Thirty Years Ago, Darkthrone’s Under a Funeral Moon Gave Us “Unholy Black Metal”
(Editor’s note: Some of metal’s biggest releases are celebrating some major milestone anniversaries this year and as such, we’re starting a new series called ‘Revisit Reviews.’ This series will take a look back at those records and consider them for what they were, what they mean today, and if they still stand up, among other things.)
“You will see our immortality!”
For an album that set the gold standard for black metal in the early ’90s, Darkthrone’s third album Under a Funeral Moon is a timeless and canonical record of that time. Featuring Fenriz, Nocturno Culto, and Zephyrous, the band’s third record continues to serve as a high water mark. Remarkably raw, cold, and grim, Under a Funeral Moon will always be remembered for its excellence and defining role in the history of heavy music.
In Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult (2013), author Dayal Patterson correctly called Darkthrone one of the two “most directly influential outfit[s] in the genre.” Without Darkthrone’s groundbreaking contributions, black metal simply wouldn’t sound as it does today. Still, the original always beats the copies and Darkthrone still reigns supreme.
Under a Funeral Moon and the two records that came before and afterward — A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992) and Transilvanian Hunger (1994) — constitute Darkthrone’s “Unholy Trinity.” These blasphemous offerings represent Darkthrone’s rebellion against death metal, which had degenerated into “life metal.”
All metalheads should know that the revolutionary A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992) is regarded as the very first True Norwegian Black Metal album. This is quite an achievement considering that BM is often referred to as Norway’s biggest cultural export. A Blaze literally caused jaws to drop and young musicians to follow Darkthrone’s lead. Tulus, for example, formed after Sarke witnessed the rehearsals for that album. Darkthrone’s revolt against technicality and desire to “go primitive” continues to resonate, inspiring listeners and artists alike.
Yet, the crazy truth is that A Blaze actually consists of three blackened death metal songs in addition to three actual black metal tracks. There is some doom metal as well. Thus, it is Under a Funeral Moon that marks the full realization of Darkthrone’s vision: Fenriz has described Under a Funeral Moon as the band’s “only pure” black metal record. On The Thomas Eriksen Podcast, Fenriz explained: “… that’s the best black metal we did — the only total black metal album we did. And I always… champion that in my heart…” Nocturno Culto similarly stated on The Peaceville Podcast: “… we were destined to make the blackest black metal album ever released… That was our actual goal…”
Because Peaceville Records was in no hurry to receive a second black metal experiment after failing to understand A Blaze, Darkthrone had the time they needed to craft the ambitious project that is Under a Funeral Moon. Darkthrone drew upon a lot of first-wave black metal influences from the ’80s on this album as well as the likes of Mayhem’s Live in Leipzig, which was recorded in 1990 and procured by Darkthrone before its official 1993 release.
Under a Funeral Moon was the first effort for which Darkthrone’s members would compose the music to songs separately, as opposed to together as a band. The writing process began in 1991. By his own words, Nocturno Culto moved away from the Oslo scene in December 1991. Zephyrous relocated as well. Thus, by the time the album was recorded in 1992, Darkthrone’s dynamics had already changed.
Nocturno’s perfect vocal performance still retains every bit of its lethal black majesty. The drum sound on Under a Funeral Moon turned out to be really special because Fenriz was able to do things as he wanted, though he’s gone on the record as saying he prefers his sound on A Blaze and Arctic Thunder (2016). Interestingly, just one guitar track was used. Nothing on this album feels overdone. It is an exceptionally balanced record.
Lyrically, Fenriz used Under a Funeral Moon to prove his ability as a lyricist: “With my art I am the fist in the face of god.” His words still pack a punch. Keep in mind that all but one of Under a Funeral Moon’s tracks were written in English. The exception is “Inn i de dype skogers favn,” the music to which was composed by Zephyrous.
Sadly, Under a Funeral Moon marked the end of an era in more than one way. It was the last album that Darkthrone would complete before the death of Euronymous on August 10, 1993. This tragic event would change the scene forever. In the aftermath, Fenriz was hounded by the police, media, and a sudden influx of posers.
Under a Funeral Moon was also Darkthrone’s last release as anything more than a two-piece. (A Blaze had been recorded with the participation of Dag Nilsen as well, though it was already decided that he was out the door.) While under the strain imposed by recent events, Fenriz was seized by the epiphany that prompted him to create Transilvanian Hunger by himself at the end of 1993. Nocturno then provided the vocals in 1994. Thus, Zephyrous was excluded. Although Fenriz announced in 1994 that there would be an album written exclusively by Zephyrous, the latter quit the same year after suffering from a car accident.
(Of course, it is interesting to compare Under a Funeral Moon with Fenriz’s other non-Darkthrone projects. During the ’90s, Fenriz experimented with folk, spacy avant-garde synth, doom, etc. However, a proper discussion of this topic could continue infinitely…)
On a non-musical note, we wouldn’t want to neglect to speak about the “Unholy Trinity” album covers. Each record showcases an iconic photo of a different member of the band. The images were all sent to Peaceville at the same time. Under a Funeral Moon features Nocturno Culto. The skull on top of his staff is rumored to have been given to him by the late Bull Metal of Warmaster Records, who published the infamous Mayhem bootleg The Dawn of the Black Hearts (1995). Although the Unholy Trinity photos feature corpsepaint galore, Nocturno Culto has confirmed that once he and Zephyrous saw people wearing corpsepaint in broad daylight in 1993, they were done.
Thankfully, the Nocturno Culto and Fenriz duo remains as strong as ever. Of course, Darkthrone has branched out over the years and caused quite a stir with their punk-heavy albums. Their latest offering, Astral Fortress (2022), is a mixture of rock, heavy metal, doom, thrash, and black metal. Practically speaking, Darkthrone has simply continued to dig even further into past decades in pursuit of that caveman vibe, which was also the aim during their BM era, as mentioned earlier.
The problems that Darkthrone waged war against when they converted to BM and still combat, though in a very different way, have only become worse. Thus, the Unholy Trinity is more necessary now than ever. Unfortunately, however, Under a Funeral Moon does not receive the credit it deserves in comparison to A Blaze in the Northern Sky and the even more radical Transilvanian Hunger. In 2020, A Blaze was given a place of honor in the National Library as part of the permanent exhibition “Opplyst,” the opening of which was attended by Crown Prince Haakon. Although the thought was very nice, it would have been more appropriate to include all three albums.
To me, an elitist snob, Darkthrone’s Unholy Trinity represents the height of artistic freedom and achievement. In a world in which most music makes me want to defenestrate myself, Darkthrone certainly seems to be one of the last beacons of Truth. This may sound like a grandiose statement, but I personally regard Darkthrone as the Black Sabbath of their generation.