This is widely regarded by both fan and detractor alike as DARKTHRONE’S crowning achievement, and insofar as their Black Metal releases, I am not one to disagree. It is a notable departure for a band that spent the bulk of their early days attempting to outdo themselves technically, although it still retains a good degree of the competency that made their Death/Thrash influenced works so impressive. The character of the band’s production has taken on an even colder and more fuzz driven nature than the previous release, exaggerating the practices that were observed on early CELTIC FROST and BATHORY albums to the point of sounding like all the microphones and amplifiers are buried under 2 meters of snow. But the overriding ingredient in this frost coated brew is the melodic contours that shape many of the riffs and how well they play off the more Thrashing ones.
In the eyes of many “Under A Funeral Moon” is seen as slightly inferior to their more renowned follow up “Transylvanian Hunger”, much in the same way that many see “Reign In Blood” as SLAYER’S crowning achievement while its predecessors were rungs on the ladder leading to it. However, if one looks at it from a stylistic viewpoint rather than one of catchiness, there is a good deal more going on here. It’s somewhat closer to the droning nature of BURZUM’S albums at around this time if you look at certain individual riffs and songs, but there is still an overriding sense of structural development and contrast the keeps it outside of the Drone realm. Probably the closest song on here to that minimalist sense of moving yet standing still is “Unholy Black Metal”, which essentially has 3 riffs that are drawn out to their fullest extent and ride over a continuous blast beat, but even here the band’s technical past still bleeds through with a couple of well placed guitar solos.
In some respects, this album could be seen as a precursor to the mid-90s work of both IMMORTAL and GORGOROTH, though the influences are a bit more overt in the case of the latter while the former only shares a general similarity in their song structure approach and technical work. The melodic contours of the tremolo riffs heard on “Natassja In Eternal Sleep” and “Under A Funeral Moon” have this biting sense of coldness to them, not all that far off from some of what can be heard on “Pentagram” and “Antichrist” just a few years after this. It takes a somewhat less Thrash oriented approach than said band’s works and mostly tends to rest on a more linear style of riffing that’s in line with pre-Thrash NWOBHM work, but avoiding the chord progression clichés of the early 80s and going towards something a bit more dissonant and rhythmically disjointed.
Although the sound quality here is extremely raw and low fidelity, there is still a very clear set of boundaries set between the instrumentation. Zephyrus’ guitar tracking is crisp enough not to bleed into itself and done in a precise enough fashion to sound like one cohesive whole rather than 2 separate guitars fighting each other for prominence, which can sometimes happen with Black Metal bands that have multiple guitarists. The bass still plays a significant role in shaping the arrangement, though the absence of Dag Nilsen’s active lines and a greater concentration of root note bass lines does take this well out of the realm of the previous two releases. But Fenriz’s drum sound contrasts the most from the rest of the arrangement, as instead of being soaked with reverb, his kit is basically dry and free of effects, putting a greater burden on the guitars to give the album its characteristic sound.
Many have pointed to this album as being a large influence on the concept of bedroom Black Metal, mostly due to it’s really rough production, which is rivaled only by “Panzerfaust” insofar as the band’s discography is concerned. It is important to note that although many of these hack bands attempt to imitate the general sound of this album, none of them possess the competence to match the guitar work on here. Even though by the standards set by “Soulside Journey” this is a pretty basic album, the Jeff Hanneman inspired guitar solos heard on “Summer Of The Diabolical Holocaust” and “Under A Funeral Moon” are well out of the league of any first or second year guitarist looking to show how cool he is for playing with a poor sense of rhythm. Likewise, the Quorthon-like vocal ravings of Nocturno Culto and the depth of the atmosphere that is established on here behind them are not something that just magically spring out of a rough take on an analog 4 track, but a careful refinement of volume levels and timbres that lead to a cohesive whole.
Although I still hold a slight preference to “Soulside Journey” for its unique charm and forward looking approach to Death/Thrash, this is deserving of the legend that it has attached to it. It carries a quality of rawness and coldness to it not all that dissimilar to BURZUM’S “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”, along with a symmetrically structured approach to songwriting not all that far off from GORGOROTH’S “Pentagram”, although the style does hint at a little bit of a throwback to CELTIC FROST at many points. It’s not quite an album that could be considered ahead of its time like “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” was, but more one that was in the right place at the right time. It’s the hardest of all of their releases to like, yet once fully understood, is the easiest one to completely love.
(Online July 23, 2009)