Darkthrone – Total Death (1996)

               Welly..well…well…now how do I start this? This is my first review I’ve written in more than 10 years, so mind you, if I’m a bit rusty. First impressions last, so I was wondering with what band or which album I’d review to mesmerize the masses (that’s you CairoMetal fans). So, I decided to start with Darkthrone‘s Total Death. Now you see, Total Death is easily my personal favorite Darkthrone album. It spawned one of their greatest hits (if we can call it that), and nobody can forget that riff from the opening song “Earths Last Picture“. I dare you not to headbang, throw horns, feel extremely kvlt and trve, hell, at least tap your foot. Unlike many others, who got to know Darkthrone through their death metal rooted debut album, Soulside Journey, or their Black Metal debut “A Blaze in the Northern Sky”, or even their evergreen album “Transilvanian Hunger“. No, in my case it was “Total Death” and I must thank my friend and fellow band member, Samadie, for this. If we follow the albums chronologically by the dates they were released, you will notice that “Goatlord” was released in the same year, but mind you, “Goatlord” was just a rehearsal tape recorded sometime between “Soulside Journey” and “A Blaze in the Northern Sky”. And they just recorded some vocals over it later on. Now that we got that out of the way, “Total Death” is actually the follow up to 1995’s “Panzerfaust”; an album, while solid, that is somehow always overshadowed by its precursor, “Transilvanian Hunger”. Darkthrone back in the day (we’re talking before their punk revival with 2006’s “The Cult is Alive”), were always consistent and never really failed to deliver the goods. But this is actually where they started to stray from their formula, and it is the album which draws inspiration from their idols of the first wave of Black Metal, be it Hellhammer/Celtic Frost or Bathory. Some people weren’t too happy with the end result that is “Total Death”, but I personally beg to differ. This album has everything, from headbangable riffs to blast beats, all the way to sections that are so slow, you may almost call them Doom Metal. Sadly, Fenriz does not perform his trademark (blast) beat on any song on this album. Then furthermore, to disgruntle the fans, this album contains two different productions (that’s why many people say, that with “Total Death” they lost some of their atmosphere); one can clearly hear that the first 4 songs are from a different recording/mixing session than the remaining 4 songs. This perhaps wasn’t really noticed by the crowd who used to listen to the LP/MC version of the album, as each half was on a different side, and you had to manually flip the vinyl disc/tape thus giving a short break between the two sessions. But listening to the album on CD (and in this age, digital format) gave away that production flaw. Personally, I prefer the first half, as do most listeners, the second half is rawer and more ear grating, especially when it comes to the vocals. It is also the more, dare we say it, experimental side of Darkthrone. Songs like the straight-out thrasher “Blasphemer” is very much in the vein of early Sodom and sort of old Slayer (think, Show No Mercy/Haunting the Chapel). Darkthrone pull this style off easily, but it just isn’t what the fans were counting on. Luckily, this is the only track which is so obviously thrashy, but then again, along with the last song “The Serpents Harvest” offers the greatest variation in song-writing on the album. Overall, there isn’t really any filler material, and the band keep it short and sweet at just above 35 minutes of playing time. To sum this review up, with “Total Death”, Darkthrone went all over the place, perhaps trying to please the old and new fans alike, which partially backfired. But in my book, “Total Death” ranks higher than, “A Blaze in the Northern Sky”, and I guess that’s because I have a forgiving soft spot for “Total Death”, regardless of all the flaws, the album being my first exposure to the band.
I personally give this a rating of 4 totally dead moshers out of 5.
-Tarek ‘Kabv’ Shehata