When Norwegian black metal legends Darkthrone released their masterful fourth album Transilvanian Hunger in 1994, they were locked in tightly to a world of unadulterated evil which had long blurred the line between fantasy and reality. The album was met with a storm of press controversy for its flirtation with vaguely Nazi sentiments. In addition to that, some of the songs' lyrics were written by Varg Vikernes who would be imprisoned for the murder of Mayhem guitarist Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, and for burning several churches by the time the record saw release. On top of the external factors surrounding it, the record sounded like pure evil. By this point in their journey, Darkthrone's music was defining Norwegian black metal, and along with a few other bands, shaping a sound so sinister and horrifying it would resonate as a template for years to come. The blistering drums and nearly ambient guitar onslaught of Transilvanian Hunger don't seem like they could come from anywhere in an evolution, but just a handful of years prior, Darkthrone was getting their sea legs and practicing thrashy death metal in the suburbs of Oslo. Between 1988 and 1989, the band would record four extremely lo-fi demos of their early progress; Land of Frost, A New Dimension, Thulcandra, and Cromlech. Sempiternal Past: The Darkthrone Demos collects all four demos in a remastered form, and tells the story of a much different band than the church-burning, corpse paint-donning black metal mavens who would soon surface. The immediately noticeable factors in the earliest demos are the incredibly raw recording, still-getting-there musicianship, and bizarre processed vocals. These Land of Frost tracks are almost too psychedelic to be considered metal, though subsequent tracks take on a more refined approach. Instrumental workouts like the nine-minute "Snowfall" from the New Dimension sessions bring to mind later instrumental recordings that would be released on the Goatlord compilation, a suggestion that the band was gradually heading further away from their death metal roots into darker territory. There has been some criticism in the metal community over Sempiternal Past being yet another repackaging of Darkthrone demos that have already seen re-release in several different forms over the years. While 2008 saw all of the material released in a somewhat less mastered form on The Frostland Tapes and preceding that, the Preparing for War collection included many but not all of these demo tracks, Sempiternal Past boasts some rare tracks the band recorded for Oslo TV in 1989, along with a restored version of the lost song "God of Disturbance & Friction." All of this is for completists alone, especially anyone already familiar with the previous demo collections. This most recent package is the cleanest presentation to date, and very much evidence of the band growing toward their pinnacle. Anyone not yet familiar with said pinnacle, however, might want to start at the heart of the storm and work backwards to the beginning.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas