Frostland Tapes

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This three-CD set is extremely important to the history of black metal. Darkthrone were one of the first wave of Norwegian bands to establish the style in the early '90s, and their aesthetic values -- musical primitivism, lyrical nihilism, a generally stripped-down and lo-fi recording approach -- were absorbed and taken up as rules by dozens if not hundreds of bands in the years that followed. Frostland Tapes gathers all four of Darkthrone's early demo tapes, some live recordings (the band almost never performs), and the instrumental tracks that were used, years later, as the basis for one of the group's most divisive albums, 1996's experimental Goatlord. The four demos -- A New Dimension, Land of Frost, Cromlech, and Thulcandra -- were recorded in 1988 and 1989, when the group was a quartet (eventually, the lineup was reduced to vocalist/guitarist/bassist Nocturno Culto and drummer/vocalist/mastermind Fenriz). On some of these recordings, the band is much more adventurous than its image would suggest -- the song "Forest of Darkness" features a weirdly treated electronic vocal effect that sounds more like something the Butthole Surfers would use than anything one might expect to hear on a black metal album. The riffs, too, are bass-heavy and clearly indebted to thrash metal, though some of this may be attributable to the ultra-cheap recordings and a bad mix. The group's professionalism grows as the first two discs go on; by the time of the Cromlech demo, Darkthrone had mutated into a quite passable death metal band. The live tracks, taped in Denmark a few months before the release of the group's debut album, Soulside Journey, are of low quality and are worth hearing primarily for their rarity. Similarly, the instrumental Goatlord tracks are preserved in raw form, including introductory studio chatter, and the mix is the kind of lo-fi clatter that became a hallmark of black metal in the early to mid-'90s. This isn't a set for newcomers to the genre, or to Darkthrone; it's strictly for diehards, but those who need such a thing know they need it.

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