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Amazing, yet short of groundbreaking. - 92%

hells_unicorn, June 23rd, 2011

The historical significance of Bathory is without question, and no serious party can argue otherwise. Quorthon and company were on the cutting edge, still somewhat conforming to the basic confines of established metal practices on the outer fringes of early Metallica and Slayer, but pushing the envelope far beyond what was probably thought possible at the time. However, how significant and how effectual some of Bathory’s early albums were is up for some debate, regardless of how well crafted or entertaining they might be. While a strong degree of popular sentiment is behind the colossal offering that is “Blood Fire Death”, there are certain questions that can be freely asked about how influential it actually was in comparison to past albums, or the two more distinctively stylized albums that came after for that matter.

While there is a noticeable degree of change in how the consonant and melodic characteristics of a few songs differ here from the 84-87 era, this is largely a thrash album with a strong tendency towards a black metal vocal aesthetic. If the two longest songs on here were taken out of the equation, the remains of this album could be qualified as an even dirtier and meaner answer to “Persecution Mania”, or perhaps even an equivalent to the equally savage exercise in extreme thrash metal that was Morbid Saint’s “Spectrum Of Death”. The riff assault is a pure exercise in blinding fury, not quite descending to the near atonal, heavily dissonant character of Slayer’s proto-death metal sound on “Reign In Blood”, but is near equal to the intensity of the delivery.

Despite being somewhat of a conventional exercise for 1988, this is definitely a high quality album loaded with energy and does at least hint at a soon to be change in direction. “The Golden Walls Of Heaven” is among the more powerful and riveting thrash songs in this style to break the 5 minute mark, and slays with a riff set that is largely reminiscent of the faster parts of “Hell Awaits”. “Dies Irae” takes a similarly long winded route, but has more of a “Fight Fire With Fire” feel to it, but with a far nastier vocal delivery. Quorthon’s character of voice on here is actually a tad bit closer to the agonizing character of Varg Vikernes’ sound on Burzum’s early albums, but still dark and goblin-like. But the chief feature of the thrash contents of this album (which is the majority of the songs) is the fantastical riff work and the fancy lead work. Apart from a brief little sonic joke at the beginning of “Pace ‘Till Death”, which has way too much made of it, this is a serious album to content with.

The remaining contents on here, which is credited as being Bathory’s earliest ventures into what is now known as Viking metal, could be reasonably chalked up as the token epic/progressive ventures of Metallica and Megadeth, except that the principle influence on these songs is Manowar rather than Sabbath or classical music. Both the longwinded title song and the mid-paced “A Fine Day To Die” are chock full of haunting acoustic passages with distant ambient keyboards that can’t help but hold a rather massive torch to “Sign Of The Hammer” and “Into Glory Ride”, while still containing an overall character of sound that is conducive to a slower, longer song by a number of conventional thrash bands and the vocal sound of the more extreme ones. However, these songs are more of an exception, and still largely cater to the older sound minus an occasional quiet section with a deeper clean vocal sound out of Quorthon.

To some, this is the beginning of what everyone now calls Viking metal, and given the occasional thrash tendencies of bands such as Ensiferum and Suidakra, one could say that this album had a measure of impact on the development of the style. However, this album comes off much closer to a glorified mid to late 80s thrash album with Viking oriented lyrics, which will probably appeal more to fans of Sodom and the other members of the Teutonic Trio than most who favor the Norse themed sub-genre as it exists today. Is it a great album? Yes, absolutely. But it is also an album that receives a little more credit than it deserves in shaping a style that was much more directly impacted by “Hammerheart” and “Twilight Of The Gods”.