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A Blaze In the Northern Sky

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Album Review

Heavy metal has always championed the darker things in life, but whatever they might say in their interviews, most musicians are really just mugging for the press, fronting a fantasy image for the benefit of their impressionable young fans. But all bets are off when it comes to the infamous Norwegian black metal scene, where in the early ‘90s rising bands like Mayhem, Emperor, and Burzum had some of their key members charged with real-life crimes, ranging from church burnings to outright murder. Standing just outside this macabre "Inner Circle," as it was called, were Oslo-based Darkthrone, who had started out as a death metal band on 1991's Soulside Journey debut, and were actually halfway through recording another likeminded album before literally converting to black metal's dark side under the mentorship of "Inner Circle" leader (and soon to be its most notorious victim) Euronymous. Long days spent inside the Euronymous-run Helvete record store apparently led Darkthrone to both shed their past and shun the path chosen by many of their peers, whose hellish symphonies were often overblown, ultra-complex affairs influenced by classical and Scandinavian folk music. Instead, Darkthrone's eventual sophomore full-length, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, would pursue a more straightforward and fundamentally primal black metal approach in the spirit of genre founders like Venom, Hellhammer, and Bathory, initially earning outright rejection from their record label in the process, before being begrudgingly released. Little did anyone know that they were sitting on a classic whose almost indefensibly lo-fi standards would reinvigorate an entire strain of black metal, since — their bloated lengths aside — future standards like "In the Shadow of the Horns," "Where Cold Winds Blow," and the ten-minute "Kathaarian Life Code" concealed significant instrumental abilities and songwriting acumen underneath their raw, visceral power. And with their ghostly pancake makeup only adding to the kids' delight (hey it worked for Kiss, right?), Darkthrone arguably became the standard-bearers for dreary, oppressive black metal in the eyes of fans not interested in evolving into more finessed, avant-garde realms along with Emperor, Ulver, et al.


Formed: Oslo, Norway

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Of all the major second wave black metal bands to emerge from Norway's fertile breeding grounds during the early 1990s, only a handful -- Mayhem, Emperor, Enslaved, Ulver -- have achieved the same exalted status and world-wide recognition as the legendary Darkthrone; and arguably none has been as consistent or prolific in the decades that followed. Unlike the majority of their peers, Darkthrone largely refused to tinker with their refreshingly straightforward and savage black metal formula once it...
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A Blaze In the Northern Sky, Darkthrone
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