Plot Twist! Darkthrone Makes a Good, Old-Fashioned Metal Album
Using Metallica and ZZ Top as signposts, and moving from their condemned bomb shelter studio to a pro room, the wicked progenitors of Norwegian black metal give off major throwback vibes on their new Eternal Hails.
Norwegian extreme metal band Darkthrone have been shrouded in mystique ever since their 1986 inception. The band's second, third, and fourth albums, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Under a Funeral Moon, and Transilvanian Hunger—released in 1992, 1993, and 1994, respectively—are commonly regarded as the unholy trinity of black metal. But the band no longer consider themselves purely black metal, and it's questionable as to whether they ever did. They've arguably jumped around stylistically for their entire career—from death metal to doom metal to black metal, and even crust punk, as evidenced on 2006's The Cult Is Alive. They never tour or perform live (their last performance was in 1996), which defines their sound just about as much as any musical influence, as they've long chosen to focus their creative energy on crafting albums in their own makeshift studio, which was located in an old bomb shelter in their hometown, Kolbotn.
Since Transilvanian Hunger, there have been only two members: Nocturno Culto (Ted Skjellum) on guitar and Fenriz (Gylve Fenris Nagell) on drums. Both somewhat reclusive, they work in seclusion from each other when songwriting. Fenriz has a reputation for being ornery and interview anemic, though he hosts the Fenriz Metal Pact radio show/podcast. (He was also elected to sit on his town council after posting a photo with his cat and the slogan "Don't Vote for Me.") Nocturno Culto, who often serves as the band's primary engineer, is more affable.
Darkthrone - Eternal Hails...... (2021) FULL ALBUM
Darkthrone's latest album, Eternal Hails, throws yet another plot twist into their hallowed career. Their 19th release, it's not what one might expect from the most acclaimed progenitors of black metal. The album is brimming with musical and sonic nostalgia that harkens back to an earlier, more formative style of traditional '80s heavy metal and thrash. The word "organic" is often bandied about nowadays to convey something as more real or natural, but Eternal Hails truly earns that descriptor. In contrast to modern metal's penchant for digital enhancement, from quantized drumbeats to auto-tuned vocals, Eternal Hails sounds primitive, like a good, old-fashioned heavy metal record.
There's a loose feel to the performances that gives the heavy guitar riffs a bit of swing, as if they're evoking Black Sabbath. Nocturno Culto attributes this to the lack of a click track. "Since 1987, we have not used any metronome," he says. "That is part of why it sounds organic. It would make no sense to play with a metronome, because, since we started releasing albums—especially since 2005, when we got our own studio—we have this habit of recording one [rhythm] guitar and drums live, and that is what gives us pleasure, to play together." Sure, one could map it all out on a grid in Pro Tools, but that's not the headspace Darkthrone occupies. Fenriz, whose role, in addition to playing drums, has been writing guitar riffs and lyrics, sums up their recording strategy like this: "It's letting yourself be open to coincidence. Throw caution to the wind. It is more important the recording sounds alive, with nerve—that there are people actually playing this [material] in one or two takes."
If a riff sounds good without fuzz, it will most certainly sound killer with fuzz."–Fenriz
Similarly, Sabbath-esque, dark, foreboding songs such as "His Masters Voice" and "Hate Cloak" traverse soundscapes that bound from one section to another, avoiding formulaic verse-chorus song structures. The duo also seem to slow down their pulse from their previous work. "We both feel better [nowadays] playing mid-tempo and slow," explains Fenriz. "All of Ted's songs have slow parts, and all of my songs have slow parts. Ted added the more complex rhythms and strange riffs on 'Voyage to a Northpole Adrift.' I had a complex break in 'Hate Cloak,' but I usually thrive in 4/4—wanting to fill the 4/4 timeframe with as much primitive metal as possible."
With the band's bomb-shelter studio now condemned, Darkthrone were forced to use a commercial studio for the first time since 2005. They chose Oslo's Chaka Khan Studio, where they learned that it's easier to be creative when you have help. "We can go off the initial plan, like in the last part of 'Lost Arcane City of Uppakra,' and create something otherworldly," explains Fenriz. Nocturno Culto concurs, citing that it was a "nice experience to just play guitar and be a musician" without the extra pressure of engineering the sessions, too. But both admit that it also made them nervous to have other people around. "It was 17 years and seven albums with just the two of us in the studio before Eternal Hails," says Fenriz. "We were adamant that we made Ole and Silje [Ole Øvstedal and Silje Høgevold, who engineered Eternal Hails] our friends, too, and not try to boss them around in the studio. We were very hands off. It was the exact opposite of going to a pro studio where many metal bands have been before, and where you know what sound you will get. This was unchartered [sic] territory." Nocturno Culto adds that the older equipment at their disposal at Chaka Khan also allowed them to achieve their desired results. "Take the echo on the vocals. It's not a plug-in. It's this old tape echo recorder," he says. "It's a bit more difficult to have perfect control over it, but we like our studio recordings to live their own life, and we have a vision when we go into the studio."
Nocturno Culto's Gear
Nocturno Culto and his Solar Guitars E1.6D LTD scowl at the camera.
Photo courtesy of Solar Guitars
- Solar Guitars GC1.6FAB
- Solar Guitars E1.6D LTD
- Rickenbacker 4004 Bass
- Tube Works Blue Tube
- Fulltone Custom Shop Tube Tape Echo
- Thermionic Culture Freebird 3-channel tube-EQ
- 1972 Hiwatt SA212 with Celestion Sidewinders
- WEM Clubman MK8 with a Celestion Sidewinder
- Avalon AD2022 Dual Mono Pure Class A Preamplifier
- Groove Tubes STP-G Studio Preamp
- Universal Audio Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveling Amplifier
Strings and Picks
- D'Addario (.010–.052)
- Dunlop .73 mm Nylon Standard
Both band members thought it would be in everyone's best interest to provide the engineers with a couple of albums as a sonic reference point, and it's a revelation to learn which albums they furnished, because, surprisingly, they were not their own. They were Ride the Lightning by Metallica and American doom-metal band Trouble's self-titled fourth album. "Not that we wanted to copy their sound," clarifies Nocturno Culto, "but something to point in the direction of the drum sound and the overall feel." If something hints at a nostalgic element in Eternal Hails, it is likely derived from those two albums.
The overall production aesthetic is important to Darkthrone, even when working with outside engineers. "You want to create its own space, to take the listener to," says Nocturno Culto. "If you see a big painting, you can say that the actual painting is the music. But every good painting has a frame that has to fit and provide an overall experience of watching that painting. And so for us, the frame is the sound. Some people say, 'Let's have a plastic frame, it works.' But it doesn't work for us. We have to carve the little things out and try to make a cozy place out of it."
TIDBIT: With their bomb-shelter studio condemned, Nocturno Culto and Fenriz recorded Eternal Hails—the 19th Darkthrone release—at Oslo's Chaka Khan Studio. It was their first time in a commercial studio since 2005.
While songwriting, Nocturno Culto and Fenriz work separately and spend plenty of time preparing before they begin recording. "Being the only guitarist, I have to basically learn [Fenriz's] riffs quite fast," says Nocturno Culto. "For me, it's important to play a lot of guitar [before going into the studio] and be on top of my game, because there's a lot of things in the studio I have to cut straight away." For Fenriz, he likens his songwriting process to more of a filing system. "I don't know anything about Ted's creative process, but I imagine he sits down to write," admits Fenriz. "I just get my riffs in any situation possible—'Hate Cloak' and 'Lost Arcane City of Uppakra' came after a long hiking trip—so there's nothing else to do than to hum them into my recorder, or play them with my guitar."
For Fenriz, guitar is simply a "vehicle" for writing songs and not something he necessarily aspires to be good at. "I play guitar very loosely and sloppy," he confesses. "I am bad at repetition and bad at copying even my own riffs. I have to take this into consideration, since Ted plays much more militant and sternly, so whenever I make some weird funky detail, I can only hope that it is played in the vicinity of what I originally wanted." Fenriz says he was, arguably, a better guitar player in the past than he is now, but that it didn't necessarily make him a better songwriter. "I didn't make better material. I just made more material," he assesses. "When I am constricted by my Fenix [guitar], which is hard to play, and my lack of skills, it seems I use my brain more for creative angles of primitivity, and I think the riffs are better, and the assembly of the songs are better and more interesting." He also, maybe surprisingly, writes without fuzz. "If a riff sounds good without fuzz, it will most certainly sound killer with fuzz," he concludes.
Fenriz plays drums on Darkthrone's albums, but co-writes the band's songs on his Fenix guitar, not seen here. "When I am constricted by my Fenix, which is hard to play, and my lack of skills, it seems I use my brain more for creative angles of primitivity," he says.
Photo by Jørn Steen
Nocturno Culto, however, is the sole guitarist on Darkthrone albums, and also played bass on Eternal Hails. He draws from a deep well of inspiration, including some unexpected influences, claiming ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons as one of his biggest guitar heroes, in a surprising twist to the band's musical DNA. But listen closely and there's evidence of Gibbons' bluesy swagger, particularly in his rhythm chops. "There's just something about his playing," he says. "I really dig the '70s ZZ Top. His playing there is absolutely stunning. And that goes for the rest of the band as well. When you hear the drummer of ZZ Top, in the '70s, he's holding a low profile, but when you listen enough to ZZ Top, you understand he's a really fucking good drummer—he's amazing."
Darkthrone are among the prominent progenitors of Norwegian black metal, but label Eternal Hails' genre as Black Epic Heavy Metal
Photo by Jorn Steen
The ultimate question is whether the duo consider Eternal Hails to be black metal. Nocturno Culto says, "I don't think we consider ourselves black metal, but I think there is always black metal riffing somewhere on the records." Fenriz highlights a common denominator between all their albums. "Since the first demo, we've been displaying a wide variety of influences. However, the vocals often tie it together and display a more die-cast impression, leaving the total picture to sound less varied than it actually is, perhaps." He adds that during the writing and recording process, the band would joke that the genre label for Eternal Hails is "Black Epic Heavy Metal." Nocturno Culto concludes, "No matter what we do, I think we always end up sounding like Darkthrone."
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Guitar Center Presents: Holiday Gift Guide
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Les Paul Desert Burst Satin
Fender Classic Series 5 Guitar Case Stand Tweed
Fender Holiday Guitar Cable Keychain
Fender Limited Edition Holiday Sweater
Harbinger MLS1000 Personal Line Array Speaker System
Sterling Audio P10 Dynamic Instrument Microphone
Sterling Audio Harmony H224 USB Audio Interface
Apogee BOOM 2x2 Audio Interface
Railhammer Reveals New Billy Corgan Z-One Pickups
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Mono Releases the M80 Vertigo Ultra Case
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
MONO Vertigo Ultra Electric Bass Gig Bag - Black
For more information, please visit monocreators.com.
Gibson Unveils the Generation Collection of Acoustics
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
Gibson Acoustic Generation Collection G-Bird Acoustic-electric Guitar - Natural
For more information, please visit gibson.com.