Every Record I Own - Day 334: Darkthrone A Blaze in the Northern Sky
As I mentioned several months ago, I’m a recent Darkthrone convert. My main obstacle to enjoying the band back in the ‘90s was the production quality. For whatever reason, I could hang with hardcore bands like Behead The Prophet NLSL and MK-Ultra despite their frazzled low-budget recordings, but Darkthrone just sounded like all the girth had been taken out of their riffs. To my ears, it lacked power.
But now I find there to be a parallel between what Darkthrone does with metal and what, say, those early Guided By Voices records did for pop-oriented rock or what those first few Microphones or Mountain Goats records did with the singer-songwriter format. GBV’s Bee Thousand wasn’t exactly At Budokan in terms of arena rock anthems but people loved the bubblegum hooks buried beneath the tape hiss anyways… or maybe even because digging beneath all that noise actually made the melodies more rewarding. Similarly, Phil Elverum and John Darnielle certainly aren’t graced with Gordon Lightfoot’s honey-sweet vocals or nimble fingerpicking technique, but they use their modest resources wisely, and they strip away the bullshit that often masks uninspired songwriting in their field. Metal has a tendency to put too much emphasis on tone worship, and too many musicians think having the right kinda of rig will compensate for lackluster riffs. A Blaze in the Northern Sky sounds thin, scratchy, and unevenly mixed, but the songs are great, and once you latch onto hooks, you realize that the lo-fi production actually lends something to the music. It strips away any artifice and leaves the meat of the song completely unadulterated.
There’s no sparkle in the high end, no thump in the lows. It wasn’t music that was treated and cleaned up. It was recorded in its rawest form. And consequently, it will be nearly unlistenable to dilettantes. But the people who can tune their ears to the caustic frequencies of Darkthrone’s first foray into black metal understand why these records are classics in the genre.