One of the seminal releases of the infamous second wave of black metal, A Blaze in the Northern Sky serves as a stepping stone for Darkthrone to their own particular niche in black metal as well as a guide for the less inspired as to how to create phenomenal black metal. ABITNS is a funny album because Darkthrone obviously wears their influences on their sleeves and the album obviously owes much to CF/Hellhammer, yet at the same time ABITNS contains its own unique voice and there simply has never been an album like it.
Setting themselves apart from their contemporaries, Darkthrone strived to achieve a catchy and "metal" album. Not forgetting the importance of riffs from the forebears of black metal and the thrashy/groove elements championed by Morbid Tales era Celtic Frost, Darkthrone implements guitar solos (something many second wave, as well as modern black metal bands, tend to overlook), mid-section groove stomps and countless rhythm changes. When comparing ABITNS to contemporaries of the time it is interesting to see how Darkthrone retained a death metal/trash sense of composure and time as opposed to others who pushed a much more stripped down approach.
The drums are so powerful and authoritarian on this album; I love it. They guide each song with such brute strength and have a great tone. Fenriz's performance is one of my favorites and is very fun and interesting to listen to. The strong backbeat of "In the Shadow of the Horns" and the slower sections of "Kathaarian Life Code" lock in perfectly with those gut-punching riffs to make some of the most gratifying and excellent music to bang your head to.
Darkthrone have established themselves long ago as one of the most important names in black metal, and much of that credit is given to Transilvanian Hunger. But it was with ABITNS that Darkthrone modernized the music they had been influenced by and were able to create many of the variables that have characterized the scene since. The album surges and jumps, contains a vibrant and robust production that really emphasizes the power behind every instrument, another element they lost to the muffled and lifeless production of Transilvanian Hunger.
For me, it is a tough debate between De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or A Blaze in the Northern Sky as the king album of the second wave. They offer radically different approaches to the genre in question, and are amazing in their own right. ABITNS always seemed like a good stepping stone from thrash and death metal to black metal, DMDS feels like an album that requires a lot from the listener and isn't as simple as just picking up.This is one of the few albums I actually have fun listening to as an activity in of itself. While there's a toss up between the two in what I'd like to think of as some sort of objective "grimness meter" I just can't coincide there to be a better written and performed black metal album than ABITNS.
Some behind the scenes...
Funnily enough, when I was first getting into black metal I bought this album, along with Bathory's Hammerheart and couldn't see why people liked it. I found everything to be so neutered and uninteresting. I was a victim of Dimmu Borgir and later Immortal and couldn't understand the cave like cacophony of ABITNS and I had no appreciation for old school black metal. Eventually I made my way through nearly every band's discography and thought I should reattempt ABITNS. It was one of those moments where I was so happy to love the album, yet so worried at how stupid I had been to ignore it.
Take it from me, if this album doesn't catch your fancy the first time around, put it down and come back to it, because it really is a marvel and gem of music as a whole.
We are a Blaze in the Northern SkyThe next thousand Years Are OURS