Sound — 8
Finally! Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, the two men that make up Darkthrone, have at long last embraced the wail. The big, brash, high-pitched falsetto. They've added 50% more quality and 500% more integrity to everything they've ever tried their hand at but you get the feeling that this one in particular has been a long time coming. Fenriz, one of the underground's great opinion leaders, has long been a champion of traditional heavy metal and it's hard to believe that it's taken fifteen albums for those influences to be the main ingredient rather than a supplement to their dirty, viscous mixing pot.
It's not to say this is a pure-blooded trad metal excursion, nor is it to say that the influential duo have never played with the sound but "The Underground Resistance" has a triumphant feel about it, like this is exactly what they want to do, they know exactly how to do it and they don't care what you think, period. "Dead Early" speeds off like a classic 80s track from Hellhammer or Venom while "Valkyrie" adds those melodic vocals for extra bravado, channelling Manilla Road proper King Diamond-style ball pinchers. "Lesser Men" is a highlight, trading the natural minor riffery for something a little darker, rumbling menacingly and breaking through tempo changes at the exact right moment for maximum impact. The defining moment though is "Leave No Cross Unturned", their first attempt at a long-form song in many years and a compelling finale which brilliantly ties together every sound that had been touched upon in the previous five songs. The speed, the thrash, the crusty bits and, dare I say it, the black-ish bits are all covered over a 14 minute crusade of thoroughly accomplished composition and performance.
There is an improved consistency in their songwriting here but perhaps more noticeable is the change in production. A lo-fi bite has accompanied all the albums on their creative renaissance (and indeed most of their catalogue) but "The Underground Resistance" comes with a revamped mix. We're not talking about Andy Sneap here but the guitars are full, the drums balanced and the vocals suitably clear to reflect the move away from screams and snarls. The clarity is unprecedented but the fact that it's so easy to get used to after 25 years of raw production proves that these guys know what they're doing.
Lyrics — 8
You'll be visualising these lyrics in your head with exclamation marks. A lot of them. That's the sort of thing we're dealing with here, though there's a 50/50 content split between the symbolic ("Deep is the lake of thoughts/onlookers stare like apes!") and the violent ("Morbid rites abide/remnants of Cain!") owing to the two songwriters working independently and writing to their own ends.
Overall Impression — 9
This, like all Darkthrone albums of the last decade, is a full-length tribute to their long list of heroes. Listening to this record is like eyeing up the well-crafted patch jacket of a seasoned metalhead, someone who can bring all their influences together and sew them onto a single piece of denim. But being from the old school doesn't make you a broken record "The Underground Resistance" breaks new ground for this band and does so as brilliantly as "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" did all those years ago. They're almost unrecognisable from those days but there are only a handful of bands that can capture the essence of a style of music and few do heavy metal better than Darkthrone.