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How does a band follow four fantastic albums in a row; four albums that helped to give birth to a new and extreme metal subgenre? By putting out a fifth fantastic album that gives birth to a second metal subgenre. Both viking and black metal can trace their roots to Bathory (and others of course). With Blood Fire Death, Bathory continued to push the boundaries of metal into new territories and obviously Quorthon had no intention of stopping there.
What we see with Hammerheart is a shift of gears in the Bathory machine. Expanding on ideas heard on Blood Fire Death, Hammerheart brings us an entirely new sound and style from one of heavy metal’s most important bands. Gone are the songs and imagery of Satan, the thrashing ugly riffs and the raspy, inhuman vocals of Quorthon. With Hammerheart we hear clean, crooning vocals, simplistic song structure, repetitive riffs and entrancing synth. We see a band that has dropped the fire breathing and traded it in for broadswords and a viking image—and it works. Bathory present us with a truly tasteful treat. Laced in Scandinavian mythology, Hammerheart sets sail with ‘Shores in Flames’. The sounds of ocean waves flood out of the speakers accompanied by a calm and simple riff and nicely done clean vocals on Quorthon’s part. It’s a song you can get absolutely lost in and see yourself on a longship on the ocean—it’s a great start to a great album and one of the strongest tracks. Other highlights are the soaring tunes ‘Home of Once Brave’ and ‘One Rode to Asa Bay’. The riffs are simplistic and repetitive, giving the album a somewhat hypnotic quality and that, combined with the well-used synth and Quorthon’s crooning, will have you flying high over a lost world. Quorthon’s vocals are far from what many think of amazing on this record, but they work perfectly with the music presented. If you were to have had someone like say, ICS Vortex or Vintersorg on this record, it would not have been nearly as powerful in my opinion.
There are no clunkers to be found on this record. I think that the weakest tracks to be found here are ‘Baptized in Fire and Ice’ and ‘Valhalla’ and that says something because both of those songs are great. As much as I love the first four Bathory albums, Hammerheart continues to be my favorite and is in heavy rotation in the autumn and winter months of the year. This record is highly recommended to any fan of black, folk or viking metal that has not heard it and is, in my opinion, one of the greatest heavy metal records of all time. You’ll get swept away in it—of this I have no doubt.