Bathory is another (the other one which I reviewed on TDSR was Burzum, but that’s Norway) Swedish one-man band from the height of the black metal era of the late 80’s-early 90’s, which was run by some guy known as Quorthon. Bathory’s music, at least on here, seems proto-black metal, rather than pure black metal which is to be found in the music of later (Bathory came a mite earlier than the most famous of the black metal practitioners-1983) contemporaries like Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor et all (all bands which will be reviewed on TDSR, just gimme time). Of course, 1988 was a little early for the normal black metal characteristics (check my review of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss) to develop, but we can see the origin of the style in this album, Bathory can be said to be the true pioneers of the genre.
The vocals, rather than the usual tortured screams, are sung (yes, sung) in a sort of rasping growl by Quorthorn, and many times you can understand what he is actually singing. Of course, the fact that they are in English helps. (remember, key black metal bands are to be found in Scandinivia rather than the States, Florida is to death metal what Norway is to black metal). The drum programming employed by Bathory does utilize blast beats at times, but mostly the drumming is slower than average (with respect to black metal), and the blast beats when they do happen are subdued and muffled. The vocals and the guitars are way up in the mix. The subject matter is related to Vikings, this later became known as Viking Metal.
Now that we are done with the useless preliminaries, lets get down to it. Is it any good?
The must hear songs on this disc are the first two-the title track and A Fine Day to Die. For almost 20 mins Bathory touches highs they (or he) never again touched in their career. Some of black metal’s shining moments of glory are on display here. The riffs are melodic (yes melodic), there is excellent use of other instruments (studio trickery I call it) like keyboards to enhance the atmosphere, those are only apparent if you listen very carefully, since it is black metal ( or proto black metal) everything is drowned out by the wall of sound the guitar creates. Ohh, and there are solos too. Yes. Solos. Something rare in black metal. However, the good thing is that before we segue into those songs we have the atmospheric mood setter “Odens Ride over Nordland” which has horses neighing and galloping all over the place. Nice touch.
These songs were the indication as to what was to follow on the subsequent album which followed this, Hammerheart. This was the epic Viking songwriting technique which Quorthon later on perfected. The remaining songs are more Slayer-esque, in the earlier style of Bathory (the debut more specifically) and less epic. Not that effective for me.
Black Metal in the 90’s had become mostly a counter culture breeding ground, the home for people who wanted to “break out”, a place for people to voice their dissent against religion. Of course, this went extreme and resulted in a large number of church burnings. The musicians who created this music were mostly mad, were viewed as harbouring pro-Nazi, anti-homosexual inclinations. Check this, Samoth of Emperor murdered a homo, next day he went off with Varg Vikernes (Burzum) to burn a church. Aarseith of Mayhem committed suicide inside the house that the band shared, and left a note saying “Sorry for the blood”. The band photographed this and used it for an album cover. One year later Euroynomous of Mayhem was murdered by Varg. He was found with 38 knife wounds on his body. Also, Varg is out free as of today and planning to release an album called “The White God”.
And when I tell you that I have just scratched the surface, you might understand the level of depravity that prevailed in black metal circles in the 90’s. These people weren’t pretending to be insane, they were.
Recommendation-This was one of the albums where you can see the formation blueprint for later formation of the essential black metal style. Influential status aside, the songs are very well constructed and are essential for the black metal-head, and recommended for a casual metal fan also.
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