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When I stop and think about it, Vikings are pretty much awesome. I mean, for starters, they’ve got sweet helmets with horns in them, and they usually carry battle-axes (and everyone knows battle-axes are completely 100% cool). They pillaged, ransacked, drank, sailed, and did whatever the Hell else they wanted to do because they were Vikings.
So why am I talking about Vikings right now?
Because that’s all I can seriously think about when I listen to “Blood Fire Death” by Bathory.
With every riff and every growl, I can’t get the picture of a group of Vikings storming through a town center, destroying everything that they dislike.
Now, I’ll be quite upfront with you here: I’m not a big fan of black metal. Dissection and Emperor never really caught my attention, and really the only band that I find myself listening to frequently is Ulver, but that’s mainly due to the unique folk influences in their music. But thanks to a cover of “A Fine Day to Die” by Emperor, I immediately set off on a quest to uncover more Bathory. So I kicked my dog, grabbed my spear and helmet, and went off on my quest (basically, I yelled at my mother, grabbed a burrito and a new shirt, and browsed the internet).
In the great year of 1983 (in Sweden), a young boy by the name of Quorthon formed Bathory just out of fun. He was able to record just two tracks (out of generosity), but they gathered such unexpected attention that he was asked to do a full album. And thus began his career. Now, Bathory is considered to be one of the forefathers of Black Metal and Viking Metal.
Surprisingly enough, Quorthon manages vocal duties, as well as the guitar work, some percussion, and the effects on almost all of Bathory’s releases. So for the sake of proper kudos, here's the line-up for the band:
Quorthon - vocals, guitars, percussion, effects
Kothaar - bass
Vvornth - drums
“Blood Fire Death” is a bit different than your run-of-the-mill black metal outing. For starters, there’s very little atmospheric touch. This is raw, straight-forward, and blistering evil. If anything, this could almost be like thrash-black metal. However, the first two tracks might have you claiming me to be a liar. “Odens Ride Over Nordland” is a haunting intro, complete with eerie effects, cries from horses from a battlefield, and unless my ears are mistaken, the sound of flames. Then, just as it floats on, the equally chilling and calm guitar intro begins its climb, and so starts “A Fine Day to Die”. Oh, and what would be a black metal track without some chanting? Yea, there’s chanting. But just when you think you’ve figured it out, a huge wall of distortion and blasting drums hits you right in the jaw. “A Fine Day to Die” is a masterpiece, to say the least. It’s aggressive, raw, and full of hatred. Mix that in with a pounding guitar riff, a thumping bass, and pounding drums, and you’re treated to black metals finest. It’s epic, to say the least, but don’t expect this from any of the other songs (save the last). “The Golden Wall of Heaven” forgoes any of kind of beautiful opening in favor of untapped power, since it comes flying out of nowhere, gritting it’s teeth and never letting up it’s un-relentless attack. The intro to that song is all kinds of awesome, since there’s a bit of a military drum roll mixed in with a climbing guitar. And the verse riffs play victor to all, throttling the song forward at the blink of an eye. Don’t expect any type of slow down either, since “Pace ‘Till Death” is virtually the same way.
Honest to God, listening to this album is like getting punched in the fucking face. It’s literally that heavy. Also, it’s almost impossible for myself to describe the rest of the songs on here since they’re all of the same nature. “Holocaust” and “For All Those Who Died” are as equally brutal as the first few tracks, and just as amazing. “Dies Irae” is really the only different one. The song itself is equivalent to being hit in the head over and over with a sludge hammer, but at certain points, there actually seems to be a hint of melody. But the closer ("Blood Fire Death") is almost like “A Fine Day to Die”, which makes it stand out. It follows almost the same formula, as it has some chanting in the background over a quiet guitar. But then it begins to rip forward and spearhead the beginning with power. For all of you big black metal fans out there, this is probably one of the tracks that you’ll love the most, since unlike the other songs on this album, it does have a slight atmospheric touch to it. During the middle of the song, it suddenly cuts out to just a serene acoustic playing, with chanting in the background. Brilliant? I think so. But that certainly doesn’t take away from it being vicious and cruel. A wonderful way to end one of the most wicked albums I’ve ever heard.
The guitar work is also something that should be highly praised. While most of the riffs are basic and straightforward (which is why I thought this felt like thrash-black metal), the soloing is superb. One only has to listen to the soaring solos on “A Fine Day to Die” to be captivated by them. “The Golden Walls of Heaven” even features some classic whammy-bar dive bombing before Quorthon begins his shred fest. And that’s another thing: the solos aren’t melodic at all. They are balls-to-the-wall chaotic, and they don’t ever slow down. Even on the title track (which is slightly slower than most of the songs present), Quorthon never lets up his shredding duties.
And his vocals are equally as impressive. He doesn’t sing, he doesn’t talk, he just growls and screams his way through this whole album. But that’s also a bit of a drawback, and what I mean by that is that since he doesn’t have a great vocal range, it can get a bit repetitive after awhile. But he’s good at it to the point where it won’t really irritate you that much. I mean, on “Dies Irae”, he spits out his lines in a chopped fashion, adding even more frenzy to the song. It’s hard to pinpoint his best performance on this album since it all sounds alike, but if I had to choose, it’d probably be “A Fine Day to Die”, because at points he seems to wail a bit more to add a bit more emotion to the song. But it’s the lyrics that sell his vocals. Besides having one of the most intriguing lines of all time on “A Fine Day to Die” with “The elder among the men looked deep into the fire and spoke loud with pride, tomorrow is a fine day to die!”, Quorthon is a lyrical master on this album. On “For All Those Who Died”, he cries out “For all those who cried aloud, But whose tears were never heard, For questioning one almighty father, Of a heavenly distanced world.”. And while “The Golden Gates of Heaven’s” lyrics are interesting in their own right, there’s a secret message hidden in it. The first letter of each line, for every verse in the song, spells out SATAN. Take a gander, if you will:
“Silent watching gaze
Across the blackened plains
Two eyes like burning embers
Awaits the moment for the
North star to blaze ”
To me, that’s just clever. But even more clever are the lyrics to “Dies Irae”, but that involves all of the lines, so I’ll leave you to look up that one later.
This album isn’t perfect, however. While I love all of the songs, I just can’t help but point out that they all sound the same. They follow the same structure almost, and after awhile you might have to switch tunes. For instance, while “Holocaust” and “Dies Irae” have basically the same intros. Now, they’re phenomenal songs by themselves, but if you were listening to this album in whole, you’d think you were listening to the same song again.
There’s really a lack of a dominant bass on this album, however. You can hear it due to older sound-quality, but that’s really about it. It’s just there; you can hear it, but that’s all there is to it. No fills, variations, nothing. I think some more intricate bass work would’ve been nice on tracks like “Blood Fire Death”, because at points in the song (like during the acoustic section), there was room for a few notes here and there. On the other hand though, the drum work is strong. While it’s undeniably basic, he keeps the beat perfectly and never goes balls-out crazy, which is a good thing. And he can coordinate his kit pretty well to make some interesting intros, like his military-style drumming on “The Golden Walls of Heaven”.
This is easily the best black metal album that I own. With its raw power, it completely caught me off-guard. I’ve got a feeling, however, that many typical black metal fans might be put off to the thrash influence in some of these songs, but I assure you, it’s still amazing.
Overall Rating – 4.5/5 (90)
A Fine Day to Die
The Golden Gates of Heaven
Blood Fire Death