The first time I heard Darkthrone’s debut album I felt I was “soaring through damp air”, over old crypts and dolmen-studded hillsides. There was something mystical at work that distinguished it from the vast majority of death metal at the time. In the days when ‘black metal’ referred to lyrical content rather than a musical ’sound’, Darkthrone were one of the few death metal bands with a spiritual imprint to their music. Even the song titles were mysterious and evocative: ‘Sunrise Over Locus Mortis’, ‘Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia’, ‘The Watchtower’. If more death metal had been of this caliber, then it might not have stagnated into the robotic technical phenomenon it later became.
Not that there is any shortage of technical skill to be found on ‘Soulside Journey’, where Fenriz’s drumming in particular changes pattern nearly every second bar. But technicality in itself means nothing without atmosphere or emotional intensity, and the atmospheres of ‘Soulside Journey’ are still enticing today. Haunting, impressionist lyrics and cold, autumnal guitar elevates this far above the herd of 90s death metal, and points the way to the revolutionary black metal of their next album ‘A Blaze in the Northern Sky’.