4. Under A Funeral Moon (1993)

Darkthrone’s second album, A Blaze In The Northern Sky, is frequently referred to as their first “black metal” album — and compared to the complicated, tightly produced technical death metal featured on debut Soulside Journey, Blaze’s raw primitivism did indeed feel like a potent strain of pure black metal. But Blaze came on the heels of the aborted Goatlord sessions, and the band had limited time in the studio to perfect their new vision, so Darkthrone’s sophomore album was, ultimately, an unlikely hybrid. (Fenriz has since said that Blaze comprised “three black metal songs and three death metal songs,” but in truth, all six songs feel like a unique blend of both styles, with other influences thrown in along the way.) It wasn’t till their third album, Under A Funeral Moon, that Darkthrone were a fully operational and focused black metal band.

Going into the studio in the summer of 1992 to record Funeral Moon, Darkthrone’s primary goal was to make the coldest album possible, which they achieved in part by playing only open-string chords (giving the guitars a spookier, more atmospheric feel), removing the tom-tom drum from Fenriz’s kit, and turning up the volume on his high-hat cymbal and floor tom. More crucially, Funeral Moon took the band’s necro sound to new levels of nihilistic inaudibility. As Eduardo Rivadavia wrote in his AllMusic review of the album, “In what must surely qualify as an historic example of anti-production, the record’s songs — already shorter and more focused than those of its epic-filled predecessor — were absolutely buried under disfiguring cobwebs of fuzzy amp distortion that effectively made them sound and feel like third-generation cassette copies … of a demo.”

Darkthrone’s own evolution was concurrent with that of their surrounding community. Between the release of Blaze and the recording of Funeral Moon, the Norwegian black metal scene had grown by leaps and bounds: Bands like Burzum and Immortal had released their full-length debuts; bands like Emperor, Satyricon, and Enslaved had released their first demos; bands like Gorgoroth and Ulver had formed. Perhaps of equal importance, there was almost no media attention to speak of, and the scene was still focused primarily on music: No murders had yet been committed by Norwegian black metal musicians, and only two of eventually almost 30 church-burning incidents connected to the scene had yet occurred. As the community swelled, Fenriz stayed near Oslo — among the “inner circle” that formed around Helvete, the record store owned by Mayhem’s Euronymous — but Nocturno Culto and rhythm guitarist Zephyrous moved away from the city, to get away from the scene. (After the recording of Funeral Moon, Zephyrous drifted away from the band, leaving Darkthrone a duo from that point onward, and the physical distance between Fenriz and Nocturno Culto would redefine their songwriting and performance dynamic, not always for the better.)

Under A Funeral Moon is the second part of what would become known as Darkthrone’s Unholy Trinity — which started with Blaze and concluded with 1994’s Transilvanian Hunger — and like any middle child, it tends to go overlooked: Blaze was the great awakening; Hunger was the climactic conclusion. But Funeral Moon was an apotheosis of sorts. It’s the ugliest, most unrelenting Darkthrone album — it’s especially disorienting, arrhythmic, and atonal — the one on which they fully immersed themselves in black metal’s lightless depths (depths they would never again plumb, in truth).

Discussing Funeral Moon in a 2009 retrospective, both halves of Darkthrone shared similar views on the album. Said Fenriz, “It’s 100-percent black metal, nothing more, nothing less.” Said Nocturno Culto, “For me, that is still the definition of black metal.”

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