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Supreme Saga - 97%

marktheviktor, February 21st, 2009

This is what Bathory is all about, folks. You can write it in blood and yell it from the hills of Skalunda. Yep, this is the original article for Viking metal. This is metal for the valiant, violent and proud and its legend will be upheld. A debt is owed. A tribute is due. As a matter of fact, every time I hear Hammerheart, it makes me think Bathory should have slapped a Danegeld on bands as diverse as Graveland and Amon Amarth; thy must render under Quorthon.- with interest.

Hammerheart is the very logical progression from the epic black metal work Blood Fire Death; an album I very much admired and didn’t think could be topped until I heard this one. There still is some of Bathory’s older sounds to be heard on here but they are supplemental to the ambitious scope found. With the vocals, Quorthon still takes influence from Venom in a couple of songs. Taking these influences from certain bands and melding it into his own grand style is one of the best things to appreciate on Hammerheart.

Listen to those waves. The song is called Shores in Flames and it is killer. The first verse of lyrics is sung cleanly and beautifully. As I stated above, there are little influences from diverse metal and rock bands found if you look real hard. And I would just about bet you a Runestone penny that Quorthon listened to a couple of lesser known epical pieces called Pirates and Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman by Emerson, Lake and Palmer to come up with that slowly sung ’Mother winter leaves our land…’ verse.

The scenery is being set and the atmosphere before a battle is always so serene yet tense. A beach is about to be stormed by Norse hordes of pagan reverence. This is the depiction that will accost you when you blare this song. There is so much vivid detail in those lyrics and sound. I’ve always even thought this album is educational about Viking age lore. If you ask me, I think this kind of music is so much more vivid and entertaining than any film could ever portray. Before Bathory came along, I had to settle for a Kirk Douglas or some Lee Majors movie to get my Viking fix as a kid. When Shores in Flames first came on, I didn’t need those movies. Hammerheart is where it’s at and Viking metal hasn’t been done nearly as well since. I got news for you, it never will either.

Allow me to impress upon you another virtue of this album: its narrative. It’s operatic and furious. In Shores in Flames you will first notice this. Take the sample lyrics of ‘...at sunbirth we attack the city..Down the coastlines with wind we reign…’ He sings it with the gravel and true brio of a chronicler warrior. And you got to love that chorus! There’s a guitar solo at the end of that. It might remind you of his earlier albums. Quorthon’s playing style is perfect with a crude and boorish vibrato. He does nothing complicated but he doesn’t have to. This is raw melody. The song ends with epic atmosphere. That battle horn blows and those shores really are in flames. You can hear it as sure as you are born. Launch those longboats and let these marauders debark because the next song maybe one of the best ever!

When I listen to the track Valhalla, I am not in the 21st century anymore. Hell, my mind just might be at the start of the previous millennium. This song is greatness from Gotland. Who needs energy drinks or meth? Valhalla is pure adrenaline in the form of music. I have tell you, if I am ever about to go into a fight with someone bigger than me, I want to have this song playing in my head loud and clear.

Quorthon takes a lot of riffing inspiration from Ross the Boss on this one. Being a fan of his work in Manowar, that was a treat. They’re simpler at heart than what he did with Manowar but I actually like Quorthon’s playing better. The drumming is marvelous on Valhalla. Those sticks sound like they have lead in them. I liken them to John Bonham's hits on The Immigrant Song. It is this drumming on Hammerheart that sets it apart from Bathory’s previous albums. There is no black metal blasting here. The beats are not swift anymore. They go more for the effect of thunder to portray a battleground. The vocals on this song are the best he has ever done. He sings out of tune sure, but that’s the best part about it. It’s the voice of a warrior charging in full battle mode. He has a rasp and aggression that seems very real. When he screams about swinging his sword in the wind, everything is there. That whole catch verse projected an image of a wide-eyed Viking standing at the bow of a vessel in battle speed with his hair flowing against the wind under overcast skies. I’ve seen paintings like that but Valhalla put it all into play.

A lot of listeners will remember Baptised in Fire and Ice as the song that probably stuck out most upon first listen. It is a good one but ironically, it has become my least favorite on the album if I had to rate the songs. That opening riff is incredible and it’s influenced by Ride the Lightning era Metallica so the eighties metal spirit is in tact. My only complaint with it is that overall it’s too repetitive for a thrash-y track that lasts eight minutes. It doesn’t sound like he quite knew where to take it from there. The actual riff is well written but his technical limitations do show through in regard to his speed on here because this needed to be played faster. His picking hand just wasn’t slick enough to make it rip at correct accuracy. If he were able to have put in some sort of progression to go along with it, Baptised in Fire and Ice would have been the best song on here. A good and memorable track if a bit limited in execution.

Father and Son is slower but a very smooth transition. The choral chants of the title in consistent with the grand setting on Hammerheart. The simplicity of the beginning riffs is magnificent. The bass is very faint on the drum beats. Quorthon again sings out of key alot but I loved it as he is just howling with bestial glee of Viking kinship in a long ago age. Song to Hall Up High is gorgeously placed between these battle hymns. The use of acoustic guitar was always an underrated aspect in Bathory’s Viking era.

A lot of people have said the production is not very good on this album. I have to disagree with this. True, it’s not a high fidelity undertaking but the most impressive thing about the recording is that it always sounds rich and deep despite the limited budget. The mixing in of all those ambient sounds of fires, choral backing vocals, crashing waves, nature and movement is always convincing.

For some reason, it seems some Bathory fans are split into two factions but I see absolutely no reason for all to not enjoy this masterpiece. Quorthon can do no wrong when it comes to thundering metal be it black or Viking. For those of you who are still not sold on this album, I ask that you to at least play both of the first two tracks on the record at the maximum volume possible and let it shake the walls and split your eardrums.

How juiced is this album? If Valhalla could have been played for Hardrada’s forces at Stamford Bridge, they would have kicked the shit out of Godwinson’s army and scared off William for the throne of England. The song is anthem and rage at the same time. It represents weaponry and will. Every time I find myself stuck listening to someone’s shitty music of today I feel the urge to yell at the top of my lungs, “Quooorthon!!”

If it appears that I am fellating Forsberg’s knob like a knavish infidel, I wouldn’t be the first or last to seem so because you cannot praise this album enough. This is an adventure of a heavy metal album. I still love all his black/thrash albums prior but this one took me with one furious swoop. I consider this his magnum opus and images of that battle hammer in full swing prevail. And how that hammer is heavy!