Not without the requisite controversy among the black-metal community, once again it appears Darkthrone is determined to carve their name in the big stone book of metal/punk crossover, as another of those rare-treat bands who can appeal to both the ‘airies and the baldies at the same time. There’s just that matter of their tr00-kvlt fans having a hard time with them putting out anything that doesn’t sound once more like Ravishing Grimness.
It shouldn’t come as a shock to many at this point (unless perhaps you’ve been living under a rock the last few years), but the crust that forms Circle the Wagons –much as it did on 2007’s F.O.A.D.– is about as far removed from the rip-and-slash Transilvanian Hunger sound as you can get. It’s argued, of course, that the band doesn’t even sound like Darkthrone anymore, – it’s also argued that Darkthrone sound better than ever – a great divide amongst listeners. I know, I know – it’s only black’n’roll, but I think I like it.
But, to the songs: The first thing you hear is Fenriz gurgle “M-P-D-S!” as a four-count intro, presumably a shout-out to Metal Punk Death Squad. It freight-trains into his song “These Treasures Will Never Befall You”, and the song comes off like a cheap-lager-besotted fist drunkenly hammering through a plaster wall. It’s followed up with Nocturno Culto’s “Running For Borders”, which, with its greasy-dungaree riff, and loogie-in-the-throat vocal, conjures up the sound of bands with burly names like Tank or Fist – or would, except that neither Tank nor Fist ever got this heavy. As for the cleverly(?)-titled “I Am the Graves of the 80s”, the first thing that sprang to my mind was the tortured-throat vocals of GG Allin. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the song’s riff sounds like classic Murder Junkies, and I only hope no one had to get smeared in poop to wrench that vocal out of Fenriz.
Fenriz’ vocals on the title track caught me off guard at first, and this is a common point of contention for many listeners. It’s almost like he attempted to channel the ghost of Ian Curtis were he doing a lounge act. It took some getting used to, but after a few listens, the song totally grew on me, even with the ‘sung’ vocals. Darkthrone then come as close to writing something anthemic as they ever likely will, in “I Am The Working Class”, which sounds as pissed-off as a song with that title should, but then, remember – Fenriz does work in a post office. You can almost hear the spittle and venom dripping from his mouth as he snarls each lyric as though he’s trying to stab it into you.
Nocturno Culto’s tracks (“Stylized Corpse”, and “Eyes Burst At Dawn” especially) tend to lend themselves a bit closer to something resembling black metal than Fenriz’ songs, especially vocally – there’s still a whiff of something foul and rotting caught in his throat. The final track, Fenriz’s instrumental “Bränn Inte Slottet” (which translates to something like don’t burn the castle) starts off with a cultish chant of the title, and then lumbers into these massive classic 80s-sounding riffs.
Ultimately, all of the songs are memorable and much more accessible, which is indeed where the debate lies.
All in all, it’s another polarizing Darkthrone album.