this genre. It strengthens Darkthrone’s already considerable legacy, and their continuing quest to satisfy their artistic vision while ignoring all external pressures underscores the album’s uproarious appeal.
(Released February, 26, 2013 on Peaceville Records)