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Every legend begins with truth, as someone once said, and every metal legend has humble beginnings. But in the case of the iconic black metal forefathers known as Bathory, humility is nowhere to be found, save perhaps the rawness of the production. By any standards of either the 1st wave of black metal or the rawest of thrash metal that was running parallel to it circa 1983-84, this brief LP is about as extreme of a listen as there was to be heard and saw the newborn black style moving away from its NWOBHM roots towards something even darker and more menacing. It tends to resemble a thrash album more than what is considered black metal today, but this short debut is arguably where the true sound that typifies the latter genre as it exists today began.
Though many insist on making comparisons to Venom’s early works, this is pretty far removed from what they had done up to this point, and definitely lends credence to front man Quorthon’s assertions that Bathory’s music wasn’t directly impacted by them. The riff work is the first glaring example of the departure, as it shares more in common with the more aggressive and guitar oriented work of early Slayer and Metallica. “Sacrifice” and “Hades” in particular draws heavily from the same Motorhead meets Diamond Head riffing style that Dave Mustaine was privy to when he put together classics that showed up on the first Metallica LP such as “Phantom Lord” and “Metal Militia”. It should also be noted that Quorthon’s garbled and shrill goblin speak on all of these songs was unheard of at the time, essentially taking maybe an element of Lemmy Kilmister’s raspy vocal style and distorting it further into the intelligible but anti-melodic and inhuman mutterings that are found here.
For all of the stylistically revolutionary things going on here, it is equally important to note the utter simplicity of this blackened beast. Most of these songs consist of 3 or 4 riffs played in a fairly formulaic and repetitious fashion, and most guitar solos that occur tend to ramble about the pentatonic scale in short bursts, almost like a simpler take on Kerry King’s flashy yet brief shred fests in the midst of a wall of perpetual speed. Likewise, the average duration of each song is well under the 3 mark, almost like a simpler and slower take on “Reign In Blood” about 2 years before, exuding about the same level of darkness and malevolence in each speed drum beat and crunchy power chord. Even on slower non-speed oriented works like “Necromansy” and “Raise The Dead”, both of which definitely carry a good level of Black Sabbath influence alongside the faster NWOBHM characteristics, a small number of differing riffs and a non-epic approach to song structure contrast this with Metallica’s longwinded works at this time.
There isn’t really much to complain about here save that it consists of less than 24 minutes of actual music and even by 1984’s standards this is an extremely roughly produced album. When you contrast it with the pristine and almost overly clean finished product that was “Ride The Lightning”, it’s understandable that many newly indoctrinated Metal fans whose understanding of thrash metal is limited to the Big 4 would have a hard time accepting this, but this rivals just about everything that was out in 1984 under the thrash banner in terms of quality and I’d argue surpasses them all in terms of aggression. It lacks the theatrical elements of other early members of the 1st wave of black metal such as Venom and Mercyful Fate, and the formula present here was further improved upon on the two albums that Quorthon and company put out soon after, but its place in history was solidified the minute the first hard copy was circulated.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 4, 2009.