To celebrate this seminal Norwegian band’s 21 years of evil and Black-ness, the good folk over at Peaceville have given us this lavish box-set which essentially compiles all the early DARKTHRONE demos, EPs and unreleased tracks (rehearsal footage, live tracks, instrumentals etc), into a coherent whole. This shit is hard to come by so kudos to Peaceville for unearthing and re-animating these obscure cuts from one of Black Metal’s most important bands. This is a collector’s wet dream right here!
Anyhoo, the tracks overlap from disc to disc – in the sense that the first half of one demo is on disc 1 while the second half is on disc 2 – so I will not be reviewing the discs themselves but rather just give an overview of all the demos and all other assorted nick-knacks that are compiled on here. Let’s get ready for a trip back into the dark past...
Land Of Frost (Demo, 1988)
Now, as any DARKTHRONE fan worth his salt will tell you, the band’s humble beginnings were marked by a full-on Death Metal sound, which is the kind of thing they peddled before Uncle Euronymous pumped their heads full of Satan and other nice things. This is the band’s Jurassic period, so to speak, the one of simple Death Metal riffs (very ENTOMBED-like), and before Nocturno joined the fold. Gylve Nagell (a.k.a. Hank Amarillo a.k.a. Fenriz) handles drums and vocals, guitars were handled by Zephyrous and a bloke named Anders, while Dag Nilson handles bass duties. Now, this five track demo is kinda sucky for a few reasons; one, the sound is horrible (cardboard drum sounds, vocals mixed too high, limp guitar tone), but since this is a demo and that this is DARKTHRONE we’re talking about I’ll let it slide a bit. Secondly, the vocals on here are just plain weird, the lines are very jumbled and sung in such a rapid fashion that it sounds mechanical. The delivery of these vocals aren’t far removed from Grindcore fare. Anyway, the songs themselves aren’t too bad and I was pleasantly surprised by the band’s already “epic” tendencies (subtle acoustic swathes, Doomy interludes etc), that gives tracks like “Winds Of Triton” and “Odyssey Of Freedom” an adventurous yet very dark edge that is super stuff for a what was then a demo band. “Day Of The Dead” is a departure from the rest as it relies solely on a very Black Metal like tempo and cold tremolo picking that became the band’s trademark just a few years later. Hell, this track may be the band’s very first Black Metal track! Overall nothing special on here but the songwriting shows glimpses of something great and there is enough variety scattered throughout to keep my attention.
Another Dimension (Demo, 1988)
This is only a two track demo/promo but the increase in quality is amazing, with this demo blowing the previous one out of the water with consummate ease. Actually this can be seen as a one song demo since the first track is only a disposable intro. The track “Snowfall” is the jewel on here, and it’s a cracker of a song! It’s almost ten minutes long, solely instrumental and it kicks ass – the drumming is already more intricate, the riffs thrashier in nature and the gloomy melodic breaks more potent than before. Overall everything just sounds tighter, meaner and smarter than before, and it kept me entertained all the way through. Note: Ted Skjellum (a.k.a. Noctrurno Culto) joined the band here, but since this is only an instrumental demo his razor-blade croaks are not heard... yet. Great demo!!
Thulcandra (Demo, 1989)
With a full-time vocalist in the fold and coming off the momentum of the “Another Dimension” demo the band released this four track demo at the close of the 80s. Production-wise this is yet another step up, with a less caustic vibe all ‘round, but the songwriting just doesn’t impress me as much on here. “Eon” is another one of the band’s early Doom-y intros – nothing amazing there – but the second song (title track), fares much better. Stylistically still full-on Death Metal (although this particular track sounds more like VADER than ENTOMBED) this track is nevertheless powerful, with Nocturno showing off his throat shredding abilities, and Fenriz giving the rhythm section a nice driving groove. “Archipelago” is just a dud of a track (i.e. boring, lifeless drivel), but the previously unreleased “Soria Moria” closes off the demo in powerful style, featuring a very catchy riff and more intuitive drumming from Gylve. Overall not a bad demo, but it just can’t hold a candle to the precision attack of their “Another Dimension” demo.
Cromlech (Demo, 1989)
This demo originally featured only three tracks but for this box-set eight live bonus tracks (recorded at one of the few DARKTHRONE gigs in Denmark, 1990) were tagged onto the end. Many of the tracks on here made their way onto the “Soulside Journey” LP with tighter performances and a better sound, making this demo a bit of an afterthought in my opinion. Nevertheless tracks like “Sempiternal Past/Presence View Sepulchrality” and the title track (later covered by EMPEROR) are solid pieces of occult Death Metal. The live tracks are OK, but the relatively poor sound and absence of any crowd noises cause them to feel a bit listless at times.
Goatlord Rehearsal Session (Previously unreleased)
This was an interesting addition to this set. As many of you should know “Goatlord” was originally scheduled to be released after “Soulside Journey” but the project was shelves after the band made the transition to Black Metal with “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” in 1991. The album was later released around 1996, with vocals that were recorded in 1994. If you’ve ever heard this album you’ll know that these particular vocals are just downright strange, being very high pitched yelps that sounded quite ‘feminine’, although they were actually Fenriz’s vocals. Anyway, these ten tracks are presented here in their original instrumental form and I have to say that they sound much better this way, as there are no irritating vocal effects to be found. Standout cuts include “Pure Demoniac Blessing”, “In His Lovely Kingdom” and “Green Cave Float”. A few rehearsal tracks from the “Soulside Journey” sessions are also added here, as well as a very crappy drum solo courtesy of Fenriz. These tracks are of novelty value exclusively as the sound is weak and unimaginative, but they will round out a collector’s stash quite well I suppose.
So overall “The Frostland Tapes” is a mixed bag. Don’t get me wrong – it’s cool to hear these ancient tracks but considering what the band went on to produce these songs are underdeveloped stepping stones only. The “Another Dimension” and “Goatlord” rehearsal tracks were interesting to hear but many of the other demos just don’t cut mustard. The packaging is great though (rigid digibook format containing extensive lines notes as well as an interview with the band about their early dreams and ambitions), so I can’t fault this set in that department.
Definitely get this if you’re a DARKTHRONE completist, but know that this material is first and foremost demo material, and as such cannot rival the band’s later works. It’s cool to have this box-set but I’ll mostly stick to the unholy triumvirate of “A Blaze...”, “Under A Funeral Moon”, and “Transylvanian Hunger”.
(Online July 30, 2008)