Now one of the longest-running acts in modern heavy metal, Darkthrone’s humble beginnings as a technical death metal band were chronicled in their 1991 debut for Peaceville Records,1 Soulside Journey. A far cry from the “Unholy Trinity”2 that inspired a whole generation of sound-alikes and became necessary listening for any black metal enthusiast, Darkthrone’s debut release contained little of the imagery or thematic material that typify the rest of their discography. Instead of vampires, valkyries, and vinter; Soulside Journey attacked existential dread, philosophical doubt, and suicide. It is the only album to credit all four original members of Darkthrone, as bassist Dag Nilsen was credited as a “session musician” on follow-up A Blaze in the Northern Sky due to exiting the group shortly after recording sessions ended.
Soulside Journey demonstrates Darkthrone’s aptitude in sophisticated songwriting that set them apart even on the night-unbearably lo-fi Transilvanian Hunger and Panzerfaust. Whereas Burzum relied on minimalism to enchant the listener and Gorgoroth utilized tremolo-thrash shreds for brutality’s sake, the creative conduit that would later become only Fenriz3 and Nocturno Culto utilized complex progressions and unorthodox songwriting to create beautiful, intricate extremes on suites like “Kathaarian Life Code” from the blackened monstrosity A Blaze in the Northern Sky and “Leave No Cross Unturned” from the decidedly speed-metal The Underground Resistance. The title track on Soulside Journey has furious tremolo-riffing, tempo changes, and powerful solos that demonstrate influences from the nascent Floridian death metal scene in addition to the sounds coming out of Scandinavia.
Fenriz adopted a syncopated, even jazzy drumming style on Soulside Journey that set him apart from his extreme metal peers and made tracks like “The Pagan Winter” from Blaze more than just blast-beat onanism. Nocturno Culto’s screams are standard death metal that lack the ghastliness of the “Unholy Trinity,” but are still perfectly brutal with regards to the music and imagery at hand. The production is cavernous, which is more common in early death metal than one may believe with the glut of Loudness War brutality that characterizes mainstream death metal from the mid-nineties onward. Tracks are generally short, which works well for a subgenre of death metal where length more often than not spells uninspired rather than creative.
Although an impressive performance, Soulside Journey suffers an affliction all-too-common in the technical death metal genre: in pursuit of technicality, the songs have little unique identity. Soulside Journey has some impressive tricks, but they’re not all too many: once the title track and the ever-so-slightly symphonic “Accumulation Of Generalization,” the listener has heard all that the album has to offer. A few tracks betray the group’s extant immaturity: “Sempiternal Sepulchrality”6 has an extremely sloppy bass outro that sounds like an early Kreator speed-solo, let alone a vocabulary whose haphazardness is a great metaphor for the album’s presentation versus its depth. Soulside Journey has its place in the band’s history, but with the exception of those two tracks, there’s no need to make this a necessary part of fan’s death metal or Darkthrone discography outside of satisfying one’s curiosity. If you want similar technicality with audible bass and spacious production, then check out early Cryptopsy or Death.
1. Cromlech – (4:11) – ★★★☆☆
2. Sunrise Over Locus Mortis – (3:30) – ★★☆☆☆
3. Soulside Journey – (4:36) – ★★★★☆
4. Accumulation of Generalization – (3:17) – ★★★☆☆
5. Neptune Towers – (3:14) – ★★★☆☆
6. Sempiternal Sepulchrality – (3:32) – ★☆☆☆☆
7. Grave with a View – (3:27) – ★★☆☆☆
8. Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia – (4:00) – ★★☆☆☆
9. Nor the Silent Whispers – (3:17) – ★★★☆☆
10. The Watchtower – (4:57) – ★☆☆☆☆
11. Eon – (3:37) – ★★☆☆☆
1… which also hosted My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, and Katatonia
2… which includes A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Under a Funeral Moon, and Transilvanian Hunger; their second, third, and fourth albums respectively.
3… then utilizing the pseudonym “Hank Amarillo,” as a take-that to Western-sounding names in death metal.4
4Fjordi. “Darkthrone Interview @ Tartareanddesires.com.” Tartare and Desire. September 2004. Accessed April 10, 2016. http://www.tartareandesire.com/interviews/darkthrone.html. 5
6Should’ve gone all the way and called the album Sesquipedalian Journey.