Darkthrone - Astral Fortress
Peaceville Records
Black Metal, Doom
7 songs (40:00)
Release year: 2022
Peaceville Records
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

You'd be forgiven for not taking the latest Darkthrone album entirely seriously; from the skating figure wearing a hoodie from the same band on the cover art to the song titles it's entirely unserious in a way entirely fitting the legacy of Nocturno and Fenriz. These two dudes just love to hang out and play Celtic Frost-influenced metal, from black to doom, purely for pleasure! And that's not a bad thing, at all, if the music itself is good. Is it? Well, yes and no. It's essentially Eternal Hails b-sides, far from Darkthrone's best work under whichever era you look at, coming over at points as tossed-together jamming even as elsewhere it is little short of genius. Take Caravan of Broken Ghosts for an example; the opening acoustic strums that build into a melancholic, doomy burst of the heaviest metal are perfectly judged, and Darkthrone build the track around an always entrancing Celtic Frost-ian bellow and an ear-hooking riff.

It's exactly what you expect to hear from the band in 2022, and yet the drop in quality from the past couple of albums is especially notable. Being released at little over a year after the excellent Eternal Hails, it can't help but feel rushed and inferior through proximity. And so even as moments in the likes of Impeccable Caverns of Satan where the old magic raises the hair on the back on your neck are enough to make you listen deeply, you feel a little let down elsewhere. It's hard not to notice just how much synths have become a part of this sound, for instance, giving the otherwise dry as a bone Stalagmite Necklace a touch of otherworldly inspiration that is sorely needed. Darkthrone, synths?! As someone who was first introduced to the band by the bleakly purist intensity of Transilvanian Hunger, it's still hard to swallow.

And although an interesting new addition to the Darkthrone sound once you're used to them, there's never much done with the synths, however skilfully woven into the fabric of the song they can be. All too often songs rely on the band's charm, mining a riff on pretty much every song for much longer than needed. There's plenty of those glimpses of genius, too; the strident call-out on The Sea Beneath the Seas of the Sea leading to an almost pychedelic synth-backed riffathon is remarkably good and contrasts wildly with the wacky silliness of the title. And it has to be said, the riffs are terrific; the influence from the classic realm (Celtic Frost, duh, but also true doom like Candlemass pops its head up) ensures that whatever else happens, Darkthrone have still released a more than solid album.

Which is irritating, if you're seeking to either condemn or praise the band immediately in the modern sense of music, thumbs up or down, scores out of five, a favourite YouTuber's black and white thoughts. Presumably all will agree, say, that two minute instrumental Kolbotn, West of the Vast Forests is a weird little skippable bit of nonsense and the closing gallop of Eon 2 is conversely among the album's best? It hearkens back to Darkthrone's early days in a way that the band often have disdained, despite fashioning their music in so retro a direction; there are few who don't want a real resurgence of the classic spirit. The "Doomthrone" era is good-to-great depending on what you want from the band but Astral Fortress will definitely not number amongst their finest outings when all is said and done. Minus at least ten from the score if you're not a tremendous fan, and how fascinating is the hipster critical about-face on Darkthrone lately? Welcome to the club, guys, and don't forget the Frostland Tapes.

Killing Songs :
Caravan of Broken Ghosts, The Sea Beneath the Seas of the Sea, Kevorkian Times, Eon 2
Goat quoted 70 / 100
Other albums by Darkthrone that we have reviewed:
Darkthrone - Eternal Hails...... reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Darkthrone - Old Star reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Darkthrone - The Cult Is Alive reviewed by Goat and quoted 84 / 100
To see all 21 reviews click here
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