15. Soulside Journey (1991)

There’s almost no way to compare Darkthrone’s debut with the rest of the band’s catalog: The Darkthrone of Soulside Journey has virtually nothing in common with the reinvented (if not reborn) Darkthone that would emerge just one album later. First off, the band here is a quartet — by their next album they would be a trio; by their fourth album, 1994’s Transilvanian Hunger, they were stripped down to the two-man configuration that the world would come to recognize as Darkthrone: Fenriz and Nocturno Culto. (Even their aliases were an album away; on Soulside Journey, the band members are credited under their real names, except Fenriz, who chose to be credited as “Hank Amarillo,” as a joke.)

More noticeably, though, on Soulside Journey, Darkthrone were playing standard-issue late-’80s death metal — music built of deft technical precision, palm muted guitars, double-bass drums, screaming solos, abrupt time shifts, clear production, and structural complexity — not the raw, blurry, hypnotic black metal on which they would make their name (and which was, ultimately, the genre they would help to create) or the chant-along black ‘n’ roll that has become the hallmark of their triumphant second act.

Soulside Journey was recorded at Sunlight Studios in Stockholm, Sweden, with producer Tomas Skogsberg: basically the birthplace and midwife of Swedish death metal. Entombed, Grave, Dismember, At The Gates, and dozens of others recorded seminal work at Sunlight with Skogsberg. Perhaps naturally, then, Soulside Journey sounds a lot like the Swedish death metal that was on the rise at the time (and which has come back into vogue over the last few years), full of downtuned guitars made fat and fuzzy with a Boss HM-2 pedal.

Everything about that sound was completely abandoned by Darkthrone only one album later, when the band transitioned to black metal, and they would never look back (with one exception — 1996’s Goatlord — which doesn’t really count anyway, but we’ll get to that shortly). As an early Swedish death metal album (recorded by a Norwegian band), Soulside Journey is totally worthwhile. The performances are uniformly excellent; the sound is crisp, crushing, full, and eerie. Still, it suffers in comparison to the two bodies of work to which it is naturally compared: (1) Darkthrone’s own catalog, which includes some of black metal’s defining documents; and (2) the classics of Swedish death metal — from Entombed’s Left Hand Path to Dismember’s Like An Ever Flowing Stream to At The Gates’ Slaughter Of The Soul — which include some of death metal’s defining documents. Soulside Journey is much better and more valuable than a mere curiosity, however, and it’s tempting to wonder about the current state of the alternate reality in which Darkthrone continued on this path. But it’s hard to imagine that reality being superior to the one in which we now live.

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