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Blood, Fire, Death for me is the be-all-end-all prototype and all-mighty lord reigning over both viking and black metal. That album absolutely captivated me from the first listen. That being said, Quorthon may not have yet been ready to truly take the lead into full Viking ambiance at the time. With Hammerheart (God, if that isn’t the most masculine, fist pumping title, I don’t know what is), he strapped on his horned helm and galloped in full speed.
These songs are absolutely epic. 6 proper tracks that run from 6.5 to 11 minutes and one outro. The guitar sound is gritty, but it is the driving force of the songs. No fiddles or flutes here. Expect a lot of slow, plodding power chords backed by a pretty steady 4:4 time drumming. I’m not sure how much of the simplicity is purposeful and how much has to due with the fact that this is a one man band. This being a first, ideas may not yet have surfaced for other elements. But don’t get me wrong: it works. This feels no less epic to me than Amon Amarth or Ensiferum.
There is some fanfare to be noted. Most of the tracks sport a charming synthesizer used to mimic monk-like chanting. This helps fill out the sound and add to the guitar melody. Quorthon also throws in a few other atmospherics such as galloping hooves, clashing swords, and other relevant sound effects. While the sound is much clearer than say, Darkthrone, it is definitely low fi. But it wouldn’t be the same album without it. The reverb and absence of polish give it not only a sense of charm, but also make me feel even more transported to another time. I feel like I am listening to warriors singing songs of battle around a campfire. The genuineness is unmatched. Aside from the few solos, what the guitars may lack in dynamics Quorthon makes up for in some really interesting vocal hooks.
I do have two flaws I would like to mention. The first is that there is one drawback to this “genuineness.” Quorthon has never been a strong singer. He tries to reach notes that are outside of his range, which results in frequent straining. It is not as cringe-inducing to me as on Nordland II, but there are definitely some difficult moments. But in some ways this adds to the feeling that the songs are sung by simple men going to war.
The second flaw is Baptised in Fire and Ice. While not a bad song, it just feels of much lower caliber than the other tracks. Something is missing, and for such a badass title, I was expecting more.
Other than that, this is a masterpiece. If you consider yourself a Viking metal aficionado, this album is required listening. Make sure to listen to Blood, Fire, Death and possibly Nordland I as well. Fans of this will also likely be interested in Ensiferum, Amon Amarth, Borknagar, Enslaved, Equilibrium, Heidevolk, Manegarm, Moonsorrow, and Windir to name a few.