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Class 6(66)

Darkthrone: Soulside journey

27/04/12  ||  BamaHammer

Introduction

There was once this band called Darkthrone who was one of the greatest Swedish death metal bands of all time, only they were from Norway. They sounded ace. They wrote brutally heavy, groovy guitar riffs and possessed wicked growled vocals. Their drummer was also pretty decent. Their 1991 opus “Soulside journey” was even one of the greatest albums ever to grace the world of death metal, thought it oft goes silently overlooked in the eyes of the metal brethren of the world.

What happened to this band, you ask? They sound like they would have such an aspiring career in front of them after such an album. Indeed they did, but they vanished from the scene without so much as a trace. They actually never released anything else at all. No new genre-defining masterpieces or even boring derivatives of anything else. The never tried to alter there style, not even a little bit, in hopes of carving a new niche and a new hope for expressing themselves. Nope. No, sir-ee, this was it for Darkthrone.

Songwriting

9,5. Quite simply, this was some of the best, most solid death metal ever penned. The groove that was so prominent in a lot of early ’90s Swedish death metal from bands like Seance, Entombed, and Dismember is executed nearly to perfection on this album by these four Norwegians. Every instrument plays its part in formulating one of death metal’s most iconic sounds, and even the instrumentals are memorable. As far as album openers are concerned, I have no idea why “Cromlech” doesn’t get any respect. It’s an absolute classic, and it really sets the stage for the oncoming death metal onslaught Darkthrone was preparing to uncork on this album. Just to reiterate, this album was just so incredibly great, and I have no clue whatever happened to these guys or why they disappeared. I just know they were completely legit and would never bow to any temptation to change their style whatsoever.

Production

8. If they had ever released any follow-up albums to “Soulside,” I’m fairly certain the productions would have been pretty impressive, judging from what you hear on this one. The production isn’t exactly what I would call polished, but it is very organic and suits the overall package quite well. Every part that needs to be able to slice through the mix is given that boost and that freedom, and the result is a very solid, fitting production job, which is something that I’m sure this band could have become renown for if they’d kept playing.

Guitars

9,5. Ted Skjellum and Ivar Enger formed quite an impressive axe-wielding duo on “Soulside journey.” The guitars on the album almost have that honking midrange quality you hear on many classic Swedish death metal releases. Honestly, everything you could possibly ask for in a death metal album’s guitar repertoire is here. Every single riff is amazingly killer and groovy as hell. There are harmonized passages interspersed throughout. Even the guitar solos possess all the weed-whacker wankery you’d come to expect from albums during that era. They sound incredible to begin with, and they also possess the substance to complement the style perfectly. This might just be as good as death metal guitar work ever got in my book. Maybe.

Vocals

9. Ted Skjellum was so good, he would never need some cult nickname to gain notoriety. The growling he demonstrated on “Soulside” was ripping, deep, and ballsy. When you’re this good, there’s not even a need to ever think about branching out to any other style. There’s also some good reverb on the vocals most of the time that enables their sound to possess a little spacial quality that really brings them to life and gives them a slightly more evil edge. Overall, this is quite an impressive performance.

Bass

7. It never really gets better than the ridiculously out-of-place, yet somehow badass bass solo to end “Sempiternal Sepulchrality,” but this performance by Dag Nilsen is actually fairly strong, believe it or not. Rarely does Dag venture into the wild and wacky, but he does give the music a rock-solid foundation and good bottom end. I bet if these guys had kept making records they would have put a lot of emphasis on the bottom end of their sound.

Drums

7,5. Hank Amarillo turns in a fine performance here, but it’s a shame he fell off the face of the earth after this album. In fact, I don’t think he ever played on another album after this one. The drums actually sound fantastic with a good pop and sizzle, and his style sounds very authentic and real. He’s not atomic-clock precise, but what he does is play with noticeable passion and obvious pride. Amarillo is really just an impressive, no-frills kind of drummer and one that would never need to employ any sort of gimmick or name change or even try to give himself some hokey single-word nickname to make himself famous.

Lyrics

8,5. These guys knew how to bring the Satan:

Into the abyss I fall,
And dark is the reich of the dead,
A portal to reach to the side
Where bodies fall from the sky.

And they also knew how to write pure cracked-out awesomeness:

Unreal Psychedelic Journey…
Ride The Darkside.
Search The Soulside.

Lyrically, this album is strong mainly because of the powerful delivery Skjellum makes with his pipes. Most of the lyrical content is easy to hear and decipher, and while it’s not quite classic poetry that would appeal to the masses or anything, it is quite an impressive slate they put out there.

Cover art

9,5. This is one of the best, most iconic covers there has ever been, in my opinion. I can honestly stare at it for hours, and even now it gives me a wide range of emotions, which I guess makes it art in the truest sense of the word. Blurry figures wander throughout a cold, desolate landscape with grainy white specks peppered all throughout their reality. One man glances around and notices they are walking toward a hovering Darkthrone logo, but as he turns his eyes to the skies behind him he sees it there hovering, lurking just above the frozen planet’s surface. He is looking down the barrel of the Death Star. Or something. Either way, it’s a classic and one of my favorite covers ever. In fact, it’s so good, even if they ever did release another album, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a boring, cliché black-and-white monochrome photographic piece.

Logo

9. Darkthrone has one of the single best logos in all of metal to their name, and because they were such a great death metal band with no current black metal connections whatsoever, it’s weird that this logo has served as the basis of inspiration for countless black metal bands. Cracked and ugly and with a pentagram stuck sneakily in the top, this is how a logo should look.

Booklet

5. My copy doesn’t have a “booklet,” per se, but it does consist of a pretty cool gatefold cover/booklet in a digipak presentation style. There are lyrics and some decent early-‘90s photos of each band member on the back. Clearly this is a band who put a lot of emphasis on presentation value.

Overall and ending rant

Clearly I hold this album in very esteemed regard. In my humble opinion, “Soulside journey” remains one of European death metal’s crowning achievements, and it’s an album that sometimes seems to go overlooked by fans in terms of it’s sheer quality. Granted, if this band, Darkthrone, had stuck together and continued to create material instead of disappearing completely like a thief in the night, they might have forged quite a legacy for themselves instead of forever being known as a one-hit wonder.

9,5

  • Information
  • Released: 1991
  • Label: Peaceville
  • Website: http://www.darkthrone.no/
  • Band
  • Ivar Enger: guitars (rhythm)
  • Ted Skjellum: guitars (lead), vocals
  • Dag Nilsen: bass
  • Hank Amarillo: drums
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Cromlech
  • 02. Sunrise Over Locus Mortis
  • 03. Soulside Journey
  • 04. Accumulation of Generalization
  • 05. Neptune Towers
  • 06. Sempiternal Sepulchrality
  • 07. Grave with a View
  • 08. Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia
  • 09. Nor the Silent Whispers
  • 10. The Watchtower
  • 11. Eon