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In 1988, Quorthon had originally recorded songs that are now available on the album Blood on Ice. He was originally going to release those songs but decided that the change would be a bit too drastic… so he recorded Blood Fire Death instead.
And what a good move that was! I like Blood on Ice and all of his other Viking metal albums a lot, but it would have been a real shame to miss out this! This album is widely regarded as the first Viking metal album ever, but in reality only 2 songs on here (3 if you count the intro) could be considered Viking metal. The rest of the album is balls-to-the-wall, poser-killing thrash. Seriously, most songs here wouldn’t sound out of place on Darkness Descends. Just like on Darkness Descends, the thrashers here sound like they’re building up to a musical armageddon. That armageddon manifests in the form of solos (“The Golden Walls of Heaven” has 3 of ‘em, which is perfectly appropriate in a song about destroying such a holy place). These songs aren’t “pure” thrash; they have blackened tinges, courtesy of Quorthon’s venomous vocals. But the sound is less lo-fi than typical black metal; the guitars have a lot more bottom end than Bathory’s previous works.
“The Golden Walls of Heaven,” “Pace ‘Til Death,” “Holocaust,” and “Dies Irae” all fit into the thrash-till-death category. My favorite of the four would probably have to be “Golden Walls.” It just sounds so relentless, especially at 1:19. The atmosphere just keeps building and building. It sounds like there's 4 guitars playing at once. Absolutely awesome.
“For Those Who Died” is kind of a midpaced thrash song. It plods along with not much creativity in the riff department, clearly the worst (or should I say “least awesome”) song on the album. A funny thing happens at the beginning of the song: the guitar plays a riff for a little bit and when the bass comes in, it’s so loud that it produces a loud distorted scratch for a second. I’m glad to see that Quorthon left the flaw in the record anyway. Quorthon didn’t let better production get to his head. Most modern bands would have taken that error out with ProTools or some other shit like that.
Now for this album’s claim to fame, Viking metal. To start off, we have a 3-minute intro. I see a number of people on this site panning intros, but I can assure everyone here that this intro isn’t like most. It has atmosphere up the ass. I feel like Oden is actually flying across the sky when I hear this one. From the start we get to hear cool sound effects of horses whinnying and battle fog moving in. It builds up to perfection with a choir and synth. This fuckin thing still gives me goosebumps when I hear it. Quorthon couldn’t start this album off any better.
Then we are treated to more epic goodness with the first proper song: “A Fine Day to Die.” It’s slow and bludgeoning. The beat is similar to that of a marching army. Stretch this song out for a couple hours and you have an instant soundtrack to the movie 300. The final Viking song is the title track, quite similar to “A Fine Day to Die,” very epic, long, and heavy. An important thing to mention is that on this song Quorthon tries clean vocals for the first time! He doesn’t use much range, since he was just starting to sing at this point. But I’d much rather hear Quorthon pace himself than try too hard (*cough* Twilight of the Gods). These two songs were some of the first tracks to take black metal and slow it down, add more melody, and give it a lyrical overhaul to depict Norse warriors.
Finally, there’s another one of Quorthon’s absolutely pointless outros to end the record. It’s a minute of a beating drum, a blowing wind, and a chant that doesn’t change pitch once. Thankfully he would abandon this tradition after the next album!
Transitional albums are great. The Beatles had Rubber Soul. Slayer had Hell Awaits. Motorhead had Bomber. Death had Spiritual Healing. Kreator had Terrible Certainty. And Bathory had Blood Fire Death. All these albums marked a paradigm shift from one classic sound to another. Quorthon ended up pioneering two different genres of metal, and he bridged the gap with this album. It is an outstanding record that should be in the collections of anybody who likes thrash, black, folk, or Viking metal.