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By the latter portion of the mid 90s, Quorthon was in desperate need of a turnaround, as his once mighty Bathory institution seemed to be unraveling at its seams; his writing devolved into phoned in, dull thrash and groove metal which wouldn't have sufficed even a decade before its release, when the genre was still shaping up. I just don't see the appeal in creating a bold new genre of music, like the Norse themed folk-tinted metal that he manifest and progressed through the trio of Blood Fire Death, Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, and then sputtering out into something more pedestrian like Octagon, or Quorthon's grunge rock solo records, but thank fuck the man would come to his senses and return to the Viking path.
Granted, Blood On Ice was not a remarkable return to form. In fact, it wasn't even necessarily a new album, but enough of the content had been restored and supplemented from the original writing and recordings in 1988-89 that it feels like at least a sidereal movement from Twilight of the Gods. Originally, it would have served as a bridge between Blood Fire Death and its follower Hammerheart, and structurally, it's a lot like the latter. A lot of glorious, open passages guided by cleaner, layered vocals, with a handful of brief, folksy acoustic sequences ("Man of Iron", "The Ravens") to break up the more substantial bulk of the heavy metal tunes. Curiously, while I've never been the biggest fan of his cleaner vocal presence, Quorthon sounds admittedly tauter and more professional on some of these cuts than anything he'd done to their day (in 1995), and a few of the softer segments lend credibility that the guy could have written a pure folk record and built up a following that way.
Tunes like "Blood On Ice", "The Woodwoman" and "The Lake" rely heavily on their atmosphere just as much as Twilight of the Gods, so Bathory was continuing to move away from the central guitars so important to the first five records, instead writing riffs to support the woeful choirs of winter depression and unrest. But where this all comes together, like the acoustic sequence at around 3:50 in "The Woodwoman" or the enthusiastic canter of "Gods of Thunder of Wind and of Rain" which feels like Neil Young astride a long ship, you're getting a solid experience worthy at least of it's chronological predecessor Twilight of the Gods, if nowhere near as poignant and crushing as his seminal works in the style. There are some problems with the production, for instance the cheesy slap of the snare drum in "Blood On Ice", but in general, for something that was recorded and reworked from two different periods of Quorthon's career, it comes together fluidly.
My favorite tune here is surprisingly the expansive closer "The Revenge of the Blood on Ice", which more than any other places my psyche upon the same cold, battlestained vistas of the 1988-1990 material, and Bathory had long possessed a rare ability to write lengthy songs that incessantly draw the listener into their depths (since "Enter the Eternal Fire"). However, there is a bit of derivation and excess familiarity. For example, you'll hear a VERY familiar drum beat in the bridge of this piece, and a lot of the soothing, structured choir vocals feel as if they were just lifted from and slightly tweaked from Hammerheart. That said, compared to Octagon, this feels so enormously inspired, from the beautiful cover image to the obvious amount of effort Tomas placed in its salvage and reconstructive surgery. Rather than continue to crash along for another decade (aka Metallica), the Swede seems to have recognized his errors and righted them before they could run quickly out of control. Blood On Ice is not one of his best, but it comes near to compensation for the lackluster comps and albums that he'd been spewing forth since 1991.
There are few puzzles in the often turbulent world of metal than the period of Bathory resting between 1988 and 1989. Though largely an underground phenomenon that was pushing the boundaries of what most thrash metal consumers could comprehend, there was a following to this band that was most likely perplexed at what happened between “Blood Fire Death” and “Hammerheart”. The sudden immersion of a once purely vile sound with something right out of the Manowar playbook was not the largest stylistic leap that could have been made, but it was definitely large enough to make one wonder if the same band had created both albums. Further complicating this enigmatic period in Quorthon’s musical evolution is “Blood On Ice”, the missing link that not only explains how sharply this Swedish maniac was turning away from his former sound, but why the highly regarded classic that is “Hammerheart” felt just a tiny bit rushed.
To cut to the chase regarding the nature of this album, there wasn’t really an appropriate time for this album to have been released, though a release immediately following “Twilight Of The Gods” would have been more appropriate than between “Octagon” (an album that sounds nothing like either of Bathory’s 2 defining eras) and “Destroyer Of Worlds” (an album that functions as a transitional blip from this band’s modern thrash era back to their Viking sound). Then again, given the gradual ascendancy of Viking and Celtic themes in a number of black metal bands that were also going through stylistic leaps in evolution, “Blood On Ice” also functions as a sort of place marker, predicting the rise of notable acts like Suidakra, Moonsorrow and Ensiferum. But in terms of its overall style and presentation, this album is more suited to the late 80s than the mid 90s, just not the late 80s of Bathory’s respective place in history, if that makes any sense.
While the 2 full on Viking metal albums of the late 80s were examples of Quorthon stepping into a new way of doing things, this album is a full out leap into territory never touched by Bathory before “Hammerheart”. The Manowar elements are not just present; they are the dominant force that shapes this entire album. The larger than a 3 story high golem sound that often typifies true metal epics such as “Battle Hymns” and “Gates Of Valhalla” is all over every single song heard on here, to the point where the principle difference between this album and “Into Glory Ride” is that Quorthon wrote an album built almost entirely out of epics, barring a couple of folksy acoustic interludes in “Man Of Iron” and “The Raven”. By the same token, while the two previous Viking releases out of Bathory were molded into an entirely slowed down, doom-laden interpretation of the Manowar influenced epic style, this album makes room for a couple of faster ones that somewhat resemble elements of Manowar’s more commercial offerings. “One Eyed Old Man”, apart from the extended narration in the middle (also a Manowar staple), is the most aggressive in this respect, with “Gods Of Thunder Of Wind And Of Rain” close behind with more of a galloping feel as well.
Be all of this as it may, the lion’s share of this album rests pretty comfortably in down tempo land, trudging forth like an army of immortal warriors at a slow pace. Mixing together a steady drum groove with the reverb turned up to its fullest 80s potential, an army of vocal tracks to sound like a legion in chorus with each other, and a thudding, rock based guitar assault, each of these songs paint a vivid picture of a single warrior’s quest for vengeance like few other have accomplished. Whether it be the massive sounding title song, it’s twice as long reprise at the end, or a slew of catchier versions of this style that occupy the middle of the album (“The Lake” being the catchiest), the entire listen is consistent, and in perfect sequence with itself while telling the tale contained within the lyrics. The production of all these songs is a slightly lower fidelity affair than what “Twilight Of The Gods” was, Quorthon’s voice is cleaned up a bit more on the lead vocal tracks, yet the effectiveness of these songs is very close to achieving the same spellbinding atmosphere as the 1991 closing chapter of the 1st Viking era of Bathory.
Contrary to what many may say about which album influenced the current Nordic craze going on in the metal scene, I would argue that this album has had a more direct impact on the Viking scene than “Hammerheart” and “Twilight Of The Gods” did, in no small part due to when it was put out and also the predominant folk elements that are less obvious on said albums. If one wants to be really technical about who originally pioneered this sound, Manowar was doing something along these lines back in the mid 80s (though not for entire albums), but any and all movements within the broader metal coalition are not the handiwork of one man or band. Nevertheless, from both a historical standpoint as well as a purely musical one, this is an essential part of the Viking puzzle that any fan of Crom, Moonsorrow, and even Turisas should not go without hearing.
Blood On Ice is a fascinating curio that would have been a misreckoning of an album had it not been the lost, delayed thing that it is now. Timing is everything. This is a time sensitive album in some ways. Even if it is pretty good, the time just was not right to release it back during its writing and recording. It was the right decision to put it off. Allow me to explain: This falls squarely on Bathory’s Viking metal era and had Quorthon gone forward and released this as originally planned in 1989, this would have stuck out like a sore thumb between the grand masterpiece that was Hammerheart and the almost as terrific Twilight of the Gods. This is not to say that Blood On Ice is bad by any means. It’s just that this recording was out of sync with Bathory’s delicate evolution. Even Twilight of the Gods still had speckles of the black/thrash Venom-ish vocals in a couple songs despite the overwhelming Manowar influence on that record. Here, there is none of that old black metal sound anywhere. This album would have been just fine following Twilight of the Gods although it would have been a new page in the Viking sound as this is a concept album. That we can listen and reflect on this record after being put out as a side journey that once was is better appreciated because I would be lying to you if I said I would judge it as precisely and objectively on its own merits had it indeed been released twenty years prior to this writing instead of after the fact. I wouldn’t be off base in saying that the majority of metalheads judge an album by a legendary metal band in relation to that band’s other albums of standard especially if they fall in during or near a classic period of work. You can’t convince me that No Prayer For the Dying would still be regarded as one of (Dickinson-ian) Iron Maiden’s weakest albums had it come out in 1997 as a return of the main singer. It’s all about two things: time and standards. On to the music…
Concept pieces in metal don’t jive much with me. There is a story told here on this album but I didn’t really care to follow it as such. This album still feels disjointed anyway if one was to be interested in going along with it. But almost all of the songs taken as wholes are very strong. The biggest beef I have with Blood On Ice is not surprisingly the production quality again but I can’t say I am much surprised by this since the tapes were left in the cellar for six or seven years until Quorthon decided to revisit and tinker with it before putting this out.
The Intro track sounds very strange and shoddy with the scenery sounds. I didn’t know if the volume knob was too low or what because they drifted sloppily among various channels. The first song proper is the epic title track that reprises itself more or less in a different take in the guise of a couple of the later songs on the record. This is actually a rock-ish song most throughout with synth layering and contains a very plain but loud beat structure on the drums. I would venture to guess that one of the musical reasons why Quorthon had misgivings about the album was his dissatisfaction with the percussion as this to me is the least well drummed performance found during his classic years. It sounds like he really didn’t quite know what he wanted to do to make the drums stand out in this ambitious undertaking so he just decided to use them to apply a standard role and serve as they did with his other albums.
This record has something that might perhaps be enjoyed by fans of Ayreon or Ensiferum. Man of Iron is an acoustic and folksy epic song. It’s too short for them to just latch on to that one song and leave but it will draw in listeners of that to the rest of Blood On Ice. One Eyed Old Man is also another epic folk/ Viking romp. The vocals on the beginning of it sound like something from that subgenre but they also sounded punkish too. It’s also kind of thrash-y after the narration interlude concludes. Quorthon even does a James Hetfield like shout at the end of the song. But the two best songs on Blood On Ice are found with The Sword and The Stallion. The riffing on the first of the two would not be too out of place had it appeared on Twilight of the Gods. The vocals don’t come through very well on this one as they have a rough demo quality to them. There’s a coolly catchy arrangement going on behind the low richness. It’s too bad that it can’t be heard all the way. The Stallion’s opening riff is the greatest thing on the album to grab you if you hadn’t been interested thus far. There is more classic Metallica influence on this song not only with those rhythms but in the solo there. Like on track three, Quorthon does another Hetfield choral yell. I thought that was pretty nice.
There isn’t anything too special about The Woodwoman but I liked the acoustic guitar chords that went with the song’s ornate configuration of chorus enrichment. Quorthon does very nice clean singing on the song The Lake. It’s slow and dramatic with much to be admired in the refrain. I think this is another track than can be pointed out to others from the heavy/power fans if they want to check out more Bathory. Gods of Thunder of Wind and of Rain is an unwieldy worded title but it sounds to make more sense because that is the main verse of the faster more up tempo coda. The percussive rhythms are more mixed up this time but they still stay basic. After the all too short but impressively sung soft acoustic interlude of The Raven comes the reprise song called The Revenge of the Blood On Ice. I liked this one better than the title track that it derives from except that it’s infuriatingly inconsistent in the sound quality at different points during the song. In the first minute it sounds too low but it shifts up slightly as it moves forward. Everything is played a little longer on this song but the beats seem maybe a half step pushed up in spacing. I do love the closing thunder pounds at the end (that was in the title track too). Quorthon throws everything down in one continuous stroke on that part; bass, drums, guitars all go down with one march of dark down-tuned display of storm.
Bathory is one of my all time favorite bands. After Twilight of the Gods in 1990, Quorthon put out a lot of less than exciting thrash outings (and a couple ill advised grunge flirtations) but it is clear that he did right to go ahead and release this basement album. Nothing sounds better than the band with the 80’s Viking, black metal and classic thrash mojo going all out and blasting loudly. My cell phone wallpaper is of an old photo of Quorthon posing with the dudes from Slayer. Every time I look at it I want to go back to a time when metal reigned supreme. Blood On Ice was made during that time too and I recommend it to those who think so as well. It will not be viewed as Bathory’s most memorable but fans Manowar and other eighties heavy metal will enjoy it along with most Bathory fans from a retro-distance.
Well, firstly I must comment on the artwork. It is definitely astonishing, and summarizes norse mythology better than any artwork could do. The album´s story is based on the viking beliefs, with an original protagonist. Worth having it especially for it´s cover artwork.
The album itself is a perfect example of Viking power, but sometimes it can be a bit boring or dull. Besides that, it creates an adequate epic ambient, with war sounds and very strange noises.
I find Quorthon´s voice especially beautiful and varied on this album. You won´t hear any grunts or angry screams (and, personally, I find him much more original in this viking style). The choruses are also, as always, very well suited.
I still find a little influence of Quorthon´s satanic addiction.
The Intro is one of that strange Bathory tracks full of those "strange noises", that actually gets you into the epic ambient. Followed by Blood on Ice, a long track with nice riffs and the chorus following the melody. Man of iron is addicting, being simple but strange and charming. Pity that it has to be so short. I find One Eyed Old Man´s music not suited for the calm lyrics, but it has that strong viking furor, except when old Odin speaks. The Stallion and The Sword are a bit similar for me, but The Stallion is much better in musical terms. The Woodwoman has a nice intro and Quorthon vocal performance is one of the best of the album (ah, but he shouldn´t criticise the poor wooodwoman, it isn´t her fault to be so ugly as Quorthon says). The Lake... there are some differences in opinions about this track. Some people think it is one of the worst of the album, and others, the best. I´d go for the second option. Here I can find the real Norse Spirit, the sorrow and kind of evil; that sticky melody that creates images of malevolent Gods and beautiful reminiscents of the Scandinavian landscapes. Gods of Thunder, of Wind and of Rain is very fast, but lacks that spirit, and the vocals are not so clear as in the other tracks. However, it has much power and a very nice riff near the end, worth listening to the song. Beauty´s peak is reached by the acoustic The Ravens, but it has the same problem as Man of Iron: TOO short. Finally, The Revenge of the Blood on Ice sounds similar to Blood on Ice, but better. I don´t have much to comment on this last track except that it is a good ending for the Album. However, a final acoustic track (not another Outro, please) would have been great.
Well, this is what I have to comment on this great Album. A must-have for viking fans like me. Not very good for headbanging, but for reassuring the love or respect for the civilization. Hail Quorthon, Son of Loki!
Although released in 1996, the album was written and recorded during the late 80s and should have been released around 1987 and 1988. The songwriting here is fantastic, which strongly differs from the previous efforts of the 80s Bathory albums, and the musical structure here is amazing. Because of the drastic change in style, Quorthon decided not to release this after all, and instead, released Blood Fire Death, which was also a change in style that was slowly forming the transition. Think about it, if this had been released right after Under The Sign Of The Black Mark, it would have stunned a lot of the fans, and Quorthon didn't want to risk ruining the Bathory name. Going from thrashy death metal and writing songs about death and evil, to traditional styled metal with classical influences and writing about Norse mythology is a really big change, but I still think that this should have been released earlier. In a way, I'm glad it wasn't, because then there would have been no Blood Fire Death album, but then again, this one could have easily repleaced 1990's Hammerheart album, for I think that it is superior.
1. Intro - Ah yes, the sounds of the North. This intro perfectly sets the mood for the album, including sounds of the Nordic village animals, voices in the distance and villagers moving about.
2. Man Of Iron - Beautiful acoustic tune. Quorthon's vocals are top notch here, as he displays his amazing ability to sing clear as well. I noticed that on a lot of other song that he uses clear vox on, he doesn't sound that smooth, and often strains to hit a certain note. But on here, his vocals are done pretty damn well.
3. One-Eyed Old Man - Here's where the drums and distortion finally kick in. It's pretty fast paced when compared to most of the other tracks on here. The clear vocals are done amazingly well, even on this faster tune, and the riffs are fantastic. One thing I love about this song are the solos. You know those kind that make you want to air play guitar? Yup. That's what these are. The mid section of this song includes a spoken narrative from an "old wise man", that I used to highly despise. Who knows, maybe it just grew on me over time, or maybe after reading the story line to the album, I decided to appreciate it more. Great song, none-the-less.
4. The Sword - Things slow down here, although they get a little bit heavier as well. Steady, slow and heavy, yet full of metallic power. The drumming is quite powerful and unique, and Quorthon’s vocals convey an attitude of strength and pride. Manowar, eat your fucking heart out!
5. The Stallion - The opening riff to this song is amazing. Hence the song title, it’s a semi-galloping riff. The pace and percussion to the song is quite similar to The Sword, but occasionally you’re able to hear some acoustic guitars in the background. The riffage is a little more interesting, and the vocals are a bit catchier, demonstrating a wider range than that of the last tune. The mid-guitar solo here is absolutely fantastic! It may not be the fastest, but I love it! Overall, this is simply one of the best.
6. The Woodwoman - Wonderful acoustic guitars open up this song, followed by a blast of heavy riffs and pounding drums. Once again, the pace remains the same as in the last two songs, but Quorthon’s voice shines out a little a bit more, showing great range and amazing harmony. Honestly, this song is quite heavy, but the vocal work is absolutely enchanting, catchy as hell. The way the acoustic guitars flow along with the pace and rhythm of the song is awesome too. Without them, the song would feel incomplete.
7. The Lake - Another slow paced tune with acoustic backing guitars. There is one thing that is quite special about this one though, and that’s the chorus. I mean…HOLY SHIT! AMAZING! How does he do that?? This chorus is wonderful!! Catchy!! The way it flows with the pace of the song is so killer!! Hails to this! The acoustic backing guitars and melodic chants only add more to the mood, making this a masterpiece. Sounds like it may be the best song on the album, eh? Well, it’s not…
8. Gods Of Thunder, Of Wind, And Of Rain - This one is! What starts out with a bass intro and horse sound effects, leads into a furious metallic assault of heavy riffs, pounding double bass, atmospheric chants and one hell of a rhythm. Unlike the last few songs, this one has quite a bit of speed to it. Remember how I talked about how catchy the chorus was in the song before this one? Well, imagine an entire song being that amazing. That’s how this one is. Quorthon’s vocals show a lot of pride and power, and the chants….well, I always thought that by adding chants into Metal, it was only for atmosphere and mood, especially in Bathory’s case, but in this song, they do more than just that. They kick ass just like the rest of the instruments. And the guitar solo…well, that’s also the best one on the album. Yeah, the previous songs had some pretty killer guitar solos, but this one just beats them all. Overall, I think this song gives the other epic Bathory track Blood Fire Death a run for the money, and this is only half the length of that one.
9. The Ravens - Shortest track on the album, but still a great one. Like Man Of Iron, this one is all in acoustics, also written and sung at the same pace as that one. Perfect tune to relax to after the full metal assault of Gods Of Thunder, Of Wind, And Of Rain. It’s also a great way to lead the listener into the album’s epic ending…
10. The Revenge Of The Blood On Ice - Although this is no One Rode To Asa Bay (and it sure as hell is no Blood Fire Death!!), this epic track is truly a masterpiece. The same type of rhythm is used for this track as the one in The Sword or The Woodwoman. Quorthon uses great harmony in his vocals as chants blast through the background of the song to create an amazing mood of epic atmosphere. The song undergoes various tone changes through-out, but never lets the listener down once or bores them, even in its 10 minute span. The only way to end off a masterpiece, is with a masterpiece itself…
Few albums, if any, had quite a weird and long story such as Bathory's "Blood On Ice". Many a metal fan has over the years stated his/her love and admiration for the band's second triple set of albums, the "Viking albums" which marked Bathory's activiy during the second half of the 80's and the beginning of the 90's. However, there still was a missing chapter to be written for the Viking epic to be complete, and ironically enough, the one which started it all. What now is available as "Blood On Ice" is actually the seed of Bathory's Viking period.
As you can read from Quorthon's extensive liner notes in the booklet, "Blood On Ice" originally took form as a pastime for the band leader between a Satanic metal slaughter and another in the form of a self written heroic saga which borrowed heavily from Northern mythology and Wagner's works, which Quorthon has always admired. After the recording of "Under The Sign Of The Black Mark", however, Quorthon's interests towards flat-out aggression and grim topics began to wane, and this is how "Blood Fire Death", the link between the first and the second era of Bathory's production, was born. Quorthon's inspiration naturally leaned towards this new Viking styled concept, and so his saga was cut down into what would become the lyrics of the songs and "Blood On Ice" was recorded in demo form between the sessions of "Blood Fire Death" and "Hammerheart", with parts of it being processed at the same timeas the latter was recorded. It was then abandoned, as Quorthon feared that the change of direction would be too abrupt for fans to take, and so "Hammerheart" was issued instead. Years later, Quorthon would reveal of the existence of this unreleased album and the fan mail assault began...
...and so here we are in 1995, with Quorthon doing a massive job transferring the original and unfinished material on a modern master, straightening the rough sound and adding the (numerous) missing ingredients before finally offering this missing chapter to his avid fan base. A great and worthwile display of admiration and respect from both sides, I'd like to state. The work must have been hard and the results are amazingly good, judging from the very limited resources Quorthon had to start with.
"Blood On Ice" rightfully fits among Bathory's other three Viking platters, and due to its unique nature works well both as an introduction and a further addition, thus appealing to old and new fans equally. Musically, the compositions range between plodding marches a la "A Fine Day To Die" such as the title track, "The Sword" and "The Stallion" to faster assaults like "One Eyed Old Man" and the powerful "Gods of Thunder, of Wind and of Rain" (which in time has become a fan favourite), and includes the mandatory acoustic moments ("The Ravens" and the excellent "Man of Iron") along with "Twilight Of The Gods" styled slow, atmospheric epics, namely the very good "The Woodwoman" and the fantastic "The Lake"... everything spiced with choirs, acoustics, sound effects and other traditional Bathory gimmicks.
All in all "Blood On Ice" is a very solid and enjoyable work, mandatory for anyone who enjoyed Bathory's second season but a recommended listen to any other metal fan too. A long wait, but well worth it. Thank you, Quorthon.