Darkthrone - Circle the Wagons
Peaceville Records
Blackened Crust Punk
9 songs (40:50)
Release year: 2010
Peaceville Records
Reviewed by Kyle

In the early 1990’s, Darkthrone was the be-all, end-all band in black metal for many fans of the genre. I have a feeling that if those people had a chance to peek forward fifteen years or so into the future to witness the band’s fifteenth full-length, Circle the Wagons, they would’ve been convinced that black metal would be really, truly dead by the time 2010 rolled around. But this couldn’t be further from the truth; black metal today, in my opinion, is thriving more than it ever has, in the sense that it has evolved more than any other metal subgenre and that there are also modern bands that carry on the unholy tradition of the Second Wave of Norwegian Black Metal as if it never went away. Let’s face it: BM is (ironically) teeming with so much life at the moment that it really isn’t necessary for Darkthrone to perform black metal anymore, and their crust punk direction – particularly this album – is more appealing than anything they’ve done since Panzerfaust (with Hate Them being the only exception).

I think that, though The Cult is Alive is definitely the album where Darkthrone raised a huge middle finger to anyone expecting any kind of music from them, Circle the Wagons will be known in the future as the point where the band practically abandoned black metal altogether. The blackened elements are still here – this is crust punk, after all – but except for a few riffs, all traces of Darkthrone’s origins have vanished. You may think that this would also describe DT’s first three crust albums, but until you listen to Circle the Wagons, you won’t realize how much black metal influence there really was on those records. It takes getting used to, yes, but somewhere on my second or third playthrough of CtW, the songwriting skills really begin to shine through; but only after I got over the fact that Darkthrone has nearly said goodbye to black metal altogether.

Not that that’s a bad thing; the songwriting displayed on Circle the Wagons is far better and much more realized than on F.O.A.D. or Dark Thrones and Black Flags. It all flows incredibly well, and entertains from beginning to end; for the first time, it really feels like Darkthrone knows not only what they want to do in the crust genre, but also how to perform really, really well in it. As you’d expect, Circle the Wagons is a raw blend of early NWOBHM / speed metal, crust punk, and even a bit of classic hard rock, but with the added grime and attitude (and the occasional riff) of traditional black metal that the band grew famous upon. This album is definitely the most fun Darkthrone release to date, thanks to tongue-in-cheek lyrics, consistently fast pace, and quirky clean vocals on certain choruses (See Those Treasures Will Never Befall You), but at the same time CtW feels dirty as hell - Darkthrone clearly doesn’t give a damn about what people think of them or their black metal days. As they proudly state on I am the Graves of the 80’s: ”There's way too much black / And there's too little metal / Dealing with this had me breaking my shackles!”.

Most songs on Circle the Wagons plow along at the pace of your average Overkill-style Motorhead song (with the musical style to match, albeit a much crustier variation), but there’s still enough diversity here to prevent the record from going stale: Running for Borders and Stylized Corpse impress with their groovy doom-meets crust attitude, Black Mountain Totem’s quick yet somewhat melodic riffing is head bob-inducing, and Bränn Inte Slottet, the albums tail-end instrumental, is so chock-full of memorable riffs that it makes for one of the best songs on the album, though it lacks any sort of vocals minus some chanting of the song’s title in the beginning. If you’re looking for riffs, then line up, boys and girls – this is Darkthrone’s carnival, and guitar work is the name of the game on this Wagon ride. Of course, if you’re wanting more traditional crust material to destroy your ears with, DT is willing to provide; take a look at the wonderfully speedy I am the Graves of the 80’s or the chillingly aggressive I am the Working Class if you’re looking for highlights, though in truth, the album remains consistent from beginning to end.

Though a part of me would love to see Darkthrone make a return trip into the realm of black metal (especially since they turned away from it after one of my personal favorite albums, Hate Them), the band really does feel comfortable with their sound at this point in their career, and I have a feeling that we won’t be seeing another change from Fenriz and Nocturno in quite a while; they’ve made it quite apparent that nothing in no one on earth nor in hell will influence what they want to do, and the two have proved time and time again that they are quite a compatible pair. My problem with Darkthrone’s crust direction, however, is that there simply isn’t much room to grow within the genre – their last four records have been consistently good, and everybody has their own personal favorite, but listening to them back-to-back is quite a chore as they aren’t all THAT different from each other. Still, if you enjoyed the past three Darkthrone albums, you will assuredly enjoy Circle the Wagons; but it’s only a matter of time before this formula grows stale.

Killing Songs :
These Treasures Will Never Befall You, I Am The Graves Of The 80's, Black Mountain Totem, Bränn Inte Slottet
Kyle quoted 82 / 100
Other albums by Darkthrone that we have reviewed:
Darkthrone - Eternal Hails...... reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Darkthrone - Old Star reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Darkthrone - The Cult Is Alive reviewed by Goat and quoted 84 / 100
To see all 20 reviews click here
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