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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.