From 1991 to '96, Darkthrone had been turning out a new album every year, so when they disappeared after '96's lackluster Total Death, many fans believed the band had broken up. Those beliefs were eventually proven incorrect, but they weren't without substance. It was three years between Total Death and its follow-up, 1999's Ravishing Grimness, but even the duration of that extended delay doesn't adequately capture that band's fractured state during that period. In a '99 interview promoting Ravishing Grimness, Fenriz described something like ennui when asked about the long delay between albums:
We weren't really that hungry anymore, we made a lot of albums in the past… We didn't have that itch to do more. We don't have to think of our career and we can do what we want. We haven't been in the studio since '95, so it's been four years. It seemed more like one and a half years. Time goes by so quickly.
In 2002, Fenriz claimed that after Total Death, he went through "an obligatory acid psychedelic period, lasting for about two years." Whatever the cause for his retreat into isolation, Fenriz had left almost all Darkthrone responsibilities in Nocturno Culto's hands; Fenriz has since admitted that if not for the vocalist/guitarist's choice to step up, Darkthrone might have died unceremoniously during that period. But Fenriz did continue to write lyrics — lyrics he later called "hard … painful … they scare me" — and around those lyrics, Culto wrote a new set of songs, which would become the bulk of Ravishing Grimness: Culto wrote all the music for five of the album's six songs; the sixth, "The Beast," was written by Fenriz, and its pub-metal feel stands in stark contrast to the atmospheric black metal Culto was writing at the time. Culto also conceived of the cover art, which is one of the cheapest-looking sleeves since the birth of the compact disc. (The band has since reissued these mid-career albums with greatly improved cover art.)
Fenriz has said in numerous places that he suffered from depression between 1999 and 2003 or so, and even in absentia, his despair and frustration can be felt here. Beyond "The Beast," even Fenriz's minimal contributions to Ravishing Grimness seem self-destructive: Culto's songs are something of a return to the band's black metal roots, but Fenriz chooses to abandon the standard rhythms of black metal (i.e., hyperspeed blast beats) in favor of a slow- to mid-tempo pace, which doesn't work especially well. Years later, Fenriz was still defending this unpopular decision — "I can assure you that the way I end up playing drums on Ravishing Grimness is purely by choice, and it is JUST the way I want drumming to be in black metal. Not many others agree on this."
He's not wrong about that: Ravishing Grimness has earned a reputation as one of Darkthrone's weakest albums, although Culto's estimable contributions warrant better — his guitar work has rarely been more impressive; it's melodic and spacious and hypnotizing (FWIW, Grimness contains some of my own favorite mid-period Darkthrone riffs), and had the album been recorded in different circumstances, it's easy to see ways these songs could rank in the upper half of Darkthrone's catalog. But history can't be rewritten; that fissure between the two men — and Fenriz's troubled psychological state — is at the heart of the album's creation. If anything, Ravishing Grimness should be remembered fondly not only for its positive attributes, but for being a way station that allowed the band to continue. Years later, Fenriz credited Culto for keeping the band alive during this time, saying, "Nocturno Culto is the sanest soul in Darkthrone in [the Ravishing Grimness] period, so he takes care of most of the music and business. Thanks, Ted."