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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.