Three years ago, The Underground Resistance closed an important phase for Darkthrone – their ‘back to their heavy metal roots’ period, characterised by their heavily referenced riff policy and Fenriz’s howling vocal performance. So the fact that they’ve decided, for the first time since 2003’s Hate Them, to let Nocturno Culto monopolise the microphone and have returned to the old rehearsal room they used back in their demo days to record Arctic Thunder suggests initially that they’ve returned to serious and extreme hunting grounds.
Then the first songtitles – Tundra Leech, Boreal Fiends, The Wyoming Distance – started to surface. Even when tied with the album’s title – a tribute to one of Fenriz favourite yet most obscure late 80s heavy metal acts from Oslo, who featured two future Red Harvest members in its ranks – they nevertheless came across like a spoof, or as if they belonged to a cheesy, spandex-clad ‘true’ power metal troupe, with that ‘man versus the wild’ picture used as a cover rubbing it in.
So it’s surprising to discover that not only is this the real deal but that the opening salvo of Tundra Leech and Burial Bliss harks back to the solemn and martial days of Total Death and Ravishing Grimness, even featuring those downhill toms cavalcades straight off of Goatlord. But midway through Burial Bliss, things get a tad mixed up as it takes a more classic metal left turn, more akin to their later work. It sounds like a mishmash of two very distinct songs, each written by one half of the duo, with Nocturno Culto willing to carry the black flag once more while Fenriz is still carrying a torch for the 80s. That’s quite representative of an album that comes across as some kind of stand-off, and while a song like Throw Me Through The Marshes must have the most Black Sabbath-styled riff they’ve ever done and the title track is pure late 70s Judas Priest worship, they would have worked best with Fenriz eccentric voice instead of Nocturno Culto’s croaked rendering. Nevertheless, with Nocturno’s guitar tone, harsh yet very organic sound and cold vibe, there’s no doubt Artic Thunder is pure Darkthrone – but a Darkthrone sitting at the crossroad and not sure where to go next.