"Fenriz," who was born Leif Gylve Nagell, once wrote: "There are only two paths — the mind or the sword." Yet, Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky has been slaying us with its wisdom for exactly 30 years. That means that this masterpiece was released on February 26, 1992. A Blaze in the Northern Sky is not only one of the greatest musical achievements of all-time, but it is also generally regarded as the first full-length Norwegian black metal album. On the NRK documentary Helvete: Historien om norsk black metal, musician and journalist Harald Fossberg stated: "A Blaze in the Northern Sky is the most distinct breaking point between black and death metal. A Blaze in the Northern Sky is the starting point of what we call 'True Norwegian Black Metal.'" However, this revolutionary release actually consists of three blackened death metal tracks in addition to three pure black metal songs. There is also some doom in this cauldron, which contains a "recipe of all that's vile." To understand how this came to be, we will explain Darkthrone's origins.
During the Christmas break of 1986, Fenriz formed Black Death, the band that would morph into Darkthrone. In 1987, Fenriz co-founded another group called Valhall, whose music would evolve into more of a stoner doom sound. After the release of Black Death's second demo, Black Is Beautiful in 1987, Metalion of Slayer Mag, which Fenriz rightly dubbed "the Bible," wrote a review that Fenriz would later describe as "very painful." Metalion's verbal evisceration began: "I hate this shit more than I hate PEPSI LIGHT!!!!!!! Total crap shit!"
Nevertheless, brave young Fenriz persevered. In late 1987, Black Death finally became Darkthrone. This name change was announced via Slayer Mag's "shit list." Ted Skjellum, or Nocturno Culto, only entered the picture after Darkthrone's first demo Land of Frost in May 1988. Nocturno Culto and Fenriz were connected through a friend of the latter named Kjetil Aarhus, and a lthough Kjetil ultimately decided that Black Death was not his cup of tea, he had, nevertheless, helped with the undertaking. Nocturno knew that he had to join Darkthrone once he saw them compete in a battle of bands event. In discussion with Mork's Thomas Eriksen, Nocturno Culto revealed that his first gig with Darkthrone was fronted by Valhall's Kenneth Sorkness. However, ex-Cadaver's Apollyon believes that it was actually Kenneth's brother and Valhall's main vocalist, Ronny Sorkness, who sang a single song during an otherwise instrumental concert that evening. Either way, the show took place at the movie theater in Kolbotn.
Darkthrone's fourth demo Cromlech is a recording of a live gig that took place at an important venue called Bootleg in Oslo. The event had been televised. What is interesting is that Darkthrone had advertised Cromlech as "Dark, evil technodeathmetal," and although techno is one of Fenriz's passions, he refuses to allow its influence to trickle into Darkthrone's material. During an interview with The Inarguable, Fenriz described early Darkthrone as freestyle with a focus on epic doom up until the 3rd or 4th demo when death metal entered the picture. For instance, their third demo Thulcandra definitely represents the stylistic shift that Fenriz had in mind. However, Fenriz offered Mandatory a slightly different explanation that seems more accurate: "We did not start out as anything but DEATH EPIC DOOM band of sorts, … and the[n] became epic deathtrash."
Ultimately, Cromlech secured Darkthrone a deal with the legendary Peaceville Records, which managed premier acts like Autopsy, who remains on their roster to this day. Although the English label initially turned Darkthrone down, Fenriz asked them to listen to Cromlech again. In 1991, Darkthrone released their death metal debut album, Soulside Journey, which again betrays a soft spot for doom. Soulside Journey was recorded at Sunlight Studios in Stockholm. The band made the decision to travel to Sweden based on a recommendation from Entombed's Nicke Andersson, who had been Fenriz's pen pal and tape trading buddy since 1987. Entombed had also recorded Left Hand Path at Sunlight Studios in December 1990.
While in Stockholm, Fenriz stayed at Andersson's home, where the pair communicated in English. Entombed's members were extremely hospitable. Nocturno Culto stated in a video that was filmed for Peaceville that Darkthrone sought Entombed's guidance in order to prevent Soulside Journey from sounding like Left Hand Path. Fenriz quickly chimed in: "… Sunlight Studios helped us sound like every other death metal band at the time." Entombed's Ulf Cederlund actually co-produced Soulside Journey. Although Soulside Journey is a fantastic album, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto would soon rebel against the streamlined, "clinical" sound that was being produced at both Sunlight Studios and Morrisound Recording in Tampa, FL.
The album that would become Goatlord is a rehearsal tape that was recorded on the Valhall brothers' 4-track mini studio called Necrohell. This device broke in 1998 and Nocturno Culto purchased Necrohell 2 in either 2004 or 2005 — Fenriz has given different dates. Goatlord was written and completed in 1990 and 1991. In 1994, Fenriz made some lyrical additions to the last two songs and recorded vocals. You can even hear Sigurd Wongraven of Satyricon screaming on 2 of the tracks. Goatlord is so awesome that any objections raised against it seem like sheer lunacy. Nevertheless, the change of heart that prevented Darkthrone from turning Goatlord into a typical studio album as planned is possibly the best thing to have happened to metal since Paranoid.
Back in 1991, Dag Nilsen acted as Darkthrone's bassist and Ivar Enger, who had started as Black Death's bassist, handled rhythm guitar. While listening to music one day, Ivar and Nocturno Culto decided that Darkthrone should switch to black metal. On Helvete: Historien om norsk black metal, Nocturno Culto remarked: "When you are listening to Bathory and then you're playing super technical afterwards, it fells wrong." Thus, Nocturno Culto and Zephyrous drove to Fenriz's home. In discussion with Harald Fossberg, author of Nyanser av svart: Historien om norsk black metal, Nocturno reminisced: "I think Gylve was surprised to find us at his door. I don't think he had any idea about our cunning plan. But we shared our thoughts, and he was of the same mind, so we just changed our style." Like his bandmates, Fenriz had become disenchanted with the state of death metal, which only made up a small portion of his recent record acquisitions.
However, Nilsen was very upset with Darkthrone's new direction. As Nocturno told Mork's Thomas Eriksen, Darkthrone had already rehearsed Goatlord for "countless-countless hours." Nilsen had put a massive amount of effort into the endeavor and did not want to see it shelved. Thus, A Blaze in the Northern Sky would be the final project that Darkthrone recorded with Nilsen, who stayed on as a session bassist. Because he had written some of the album's riffs that were kept, this seemed only fair. Although it is often said that Nilsen quit, Nocturno Culto has actually said that he was asked to leave.
In order to make the leap from death metal to black metal, Nocturno Culto would have to shun the urge to flaunt his guitar skills. Whereas death metal Darkthrone practiced up to 5 times during a single weekend, black metal Darkthrone would have to begin to relinquish control, which Fenriz derides as "very Christian." Fenriz explained his mindset in Dayal Patterson's Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult: "This professionalism has to go. I want[ed] to de-learn playing drums…" On Dave Hill's Podcasting Incident, Fenriz stated that with A Blaze in the Northern Sky, he was "going for caveman shit." Fenriz told NRK: "First of all it was a riot against ourselves… We don't want decoration and knick-knacks in our music, in Darkthrone." In addition to Bathory, as mentioned, Darkthrone counted Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, and Motörhead among their heroes.
Considering the loftiness of Darkthrone's aspirations, A Blaze in the Northern Sky would require a superhuman effort. Thus, Fenriz, Nocturno Culto, and Zephyrous finally adopted their famous pseudonyms. Because Darkthrone had already booked studio time prior to their decision to abandon death metal, they felt an enormous amount of pressure. Therefore, they mulled over the idea of releasing a mini album. Instead, they compromised by blackening three death metal songs, as noted earlier, so that they would not have to write an entire album that was completely new. Thus, you will notice some death metal riffs performed in a black metal way… If you can hear them, that is. Fenriz sometimes used his drums to try to destroy death metal riffs that made him "angry." "Paragon Belial," "The Pagan Winter," and "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" are the blackened tracks. ("The Pagan Winter" inspired the name of ex-Pantera's Philip H. Anselmo's defunct band Superjoint Ritual. Philip, Satyr, and Necrophagia's Killjoy formed a short-lived supergroup called Eibon with Fenriz, who stayed with Philip in the United States for about a week.) The pure black metal songs are "Kathaarian Life Code," "In the Shadow of the Horns," and "Where Cold Winds Blow." Interestingly, the first Goatlord-ean song, "Paragon Belial," doesn't begin until about 17:40. Throughout A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Fenriz's lyrics serve as paragons of excellence.
Of course, Fenriz is responsible for the chanting and the unusual, gurgling, hobbit-like sounds during A Blaze in the Northern Sky's intro. This section features an ancient Hellenic greeting as well as lines from "In the Shadow of the Horns," "Where Cold Winds Blow" (slightly altered), and the title song: "Face of the goat in the mirror. We've become a race of the cursed seeds. I enter the soul of the snake. We are a blaze in the northern sky." This opening is repeated as the album's outro, which is not something that Fenriz had premeditated. Although Nocturno Culto and Zephyrous continued to provided rhythm and lead guitar respectively, Fenriz picked up the guitar a bit on this record as well. Fenriz recorded his parts before Nocturno Culto, who requested privacy during his turn. Thus, Fenriz passed out in the studio: "I just drank myself into oblivion."
Nocturno Culto told NRK: "I believe that diving into the abyss for a while and then returning to the surface is good. Soulside Journey had death metal vocals with a dark growling voice. Everyone knew that I as a vocalist had to find the solution for how the vocals should sound. There was a lot of excitement around how I was going to solve that. I had to really get into a certain mood: So I lit [black] candles in the studio and turned off the lights and so on. I had never sung like that before. I never rehearsed in the mirror at home or tried different variations of vocals. I just thought 'Let's do it, and we'll see what happens." On the podcast Grunnd, Fenriz commented that Nocturno Culto, whose first exposure to music was classical, seems to mine his material from deep within his subconscious, as opposed to borrowing from other bands.
A Blaze in the Northern Sky is a product of Creative Studios in Kolbotn. Although Fenriz's first home was in Vinterbro, his family moved to Kolbotn in 1978. It is astounding that such a culturally significant album was completed locally. Yet, the album's organic nature is precisely why it's so iconic. Fenriz believes that A Blaze in the Northern Sky was recorded in about four days and mixed in two. The final product is every bit as sublime as northern Norway's aurora borealis. During Fenriz's commentary on the album, the mad genius revealed that he achieved the dry cowbell sound by stuffing his instrument with toilet paper, which he fastened with tape. The cowbell-accented intro to "In the Shadow of the Horns" is especially engaging and humorously "meta" with its raspy, spaced utterances: "Hey… Come on… Nocturno Culto!" Zephyrous composed the beginning of the song, and Fenriz finished it.
Although A Blaze in the Northern Sky often becomes frenzied and Dionysian, it is easy to infer that its creators are no strangers to good old bluesy rock/metal. In fact, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto were both blessed with cool uncles who shared their record collections with them. In a video for the National Library of Norway, Fenriz clarified: "We wanted both the organic '70s sound, and to still keep it cold." Thus, Darkthrone brought Black Sabbath records into the studio to show the engineer, Erik Avnskog, in ensure the right, shabby vibe. Obviously, Darkthrone needed a different drum feeling than on Goatlord. Along with Arctic Thunder, the drum sound on A Blaze in the Northern Sky is Fenriz's favorite. This is because Avnskog had been responsible for Mayhem's impactful demo/EP Deathcrush. Although Darkthrone would return to the Kolbotn studio for Under a Funeral Moon, a different engineer was used, which makes A Blaze in the Northern Sky unique. Fenriz has named Vader's Necrolust demo as one of his inspirations for A Blaze in the Northern Sky's drums. This is funny because Vader may have lifted this title from Deathcrush's "Necrolust."
Darkthrone experienced relief upon pulling off the grand feat that was A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Nocturno told Harald Fossberg: "We felt like we were finally able to do what we really wanted. What we had been doing was so advanced and intricate. We wanted to be able to play with more of an Elvis grin." Taake's Hoest confessed to NRK that when he first heard A Blaze in the Northern Sky: "The pieces of the puzzle came together. It was everything I had wanted in death metal. There was something alien and mystical about it." A Blaze in the Northern Sky certainly fills one's inner void with the mysticism, wisdom, and rich, albeit dark, spirituality that you do not always find in death metal. Although Darkthrone's black metal influences were mostly foreign, the band could only forge something distinctly Norwegian by leaving death metal to rot in its own grave.
As one might expect, Peaceville's reaction to A Blaze in the Northern Sky was one of confusion. The English label seems to have thought that the outrageous album was a joke. Peaceville initially refused to release A Blaze in the Northern Sky until Darkthrone had remixed it. (In the words of Darkthrone: "I'll stick to my guns, now you stick to yours… Let's not pretend that I have to use force.") In true gangster fashion, Darkthrone threatened to switch to Deathlike Silence Productions, Euronymous' shoddy label. Fenriz has also clarified that Darkthrone might actually have signed with Satyr's label, Moonfog, with whom Darkthrone would later work for a time. Fearing that losing a new band would be a blow to their reputation, Peaceville ultimately agreed to issue A Blaze in the Northern Sky on Darkthrone's terms.
Ex-Cadaver's Apollyon remembers the very day of A Blaze in the Northern Sky's historic release. He told author Dayal Patterson that one of the loyal "hangarounds" from Helvete, Euronymous' record store, nicked a bunch of the albums from a proper shop. The police soon appeared to reclaim the stolen merchandise. The first pressing of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, which was allegedly not that easy to procure, featured a white CD. Believing that he had erred, graphic designer and musician Dave Pybus, who would go on to join Cradle of Filth, ordered black discs for the next pressing.
For the sake of publicity, Dave Pybus scheduled a four-day tour that was meant to promote A Blaze in the Northern Sky. However, he knew full-well that these dates would never happen due to Darkrhrone's "no show" attitude. Pybus soon cancelled the tour and issued the statement that Darkthrone refused to play for posers. Fenriz has described performing live as a terrible experience during which he would black out due to nerves. Yet, Darkthrone's decision not to tour A Blaze in the Northern Sky seems even more radical when you take the video below into account. It was recorded after one of Darkthrone's gigs at Bootleg in 1990. Fenriz hilariously asserts: "We used to be really arrogant towards the audience and only focus on the instruments — but today we tried to be more social and create a show for them." Darkthrone stopped playing live after their 1991 Finnish mini tour, during which they performed "Paragon Belial" and "A Blaze in the Northern Sky."
Thanks to Nocturno Culto's coaxing, Fenriz agreed to participate in a one-off performance in 1996 that officially proved to be Darkthrone's last. This same gig, which took place at Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo, marked Satyricon's first concert. Dissection also took the stage that night. This fact is quite amusing, considering that Dissection's leader, the late Jon Nödtveidt, had threatened Fenriz and Varg Vikernes, whom Nödtveidt dubbed "Cunt Christian," in Slayer Mag. Fenriz had disturbed Nödtveidt and his Swedish crew by asking Varg Vikernes, Euronymous' killer, to pen half of the lyrics for Transilvanian Hunger. Vikernes would also write "Quintessence" for Panzerfaust.
Even after his last show with Fenriz, Nocturno Culto has performed Darkthrone material live on rare occasions. For example, in 2004, he stepped out with Satyricon at Wacken Open Air, where the setlist included Blaze in the Northern Sky’s “Kathaarian Life Code,” which Satyricon covered on Darkthone Holy Darkthrone: Eight Norwegian Bands Paying Tribute. Nocturno Culto was invited to appear at this festival because he had taken the stage with Satyricon for Moonfog’s 10th anniversary. In 2011, Nocturno Culto participated in a concert that was organized in order to raise money for the cancer treatment of Slavia’s Jonas Raskolnikov Christiansen. The great musician tragically passed away the day before the event. Watch an all-star lineup honor Jonas in the video below: It captures Nocturno Culto, Hoest, Satyr, and Frost finishing up “Under a Funeral Moon” before moving on to “In the Shadow of the Horns.” Ever since Thomas “Sarke” Bergli convinced Nocturno Culto to provide vocals for Sarke’s debut album Vorunah in 2009, Nocturno Culto has been an active member of this incredible band. If you attend a Sarke concert, you might just hear Nocturno sing “Too Old, Too Cold.” In 2002, Nocturno surprisingly confessed to Nocturnal Cult Webzine: “About live playing I am really trying to convince Fenriz to think about it but he’s very stubborn. So I have to use lots of time on him. I think the time is right.” Nocturno Culto has probably long since abandoned that faint hope. In any case, Nocturno repeatedly echoes Fenriz’s opinions about live gigs. Needless to say, Darkthrone could make a fortune by touring.
When reflecting upon the pivotal moment that was A Blaze in the Northern Sky, journalists have tried to claim that Euronymous converted Fenriz to black metal. Although A Blaze in the Northern Sky "is eternally dedicated to the king of death/black metal Euronymous," this is untrue. Just as Mayhem and the Finnish band Beherit drew inspiration from foreign music, so too did Darkthrone, as we have already established. All the same, Mayhem initially had somewhat of a "big brother" influence on Black Death/Darkthrone. Fenriz was invited to attend his first Mayhem rehearsal in 1987. (At that time, a couple of boys from Vomit, who didn't quite fit in, attempted to fill Mayhem's vacancies: Future opera singer Torben Grue sang and future Christian fundamentalist Kittil Kittilsen played the drums.) The fact that Mayhem's members were slightly older than Fenriz, who initially had to rely on them to pick him up since he couldn't drive, affected dynamics. When Euronymous opened Helvete shortly after Pelle Ohlin's suicide in April 1991, it was a 10-15-minute walk from where Fenriz worked. Thus, Fenriz frequented the shop. For a time, Zephyrous and Nocturno Culto also enjoyed hanging out there.
On The Thomas Eriksen Podcast, Nocturno Culto confirmed that he did not remember being by influenced by Mayhem's Live in Leipzig, which was recorded in 1990. While providing commentary to A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Fenriz, who has a different internal creative process, named a part of the album where you can definitely hear the legacy of Live in Leipzig at work. Darkthrone had procured Live in Leipzig prior to its release through Euronymous. The lyrics to "In the Shadow of the Horns" speak of a "freezing moon," which is likely a reference to the famous Mayhem song by that name, which was included on Live in Leipzig. On February 3, 1990, both Fenriz and Nocturno attended Mayhem's first official concert with Pelle. During this Jessheim gig, "Freezing Moon" was played before an audience for the second time.
Metalion, who came up with Helvete's name, told The Metal Crypt that he believes that Darkthrone actually had a significant influence on Euronymous. Therefore, it may be best to view the relationship between Darkthrone and Mayhem as symbiotic. In Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries, the fabled zine creator recalls that Mayhem treated the crowd to a surprise mini set during one of Darkthrone's shows: "I remember Dead looking all over the place that night in search of a bottle he could use to cut himself." It would be interesting to know what Pelle Ohlin's impressions of Darkthrone might have been. Samoth thinks that he met Euronymous, Pelle, and Faust for the first time at a Darkthrone/Cadaver gig at Bootleg in Oslo. Faust witnessed many of Darkthrone's appearances at this venue. The ex-Emperor drummer has acknowledged A Blaze in the Northern Sky's role in encouraging other bands to take up the inverted black metal cross.
Not long after completing A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Nocturno Culto became sick of the conformist mentality in Oslo and moved to the woods. According to Nocturno Culto, his move occurred in December 1991. Zephyrous seems to have ditched the city even before Nocturno Culto. Apparently, both Nocturno Culto and Zephyrous had also grown weary of the Helvete crowd. Yet, Nocturno Culto still remembers observing the open-mouthed reaction of a man from Sarpsborg to A Blaze in the Northern Sky at the beginning of the year after his relocation. For Fenriz, the sad fact that his bandmates had moved away while Darkthrone was working on their third album, Under a Funeral Moon, was certainly just cause for disappointment. After finishing A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Fenriz had confided in Nocturno Culto and Zephyrous that he had complete faith in their abilities. This was the point at which Darkthrone decided that each member would write songs independently and that this material would be played regardless of how the others might feel. In the end, Fenriz believes that Under a Funeral Moon, which was recorded in the summer of 1992, is Darkthrone's best album. After all, the band set out with the intention to make it the "blackest." Fenriz has referred to Under a Funeral Moon as the sole "total black metal album we did."
In 1993, Fenriz experienced an epiphany while at his day job that prompted him to create Transilvanian Hunger. He would record all the music, minus Nocturno Culto's vocals, for Transilvanian Hunger by himself. Nevertheless, Fenriz has gone so far as to describe Darkthrone as "not existing" during this period due to his lack of communication with his band. When he composed Transilvanian Hunger, Fenriz was not only affected by his involuntary isolation from his bandmates, but he had also been shaken by the death of Euronymous earlier that year. The total mayhem that ensued from crimes that were committed by select members of the black metal community meant that black metallers had become overnight targets of attacks and fell under heavy police surveillance. Thus, Fenriz temporarily lost much of his contact with the black metal scene that Euronymous had largely created. During this period, Fenriz also reflected on Pelle Ohlin's suicide among other tragedies. Had Darkthrone remained a death metal band, they would not have had to deal with this kind of baggage.
During this time, Fenriz and Zephyrous were struggling with other issues in their personal lives. Fenriz has called 1994 his most destructive time. Fenriz has stated that Zephyrous left in 1992. This is because this was when his involvement with Darkthrone ended, since this is when Under a Funeral Moon was recorded. However, 1994 is a more accurate date. That year, Fenriz expressed his intention to allow Zephyrous to write an upcoming Darkthrone album entirely by himself. However, Zephyrous had already been wounded by his exclusion from Transilvanian Hunger. Ultimately, Zephyrous crashed his car after blacking out behind the wheel. This left him spooked. He decided not to return to Darkthrone. (Sadly, by the time he and Darkthrone agreed to reunite many years later, Zephyrous needed to have a finger amputated.)
A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Under a Funeral Moon, and Transilvanian Hunger constitute what fans describe as Darkthrone's "Unholy Trinity." On the Peaceville Podcast, Dave Pybus and Nocturno Culto discussed how Darkthrone sent the label all 3 cover photos for these albums at once. These releases respectively feature Zephyrous, Nocturno Culto, and Fenriz as ghoulish cover models. Each musician sports enough corpse paint to look like a stone-cold "Graveyard Slut." When speaking with Sam Dunn, Fenriz clarified that Darkthrone's decision to wear corpse paint was motivated by pictures of Pelle Ohlin. Nocturno Culto has confirmed that images of Pelle and Euronymous served as the band's inspiration. Apollyon remembers that Darkthrone even decked themselves out in makeup before heading to the studio to record A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Darkthrone stopped wearing corpse paint once they realized that people were walking around in it in broad daylight. This is fortunate, considering that Fenriz claims that he used lead from pencil shavings in lieu of eyeshadow.
On the cover of Transilvanian Hunger, Fenriz holds a candelabra in homage to Pelle Ohlin. (The famous photograph of the late Mayhem frontman holding a candelabra is sometimes displayed on the cover of Live in Leipzig, although a different image was originally printed.) An interesting anecdote is that Peaceville lost the slide for Transilvanian Hunger, so they were forced to use a photocopy, which produced a more “necro” effect. Fenriz has confirmed that the album’s title was not consciously chosen as a nod to Pelle, who made his love for Transylvania known far and wide. (The fact that Pelle misspelled Transylvania with an extra “I,” despite using the proper spelling multiple times, in a letter to his pen pal “The Old Nick” is a slightly eerie coincidence.) Nocturno Culto has expressed pride in fact that, unlike Mayhem, Darkthrone has never resorted to masks, pigs’ heads, or theatrics. As he says, gore is not actually scary. Darkthrone has always been about the music and the joy of creating new material.
Darkthrone’s Unholy Trinity and the albums that followed clearly demonstrate a commitment to protecting metal. In conversation with Dave Hill, Fenriz has described his ambitions as antithetical to those of Emperor. “We were the first retro band — in this scene anyway.” Whereas groups like Ulver became more progressive, Darkthrone’s backward-looking gaze has kept their music alive with the abysmal spirit of the past and that which eternally returns to wreak havoc. It is remarkable that Darkthrone’s music continues to reflect a state of constant exploration, given that the band has existed since the ’80s. (It is hard to listen to Darkthrone without thinking of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Wanderer Above the Sea Fog.) And yet, to speak figuratively, the band has never set foot in the modern age. Although Darkthrone has been mixing genres since Total Death (1996), they have always remained brutal and true. As Fenriz told Mandatory: “… where we come from, the ’80s, black metal wasn’t ONE STYLE it was blackened metal really.” The chaotic history of rock/metal is played out within Darkthrone’s 19 albums. Thus, it is almost impossible not to love all of their releases if you are a metal fan with deep roots. The duo’s attitude is summarized by the lines: “Nothing to prove. Just a [couple of] hellish rock n’ roll freak[s].”
A Blaze in the Northern Sky certainly teaches us that nothing is sacred, as Fenriz has stated. Paradoxically, Darkthrone’s continued worship of their (fallen) idols helps them smash the pedestals on which they themselves rest. This is, of course, done with “Sardonic Wrath.” Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are better at deconstruction than Jacques Derrida. Darkthrone’s music is an exemplary demonstration of “how “philosophize with a hammer.” Heraclitus wrote: “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing.” Similarly, Fenriz says: “I hate repeating myself artistically to the extent that I want to make take one after having rehearsed the song once (many times I need more takes) …” After some hints, Darkthrone shocked listeners by fully coming out as “Hiking Metal [Crust] Punks” — a term later coined on Dark Thrones and Black Flags — with the controversial album The Cult Is Alive, which will be celebrating its sweet 16 tomorrow. Similarly, The Underground Resistance turned 9 yesterday. The Underground Resistance is an incredibly varied smörgåsbord of punk, heavy metal, speed metal, thrash, Celine Dion (to borrow a joke from Fenriz), and so on. This album is the second release in what has been described by Fenriz himself as a “trilogy.” The Underground Resistance, F.O.A.D., and the anti-King ov Hell album Circle the Wagons were illustrated by Dennis Dread. In many ways, this crust punk trilogy was equally as shocking as the Unholy Trinity insofar as it defied expectations and triggered posers.
Even amid all the confusion of the 21st century, A Blaze in the Northern Sky continues to ensure that “Hate Is the Law” that governs the music world. Darkthrone never ceases to wage war on modern metal. The band has created a safe space in the metal community for those who oppose “life metal.” In a video for Peaceville, Fenriz lamented: “Look around you, look what death metal has become. It’s like nothing. It’s like people in colored clothing talking about politi… PC stuff, you know. For me, death metal — and for us, death metal — was always about something extreme. And now, it’s like, hey, voting or whatever.” In the ’90s, Darkthrone already felt bothered by the rise of death metallers who dressed like surfers in shorts and sandals. This phenomenon has not gone away. Rather, there are more extreme metallers wearing Hawaiian T-shirts now than ever before. Such fashion crimes are usually perpetrated by those who lack focus and tend to go with the flow. Thus, the meaning of A Blaze in the Northern Sky is just as relevant now as it ever was. Of course, the irony is that Darkthrone has unintentionally created a bigger trend than their worst nightmares could have foretold.
In the early ’90s, however, black metal still meant “Krieg” in a more literal sense, as most fans know. Fenriz’s former friend Nicke Andersson, whom we discussed in regard to Soulside Journey, told the authors of Blood, Fire, Death: The Swedish Metal Story (2018) that he received a call from a Norwegian voice in 1992 to say that he was on a “death list.” Nicke elaborated: “Back in those days [his pre-black metal years], he [Fenriz] was a funny little glam rocker, strutting around in one of those Slash top hats [and there are pictures to prove it!] and listening to L.A. Guns… One year later, they [Darkthrone] didn’t want to be friends anymore. We asked ourselves what we’d done wrong.” Hopefully, this phone call came from someone like Varg Vikernes rather than sweet little Fenriz. In the summer of 1992, a deranged woman who wanted to earn Vikernes’ approval tried to set fire to the family home of Therion’s Christofer Johnsson. Therion had provoked ire by growling about the harm done by McDonald’s and Coca-Cola — the unofficial soft drink of Norwegian black metal. To be clear, some Norwegian black metallers like Snorre Ruch, (according to Mayhem’s Necrobutcher) and Ildjarn do practice ethical eating habits. The point, however, is not to let black metal devolve into brochures on wellness and environmentalism. In particular, Pelle Ohlin, who was actually a gentle soul, thought that metal should be apolitical and detested “vegetarianism” musicians. Pelle simply believed, as does Darkthrone, that form and content ought to align for the sake of the purity of art.
You might have guessed that we would be discussing the fact that Darkthrone now boasts a place of honor within the National Library of Norway. A Blaze in the Northern Sky was chosen from 500 proposals to become 1 of 30 main objects (plus some additional items), to be included in a permanent exhibition called “Opplyst,” or “Enlightened.” The exhibition, which focuses on cultural treasures from the 13th to the 21st century, even showcases handwritten sheet music by Edvard Grieg. Nocturno Culto called this the first national recognition that Darkthrone has ever had. This is probably due to the fact that Darkthrone refuses to allow their work to be nominated for prizes. Otherwise, they surely would have won several Spellemann Awards by now.
Opplyst was opened by rock aficionado Crown Prince Haakon on February 27, 2020. (Necrobutcher claims that Prince Haakon is a fan of Mayhem. Haakon Magnus met his wife, Mette-Marit, at the Quart Festival in Kristiansand in 1996. This defunct festival has in fact welcomed the likes of Immortal and Mayhem, who threw pigs’ heads into the audience.) The then Minister of Culture, Abid Raja, whom you can watch sing on the second season of the Norwegian program Maskorama, gave a speech to mark the occasion. If this kind of BM acceptance seems radical, keep in mind that Euronymous nearly became one of the 4 tailfin heroes depicted on Norwegian Air jets. Although the late Mayhem co-founder led a contest to become the company’s Oslo emblem in 2012, his parents requested their son’s removal from the running.
You can probably thank Darkthrone for this kind of widespread appreciation for black metal. Darkthrone has not only continued to keep black metal alive, but they have also provided the movement with two upstanding faces. Nocturno, who is a former teacher, is a great role model. In just a matter of days, on March 4, this family man will turn 50. Fenriz is also an educator of sorts. Although it has been said that Fenriz does not like to talk, he can be loquacious, especially when he is drunk. The humble yet sassy musician could truly win an award for Mr. Congeniality. For a long time, the “I Am the Working Class” composer greeted aspiring musicians, posers, and fans at Elm Street. Over the years, his work as the music police, a writer for the German magazine Rock Hard, a tree-hugging Aftenposten contributor, a local councilman, a radio/podcast host, a DJ, a postal worker, and a snob has made the world a better place. Darkthrone’s two “horned master[s] of endless time” not only transformed landscape of metal with A Blaze in the Northern Sky, but they have already outlived so many of their imitators. As “Raised on Rock” informs us, the Darkthrone duo has left an immortal legacy without selling their souls to anyone or any entity other than Manilla Road.