Norwegian duo Darkthrone released their 20th anniversary new full-length album titled Astral Fortress on the English label Peaceville on October 28, 2022. The band has changed many directions of extreme metal during its 35-year history. Having started as a death metal band and released their debut album Soulside Journey in 1991, the musicians, influenced by black metal band Mayhem, set their sights on black metal and were the first in Norway to release a full length black metal album in 1992 which had a huge influence on the scene – A Blaze in the Northern Sky, which incidentally turns 30 this year. After releasing a few more classic black metal albums, in the 2000s Darkthrone started to drift back to black-n-roll and then to a boiling mixture of heavy and speed metal with punk. In the last few years, apparently getting old and nostalgic for the good old times Fenriz and Nocturno Culto decided to pay tribute to their musical inspirations Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost, Candlemass and Trouble.
The last album “Eternal Hails……”, released just over a year ago, defined and showed a new way for the band in the direction of classic doom and heavy metal from the 80’s with a dark atmosphere and the same sound. The new album “Astral Fortress” was recorded at the same Chaka Khan Studios in Oslo where Eternal Hails was recorded and is the logical continuation of the 2021 LP.
The label and the musicians announcing the new LP stated that it is a vintage Darkthrone old metal album with black, thrash, doom and heavy metal underpinnings as well as many new inspirations drawn from their own catalog, with a primitive and organic sound, using mellotron and synthesizer, and with lyrics seething with hell.
As you know, any album starts with a cover. So, many people found the presented cover inappropriate and of poor quality. I have a different opinion. The cover, as it seemed to me, has a very simple meaning. Fenriz as a skater and in the jacket with the cover of the album Panzerfaust, it’s like going back to 1995. This is the promised inspiration from his own album catalog. And in fact, there are a few moments in the new album which reminds something of the 1995 songs, like “Quintessence”. Also as a closing track we have the song Eon 2, which in some way returns to the debut death metal album from 1991 Soulside Journey with its closing track Eon.
There are 7 tracks on the record with a total length of 40 minutes. The musicians presented the almost eight minutes long opener Caravan Of Broken Ghosts to the fans before the album was even released. The song was accompanied by the video, which was shot on the phone by Fenriz. A promising introduction which starts with an acoustic guitar, smoothly passing into something between doom and mid-tempo black metal with a beautifully gloomy atmosphere. Closer to the middle and further along the track the tempo increases and you can even hear some kind of primordial thrash black metal. This is a great track.
Actually the next two tracks Impeccable Caverns Of Satan and Stalagmite Necklace, are written in the same vein of rather primitive and simple mix of doom and heavy metal with dark black metal atmosphere, but have their own little features which make these songs quite individual, such as the interesting introduction and ending in Impeccable Caverns Of Satan or the dark keyboard background in Stalagmite Necklace.
Certainly, the centerpiece of the album is the 10-minute track with the somewhat obscure title The Sea Beneath The Seas Of The Sea, which has all the elements of a true epic: a somber introduction and ending, powerful and thoughtful sections within the main track that flow seamlessly and organically into each other and even clean vocals.
The best song on the record, in my opinion, is rather short Kevorkian Times with the trademark tremolo riffs and the same gloomy atmosphere as on the whole album.
The sixth track on the album is an instrumental and is called Kolbotn, West Of The Vast Forests. Apparently Fenriz decided to pay tribute to the city of Kolbotn, where he spent most of his life. In 2016, he famously won a surprise election for that town’s local council. According to him, he only agreed to run because he was sure that he would not be elected, and he used a photo with his cat as a candidate photo.
As said before, the album closes with the song Eon 2, which is somewhat similar to the cover of the debut death metal album from 1991, but is written in the style of the new album and has a more experimental nature.
As a conclusion. Certainly this album will once again divide the band’s fans. I was initially attracted to the song Caravan Of Broken Ghosts, which the musicians released first. It concentrated the best ideas of this album. When the whole album was released, I almost fell asleep the first time I listened to it, though I liked some of the ideas. But later on after listening to it a few more times it turned out to be a worthy album. If you are a fan of unhurried, high-quality played old-school metal with a gloomy atmosphere and the sound typical of Darkthrone, then you will really like this album. I recommend everyone else to check it out too.