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Up until (and including) “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark”, the music of Bathory was extremely aggressive, raw and occult, a literal “Call From The Grave”. The release of “Blood, Fire, Death”, however, signified the initiation of some changes in the way Quorthon approached his artistic creations: the songs had become longer in duration, some lyrics did focus on the narration of battles and epic themes, while a choir could now be heard singing along with Quorthon in a number of refrains.
With “Hammerheart”, it seems that the innovations first introduced in “Blood, Fire, Death” acquire a more central role and establish themselves as the main components of Bathory’s music. Most songs last more than six minutes and the riffs, although solid and heavy as always, aren't - generally speaking - as fast as before. It seems that Quorthon is now more interested in creating and communicating a certain epic and atmospheric feeling, and doesn't attempt to reach supersonic speeds with his guitar. Certain Black Sabbath influences become now more apparent than ever. Moreover, in his attempt to achieve this eerie and war - like atmosphere, Quorthon doesn't hesitate to add acoustic part to his songs, where he also tries to sing more melodically (unfortunately, he doesn't always succeed in this endeavor). Furthermore, a choir of either male (probably viking sailors) or female voices (probably valkyries) accompanies Quorthon in bridges, refrains or introductions, contributing to the revelation of a mystical, almost mythological, environment. In conclusion, the final result may be more melodic than before, but tantalizing and tempting as always.
When it comes to the lyrical content of “Hammerheart”, Quorthon pays homage to his fearless ancestors, the viking rulers of Nordland and raiders of the northern seas. Up till now, Quorthon had been a faithful disciple of hell, a violent desecrator of everything that considered itself holy and sacred. In “Hammerheart”, he modifies his role, and his ambition now is to become a storyteller of the wonders of the viking era, a Snorri Sturluson of his own age. Standing somewhere between myth and fact, legend and reality, the lyrics of “Hammerheart” embark on an inspired journey to the viking world and give us a detailed account of a viking warrior’s life: from the time of his birth (Father To Son, Baptized In Fire And Ice), through the occasions when he ravages and plunders foreign coasts (Shores In Flames), to the time when feels his death is imminent and envisions the gates of Valhalla beckon him to enter (Song To Hall Up High, Valhalla).
The first three albums of Bathory became an extremely significant factor in the creation of European black metal, as their influence on bands like Immortal, Marduk or Emperor is more than just obvious. "Hammerheart", on the other hand, fueled the fire of Enslaved, Einhejer and Borknagar (just to name a few), so that we can nowadays speak for the development of another metal genre, namely viking metal. Many claim that it was actually "Blood, Fire, Death" that highlighted the beginning of this particyular genre. I disagree: "Blood, Fire, Death", did provide the basics, but it was "Hammerheart" that put viking metal into the right dimensions. In this sense, "Hammerheart" could be considered one of the most important albums of Scandinavian metal.
Dedicated to the memory of Quorthon, 1966 - 2004.
"The vast gates to hall up high
Shall stand open wide and welcome you with all its within
And Oden shall hail YOU, Bearer of a pounding Hammerheart..."