Anyone who’s read my drivel for any length of time knows the importance I place on a band’s third album. Well, DARKTHRONE is at its 20th, so if they haven’t figured out what they are by now, there’s no point in bothering. And I suppose that’s why it pained me so much that 2021’s Eternal Hails……, the band’s self-proclaimed love letter to doom and prog, was such a disappointment. Now, off to strap on our skates and travel to the Astral Fortress.

‘Caravan Of Broken Ghosts’ begins interestingly enough, building in a way that brings anticipation. Never straying too far from the intro riff for the first half of the tune, attention doesn’t wander, which is a good sign this early on in the album. Around 3 minutes in we get a bit jaunty, but the section seems “tossed in”, almost as if ‘Caravan…’ would’ve been better without it. The same sped-up shrugfest shows up again for what we’ll call the “solo” and at 5:34 things dive into an intriguing doom pattern, but I’m still not sure where we’re going – and I’m not sure DARKTHRONE is either.

After a solid and energetic ‘Impeccable Caverns Of Satan’ – a song reminiscent in a good way of the Sardonic Wrath era – ‘Stalagmite Necklace’ shines brilliant and blinding. Mid-paced and utterly poetic in lyric, flavored with tasteful keys and awash in melancholia, this is a high point of DARKTHRONE’s past decade, without a shred of irony.

At 10+ minutes in length, ‘The Sea Beneath The Seas Of The Sea’ plods at times at first listen, but after a few spins reveals itself as exactly the sort of exploratory goal the twosome was striving for last go ‘round. Expansive and slyly multi-faceted, this is the reaching for (and obtaining of) sonic horizons by a band that could, and often has, seemed to rest on its laurels.

Beginning with a gloriously unrefined gallop, ‘Eon 2’ puts the final logs on the fire of this latest outing, moving with a purposeful, measured musical stride, retaining that rough-hewn tone and temper that has been the calling card of Messrs. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto since they decided DARKTHRONE was whatever they wanted it to be.

For myself, I’ll be visiting the Astral Fortress again.
Review By: Lord Randall

Astral Fortress
3.5 / 6