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2021 marks 35 years as a band for the iconic Norwegian duo Darkthrone. With a shared love for Celtic Frost, Bathory, Venom and more, members Fenriz and Nocturno Culto began their recorded history with the death-metal heavy Soulside Journey in 1991, and quickly became black-metal legends with their next three records: A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992), Under a Funeral Moon (1993) and Transilvanian Hunger (1994). In the years since, Darkthrone have continued to evolve their artistic vision and extreme-metal sound across 10-plus albums that tipped their hat to prog, punk, and much more.
Darkthrone just dropped their new and 19th full-length, Eternal Hails — a total crusher that reveals another dimension to their creative evolution. Throughout the album's five songs — none of which are shorter than seven-minutes long — the duo shows their deep love of doom by channeling classics like Pagan Altar, Saint Vitus and Candlemass. Chalk up another well-executed left turn for Darkthrone.
We recently caught up with guitarist Nocturno Culto for a wide-ranging chat about his ability to find inspiration anywhere (even in a "gust of wind"), why Eternal Hails may not be the "easiest album" for fans to digest, why the term black metal has "lost its power" and much more.
ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT DARKTHRONE IS YOUR ABILITY TO CHANGE FROM RECORD TO RECORD WHILE STAYING TRUE TO YOUR UNIQUE SOUND. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE INFLUENCES AND INSPIRATION BEHIND ETERNAL HAILS?
NOCTURNO CULTO Well, Fenriz listens to a lot more music than I do. On this album, I obviously had Kreator-inspired riffs, even though I didn't know that when I made it. I play a lot of guitar, so things just come to me and all the things I've ever listened to in my entire life can be counted. So when I'm writing it can be just the gust of the wind — simple things that can inspire you to write in a different way.
So the variety in the songs are very apparent, when you get through this entire album. As long as we can get it packed together as a Darkthrone song, I don't mind making songs that can change from death metal to thrash metal or black metal in an instant.
TOTALLY. AS YOU SAID, YOU'VE DELVED INTO GENRES: WHETHER THAT IS BLACK METAL OR CLASSIC HEAVY METAL OR EVEN D-BEAT. WOULD YOU SAY THERE ISN'T ONE SPECIFIC TRADEMARK DARKTHRONE STYLE?
The strange thing is that we don't really discuss anything beforehand. We just both start to make long songs, and it's hard to explain but we usually end up in the same state of mind when we are doing the album. It's not our plan, it's just happening. It's very hard to explain, actually, what we're doing. But I know that when you are making longer songs like on [Eternal Hails], you think very differently. If I was to make a four-minute song, it will be a totally different approach. But when you're making long songs, you have the time to actually think about the arrangements.
I think this album probably isn't the easiest album — it requires the most of the listeners, I guess. It's not a hit parade, as I like to say. We released one song from the album so far ["Hate Cloak"], but we had the discussion on whether we should do that or not because this album is very different. So one song alone does not reflect the whole album.
Before when you said you refer to our old albums as the black-metal stuff — that's exactly right. People don't regard us as black metal anymore, I guess. I think black metal is a very overused term — it has lost its power. I think it's all metal and the one thing that you can call black metal these days is probably our sound. Basically we just play metal.
YOU HIT A REALLY INTERESTING POINT HERE ABOUT CHALLENGING LISTENERS. I CAN THINK OF QUITE A FEW ALBUMS THAT I LISTENED TO THE FIRST TIME AND WAS SKEPTICAL. BUT WHEN I LISTENED TO IT A SECOND AND THIRD TIME IT STARTS TO BLOSSOM MORE AND MORE. HAVE YOU HAD EXPERIENCES LIKE THAT? AND IF SO, WITH WHAT ALBUMS?
For me, I listen to a lot of Seventies rock and they used to have long songs. I like Yes and their Relayer album, which is obviously incredible. But I couldn't really dive into that album the first time I heard it because it's so complex. With a band like ZZ Top, their Seventies stuff is awesome — I just liked the songs when I first heard them. But now when I hear them, I can see that they're also incredible musicians. For instance, the drummer [Frank Beard], he is kind of anonymous somehow but when you really start listening to him, he is an incredibly insane, good drummer.
YOU GUYS DON'T REALLY PLAY LIVE, BUT HOW OFTEN DO YOU AND FENRIZ PRACTICE OR PLAY TOGETHER?
Well, that's only in studio. We bought our second studio in 2005 and all the records from [2006's] The Cult Is Alive to [2019's] Old Star were recorded on our own equipment. I'm in charge of recording and mixing. So, what we have done since 2005 is meet up in the studio and rehearse either a Fenriz song or my song. When it's ready, we record it. That's the core of every Darkthrone album since 2005 — drums and guitars recorded live, and add other stuff later.
And we never, ever in any point in our history have used metronomes. We are proud of that because it reflects us and the material turns out very organic. So we don't play together outside the studio sessions and the new Eternal Hails is no exception. But you know, I have to admit that I kind of miss the rehearsal situations, because in the early days I think that was the most essential thing we did. It's much more interesting and produces something as a whole.
SPEAKING OF THE EARLY DAYS, THERE ARE A FEW METAL RECORDS THAT I PERIODICALLY GO BACK TO THAT KIND OF REMIND ME OF BEING YOUNG. WHAT'S A RECORD LIKE THAT FOR YOU?
Oh, that's an interesting question. I think I can still listen to a lot of that music. I remember the first time I heard the Scream Bloody Gore album by Death, I was completely blown away and still am today. I even go back to the Eighties heavy-metal stuff like Cinderella because it feels so free — it was a different time. I really don't listen to much new music. It's always diving back to the Seventies and the Eighties. I don't know why, but it feels there is a bit more substance and interesting productions. When we started to move to the Nineties, that's when things got more streamlined in the sound production and not quite so interesting. The old metal demos sounded great because some of the production was interesting.
EVERYBODY'S KIND OF GOT THEIR RECORDS THAT ARE PERSONAL FAVORITES THAT MIGHT RAISE EYEBROWS FROM OTHERS. I'M SURE YOU'VE GOT ONE OR TWO OF THOSE. DO YOU HAVE ONE THAT YOU WANT TO DIVULGE?
You and hard questions today! I mean, I was thinking of Metallica because I love their three first albums, but I think, And Justice for All... I was disappointed when it came out. I don't listen to it today, but those first three albums are incredible. I mean they just changed the world.
WHEN YOU'RE IN THE MOOD FOR METALLICA, WHICH ONE OF THE THREE DO YOU REACH FOR FIRST?
Well, I have to admit, I do listen to Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets the most. I think Ride the Lightning is probably my favorite because that's when the band is really hungry and I think also the sound is awesome on that album. But what I don't like, and actually find very disgusting, is the new remastered versions of those albums. They just don't really sound any good. I think what someone was trying to do was make it sound a bit more raw, but it just sounds stupid. I'm really disappointed in that. So I just have to get hold of every original vinyl version of those albums.
OBVIOUSLY THERE ARE SO MANY DARKTHRONE RECORDS AND EVERY ONE IS DIFFERENT AND SIGNIFIES A DIFFERENT TIME IN YOUR LIFE. IF YOU HAD TO PICK YOUR FAVORITE — WHETHER THAT'S THE TIME THAT YOU MADE IT OR THE SONGS OR WHATEVER — WHAT ALBUM WOULD THAT BE?
That's also a hard question, but for one reason or another I think it may be the F.O.A.D. album and the work we did with Dennis Dread on the album covers, I think that was an awesome time. And the album F.O.A.D. … there's just something about it, man. Maybe it's the time or the grim, kind of flat sound. I know that was probably more rock & roll/punk-ish album, but if you listen to a song like "Splitkein Fever," that's the atmosphere and the things I like about about metal.