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Bathory (1984)
 

Bathory was formed in Stockholm in 1983. Founder Quorthon, a seventeen-year-old guitarist, was joined by members that wouldn't last long. The band name was inspired by a trip to the wax museum in London, where Quorthon saw a display dedicated to the Blood Countess, Erzsebet Bathory. After doing some research, he realized that the name 'Bathory' would perfectly suit the themes that the band would cover. Contrary to popular rumours, the band was never named anything else (such as Nosferatu, then Natas, Mephisto, Elizabeth Bathory and Countess Bathory). Their first recording deal came that same year, when Quorthon managed to secure a spot for the Scandinavian Metal Attack compilation, from Tyfon Records. The songs "Sacrifice" and "The Return of the Darkness and Evil" gained unexpected attention by fans. Soon afterward, Quorthon was asked to record an L.P.The problem was that, for all intents and purposes, the band had ceased to be. He would have to recruit new members if Bathory was to become something more serious.
 
In June 1984, Quorthon was joined by Rickard Bergman on bass and Stefan Larsson on drums as they entered Heavenshore Studio in Stockholm, Sweden. The album, which was planned to be titled Pentagrammaton, was produced by Quorthon and Boss. Influenced by Black Sabbath, Motorhead and punk rock, Bathory's self-titled album, released in October 1984, took the established Black Metal sound of Venom (which Quorthon later admitted) and refined it. In this case, they made it uglier, faster and used the low-fi production to their advantage, as it added to the feeling of the record.

Side Darkness begins with the intro, "Storm of Damnation", a whirlwind of torturous sounds. Through the dismal moans and screaming winds, one can hear the sound of a funeral bell chiming in the distance. This does well to set the tone for the album as it creates a dark atmosphere.

This intro leads into the opening guitar riffs of "Hades", which aren't so far removed from the early albums of Metallica and Slayer. The thing that really sets this apart is the inhuman manner in which the vocals are delivered. The sound is primitive and minimalist, yet there are more riffs here than one would expect.

The next song is "Reaper". This shows obvious Motorhead influences and is pretty similar to what Megadeth were working on around this time. This is another fast-paced track, with a definite NWOBHM feeling to the guitar melody. The guitar solos fit in very well, though the don't cut through the fuzzy production as well as on later albums. Quorthon was definitely one of the first vocalists to master this style of vocals, sounding very demonic.

"Necromancy" is one of the more memorable tunes on the record. The pace isn't quite as fast as on the first two songs, though this allows for the evil atmosphere to permeate the riffs a little better. The lyrics are in the vein of the early releases of Venom, Slayer and Mercyful Fate.

"Hail satanic majesty
tonight we sacrifice
We drink our own blood and blasphemy while
the moon is our only light"

The vocal delivery is more possessed than on the first two songs, while the lead solos are more thought-out. The old school drum beat that accompanies the closing solo is a nice touch. Definitely one of the best songs on here.

The next song is pure Motorhead. With a title such as "Sacrifice", it is a little difficult to believe the early claims that Quorthon had not heard of Venom. The chorus section of this song features the best riffs, though the verses aren't bad, at all. This one is pretty fast. It's not up to the speed of Slayer, though it races past Venom and Hellhammer, with ease. The lead solo, near the end, suits the song and adds more depth.

Side Evil starts out with "In Conspiracy With Satan". Again, it's a little difficult not to laugh at the claims that this wasn't inspired by Venom's "In League With Satan". The fast tremolo riff and the blasting drums join together with the demonic vocals to create the blueprint for the Second Wave of Black Metal. This one is short, fast and to the point.

"Armageddon" rages forth from the abyss, at full speed. This is another fast-paced and primitive-sounding song that never relents. There's a brief section where it appears that something else is going to happen, yet the main riff returns and crushes this thought. This song is, somewhat, overshadowed by the one that follows it.

The most memorable song on the album is "Raise the Dead". This is, oddly enough for someone that claimed ignorance of Venom, the second song that uses the same title as a song previously released on Black Metal. Funeral bells and a slow heartbeat introduce this morbid track. The opening to this song is a slow build that creates the most hellish atmosphere on the record. The first vocals from Quorthon actually sound a lot like Dave Mustaine, as he yells, "Dust to dust". As for the rest, it is nothing but cold and evil Black Metal. The guitar solo is perfectly timed and suits the song very well. This is the highlight of the album. The lyrics are straight from Venom's Black Metal album, adapted from "Buried Alive" and "Raise the Dead".

"I gasp for air
I scream for sight
and fight against torment and dread
Calling the vengeance
I tear at the lid and
promise to raise from the dead"

This isn't to say that there is anything wrong with showing one's influences, but it is simply more proof that Quorthon lied about not hearing Venom until after this album had already been released. I can understand why he might have felt it necessary to deny this, but there is no shame in being inspired by someone. Many would say that Bathory took what Venom created and perfected it, myself included. At any rate, this is one of the most memorable songs on the album.

The L.P. concludes with "War". This intense song owes a lot to Motorhead, regarding the riffs. As on the rest of the album, the guitars are sharp, yet fuzzy. Quorthon's screams of "WAR!" have a lot of power and energy. The feeling is accentuated by the well-timed guitar solo. This song closes the album out with speed and fury, before an eerie outro fades in and then back into the obscure shadows.

The first Bathory album set the standard for those that followed. Taking the influences from Black Sabbath, Motorhead, punk rock and Venom, Bathory was the beginning of Black Metal's evolution into something colder and more harsh. It would go on to be far more influential to later Black Metal bands than the likes of Venom or Sodom. This is an essential release.
 
(17 Apr. 2009)

 
The Return... (1985)
 

In February 1985, Bathory entered Elektra Studio in Stockholm, Sweden, to record the follow-up to their self-titled debut. A new bassist, Andreas Johansson, had been brought in yet Quorthon still handled some of the bass duties on the album. As with the previous effort, this was produced by Quorthon and Boss. The Return... was released in May 1985 to the hordes of darkness. It is said that Quorthon was not entirely pleased with how the album turned out. Despite whatever inadequacies it may possess, this record further establishes the minimalist sound and grim aesthetic of the growing Black Metal scene. Where their debut displayed obvious influences, these are reduced to obscure shadows on The Return... The structural expansion allowed for wider atmospheric space to go far beyond the limitations present on the debut. The aura created here is pitch-black, much like the nocturnal abyss from which it spawned. 

It all begins with an intro titled "Revelation of Doom", which imbues the listener with a sense of dread. The distant screams sound as those burning in the flames of the all-consuming eternal fire. This serves well to set the tone for what is to come.

"Total Destruction" is a fast-paced aural assault of grim and unfeeling Black Metal. The production is slightly less abrasive than the previous album, though the approach is just as barbaric. This one is very straight-forward, though featuring a few riff changes. Even the drums switch up, briefly. A mid-paced section adds an epic sense of doom, near the middle of the song, as Quorthon's demonic screams signal that Hell is here. The open, extended chords only add to this feeling. The song structure is more advanced than the first album, released a mere six months earlier.

The next song opens with a very memorable thrash riff, cycling through a few times before the song really gets going. "Born For Burning" was actually the second Bathory song I ever heard, a short time after being introduced to this dark cult through "Equimanthorn". The main riff sounds like a sped-up version of Venom's "Welcome To Hell", though the overall tempo of the track is fairly mid-paced. The possessed vocals are joined by malevolent whispers that emanate from the shadows, before the song fades back into the unknown.

"The Wind of Mayhem" begins in a similar fashion to some of the songs on the debut L.P. yet this is murkier. The vocal approach is more evil and demonic than before, as Quorthon perfected this style. The lead solo is well-placed, suiting the music very well. This one is rather brief and straight-forward, keeping the intensity level high. The lyrics remain dark and sinister as well.

"...Satanas is present but yet he is unseen..."

The next song is "Bestial Lust", which sounds very reminiscent of an old Venom tune. For someone that spent so much time denying any knowledge of this unholy trio from Newcastle, Quorthon didn't mind mimicking them when it suited his needs. The fast pace is pretty consistent, throughout the track, with the drum beat never changing. However, there are a couple of riff changes and a decent lead solo.

"Possessed" isn't much longer than the previous song, and it keeps up the same frenzied tempo. This one features more memorable riffs and vocal lines than the last one, featuring a multitude of demonic voices for the chorus. With this coming just a month after the Venom album of the same name, it may be stretching it to imply that this title was borrowed from them. This is pure Black Metal, containing lyrics that deliver a grim feeling that matches that of the music.

"I am trapped in its icecold blaze
It drains the warmth from my soul
Feel the dread and my mind is in torment
And still its eye of death glows so cold"

"The Rite of Darkness" has more of a subdued pace, allowing the morbid atmosphere to permeate every note. The riffs are surprisingly memorable and the vocals are grim and evil. This is a very brief song, though adding depth and character to the overall feeling of The Return... It bleeds into the next song, much in the same way that Venom's "Buried Alive" flows into "Raise the Dead", on Black Metal.

The tempo speeds up as "Reap of Evil" bursts forth, for a short time before slowing down. During this mid-paced section, a chorus of demonic howls fills the night sky and swirls around you like the bitter cold wind of endless winter. The effect is rather hellish and discomforting for the average soul. The song ends with a chaotic solo that melts the skin from your bones.

"Son of the Damned" continues the necro sound that dominates this record. The opening riff builds a sense of tension, but this is ephemeral as the song blasts through the darkened gates like a horde of demons escaping from the Kingdom Below to wreak havoc upon the world of the living. This is the grim sound of cold, minimalist Black Metal in its purest form, complete with raspy, corpse-like vocals. This fast-paced track is over far too soon.

The album draws near its conclusion with "Sadist (Tormentor)". This one picks up where the last one left off, maintaining an intense pace. Things change up a bit, half-way through, for a wicked thrash break that features one of the most memorable riffs of the record. The bass lines give the feeling of descending, as if you are being dragged toward the yawning abyss. The time has come for you to pay for the crimes committed on this mortal plane. Your punishment is eternal suffering at the fathomless depths. The lyrics mirror this sense of doom.

"But now the sand of time is running out
I feel old (so cold)
Can hear the bell toll
So weak (must sleep)
Can hear my victims shout
Can't stand their cries, their call"

This displays an interesting, often ignored, perspective. The earlier verses seem to celebrate this sadistic lust, yet as the tension in the song builds, the lyrics seem to show an understanding that these vile deeds shall not go unpunished. There is almost a hint of remorse in the tone. Already, on the second album, signs of maturity are apparent.

The album concludes with "The Return of the Darkness and Evil". This one fades in from the darkness of eternal night, with distant tormented screams. The Black/Speed Metal riffs carry the song at a fairly fast pace, though the open chords used during the chorus place more emphasis on the lyrics. The lyrics are blasphemous and perfectly suited for the devilish sound of this track.

"Sacrifice a virgin to the flames of burning Hell
Black Witch of beauty recite the words of spell
Gather masses run in circles scream for mercy cry of pain
No mercy for the blessed in Hell you all will burn in lord Satan's name"

After the second chorus, there is a blood-curdling scream as someone who is in the throes of death. The song seems to fall apart, near the end, losing all sense of structure and turning into a nightmarish soundscape of demonic screams and hellish guitars. The album then closes with the trademark Bathory outro, as heard on all of the early albums.

Simply put, if you are not familiar with The Return... then you have no business speaking of Black Metal. This record is somewhat underrated, for unknown reasons, yet it stands as one of the first pure Black Metal albums ever recorded, cementing a sound that would influence countless legions for decades to come. This is an important step in the evolution of Bathory and essential listening for all.
 
(19 Apr. 2009)

 
Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987)
 

The room was cold and dark, illuminated only by the light of nine black candles. I recorded "The Haunted Mansion" that night, while I was in the cemetery, enjoying the solitude and the Autumn weather. Once I returned home, in the middle of the night, it was time to listen to what I had missed while I was away. On that edition of the radio show, most of the music was generic and mediocre, yet one song immediately commanded my attention and blew me away. This song was "Equimanthorn", from Bathory's third L.P. Under the Sign of the Black Mark, recorded in late 1986 and released in early 1987. I was already familiar with bands such as Venom, Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Sodom and Kreator, yet I had no idea that something like this existed. This was my introduction to Bathory. I had just recently read about the release of Blood On Ice and had quite a different impression of the band, so I was very surprised by what I heard. Within a few months, I tracked down a copy of this legendary album and was drawn deeper into the murky realm of Black Metal.

Under the Sign of the Black Mark begins with a brief intro, titled "Nocturnal Obeisance", continuing the tradition of Quorthon opening his albums in such a manner. Through the blowing of cold winds, one can hear distant sounds of torture and dread. This serves to draw the listener into a false sense of calm, before "Massacre" erupts at full speed, crushing your skull like a hammer. The song is brief yet furious, blasting all the way through. The drums seem to overpower the thin guitars, unless you turn the volume way up (which is how this should be experienced anyway). Quorthon's vocals are raspy and sinister, sounding far more evil than most others in the underground metal scene at the time. Much like the first two albums, the sound is very minimalist and would go on to become very influential. This takes the concept established on the first records and eliminates the Venom influence, creating something even darker.

"Woman of Dark Desires" is the next song, with the subject of the lyrics being none other than the band's namesake, Erzsebet Bathory. Musically, it retains a similar feeling to the previous song, until the more mid-paced chorus. The refrain is actually very memorable. The song features some use of an organ, which adds to the dark and evil atmosphere. The aura created by this album is not cold, like so many that were inspired by this but, rather, it is like burning in the pits of Hell.

The sounds of a man clawing at his own coffin lid and desperately gasping for air introduce "Call From the Grave". From the first moments, a claustrophobic feeling of suffocation takes hold. The chords are strummed openly, as the mid-paced riffs build to create an epic atmosphere. Quorthon's grim and tormented vocals are filled with despair and the lyrics are possibly the deepest that had been written by that point.

"I tear at the lid I'm suffering
In a cold and nameless grave
If Hell is what awaits me
I feel no fright"

The tone and harmonics of the lead solo are absolutely perfect and it possesses a sorrowful feeling. This song is not only a highlight of the album, but a highlight of Bathory's existence.

The next song is the one that introduced me to this band. "Equimanthorn" begins with a riff that almost creeps up upon you, from the murky shadows, and then explodes with fury and rage. The lyrics seem to foreshadow Quorthon's interest in Norse mythology, though the actual name Equimanthorn was something that he made up. This song is speed beyond speed, destroying everything in its path. Even the vocals are spewed forth with such rapidity that they are difficult to decipher. After a couple minutes, the song slows down a bit, utilizing more mid-paced thrash riffs. Again, an epic nature creeps into this song before ending with a wicked lead solo that shreds through your flesh.

Under the Sign of the Black Mark features much more variety, regarding the songwriting. This is very evident in "Enter the Eternal Fire", which is a mid-paced and truly epic masterpiece. It begins with slow and heavy riffs, accompanied by the chiming of funeral bells and some brief acoustic parts, as well as sparse keyboard use for the background. This slow doom-laden atmosphere picks up from where Hellhammer left off with "Triumph of Death", doing well to define the atmospheric tendencies of Black Metal. Though the lyrics do not deal with Norse mythology in any way, the music foreshadows the epic style that Bathory would continue to develop on later albums. Much like "Call From the Grave", the lyrics are deep and seem to convey horror and misery as a long journey leads into the depths of Hell.

"And He calls my name
First a whispering then louder
And he wants me to follow
And to Enter the Eternal Fire......"

This song is consumed by a morbid and obscure feeling of dread. Beyond the mid-way point, the song becomes even slower, as the acoustic guitar returns just before a somber lead solo cuts through your flesh while wrapping around you, squeezing the air out of your lungs. The song builds to its agonized climax as Quorthon's chilling screams haunt your mind.

"This can't be
Raging flames all over me
Inferno of heat
Oh no, oh no, oh noooooo, noooooo, noooooo......"

"Chariots of Fire" begins with some brief synth intro, much like a horror movie soundtrack, before unleashing a high-speed attack. Sharply contrasting the previous song, this one stands alongside "Massacre" and "Equimanthorn" as another blistering assault upon the senses. The song is short and to the point, never changing pace throughout.

Eerie whispers are found in the opening moments of "13 Candles", which soon explodes with devastating riffs that are fairly mid-paced and catchy, much like "Woman of Dark Desires". This song is about the birth of Satan's son, and has a dark and evil feeling, especially the demonic vocals found during the refrain. Quorthon sounds very reptilian in certain parts of this song. It is quite possible that, if he had lived long enough to record the Mayhem L.P., this is what Dead would have sounded like with proper studio recording.

The lyrics to the final song, "Of Doom", are somewhat peculiar as they make reference to the Bathory Hordes. Typically, I don't like these kind of lyrics, but it's Bathory so it gets a pass. The song, itself, is an unrelenting piece of Black/Speed Metal. Initially, I assumed that this song had some relation to the previous one, as "13 Candles of Doom" would have been an appropriate song title but, no, they have nothing to do with one another. As the song nears its end, it slows down a bit, sounding slightly reminiscent of something from Hell Awaits, in atmosphere. It fades out into oblivion, leaving its black mark upon those who have experienced this classic release. The standard, ominous, Bathory outro concludes this L.P.

Under the Sign of the Black Mark is the culmination of the evil and Satanic Black Metal era of Bathory, as the following album would bridge the gap between this and the epic Viking Metal era. Overall, this is probably the most influential of the old Bathory albums. In particular, it is said that Darkthrone took this record into the studio when they recorded Under A Funeral Moon, so that they producer would know what sort of sound they were going for, and the music reflects this very well. While Venom coined the term "Black Metal", Bathory perfected the art form and it is Quorthon's vision that went on to inspire countless legions of bands that would follow. Under the Sign of the Black Mark has stood the test of time and remains an undisputed classic of underground metal.
 
(21 Mar. 2009)

 
Blood Fire Death (1988)
 

Blood Fire Death is the fourth full-length album from Bathory. Recorded in Heavenshore Studios, in early 1988, this album marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. The last strains of Black Metal were heard on this record, as a new sound emerged from the mind of Quorthon. Further loosening his grip on Satanic and occult themes, he chose to explore the rich history and culture of his forefathers, taking a great deal of inspiration from Norse mythology. In reality, only the first and last songs exemplified this change, while many of the others seem to have lacked focus, at times. Released in October 1988, Blood Fire Death began the transition that would spawn the sub-genre of Viking Metal.

The record begins with "Odens Ride Over Nordland", which is a very good aural depiction of the cover art. Among the various ominous sounds, the call of Sleipnir is very clear. The atmosphere is somber and sets the tone for something truly epic. Words fail to describe the feeling of this intro.

"A Fine Day To Die" picks up from the introduction, beginning with a serene acoustic melody and faint chanting. It slowly builds until the song, finally, unleashes all of its power. With blood-curdling screams, Quorthon's voice calls out from the darkness, accompanied by heavy, mid-paced riffs. The epic atmosphere is ever-present. The vocals sound more tortured than on any of the previous Bathory albums, yet intelligible.

"Along the black mountainside scattered
By the campfires awaiting the dawn
Two times a hundred men in battles
Tried by the steel in the arrow, axe and the sword"

The production is loud and clear, while still being distorted and harsh. Most of all, it is very powerful. The pace slows down, even more, near the end, building to a lead solo that pierces your brain and destroys your feeble mind. The main riff returns, as do the anguished screams of Quorthon. As the final notes fade out, you realize that you have experienced something incredible and draining.

There is little time to regain your composure, as "The Golden Walls of Heaven" bursts forth with intensity and speed. Interesting to note is that the first letter of each line goes together to create a 'hidden' message, repeating the name 'Satan', several times. Quorthon's raspy vocals are still as forceful as on the last track, but the music possesses a completely different feeling. This isn't too far from the material from the first record, consisting of pure Speed/Thrash Metal riffs.

"Pace 'Till Death" begins with a strange doom riff, as well as a humourous lead bit that is tossed in. After less than a minute, the song hits full throttle, but the sound isn't all that good. There seems to be some unwanted distortion on this one, as if it was taken from a demo. The song is fairly adequate, yet it doesn't quite hold up to the classic opener.

This continues on "Holocaust". This is another fast song that sounds like it could have been featured on any of the first four albums. As the track progresses, you can hear a countdown and an explosion, in the background. There isn't much to say about this one. It is very solid Black/Speed Metal, with nothing to complain about. It's the shortest one on here, being the most straight-forward as well.

"For All Those Who Died" is a little slower, being more mid-paced than the last few songs. The atmosphere is very harsh and it is similar to the opener in that is is somewhat draining. It has a pretty unique sound, while Quorthon's vocals are very strained and tortured.

"Burning naked but smiling
Not full of fear but pride
Knowing death alone could cleanse them
Of the reasons for which they all die"

This one features some of the most memorable riffs of the album, outside of the first and last songs. There's a lengthy solo, near the end, and the bass is a little more audible on this track, giving an added dimension of doom. The song ends with the song fading into the sound of raging flames. Presumably, this is supposed to represent those who were burned as witches by the Christian scum that was dominating Europe in the middle ages.

"Dies Irae" is next, being very fast and intense. The lead solo, early on, is enough to melt the flesh right from your face. Like the earlier song, this one has a message in the first letter of each line, reading "Christ the Bastard, son of Heaven". The vocal lines are incredibly fast, keeping pace with the speed of the riffs, for the first part of the song. The tempo slows down, near the middle, unleashing very memorable riffs and vocal lines.

"Hear our master calling us his children
Eternal life is given death withdrawn
As wolves among sheep we have wandered
Victory lies beyond their spit and scorn
Even the heavens shall burn when we are gathered
Now when the flames reach for the sky"

There is a great deal of conviction in the delivery of these lyrics. Quorthon's voice sounds very strained and tortured, conveying a lot of feeling. This track has an epic feeling, especially in the closing moments, and ranks among the best on the whole album.

This monumental record comes to a close with the lengthy title track, "Blood Fire Death". This one begins with an acoustic intro, before the powerful guitar riffs explode, keeping a pace reminiscent of "Enter the Eternal Fire", from Under the Sign of the Black Mark. Everything about this is perfect in conveying the intended feeling. The epic atmosphere grows as the song progresses, building to great peaks, descending into dismal valleys, and then back up again. To listen to this piece is to take a journey into a land forlorn; a time long-forgotten by most and kept alive only in the tales told by the aged and withered. Words cannot properly articulate the brilliance of this song, which is the highlight of the record (along with the first track). Slightly beyond the mid-way point, everything becomes fairly silent, leaving only the acoustic guitar and some keyboard effects. As the electric guitar and drums return, the aura is drenched in tension, as a galloping riff builds in slow anticipation of the main theme's return.

"A chariot of thunder and gold
Will come loud
And a warrior of thunder and rain

With hair as white as snow
Hammer of steel
To set you free of your chains

And to lead you all
Where horses run free
And the souls of the ancient ones reign"

Blood Fire Death is the last of the records from Bathory's classic era, for some. It is also the beginning of the middle part of Quorthon's career; the Viking Metal era. As a whole album, it is a step down from the previous release. A couple of the songs seem like filler; however, this album contains some of the most powerful and epic songs in Bathory's entire catalogue. This is essential for any Bathory fan.
 
(19 May 2009)

 
 

Hammerheart is the fifth Bathory record, though only because the Blood On Ice double L.P. was shelved and deemed too much of a difference in style, compared to Blood Fire Death. In retrospect, it may have been a wise move, as Hammerheart seems to be a more direct extension of what was accomplished with some of the most notable songs on Blood Fire Death, such as "A Fine Day to Die" and the title track. Recorded in Heavenshore Studio in June 1989, Bathory's fifth album was finally released in April 1990.

This album represents the true beginning of the band's Viking era. Whereas its predecessor began and ended with this style, the rest of the material was a mixed bag. In the end, as good as all of those songs are, the album doesn't flow very well and it had a detrimental effect on the overall presentation. Hammerheart features a much more cohesive structure and the songs compliment each other, for the most part. Right from the start, "Shores in Flames" and "Valhalla" pick up from where "Blood Fire Death" left off. The epic structure really goes back to songs like "Enter the Eternal Fire", and this sound dominates the album. There are a good number of choir effects which add to the atmosphere, greatly. Unlike the previous album, there is a common theme present throughout the whole record. The primary difference that one would notice, upon first listen, would be the difference in the vocal performance.

On Blood Fire Death, Quorthon allowed a bit more of his true voice to come through, creating somewhat of a strained and raspy sound that was unlike that found on earlier albums. In the end, it was still enough to be considered harsh. On Hammerheart, he uses a cleaner sound, though it's hard to really call it clean singing, in its purest sense. The clean vocals are more dominant on the album, especially on "Song To Hall Up High". On tracks like "Valhalla" and "Baptised in Fire and Ice", his voice has more of a rough edge, reminiscent of Blood Fire Death.

The production is very close to that of the previous record which, of course, was recorded in the same studio. The sound is powerful and heavy, mostly due to the songwriting, and everything is just clear enough while still retaining a raw edge and a good amount of fuzz in the guitar sound. Considering the limited number of tracks available to record, it's amazing that so much was able to fit onto the record; all of the various sound effects and backing choirs, as well as clean guitar parts.

Of course, the album isn't entirely flawless, though it pains me to say such a thing. In particular, "Baptised in Fire and Ice" and and "Father To Son" represent the real low point of the album. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your view), they are lumped together in the middle of the record and only create one interruption in the flow of this masterpiece. It's not that these songs are completely terrible, but they just don't seem to fit. Some riffs are decent, but they're mixed in with other riffs that simply don't fit this style. It's a shame, since there are some decent riffs found in both songs. At any rate, this is the only real complaint about Hammerheart.

Regarding the highlights of the album, more or less, look to every other song aside from those two. "Shores in Flames" and "Valhalla" get the album off to a great start, featuring twenty minutes of epic, mid-paced Viking Metal. The latter probably edges out the former in terms of quality. While "Baptised in Fire and Ice" has some annoyingly out of place riffs, it's passable. Only "Father To Son" manages to slow the momentum of the album, but it's short enough to be negligible. The next song, "Song To Hall Up High", adds yet another element to the evolving Bathory sound. It is a great interlude, featuring clean vocals and acoustic guitar, adding so much to the atmosphere of the album and serving as an excellent way to lead into "Home of Once Brave". This one then returns to the same high standard set by the opening tracks, possibly surpassing them. Near the end of the song, a riff is stolen from Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", but it's done quite well and suits the feeling of the piece. However, nothing on this entire record could possibly match up to what would come next.

"One Rode to Asa Bay" may very well be one of the most powerful and epic pieces of music that I have ever heard. After a minute or so intro, an acoustic guitar begins to set the stage. The crushingly heavy guitar and drums continue with this melody as this monster of a song unfolds. As with the majority of the other songs, this one is mid-paced and rather slow. Quorthon's vocals lean more to the clean side of things, though still a little raspy. And for anyone that has criticized him for not having a great singing voice, I think this is a perfect example of passion and heart making up for any possible lack of talent (though I got used to his style fairly quickly and actually appreciate it for what it is). The lyrics tell the tale of Christians bringing their alien religion and forcing it upon the people of the North, so long ago. It's actually very depressing, particularly for those who have studied history and seen how this foreign mythology has slowly destroyed the true European culture for centuries. The song is filled with good riffs and great solos that convey a lot of feeling; however, the most poignant moment of the entire song comes near the end.


"Now this house of a foreign god does stand
Now must they leave us alone
Still he heard from somewhere in the woods
Old crow of wisdom say
...people of Asa land, it's only just begun..."

And with that final line, each and every time that I have listened to this song, regardless of the setting, a chill runs up my spine and I get goosebumps all over. For years and years, this same thing happens, whether I anticipate it or not. I think it's a combination of the lyrics (and knowing the deeper, historical, significance of this), as well as the vocal delivery and the structure of the song. The solo that follows is absolutely perfect and the whole thing is the epitome of the word epic. "One Rode to Asa Bay" is an incredible and memorable way to end and album and to leave the fans eager for the next album. It's songs like this one that prove the musical genius of Quorthon and cement his place among the Metal elite. As many times as he has been ripped off, no one has ever come close to replicating the feeling that he was capable of conveying.
 
(29 July 2010)

 
 

Twilight of the Gods was the sixth full-length album from Bathory, released on Black Mark Productions in June 1991. This was originally meant to be the final chapter of this band's career and shows even more classical influence than on the previous album. The title comes from Wagner's opera, Götterdämmerung. Recorded at Montezuma Studio in Stockholm, Sweden and produced by Boss, this record continues the sound that had been developing on Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart, while adding in yet more new elements. It is somewhat difficult to label this as a Viking Metal album, as it represents a bit of a departure from the atmosphere and approach of its predecessors. There are traces of modernity within the lyrics and musical arrangements that simply do not fit well. It also lacks any sense of aggression, content to move along at an almost relaxed pace, throughout. Even the production is very smooth and rounded-off, with no rough edges remaining.

It was back in high school when I borrowed this album, on cassette, from a friend of mine. Along with The Somberlain and Where No Life Dwells (from Dissection and Unleashed, respectively), Twilight of the Gods remained in my tape player for quite some time. Over and over, I listened to this release, until the unthinkable happened: some of the tracks began wearing thin and the magic wore off. After repeated plays, inconsistencies were more noticeable. From lyrical themes to riffs and song structures, this turned out to be Quorthon's own Ragnarök, for some years.

This majestic album starts out with the title track, which is introduced by a sombre guitar melody and the sound of the north wind blowing cold. The drums burst forth from the silence, pounding steady and giving the feeling of a war march. The build-up is accompanied by an acoustic guitar, taking its time to let the listener drown in his own anxiety and eagerness to see what happens next. Once the main riff comes rumbling through, joined by a backing choir that adds a dismal atmosphere to the already-epic masterpiece that is slowly unfolding. The music is mid-paced and carries a feeling of doom. The lyrics go along with this, yet once one takes the time to pay attention, it is clear that the theme deals with modernity rather than the distant past, which takes away from the overall effect and makes it more difficult to enjoy. The arrangement is somewhat monotonous, but the lack of dynamics actually helps the song out. The final couple minutes feature a lengthy acoustic passage, along with the return of the bitter cold winds.

"Through Blood By Thunder" picks up where the first song left off, opening with more freezing winds and a clean guitar section. The main riffs are mid-paced, as would be expected, and the aura is still rather sorrowful. Quorthon's clean vocals have developed a little more and, while still kind of an acquired taste, he seems to have more control over his voice at this point. Still, the vocals are buried in the mix, probably to hide any weaknesses. The riffs are heavy and epic, and though it is not the strongest track on here, it is very solid and memorable.

The next song also starts with an acoustic guitar. "Blood and Iron" might have been better off if placed elsewhere on the album, as there is no real logic behind lumping together three songs that all start out in such a similar manner. Unfortunately, the sound here is almost reminiscent of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive", and the comparisons with that poser outfit are not limited to this song, alone. Thankfully, once the song progresses, it moves far from this mild similarity and the heaviness of the guitar riffs and the thundering drums is enough to crush your skull into a fine powder. The lyrics, again, move from themes of the past to modern topics, making mention of space exploration and so on. Things like this really work against the material and make it difficult for the listener to really get lost in the music. There is still a rather sad vibe here, but the presentation does not really do well to convey the true sense of hopelessness that Quorthon may have been going for. Overall, this song does not live up to its potential and is far too soft.

"Under the Runes" seems to be a favourite among fans and it is no surprise, since it is the catchiest song on here. Regrettably, it has to be said that the structure and melody of this tune appear to have much more in common with mainstream music than Viking Metal. The sound is more akin to some 80s Rock band, like the aforementioned group, and the atmosphere kills what little momentum the album had by this point. The solo work is decent and the song could have been something better, but Quorthon had lost his focus and one should not be surprised that this was planned to be the final Bathory record.

Yet another acoustic guitar intro starts out "To Enter Your Mountain", and remains even once a somewhat heavy riff emerges. The atmosphere is really much too light, as in weak and bright. This is not as dark as it wants to be, and the sound is quite soft and has more in common with fluffy morning clouds than a harsh and rugged mountainside.

"Bond of Blood" comes along, quite late in the album, attempting to salvage things. This is, certainly, the darkest track on the record. An earlier version of this song can be heard on the Jubileum III compilation, when it was titled "In Nomine Satanas" (of course, another coincidence related to Venom). Perhaps, the Satanic content of the original is the reason for the darker tone. As with the rest, this one is slow and plodding, managing to retain some heaviness despite the weak production. The lead solos add so much to the song, creating a dark and melancholic vibe. This is, easily, the best and most memorable track on here. The epic quality is not ruined by the lyrical themes, which are vague and yet also seem more focused on what one would expect.

"Heading north after long a journey
We have sailed for so very long
Heavy seas endless sky above us
Heading north going home"

The final track is "Hammerheart", which utilizes music composed by Gustav Holst, from his Planets Suite. It is not terribly dark, yet there is a sadness that cannot be denied. Listening to this in the years since Quorthon passed away makes one hope that he had more of a connection to these lyrics than he let on, at times. At least, it is what many among the Bathory Hordes would like to believe. It definitely would have served as a suitable way to end a career, as it possesses a certain feeling of finality.

Twilight of the Gods is highly regarded, yet it is an album plagued by weaknesses that get more and more difficult to ignore, as time passes. There is only one original composition that is not dragged down by its flaws, while the rest of the material wallows in mediocrity and is destroyed by inconsistent songwriting. The best moments are among the most epic and majestic in Metal history, but the low points are horrendous when one considers what this band was capable of. It is fortunate that Quorthon redeemed himself, a decade later, with the Nordland records.
 
(16 Nov. 2011)

 
 

With Twilight of the Gods, Bathory was supposed to have been laid to rest. A couple of compilation albums were released, as sort of a posthumous tribute and Quorthon moved on to a solo project that took him quite a distance from the sort of music that he had once played. After releasing Album, it seemed that he felt some pressure to make a new Bathory album and, taking only a few weeks to write it, this resulted in Requiem. Released in November 1994, this L.P. represents yet another shift in the band's sound. With the previous albums becoming more and more complicated and involved, it was natural that he felt that he had painted himself into a corner. The only real choice would be to make a complete break with the direction that Bathory had been going in, to return to a more simplistic and raw approach. While possessing a completely different sound, Requiem hearkens back to the speed and intensity of the early records. Unfortunately, this time around, the end result is nowhere near as good.

One of the worst things about this album would have to be the absolutely atrocious production. This is not under-produced like the first album, where the sound ends up being raw and dark. One can tell that this was simply a matter of getting a really awful sound with nice, modern equipment. Whenever a band uses a real studio to try getting a garage sound, they fail. The guitar tone is horrid, and the bass is far too prominent in the mix. The drums sound incredibly fake and triggered, though it really gives the impression of being a drum machine. It would seem that, around this time, Quorthon was listening to too much Death Metal, as this comes off as his interpretation of that style, to an extent.

Of course, musically, this is much more of a Thrash Metal album than anything else. However, it sits alongside efforts such as Slayer's Divine Intervention as a record that was released a few years too late. Not just because of the wretched modern sound, but because too few were interested in such a release at the time. Had it been put out in the mid-to-late 1980s, Requiem would likely have turned out much better and received more positive feedback, accordingly. The music is fast and intense, with guitar solos all over the place and harsh vocals on top of it all, but it seems rather generic. The thing is, if Quorthon was going to drop the Viking Metal in favour of something else, it would have made much more sense to revisit the sound of Under the Sign of the Black Mark. By 1994, countless bands that were inspired by Bathory's early output were making a name for themselves and it would have been natural for Quorthon to reclaim his throne. How incredible it would have been for him to return in 1994 with a record that put most of the Norwegians to shame. Instead, he never looked back to his Black Metal days, opting to let his followers keep the black flame burning.

Overall, Requiem is a decent album if you can ignore the countless flaws in the recording. It does not match up to any of the old Bathory albums, though it is at least more consistent than Twilight of the Gods. The main cause for disappointment is that the material just seems beneath what Quorthon was capable of. One has to appreciate the raw and passionate feeling of the material and performance, despite the production. Give this a shot if you are interested in hearing Quorthon's take on Thrash Metal. If you go in without any real expectations and just take it for what it is, you may find it much more enjoyable.
 
(17 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Blood On Ice was originally written in 1988-89, intended as a possible follow-up to Blood Fire Death. The band was not sure about going with a full-fledged concept album and opted to let this material remain on the shelf, in favour of the songs that became Hammerheart. As the years rolled by, Blood On Ice became something of a myth, as Quorthon made some mention of it and fans eventually considered this to be a completed album that was just collecting dust, for no reason. For those that worshiped Bathory's Viking Metal records, it seemed like a crime for another one to go unreleased, while the band was seemingly laid to rest. After being bombarded with fan mail, Quorthon decided to give the songs a listen and felt that the material had the potential to be released. The only problem was that what he had on his hands was a mess. Far from being the finished album that everyone seemed to think it was, Blood On Ice was in dire need of being fixed up. Some tracks had no vocals, none had any backing vocals and the drums were quite difficult to hear, at points. Quite a lot of time was spent simply cleaning up the existing tapes, so that they could then be completed. This took place during the summer of 1995, with the final recording and mixing being done by early 1996.

Quorthon stated in interviews that about 40% of the material had to be redone, but that the rest was left untouched. In reality, it probably would have been better if the whole thing was recorded from scratch, since the production is rather atrocious. The raw edge that was found on Hammerheart is absent and even the sound of Twilight of the Gods, soft as it was, possessed more of a natural feel. The drum parts that were augmented by computer really take something away from the songs, at times. The songs are epic, memorable and dripping with a majestic atmosphere but this is difficult to enjoy thanks to the low quality sound. Gradually, it is possible to get used to it and the songwriting is definitely strong enough to lure you in and to eventually look past the production.

As for the music, itself, some of it is excellent and some could have been better developed. Perhaps, Quorthon wanted to remain true to the original concept, but he had the opportunity to either improve the songs or drop any that were not at the same level as the rest. There really are not any bad songs on here, but some of them could have used a little work. Despite this, the very best tracks rank among the greatest ever recorded by Bathory. The title track, as well as the reprise at the end, features massive riffs that hearken back to an age now long forgotten. "Man of Iron" is a beautiful track, with the focus resting on the medieval acoustic guitars and Quorthon's sombre clean vocal melodies. This one piece, alone, is worth the price of the album. "The Lake" is another standout track, built around slow yet powerful guitar riffs that evoke a sense of majesty. Like with many of the songs, there is a sorrowful quality to this music, emphasized by the woeful backing vocals. Many of the songs on Blood On Ice possess a similar atmosphere to the Lord of the Rings films. This is even present on the faster and more-upbeat "God of Thunder of Wind and of Rain". With songs such as this and "One Eyed Old Man", it is no surprise that Quorthon thought this material would be too much of a shift in the band's sound, at the time of its creation. The majority of the songs are mid-paced, which lends a lot to the epic feeling that is present, here. It all certainly fits in well with the Viking-era releases, and the tunes are stronger than those found on Twilight of the Gods, in particular. Of course, the heavy riffs are accentuated by acoustic bits and backing choirs. All of the elements that one would expect are present. There is a definite medieval vibe that permeates much of the music and this is good background noise for reading Tolkien. A lot of work went into preserving the purity of the material, with Quorthon being conscious enough to even make sure to try to utilize his voice in a manner similar to how he had back in the late-80s, rather than allowing it to be tainted by modernity.

Blood On Ice represented a moment in time where a very talented musician had to step back and take a look at himself and his legacy. Quorthon had accomplished a lot, yet Requiem and Octagon were far from momentous. It was following these disappointing outings that he really had to think about what Bathory meant to himself and to the Hordes. Obviously, he lrealized what meant the most and listened to what they wanted. Most were grateful with this release, as it is a very solid record and a worthy addendum to the band's Viking era. As long as one does not listen to it right after Hammerheart, the weaker production is less noticeable. Either way, after a couple songs you will get used to it and be able to better focus on the music. Considering the sheer amount of material, it would have been easy to let a few songs slip by, but even the least effective tracks here cannot be considered bad. If you like the aforementioned albums, or the later Nordland records, this is a safe bet. Turn the volume all the way up and feel the cold winds tear at your skin as the music takes you back to a time and place lost forever.
 
(18 Nov. 2011)

 

The story of Bathory is one with many twists and turns. From the early period, inspired by hardcore punk and the likes of Motörhead and Venom, on through the more epic Viking-era and then to the strange midlife crisis that characterized the band's mid-'90s output, Quorthon created a musical legacy like no other. And so, six years after the last Bathory full-length, the band released its tenth L.P. Titled Destroyer of Worlds, this record had a lot to live up to. According to interviews, the original material was a bit progressive and ended up being totally scrapped as, once word that a new Bathory album was spread, Quorthon received a lot of fan mail that indicated that what the fans wanted was a return to earlier styles. As the story goes, the band hastily wrote new songs, based on this feedback, and this is what was released to the world in October 2001. Unfortunately, if this is true, it would mean that the only fans that cared enough to write were those with bad taste, as the end result is completely disappointing.

The record begins on somewhat of a positive note, with three tracks that hearken back to the Nordic style that was featured on classic albums such as Hammerheart and even Blood On Ice. “Lake of Fire”, “Destroyer of Worlds” and “Ode” are mid-paced songs that possess an epic feeling that would surely be pleasing to fans of the band's Viking-era. Everything is there, from the acoustic bits to the choir vocals to the memorable guitar melodies. The first and third songs would not have been out of place on Twilight of the Gods, for example. The title track fits in, somewhat, but is the weak link of these three, being a bit repetitive and less-inspired. “Ode” has the most feeling behind it, with Quorthon's vocals really conveying a sombre mood not heard since “Fade Away”, from his second solo effort. Had Destroyer of Worlds been an E.P. That featured only these songs, then it would have been a much more successful endeavour. However, these tracks are followed up by material that is not worthy of the Bathory name.

It is difficult to comprehend the mentality behind the rest of the songs. The music does not encapsulate the band's entire career, as it merely touches upon the Viking sound and then meanders through a miserable hell of garbage that is reminiscent of Octagon. It is a mixture of bad Thrash with a lot of unbearable groove nonsense. There are occasional moments where Quorthon obviously tried tying things together with a choir or acoustic part, here or there, but it does nothing to salvage this filth. The thing that makes this so depressing is that he has always been such a talented musician and songwriter, yet sometimes churns out ridiculous trash for his own amusement, possibly. As a longtime Bathory fan, it is truly disturbing to even attempt to listen to the rest of this and it is strongly recommended that no one does so, unless you wish to punish yourself. The production is rather shoddy, but not so terrible. It is not bad in the same sense as the early albums, where it actually adds some rawness to the atmosphere. It just sounds muffled and flat, throughout the majority of the recording. It tends to hold back the few good songs, just slightly, while making the rest all the more atrocious.

If you consider yourself to be a die-hard Bathory fan, find some way to acquire “Lake of Fire” and “Ode”, and then forget that the rest even exist. You will forever regret it, if you decide to let curiosity get the better of you and try exploring the rest of the album. It is one of the most bloody awful things to happen within the realm of Metal and truly sickens and offends me as a loyal member of the Bathory Hordes. Avoid this like the plague, or like a hooker with oozing sores around her mouth. Destroyer of Worlds is a despicable blemish on Bathory's legacy and may have been the final nail in the coffin, if not for the brilliant Nordland releases. If this represents what the fans wanted, then all those that wrote letters should be tracked down and massacred.
 
(30 Apr. 2012)

 
Nordland (2002)
 

As one of the founders of Black Metal, Bathory left its black mark on the music world, already, throughout the mid-80s. By 1988, however, Quorthon took his band into a different area, creating what would come to be known as Viking Metal. Blood Fire Death served as a transition from one era to the next, preceding such classics as Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, the latter being intended to be the final Bathory album.

A few years later, Quorthon returned with a few disappointing albums. Much of the spirit seemed to have been drained from these works. However, in the fall of 2002, Bathory returned to its Viking Metal days with the masterpiece known as Nordland I. The sound is quite majestic, while remaining crushingly heavy and powerful. This is the album that fans of Viking-era Bathory had been waiting for, since 1991.

After a brief intro, the album truly begins with the song "Nordland". Within mere seconds, it is quite obvious that this belongs alongside those albums of the past, far removed from the output during the mid-to-late 90s. Quorthon succeeds in creating an epic atmosphere, as one would expect. This song is mid-paced, with a galloping riff that possesses the distinctive Bathory style. This song has the feeling of a war march, as the Northern hordes gather to cleanse their lands of invading filth. Quorthon's vocals are much like those found on Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, though a bit less awkward-sounding. His singing voice is very confident and proud. The chorus features a brilliant chanting choir as this piece celebrates the glorious lands of the North.

"Endless forests, lakes of water dark and deep
Misty mountains, where giants sleep"

This may be the most impressive song of Bathory's Viking-era, a distant second to "One Rode to Asa Bay". An incredible way to begin a long-awaited album.

"Vinterblot" begins with crushing riffs that pound on the skulls of those that would embrace Judeo-Christian values and poison the mighty Northland with such alien propaganda. The guitar riffs carry more of a feeling of doom. The choirs remain, but they seem somewhat darker. Quorthon's vocals have made the same transition; sounding more sinister and strained. This song tells the tale of a winter sacrifice, to summon the return of the life-giving sun.

The next song is "Dragon's Breath", which begins with a thunderous sound and a bleak feeling. The guitar harmonies are very interesting, though the song quickly transforms into something quite different. It seems to have more distortion than the first two and a heavier groove riff, before transitioning to a majestic bridge. This is all too brief, as the song returns to the groove riff which is almost too distorted to even listen to. This song is quite inferior to the two that came before it, though not completely without merit. Quorthon's vocals possess a sense of desperation at certain points and the chorus is very pleasant. Basically, the riffs during the verses just don't seem to fit well into the style of the album.

"Ring of Gold" changes things up, beginning with a soft acoustic passage and accentuated by sound effects such as the sound of a thunderstorm, and loons calling across a deep, cold, foggy Nordic lake. This song has more of a folk atmosphere and is very peaceful and calming. Quorthon's vocals almost remind one of an old minstrel. This was done to perfection.

The next song is "Foreverdark Woods", and this is one of the highlights of the album, right behind the title track. This shows a continuation of the same folk style utilized on the previous song, before progressing into yet another majestic riff. This song was an instant classic, the very day it was recorded. Quorthon's clean vocals are powerful and precise. This mid-paced epic cannot help but to fill those listeners of Northern European blood with a great sense of pride, while inspiring the rest with pure awe. Late in the song, the lead solo flows, seamlessly, into the song in typical Bathory fashion. The lead melody, at the very end, is absolutely incredible.

"Broken Sword" begins with the sounds of waves crashing against the jagged, rocky shore, accompanied by a calm acoustic intro that lulls the listener into a (false) sense of security before the all-out speed attack. This is the fastest and most furious song on this album, maybe seeming out of place to some but making perfect sense in the way it was placed on the album to offset some of the slower songs. The song fades out, just as it faded in, to the sound of the waves and acoustic guitar.

"Great Hall Awaits A Fallen Brother" begins with a very thrashy riff, though not as fast as the previous song. The chorus is a little slower and possesses the same majestic feel (surely, in part, due to the choir) that is found elsewhere on the album. With harsher vocals, this would have easily fit on Blood Fire Death, though Quorthon's vocals are actually perfect for this song, as is. This song really takes one back to times of old, when our people sought glory through battle and achieving great deeds.

"Washed away, your blood, a gentle rain
The blood shed is blood of mine"

"Mother Earth Father Thunder" is the final song of Nordland I. This one begins with the chanting choir, before crushing guitar riffs come in like a massive glacier to slower force its way across the land and destroy all in its path. This song imbues those listeners of Northern European blood with a sense of pride and strength.

"As if written in the snow, the lies, shall melt away
By the wheel of sun to cross the sky this day
Shadows may lay heavy upon the earth
But the truth, cut deep in stone, will last
Till the heavens comes tumbling down upon this world"

To describe this song as incredibly epic, majestic and glorious would sound repetitive, yet even these words don't do justice the atmosphere created by this song, and the album as a whole. The sounds of thunder end the song, as one hears sea gulls and water splashing against the shore in the brief outro, "Heimfard".

Nordland I is a classic album from the band that created this sound, the mighty Bathory. If you are a fan of Viking-era Bathory, this will not disappoint and you are encouraged to seek this out, immediately.
 
(24 Jan. 2009) 

 
 

Released by Black Mark in March 2003, Nordland II is not only the second part of this Nordic saga, it is also the final chapter in the career of the mighty Bathory. The Nordland albums represented a return to the band's Viking era, something that many had been wanting since the days of Twilight of the Gods. While Blood On Ice served to quench this thirst for some, it still failed to realize the same glory as Hammerheart. Yet with this epic saga, Quorthon achieved such greatness once again, just a short time before he met his untimely demise. Though the band's middle period was disappointing for most, Bathory's legacy was redeemed with the final two records.

This epic record begins with "Fanfare", which sets the tone quite well. One gets the feeling of having been pulled back through the centuries, into some distant past that bears more of a resemblance to The Lord of the Rings than to recent times.

"Blooded Shore" begins with the same type of epic, mid-paced riffs that characterized so much of Nordland I. There is a great deal of power conveyed by this music. The majestic guitar melodies are supported by thundering drums and a passionate vocal delivery to create something that is memorable and moving. Quorthon's voice seems to be much more confident than on his earliest forays into clean singing, while the trademark choirs add to the atmosphere. Late in the song, a lead solo builds off of the melody of the main riff, before fading into the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore.

This is followed by "Sea Wolf", which starts out with some medieval-sounding instrument. The lyrics tell of a tale immortalized on a rune stone, preserving the deeds of heroes for many years to come. The feeling stirred up by the riffs is a bit darker than on the previous song, though not in an oppressive manner. This one is slower as well, crushing your skull with the force of a giant hammer. Already, one can tell that the arrangement of the songs is no random thing and that they are ordered in such a way as to build upon one another. While progressing toward its own climax, it serves well to add a sense of tension to the album as a whole.

"Vinland" is another epic tune that carries a lighter feeling than the preceding track, though not lacking in terms of powerful riffs and memorable vocal lines. In true saga form, this tells the tale of the glorious deeds of the northmen leading to the discovery of the new world. There is an optimistic feeling present in the guitar melodies, yet Quorthon's voice is almost sorrowful, at times. The track features subtle use of acoustic guitar as well, joining the backing choir in adding more layers to the sound and bringing the song to life in a much more profound manner.

The next song is "The Land", and this destroys a lot of the filler found on Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, within the first minute or so. The riffs are very heavy and powerful, yet melodic at the same time. The vocals fit well with the music and manage to increase the intensity with each passing line. Late in the song, he emits a scream that sends chills down your spine. As with the rest of the record, you get the feeling of being transported back in time to a world that has since become long forgotten. The guitar melodies are reminiscent of "One Rode to Asa Bay", in some ways, and the overall atmosphere is steeped in grandeur. There is not an extreme amount of variation in tempo, though this is in no way detrimental to the flow of the song.

"Death and Resurrection of a Northern Son" is, arguably, the most dynamic track on the whole album. It is also one of the longer songs on Nordland II. It features fast riffs that sound like a holdover from the mid-'90s, yet these are interspersed with a much more sombre tune, with mournful melodies and vocal lines that create a somewhat darker feeling. The middle section of the song is quite soft, with only Quorthon's woeful voice and minimal instrumentation in the background. Despite the diversity on display here, everything flows seamlessly. The only downside would have to be the vocal delivery during the fast parts, which really does not work that well.

Clocking in at ten minutes, "The Messenger" is one of the longest tracks on here. Unfortunately, it may have benefited from being cut down a little. The main riffs are decent enough, but not quite at the level that one would expect from a song of this magnitude and really kind of possess a generic hard rock feeling. Though not one of the album's highlights, this song includes some really dismal guitar melodies and some bleak and depressing riffs in the final minutes that definitely salvage things.

"Flash of the Silverhammer" is not one of the better songs and is built around some fairly annoying riffs. Thankfully, the rest of the elements manage to pull this one through, relatively unscathed. Still, this is probably the low point of the album and the one track that may be deemed unnecessary. It is unable to stand on its own and fails to add anything to the record, overall.

The grand finale of Nordland II, and ultimately the final song of Bathory's legendary existence, is "The Wheel of Sun". This masterpiece is nearly thirteen minutes in length and is one of the most impressive songs that Quorthon ever wrote. Starting out with a clean guitar passage, the roaring guitars and thundering drums slowly crush everything before them, like an ice age glacier. One of the riffs sounds very reminiscent of "To Enter Your Mountain", from Twilight of the Gods, though this is far superior to anything from that L.P. As if the preceding songs were not epic enough, this track is filled with powerful vocals and majestic guitar melodies that will forever be embedded in your mind. Much like the majority of the material on this album, this song is mid-paced but makes the most out of every single moment. Everything comes together, perfectly, with a strange sense of finality coming across with each note. Even the lyrics speak of the cycle of death and rebirth, and the music really captures the essence of this, with an atmosphere that consists of a combination of the darkness and optimism.

To say that this album is essential would be an understatement. Together with the previous release, Nordland II not only returns to Bathory's classic Viking-era, but it builds upon the foundation that had been laid down over a decade earlier. Rather than just rehashing what had gone before, in a bid to please those fans that had been let down with albums like Octagon, Quorthon picked up from where he left off and took things to their logical conclusion. This is not only a worthy addition to the band's discography, it is the final glimpse of brilliance from a man that was responsible for so much development within the Metal underground. If you have not yet heard this, do so now.
 
(12 Mar. 2012)

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