Darkthrone’s “Unholy Trinity” Albums

Beginning as a death metal band in 1986, Darkthrone underwent a radical transformation with their "Unholy Trinity" albums. These records not only marked a departure from their origins but also played a pivotal role in defining the ethos and sound of Norwegian black metal.

A compilation image of three album covers by the band Darkthrone, known as the 'Unholy Trinity.' From left to right: 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky' shows a figure with long hair and corpsepaint; 'Under a Funeral Moon' features a face with corpsepaint partially obscured by branches; 'Transilvanian Hunger' displays a high-contrast image of a face in corpsepaint with mouth open, set against a stark black background. Each album title is displayed below the respective image.
“Unholy Trinity”
Key Takeaways
  • Darkthrone transitioned from death metal to black metal in the early 1990s, with their “Unholy Trinity” albums.
  • The album “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” was pivotal in Darkthrone’s discography, marking their initial foray into black metal and impacting the genre’s evolution.
  • The “Unholy Trinity” albums played a crucial role in defining the sound and ethos of black metal during the early 1990s, influencing a generation of artists and significantly contributing to the genre’s evolution​​.

Darkthrone’s Pivotal Shift

Established in 1986 in Kolbotn, a small town near Oslo, Norway, the band began as “Black Death,” a death metal ensemble. The lineup featured Fenriz (Gylve Nagell), Nocturno Culto (Ted Skjellum), Zephyrous (Ivar Enger), and Dag Nilsen. Initially, Darkthrone’s sound was entrenched in the death metal genre, aligning with the prevailing trends of the time.

However, the early 1990s saw a significant transformation in the band’s musical approach. Darkthrone transitioned from the polished, technical aspects of death metal to a rawer, more essential form of black metal. This change was epitomized in their second album, “A Blaze in the Northern Sky.” Marking a radical departure from their debut, this album signaled Darkthrone’s entry into the black metal realm, setting a new course for their musical expression.

Shifting from the refined to the raw, Darkthrone’s transition to black metal marked a fundamental change in their musical expression.

Darkthrone, amidst this transition, became a defining presence in the Norwegian black metal scene. Their work, noted for its lo-fi production quality and uncompromising approach, contributed significantly to the genre’s development. The band’s move to black metal was less about sophistication and more about capturing the unfiltered essence of their artistic vision, influencing the stylistic choices of many in the black metal community.

A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992)

Darkthrone’s second studio album, “A Blaze in the Northern Sky,” recorded at Creative Studios in August 1991 and released on February 26, 1992, by Peaceville Records, marked a significant change in the band’s musical style. The album, comprising six tracks with a total length of 42:02 minutes, includes tracks such as “Kathaarian Life Code” and “In the Shadow of the Horns,” which contribute to its distinct atmosphere.

This release signified Darkthrone’s shift from their death metal origins to a black metal direction, featuring their initial foray into the black metal genre. Recognized as the first installment of the “Unholy Trinity” alongside “Under a Funeral Moon” and “Transilvanian Hunger,” “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” is noted for its departure from the band’s earlier sound.

The album’s significance was acknowledged by its inclusion in the National Library of Norway’s permanent exhibition, reflecting its cultural relevance in Norway and its contribution to the black metal genre. It was also the final album to feature bassist Dag Nilsen, who, despite the band’s shift towards black metal, agreed to record his parts as a session member following the band’s “Goatlord” demo.

“A Blaze in the Northern Sky” represents a notable point in Darkthrone’s discography, reflecting a transition in their musical expression.

The album’s production was relatively quick, with several tracks featuring elements of the band’s death metal origins, albeit interpreted in a black metal style. Initially, Peaceville Records was reluctant to release the album in its raw form, preferring a continuation of Darkthrone’s death metal sound. After Darkthrone considered releasing it through Deathlike Silence Productions, owned by Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth of Mayhem, Peaceville agreed to release it as recorded.

“A Blaze in the Northern Sky” is often cited as a significant album in the evolution of the black metal genre, merging aspects of blackened death metal and doom metal. This album, distinct for its change from the band’s previous work, had a noticeable impact on the style and direction of Darkthrone’s future projects.

Under a Funeral Moon (1993)

Darkthrone’s third studio album, “Under a Funeral Moon,” recorded in June 1992 and released on February 15, 1993, by Peaceville Records, represents a further exploration into the black metal genre. The album, consisting of eight tracks totaling 40:37 minutes, includes pieces like “Natassja in Eternal Sleep” and “Summer of the Diabolical Holocaust,” contributing to its overall dark and minimalist ambiance.

The recording sessions at Creative Studios in Kolbotn were focused on achieving a sound that was intentionally more “cold” and “grim.” This album marked an aesthetic shift in black metal, notably using distortion not only in the guitar work but also in the overall studio production.

The album’s cover features vocalist Nocturno Culto, who considers the writing and recording of “Under a Funeral Moon” as foundational in shaping Darkthrone’s future work. The album’s approach and sound have been described as raw, cold, and grim, characteristics that became synonymous with black metal of the early 1990s.

“Under a Funeral Moon” reflects Darkthrone’s intent to delve deeper into the essence of black metal, emphasizing a raw and minimalistic approach.

“Under a Funeral Moon” stands as a significant album in the black metal scene, often hailed for setting a high standard for the genre during that era. It is described as Darkthrone’s most purely black metal record. Fenriz himself has noted it as their “only total black metal album,” while Nocturno Culto aimed for it to be the “blackest black metal album ever released.” This intent and focus on creating a purely black metal album underlined the band’s commitment to the genre and influenced the direction of black metal in subsequent years.

Transilvanian Hunger (1994)

Darkthrone’s fourth studio album, “Transilvanian Hunger,” released on February 17, 1994, by Peaceville Records, signifies a pivotal moment in the band’s history. The album, featuring eight tracks and totaling 39:00 minutes, showcases lyrics written by Fenriz for the first four tracks and Varg Vikernes, for the latter four.

This album marked a significant change in Darkthrone’s lineup, being the first to be recorded solely by Nocturno Culto and Fenriz following the departure of Zephyrous. Fenriz took on all instrumentation duties, while Nocturno Culto provided vocals. Uniquely, the album was recorded on a 4-track recorder in Fenriz’s bedroom, an environment he dubbed “Necrohell Studios.”

“Transilvanian Hunger” was released amidst controversy due to its initial back cover statement, “Norsk Arisk Black Metal” (“Norwegian Aryan black metal”). Following negative reactions, this phrase was removed from subsequent releases. Additionally, the band and Peaceville Records addressed and criticized another statement regarding the album being beyond criticism, which had been described as “Jewish behavior.” In later years, Fenriz distanced himself from these past statements, labeling them as “disgusting.”

“Transilvanian Hunger” stands as a reflection of Fenriz’s introspective journey during a tumultuous period, showcasing a solitary exploration in black metal.

This album encapsulates Fenriz’s epiphany and personal journey, as it was predominantly recorded by him. It reflects his isolation from other band members and the broader black metal scene, especially following the death of Euronymous. “Transilvanian Hunger” thus represents a distinct phase in Darkthrone’s evolution, characterized by a deep dive into the more solitary aspects of black metal creation and expression, shaping a unique chapter in the band’s storied history.

Visual Identity and Evolution in Darkthrone’s “Unholy Trinity”

During the era of the “Unholy Trinity” albums, Darkthrone experienced significant shifts not only in their musical style but also in their composition process and visual representation. This period saw a move towards individual songwriting within the band, a change that began around the time of “Under a Funeral Moon” and was evident in “Transilvanian Hunger.” Members started writing songs independently, deviating from their previous collaborative approach.

The album covers of “A Blaze in the Northern Sky,” “Under a Funeral Moon,” and “Transilvanian Hunger” featured different band members adorned in corpse paint. This aesthetic, inspired by figures like Pelle Ohlin and Euronymous, helped define the visual style of black metal.

However, as corpsepaint became a widespread trend, Darkthrone chose to abandon it. Notably, Nocturno Culto confirmed that he and Zephyrous decided to stop using corpsepaint in 1993, a decision influenced by the trend’s growing popularity and its use in contexts outside of black metal performances.

The front cover of “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” prominently features Ivar Enger, also known as Zephyrous, the band’s rhythm guitarist. The visual element of this album cover played a role in shaping the genre’s iconic imagery.

For “Under a Funeral Moon,” the album cover showcases Nocturno Culto. An interesting piece of trivia is the skull atop his staff, seen in the cover photo, which is rumored to have been given to him by Bull Metal of Warmaster Records, the publisher of the Mayhem bootleg “The Dawn of the Black Hearts” (1995).

The cover art for “Transilvanian Hunger” presents a striking black-and-white photograph of Fenriz holding a candelabrum. This image bears a resemblance to the cover of Mayhem’s 1993 live album “Live in Leipzig,” further intertwining the visual identities of these seminal black metal bands.

The Legacy of Darkthrone’s Iconic Albums

Darkthrone’s “Unholy Trinity” albums — “A Blaze in the Northern Sky,” “Under a Funeral Moon,” and “Transilvanian Hunger” — represent a significant milestone in the evolution of black metal. These works marked a clear departure from the band’s death metal origins and played a pivotal role in challenging and reshaping the direction of the genre at the time. The influence of these albums, particularly “A Blaze in the Northern Sky,” extended beyond Darkthrone, inspiring a generation of artists and significantly contributing to the evolution of black metal.

Renowned for their raw aesthetic and atmospheric intensity, the “Unholy Trinity” albums are celebrated for their instrumental role in defining the sound and ethos of black metal during the early 1990s. This period was crucial in establishing the genre’s distinct style and identity. The impact of these albums on the black metal scene was profound and far-reaching, setting a benchmark for the genre’s aesthetic and musical direction.

Despite the evolution of Darkthrone’s musical style over the years, including ventures into punk and other genres, their contribution to black metal through the “Unholy Trinity” remains a cornerstone of their legacy. These albums are not just recordings; they are historical artifacts that offer a window into the development and essence of black metal, particularly during its formative years in the early 1990s.