Home > Music > Darkthrone – Soulside Journey (1991)

Darkthrone – Soulside Journey (1991)

folderAlternatively, “Who the hell is Hank Amarillo?”…

Soulside Journey exists as a document of Darkthrone’s early death/doom sound, and as a small plus, it’s a good way to confuse those who are only familiar with the band’s famous, genre-defining forays into black metal . The canned anecdote this time is that all the riffs here were written with intent to imitate horror film soundtracks; I’m told that the keyboard parts on this album also do this… but I don’t watch very many horror films, so my ability to comment on this approach is limited to my subjective perception of how ‘creepy’ or ‘spooky’ this album sounds.

The songwriting on here is not that different from what the band would later employ on A Blaze In The Northern Sky, in that it’s monophonic and somewhat dissonant/atonal, with frequent tempo changes. Soulside Journey makes no forays into lengthy songwriting, though – everything here is relatively concise. However, at this early junction, the members of the band were already experimenting with song structure; there are some limits on repetition, and songs evolve in bizarre fashions. This means that ideas do not overstay their welcome, although in some cases it also means they don’t get enough time to properly imprint on the listener. If the transitions weren’t so abrupt, I’d be more thrilled about this, but it took Darkthrone a while to figure out how to glue their ideas together. This learning process was then cut short by the great minimalist surge of ’93, for better or worse.

Other aspects of early Darkthrone benefit from the death metal influence, albeit this is tempered by inexperience. Amongst other things, it gives the band members an excuse to play more technical material; this is most apparent in Fenriz’s drum patterns. Given the often limited tempo of the music, they’re quite intricate and help add texture to otherwise somewhat sparse and minimal songs. Vocals also add variety, but the vocals here (provided by Ted Skjellum, who would soon adopt the stage name “Nocturno Culto”) suffer in that they are not particularly abrasive or expressive; both would improve on future Darkthrone albums. The riffs on this album also contain some rhythmic variety, but this is not their primary purpose. Darkthrone often ends up taking one riff pattern and dragging it through several modal changes to create variety; a good example of this is the break at 1:14 in “Neptune Towers”; several of these in a row tend to make up each song. As previously mentioned, how well this works depends on how well the band transitions between each cluster.

I won’t lie – Darkthrone’s forays into black metal interest me more than this album, even though they quickly develop in a fashion that is rather different from my usual listening/composing habits. However, I feel that Darkthrone was skilled enough at playing death metal to make it work, and that if they had stuck with it for a few more albums, they probably would be considered masters of that genre. The Goatlord sessions, for instance reveal significant improvements in songwriting, as well as more assertive vocal technique, and a continuation of the strengths that Soulside Journey displayed. Sometimes, though, you just have to be content with what you get…

Highlights: “Cromlech”, “Neptune Towers”, “Eon”

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