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Thrashing anthems from Nordland. - 89%

ConorFynes, August 26th, 2016

It is interesting that Bathory's most popular masterpiece was also their transition work. Blood Fire Death still lends itself more to the dirty blackthrash of their early period, but the lavish Viking folk arrangements and epic scope created a stark contrast. Part of the reason why Blood Fire Death stands the test of time so well is that Quorthon didn't compromise one style for the other. While the sound from Hammerheart onward softened the bite, Blood Fire Death features the highbrow and primitive alike coming together, triumphantly colliding against one another in a clash becoming of the gods themselves.

The fan debate between early/latter eras of Bathory has been exhausted, but it is nice that an album like Blood Fire Death exists to cater to the whims of either side. While I usually find myself approaching "transition" albums with a little hesitation, it's only because most artists have a rough time grasping a new style the first time around. It doesn't appear as if Quorthon had this problem. "Odens Ride over Nordland" and "A Fine Day to Die" segue together perfectly as if Quorthon had been meant to invoke the Norse pantheon all along-- and it's clear that he was. The album's deep cuts all rely on the familiar blackthrash assault, but even they sound more sophisticated than the raw evil of albums past. The full circle return to sprawling epic metal on the title track gives the two styles a surprising sense of coherence. Where the Bathory worshippers I've heard capitalize on one era over another, I'm not sure I've heard one that manages to bring both sides together in full force. Blood Fire Death is definitely less outwardly sophisticated than some of the latter Bathory albums, but this album would be by far the hardest to properly replicate.

"A Fine Day to Die" and "Blood Fire Death" are the most ambitious undertakings Bathory had taken to date. Although they may pale in comparison to the scope of, say, "Twilight of the Gods", the raw bite in these tracks creates a niche of their own. As much as I love the Viking era, the rancid "evilness" of Bathory's early stuff would be missed. It's hard to call anything on Blood Fire Death truly evil compared to the first three records but the balance of deep arrangement and rawness counts for a lot here. Acoustic guitar and a tense choral backdrop complements dark riffs that wouldn't have needed the support to stand out on their own. Although the thrashier tunes from "The Golden Walls of Heaven" to "Dies Irae" are a considerable change of pace, the rawness throughout gives Blood Fire Death a surprising coherence. Surprisingly, it was actually tougher to get into these shorter thrash songs. They're fast, to-the-point and ravenous, but don't offer the same immediate earworms. At this point I can remember the blackthrash pieces just as clearly. It's similar to my initial impression of Reign in Blood; at the start, I could only recall the album's bookends "Angel of Death" and "Raining Blood". It took some time before the rest of the album impressed its classic status upon me.

Although I love Blood Fire Death for its combination of highbrow ambitions with raw means, the production does stand out as one of the album's weaker points. The guitars unfortunately aren't quite as brilliantly vile-sounding as they used to be (appropriately so, I guess) and the production isn't sure whether it wants to be lo-fi or clear, so it does a mediocre job at both. Maybe most glaring of all are the album's drums, which somehow seem to collect the weaker elements of real and programmed drum performances-- at times thin and samey, other times conspicuously imprecise and human.

Performancewise, it is Quorthon himself who makes Blood Fire Death as good as it is. His grizzly vocals on "A Fine Day to Die" are a fitting combination of the styles. As the aggressive guitars clatter into the vast choral backup, he sings melody with the same harsh gruffness of his black metal vocals... With regard to that end of his performance, I remember thinking on numerous playthroughs that Quorthon's blackened snarl in still probably unmatched in years since. His screams on "For All Those Who Died" are completely primitive and ravenous sounding. In this and other ways, Blood Fire Death does sound like a place where all of Bathory's best elements regardless of era decided to meet and say hello to each other. While more singularly focused albums like Twilight of the Gods may have had a more lasting impact on me, I don't think it's out of place to call this album that made Bathory truly immortal for all time to come.