If you were tuned in to the notorious early-'90s wave of Norwegian black metal, you're definitely familiar with the work of Darkthrone, who since those days have evolved from one of that genre's most influential acts to incorporate a wide spectrum of vintage and modern metal & hard rock styles. (If you need a refresher, check out our review of their latest album The Underground Resistance.) One half of the band, frontman and guitarist Nocturno Culto – alias Ted Skjellum – has founded multiple side projects, most recently the duo Gift of Gods, in collaboration with musical “partner in crime” K.A. Hubred. Their first outing, the four-track EP Receive, was envisioned several years ago, but only recently were the first tracks laid down in Nocturno's studio. The result is an intense and promising serving of haunting, moody metal, and hopefully a taste of a forthcoming (but not formally announced) full-length release.
While it's every bit as dark and ominous as Darkthrone's full body of work, Gift of Gods is most reminiscent of their latest phase, though with a touch more emphasis on enveloping atmosphere, fusing heavy doom chords with elements of thrash and modern melodic death metal in the Swedish tradition, enhanced with some surprising experimental touches in lengthy instrumental passages. The best synthesis of these combined styles comes across in "Enlightning Strikes,” which opens Receive in cinematic style with a surreal, nightmarish crescendo of industrial noise and spooky effects (on the album edit), and gives way to a dark and meaty mid-tempo riff, laying the groundwork for some sublime guitar solos in the breakdown. This sweeping, grandiose track is doubly impressive when you bear in mind Nocturno is handling virtually all instruments and vocals.
As he and his Darkthrone bandmate Fenriz established on The Underground Resistance, Nocturno continues to pay tribute to his '80s vintage influences, most evidently in a cover of "Looking for an Answer" by a Swedish metal band called Universe (who apparently released a single album in 1985 and whose existence was unknown to me until now); it also brings home the fact that Nocturno's melodic vocals are remarkably rich when he's not in black-metal mode. The riffs go much grittier for the instrumental title track, giving way to impressive, warm guitar leads that sound suitably heroic without getting too flashy, while the slower tempo and coarser vocal delivery of "Last Solstice" finishes the EP on a more menacing note.
Fans of Darkthrone's current phase will definitely want to incorporate Gift of Gods into that band's canon, as it ties in seamlessly with that band's nostalgic touches while incorporating much the ominous vibe of their earlier incarnations. Although Nocturno has not yet confirmed whether Receive is the first step toward a full studio album, I'm hoping the fan response will merit a follow-up. Either way, it's a cool interim release for fans jonesing for their next Darkthrone fix.
Receive is available now on CD and vinyl from Peaceville Records.