"Plaguewielder is the first Darkthrone album in years not to tout itself as "True Norwegian Black Metal." This is a notable point considering that, nine albums into their prolific career (that is, if one's idea of "prolific" is a huge back catalog of nigh-unlistenable garage-quality wedges seemingly recorded on the cheapest Radio Shack boom box possible), Darkthrone has finally started to transcend such self-appointed limitations. Continuing where predecessor Ravishing Gimness left off, Plaguewielder embraces a more coherent direction, incorporating a more straightforward heavy metal influence into their lo-fi "necro" aesthetic, the result being a healthy bounty of relatively simple, memorable riffs (think Bathory) and cogent tempo changes. Which isn't to say that Darkthrone has gone soft; "Weakling Avenger," "Command," and "I, Voidhanger" still offer the discordant, noisy black metal one comes to expect, but now drummer Fenriz's blastbeats are used effectively and not exclusively, and Nocturno Culto's brutal vocal rasp successfully exhibits the lyrics' bitter existentialist themes. Bottom line, Darkthrone is becoming increasingly mindful of its craft -- instead of setting the blender on "blaspheme" and creating an instrumental puree of barely comprehensible noise, the group has put together a deliberate record that convincingly portrays horror without being horrible (in every sense of the word) itself. Even the most die-hard of "True Norwegian Black Metal" fans should welcome Plaguewielder, the album straddling the line between the rotten, blood-spattered underground (no Dimmu Borgir-style flights of fancy here, rest assured) and -- gasp! -- solid songwriting and production values. "