My first ever black metal cd was the Emperor/Enslaved Hordanes Land split. It has already been featured on MMMM, and as I said then, I wasn’t sure what I heard, but I was pretty sure I liked it. Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger was my second ever black metal cd. I had come across it at the used cd store the same day I found Hordanes Land, but, unlike the Emperor/Enslaved split, I wasn’t sure what I had heard upon listening to Transilvanian Hunger, but I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. And that is how today’s tale of metal starts.
I woke the next day thinking of nothing but that awful cd I had listened to the previous day. I mean, Hordanes Land (which I had spent the previous night listening to–and mostly enjoying) wasn’t exactly easy listening music, but as fascinated as I was by that album, I couldn’t stop thinking about the onslaught of hateful sorrow that was my brief experience with Transylvanian Hunger via the “listen before you buy” station at Yesterday’s Discs. So that same afternoon I drove back into town, marched into Yesterday’s Discs and scanned through the album again. It still kind of sucked, but I was not about to force myself to drive back into town the next day should I not be able to break myself from the album’s spell. Thus I bought it, and, as I grew to appreciate the hate and sorrow inherent in such an ugly album, my undying romance with music that sounds like it is played on vacuum cleaners was started:
This clip, from “Over Fjell og Gjennom Torner,” tells you everything you need to know about this album. The guitars use the signature black metal “tremolo picking” style (think that Dick Dale guitar song from Pulp Fiction) that is coupled with a production so bad that all that is audible is the most basic hint of a melody under a wall of white noise that obscures everything except the vocals that tear into the mix like Donald Duck getting thrown into a wood chipper. In case you think this production and simplicity is accidental (not that it would necessarily make the album any less powerful) take a look at this clip from the song “Cromlech” off of their first album Soulside Journey (back when they were just a mediocre death metal band):
I mean, yeah, it’s still underground metal, but the production is clear, the songwriting complex (even though the album is still a boring mess) and the drummer is actually playing his kit instead of banging on what I can only assume is a cereal box in a separate room like he does on Transilvanian Hunger.
Despite what you might suspect (or what your ears might tell you while listening to these clips), the album is surprisingly varied. The only thing that links the songs is that each riff must be darker and more hateful than the last one. Just listen to how effortlessly the evil oozes from one riff to another in this example from “Skald ov Satans Sol”:
And soon after that “more evil than the previous one” riff morphs into pure sorrowful black metal epic-ness:
At this point you might be catching yourself thinking that some of these clips are starting to sound fairly clear and well produced. If so, don’t let it freak you out, it’s all part of the acclimation process. If not, you better get comfortable, it’s going to be a long ride.
As you might have guessed, there aren’t really any solos on an album like this. Unless, of course, you count these two notes from “Slottet I Det Fjerne” as solos:
Black metal bassists are rarely heard, thus it is always a surprise to hear the bass actually come through in a mix like this. I especially like the subtle bass contributions found in this clip from “As Flittermice as Satans [sic] Spys [sic]” (which, by the way, flittermice has to be the coolest name for “bats” of all time):
I realize that, first, I am pointing to a feature of that clip that must be listened to at eardrum melting levels to make out, and, second, I am pointing out that the bass player is playing “notes” as my big reveal. But, still, this is minimalist necro black metal, that should impress you anyway.
“As Flittermice as Satans Spys” also contains the super creepy sounding outro:
Know how people are always accusing rock bands of having hidden satanic lyrics? Well, I thought I’d put that to the test with the previous clip. So let’s flip it and reverse it and see what we get:
Whaa!!?? That’s right, the lyrics for the last four songs were written by none other than convicted murderer and church arsonist, Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes. I’ll let him describe his state of mind when he wrote the lyrics (translated from Norwegian):
(Written for Darkthrone by Count Grishnackh in the hours at the turn of the year 31/12-93 and 1/1-94. In a gloomy hour in prison. To the sound of hundred men in despair and anger (over yet another year to live). Written in chill and hate and anger!!!)
I’m going to have to start signing all my emails with “written in chill hate and anger.”
Odd that such an ugly sounding album (offhandedly written by their drummer during a week in which the rest of the band were unable to show up to rehearsals) would go on to become one of the most imitated albums of all time. To this day, “Transilvanian Hunger style” is synonymous with incredibly poor production and minimal, melody centered songwriting. And to this day there are few black metal tracks are as brilliant as the opening title track of this album (a song that you will see again on this website in a week or two–that’s right, you aren’t out of the Darkthrone woods just yet!):
Darkthrone phrases the reason for this album’s brilliance best in that clip: “So pure…evil, cold.” So pure, evil and cold indeed Darkthrone!
Because the lyrics to this album are only available though sketchy fan translations online, I went ahead and put my own translations (acquired from “Thor,” a long blond haired giant buddy of mine from back in the day who was majoring in Norwegian). As a few of the songs seem to indicate, Darkthrone’s claims of not being racists appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
Transilvanian hunger cold, soul
Your hands are cruel… to haunt, to haunt
The mountains are cold… soul, cold
Careful pale, forever at night
Take me can’t you feel the call
Embrace me eternally in your daylight slumber
To be draped by the shadow of your morbid palace
Ohh, hate living… The only heat is warm blood
So pure… So cold
Hail to the true, intense vampires
A story made for divine fulfillment
To be the one’s breathing a wind of sorrow
Sorrow and fright the dearest katharsis
Beautiful evil self to be the morbid count
A part of a pact that is delightfully immortal
Feel the call freeze you with the uppermost desire
Transilvanian hunger, my mountain is cold
So pure… Evil, cold
Over Fjell og Gjennom Torner (Over Mountains and Through Thorns)
Over mountains and through thorns
Through the evil, dark forest
Die like a warrior, head on a stake
Cut in the flesh, nails deep down in the skin.
Ravens’ beaks in blood will gorge
After the battle has taken place
Armored bodies in gruesome combat
Axes planted, souls suffered
Cold swords that open the skin
Have a fresh smell of blood.
The Norse race must slaughter the others
When Arabs knock so heavily on our door.
Skald ov Satans Sol (Skald of Satan’s Sun)
The fog thickens
The forest calls
Out here in the animal’s domain
Through a gloomy pale wood
Angels run, angels fly
Away from my own churchyard
I stand under a cold wind
The fog lightens from the angel’s flight
I drink from the moon’s cold pallid light
and hail Satan’s sun
A gruesome evil oozes in and fills body and soul
A sky of specters
Torture and hate
The fog thickens
The darkness falls
The forest calls
Let me forever serve the two and seventy forever fallen
In the cold dark well of the crafty black ones
The worthy have proclaimed me as the Unholy Trinities Skald
When HELL one day calls, there is no way back
The fog thickens
The darkness falls
The forest calls
Slottet I Det Fjerne (The Castle in the Distance)
Can you see the castle in the distance
And its merry noisy celebration
Couples dancing, Couples who laugh
Couples who swim in careless sin.
And under the sun who the black ones worship
They celebrate the new year with revelry and nonsense
A shameful sin which gods regard
As spiritual wormwork
And the holes are graves
That are only for them
With ghostly needles
Will torment every limb
Can you see the castle in the distance
From your dark grim cave
So you can hate for a thousand years
Rejoicing in the pain they will receive
Graven Tåkeheimens Saler (The Grave Mistheims Halls)
(Written for Darkthrone by Count Grishnackh in the hours at the turn of
the year 31/12-93 and 1/1-94. In a gloomy hour in prison. To the sound of hundred men in despair and anger (over yet another year to live).
Written in chill and hate and anger!!!)
Naberg arose, close by the Mannahemens farm.
Axetime, swordtime, there was not war – yet there was the plague of pestilence.
No one visited their kindred, no one visited the priest,
no one went to town without their lance and and horse.
In the dawn of time they sang songs, for themselves and their fathers.
Today only songs for the betterment of tomorrow are sung.
Songs of our fellow man, none about the best among us.
Deceit and lies have gained their seat in the palace of the Midgard Jotuns.
One man wandered, slowly, surely, proud there between houses.
He wandered there among the people, stepped uncared there among mice.
Hundreds of men he visited, each cold night.
He was one eyed, tall and thin and on his head he wore a hat.
Lonely man he wandered, over bifrost one cold morning.
He shook his head, over the losses of man.
For they secured a seat in an unborn tragic heaven,
For they wandered north and down, where they rot in Hell’s peace.
I en Hall Med Flesk og Mjød (In a Hall With Pork and Mead)
On an old ash tree – hung a frozen old man.
Under a black sky – wherefrom the rain poured down
None were there – to cut the corpse down
For no one could know – where the hanging place was
A lonely man he was – when he left to the Allfather’s palace
He arrived dressed in a coat of mail – to a magnificent grim castle
A thousand years had passed – since the last man had come there
They cried of sorrowful joy – when a son finally came
North of the enchanted gap – was a misty home deep down
Rows of the North’s son’s – wandered there thither, north and down
No one missed the grave – and no one missed the sons
For they died of fire and sickness – there to the Frosthome’s beds
Only few of the guardian’s children came to the rich row of their father
for cunning deceit bore most of them far down.
Yet one can still hear the song – each old pagan feast
aye! still the feasts are held among the faithful sons of Odin.
As Flittermice as Satans Spys
Flittermice of Eld unveiled at the plenilune
Fordone by mournful rest now seeking to be fed again
Rising terrestrial power umbraged by celestial light
That shineth forth from the palace of god – the palace of no return
Flittermice of Eld they peer into the morrows
They peer the yesteryears as thoose are coming back
Beholding the son recrucified, beholding gods race browbeaten
Beholding the Devastation of all mortals built by them
Flittermice of Eld they fly to blaspheme yehova
and to build thei temple (of the) damned on once holy pleasure ground
A fare to rise the flag (of Satan), to desseminate the races
To build the hall of battle and to live in eternal strife
Flittermice come forth from the land beyond the forest
Maltifarious winged black creatures slew the angels (up so) high
Devestation, blasphemy, desecration, unholy he
Who burned the face of god with the eye of our master
En Ås I Dype Skogen (A Hill in the Deep Forest)
(Written for DARKTHRONE by Count Grishnackh 31/12 – 93 a Y.P.S.)
A hatch stood open, a rider appeared.
A cold mist had lain upon the field.
Nine black horses and nine armed men.
An eye stared furiously down from a flag.
Silence fell, as the company stopped,
they stopped in a circle around the stone.
Silently they rode towards it, and disappeared when they arrived
for the stone was a thought filled with power.
Stars in a sky, that never fall down.
Lightning in a night that lasts forever.
A thousand cold winters, with only chill and hatred.
There is no summer without winter.
In an old forest, where trolls and gnomes wandered,
there was a stone that moved and came to life.
Nine armed men, on nine proud horses,
Bore a flag upon which the eye appeared.
Each night is a new darkness.
Each winter I freeze,
and yet never shall I cry,
for proud I did ride times after
out of the deep forest.
I’ve been listening to this album and thinking about how I wanted to comment. I’m sure most of what I’m about to say, I’ve said to you before, but I’ll go ahead and pretend your other readers give a toss.
The production on this album is fantastic. When I listen to this album, I think, ‘Yeah, this is what black metal sounds like.’ The only drawback is that the mid-range is too high, which ultimately gives it a certain analog-like warmth. While the production on Under a Funeral Moon isn’t quite as singular or menacing, I’ve always thought it sounded more dead-eyed and frosty.
Speaking of Under a Funeral Moon, I think it’s the better album (although it’s pretty close). It’s just more varied and more easily holds my attention through its entire run time.
I’m not sure I know what you mean when you call this album ‘surprisingly varied.’ I mean, yeah, there are a lot of killer melodies throughout, but let’s face it, this album is less varied than 99.5% of all music ever put to tape.
Don’t get me wrong, if this type of black metal is your thing (as it most definitely is mine), there is plenty here to keep you interested. I’ve just always felt that, as good as the songs on this album are, it’s the aesthetic that makes it a stone-cold classic.
I know it sounds lame, but I’ll probably never forget the night I finally ‘got’ this album. At that point I was digging bands like Emperor and Dissection, but couldn’t understand the appeal of this horribly-produced necro shit. It was an epiphany, really, when I finally saw this album from a different perspective and, almost immediately, completely appreciate it.
You’ve got some balls throwing around all those [sic]s while you repeatedly and intentionally misspell the album’s title. I’d accuse you of trolling, but I’ve never once seen you spell it correctly. Or is this what they call ‘The Long Troll’?