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Ah, Bathory, one of the first black metal bands the world has ever known. By the time Norwegian black metal inspired by Bathory and other bands such as Venom and Celtic Frost released their first full-length albums, Bathory was almost a completely different band from the dark and evil-sounding group that it used to be. The release of "Blood Fire Death" in 1988 would signal a major change in Bathory's sound until, finally, we get "Hammerheart". Unlike when most bands change their sound, Bathory's new style at that time was just as good (or perhaps even better) than its old one.
The Satanic lyrical themes that boosted the creative minds of Mayhem and Darkthrone and others is long gone and with them the diabolical and dirge-like evil atmosphere that dominated Bathory's sound. While "Blood Fire Death" introduced Bathory's fans to the proud songs of Vikings, it would be "Hammerheart" that would further drive them into their imaginations. What takes the place of evilness is the theme of Viking warriors, which at the time of "Hammerheart"'s release was a topic hardly looked at by musicians. Today we've got tons and tons of bands that center themselves around Vikings and Norse mythology and we've got the creative songwriting and musicianship of good ol' Quorthon to thank for that.
Lyrical themes isn't the only thing new with Bathory. Previous albums were typical of early black metal, featuring abrasive and aggressive, yet haunting and eerie chord patterns sometimes played at blast beat speed with many of them not lasting any more than five minutes. "Hammerheart" changes all of that, giving us long opuses such as "One Rode to Asa Bay" and "Shores in Flames". They are just two examples of songs that also carry a powerful and majestic energy as opposed to a dark and ominous one. When paired with the lyrical theme of the mighty Norsemen, they give Bathory a fresh new start as a band that revolutionized metal. It's proof that Bathory helped create not only black metal, but also Viking metal.
If any of you are looking for any song that remotely resembles anything from "Under the Sign of the Black Mark", you're not gonna find it here. Don't let that turn you away, however, so let the breathtaking nature of the music fill you with awe. That breathtaking nature can convey a variety of emotions, each corresponding to the songs' subject matter. Said emotions can range from mighty and magnificent, like the Viking warriors themselves in "Baptised in Fire and Ice" to haunting and somber like the arrival of Christianity to the Nordic lands conveyed in "One Rode to Asa Bay". The 11-minute opus, "Shores in Flames", starts out as soft and calm, yet builds up to a strong and majestic song. To further cement the mood of some of the songs, Quorthon uses much less of the raspy and gruff vocals that dominated earlier albums and uses more melody in his voice, sometimes singing cleanly in a somewhat baritone manner. It would be that baritone voice that captures the mystique of the mighty warriors of the North. He also barely even growls.This shows how much Bathory has evolved and matured. The band had gone from raw and evil to more melodic and mighty in a matter of only a two albums.
It's amazing to see how a band that had already cemented its style changed completely and still managed to make their new style sound good. Bathory's story is an example of successfully becoming a different band without displeasing people. When most new bands change their signature sound, it's usually in a desperate bid to sell records and gain fans, thus selling out. Bathory definitely did not sell out by recording "Hammerheart". Instead, they gave themselves a fresh new start and a new sound that would follow them until the end of their time.