One could say that this album was born out of controversy, or more specifically out of DARKTHRONE’S inability to avoid the controversy that had exploded within the scene they helped pioneer. It tells the tale of a band that essentially had to start over almost at square one without label support and continue on without the means to lead a music scene that had spread far beyond their little slice of frozen heaven in the tree ridden land of Norway. But with a little help from good old Satyr’s small label and a strong dose of convention destroying, rebellious energy, “Panzerfaust” was put together.
The general approach taken by most bands who attempt to reestablish themselves is to take a sort of compilation approach and play up the glory days of their past, usually discovering a new sound in the process. This album essentially does the same thing, taking bits and pieces from each of the 3 parts of their Peaceville Black Metal trilogy and merging them into a dark and chaotic, yet very much methodical album that demonstrates the raw spirit and versatility of Black Metal. Not a whole lot of new ground is broken on here, but in terms of songwriting this is definitely among the finer moments of their post-Peaceville career.
One of DARKTHRONE’S unique qualities is that in spite of the general approach of rawness in their production practices, there is a good deal of variety from album to album in terms of sound character. “Panzerfaust” is probably the rawest and most animalistic of the band’s offerings, owing to an extremely dry, heavy and very much present drum production, which is a big departure from their last 3 albums. The guitar sound is a little bit warmer than previous efforts, coming to something of a middle heavy tone that brings to mind the dew on an early autumn morning rather than the permafrost, dead of winter character of “Under A Funeral Moon” and “Transylvanian Hunger”. Nocturno’s voice has also been brought into greater prominence, just falling short of crossing the line between being aggressive and being overbearing, coming off as a crazed wolf, frothing at the mouth before a kill.
Although this definitely takes a step away from the rabid simplicity of “Transylvanian Hunger”, this album still exhibit’s a dominant character of droning. Riffs are repeated heavily and are few in number, although the riffs themselves do not sit only on a melodic tremolo drone but also incorporate HELLHAMMER styled pre-Thrash riffs in a similar manner as “Under A Funeral Moon”, though the radical difference in production here makes the songs come off with a bit of a traditional Doom feel. “En Vind Av Sorg” sounds mostly like a more elaborate and technical variation on the title track of the previous album, while “Hans Siste Vinter” is a little plainer and closer to copying the model on said album. “The Hordes Of Nebulah” plays off the elaborate tempo changes that made “Under A Funeral Moon” so intricate, though the tempo changes have been exaggerated a little.
Most of the rest of the music contained on here sort of reaches back to the CELTIC FROST character of “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, albeit without the technical detailing that made that album as strong as it was. There’s a nice little guitar solo on “Triumphant Gleam” which showcases Fenriz’s ability to break out of repetitive riff work when he feels like it, although it goes nowhere near the intricacy of what was heard out of Zephyrous and Culto on the first 2 albums of the Black trilogy. But otherwise, things sort of stay in a droning variation of the style that was heard in 1992. The formula breaks into an odd interlude before ending on the final song, where Fenris shows off his interest in Ambient music with a little poem reading over top a series of synthesized brass sounds and drum noise. It’s not so much a menacing narration in the same way that the intro to “Kathaarian Life Code” was, but more of a mysterious and somewhat bizarre auditory experience.
Generally speaking, there are three conclusions that are usually drawn by those who encounter this album. The first is that it is the last worthwhile album by a band that had a short run at glory in the early 90s and is now irrelevant. The second is that it is a sort of amazing masterwork that successfully combined all of the strongest elements of the 3 previous albums. The third is that it is a weak afterthought by a band that lost their steam after being ejected from their label. Essentially all of these viewpoints are wrong. This is more of a new beginning for a band that saw the old ways of Black Metal coming to an end and began searching for a new sound. It’s not their greatest work, nor is it by any standard a weak work, but more of a strong work that would pave the way for a series of stylistic twists and turns. Like many in the original Norwegian 2nd wave, this band is made up musicians who are not content with repeating themselves or hanging up their nail spiked gauntlets, a band who seek to explore the limits of their genre rather than live in the past.
(Online July 24, 2009)