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Bathory is a band turly deserving of the accolades that is bestowed upon it. The pure genius of it's creator Quorthon has gone on unrivaled since the release of their self-titled debut. Not one but TWO awesome genres, black metal and viking metal, were spawned form this single musician. 'Nordland I' is what I believe was that point in history when Bathory released their magnum opus, the single album Quorthon found his true sound. This when Bathory became more than what it was. This is the true viking metal album.
It kicks off with an epic intro, filled with awesome keyboards and a teaser to Quorthon's new and improved voice. He sings with an incredible level of clarity, worthy of an award presented by Odin himself. He truly has come a long way since that debut album, and this is a perfect example. The album breaks into the title track, a song I've never been able to keep away from. This track is an excellent buffet of epic-sounding riffs, a spirit-lifting atmosphere, and that BEAUTIFUL voice! Even better, the entire album is like this. But it doesn't sound all the same. It keeps you on your toes, which helps keep the album refreshing and interesting. And the riffs! Oh my god, I cannot remember the last time I heard guitar parts as excellently crafted and written as these. The atmosphere is amazing on this album, and when I say spirit-lifting, I meant it. Upon listening to this album, I felt like I could dominate the entire world, with only Thor's hammer to guide me. The tracks all have this uplifting spirit to them, and it's just mind-blowing.
The sound of all the instruments makes this album essential to be played at high volumes, especially with headphones. The guitar tones are heavy and full, unlike previous Bathory releases, where the tone is trebly and one-dimensional. The drums are precise and keep the pace going beautifully while having a awesome, galloping feel to them. While keyboards aren't something Bathory is known for, but they shine like you wouldn't believe on this release. With what sounds like a full on chorus in the background, and thundering bass drums in the background, this is album is Quorthon's most musically ambitous, and it's hard to deny it.
I don't think anybody really saw this coming, despite his previous viking metal releases, but I do think Quorthon eventually had some kind of idea in his mind for this. His musical genius would've taken him to such greater heights if he hadn't of passed away. As a deep admirer of him and his body of work both with Bathory and solo, I dedicate this review in his memory. R.I.P. Qurothon. This was truly your greatest accomplishment.
After the split personality of Destroyer of Worlds, it was rather nice that Quorthon would return to a singular vision for its successor, the first half of his Nordland saga. If you couldn't already guess through a glance at the cover image, that vision entails a straight return to the Viking metal aesthetics of prior works Hammerheart, Twilight of the Gods, and the 'lost' album Blood On Ice. Only here, Quorthon has written a more substantial treatise on the subject, since both sides of the project total over two hours of material, and there are none of the banal pure thrash regressions that crippled Destroyer of Worlds. In fact, I feel like this first Nordland is perhaps the point at which he best expresses this style. Not that it's the best of his Norse journeys by a long shot, but because he gives it the ample space in which it needs to breathe.
Nordland I is very well paced to provide its narrative in the span of an hour. The intro passage "Prelude" is meticulously crafted to draw the listener into its antiquity, with blazing horns, war drums and the soaring clean choirs that had become a hallmark of Bathory since the late 80s. You can burn Necrolord's artwork into your mind, close your eyes, access headphones and then become a direct participant in Quorthon's Romanticized translation of old. With "Nordland" itself, the appropriate pomp and strength arrives with a thudding, mid-paced metal rhythm and drums that place it aesthetically between the climes of the muscle metal Manowar and the slower, intended swan song of Norwegians Immortal (Sons of Northern Darkness) who themselves owe Bathory a great deal for its influence upon their own career. Folksy dual melodies adorn its crested waves, and Quorthon uses a deeper clean vocal throughout the verses which showcases his own willingness to grow, even if his sum presence is still rough around the edges.
But "Nordland" is also symptomatic of one of the downsides of this extensive work: the lack of appreciable variation through its lengthier tracks. With a duration over 9 minutes, I would have liked to hear more happen in this piece outside of the predictable melodic progressions and the same, studied tempo. The same could be said for other swollen ingredients to the album, like "Foreverdark Woods". Its promising intro sequences features glinting acoustics, mouth harps and pretty much the perfect setup, but once the distortion is introduced you're just hearing the same chords repeatedly, a practice that might have worked in Quorthon's formative shift into the territory (Blood Fire Death), where the darkness and furor of the writing felt so desolate, fresh and hypnotic, but here it's just rather painted by numbers. No surprises wait in store for the listener through any of these longer tracks, and in this they differ from the stories upon which they draw their inspiration.
Really, Nordland is almost exclusively playing it 'safe', a practice treasured by some and trashed by others. Not a deal breaker for me, however, and I do admire that Quorthon has incorporated some faster material here sans resorting to the regrettable thrashing of the mid-90s Octagon. "Broken Sword" has a nice thrust to it courtesy of the driving double bass, as does the brute speed metal introducing "Great Hall Awaits a Fallen Brother", and the pair lends a well needed respite from the slogging pace of the contents leading up to it. Again, especially in the latter piece, Tomas plays with vocal potential, a clean melodic tone applied to the verse. Far from his best singing, but it functions well enough to discern that he's not a total hack, and this is the best of the longer pieces on the album, though it too only experiences a few shifts in tempo and could easily have been better packed. Shorter tracks like "Vinterblot" and "Mother Earth Father Thunder" don't suffer as much from the lack of variation, but they're really just covering the familiar ground of Blood On Ice and Twilight of the Gods without offering much embellishment.
Special mention should be made for "Ring of Gold", one of Bathory's best pure folk songs since the anthem "Hammerheart", and the acoustic guitars and vocal arrangements here feel lush and absorbing against the sparse samples in the background. In general, I find Nordland to be very well produced, rich and atmospheric, emblematic of Quorthon's mastery of this particular style. The drums don't suffer from the offsetting splash effect on Blood On Ice, and the mix is rich on various layers of depth, where Twilight of the Gods was perhaps an inkling too clean. There is a sense of airy fulfillment here which is sure to sate fans of those albums, and I think it's the best effort from Bathory beyond the year 1990, but not necessarily in contention with his rabidly influential works in the first 5-6 years. More of the same, perhaps 'too much' more, but a solid foundation for an hour of daydreaming that holds up after a decade.
Call me a late bloomer if you must, but in spite of getting into metal during my early teens in the mid 1990s, I did not discover Bathory until about a year after Quorthon passed on. During this time I began correspondence with a few musicians who were big into the Viking metal scene, and thus I came to the first logical place one would go circa 2005, the Nordland albums. What was immediately striking was a fascination with how similar it sounded to some earlier Manowar songs I’d heard years back, yet the dose of epic majesty, raw production and mostly slower tempo was so concentrated that it struck me as something entirely different at the same time. While it didn’t quite take to me completely given my general aversion to low-fi recordings, it grew into an appreciation for Bathory’s entire back catalog, even and eventually the black metal releases of the mid 80s.
In retrospect, while discovering this band through their last 2 albums was one way to approach them, it wasn’t until after hearing the rest of the discography that I fully comprehend where they stood. Of the two, “Nordland I” leans a bit closer to the heavier, darker aesthetic of “Hammerheart”, but with a slightly modern flavor in the guitar sound still left over from the band’s 90s thrash period and “Destroyer Of Worlds”. The crunch of the guitars is about as frosty and fuzz-drenched as middle era Immortal, but combined together with a grand mixture of backing vocal choirs, acoustic guitar passages and thudding drums to paint a vivid picture of endless skies hanging above a snow kissed landscape of mountains and trees. While older incarnations of Bathory’s Viking style brought forth a very particular storyline of Norse legends and lore, this is an album born of much broader and generalized sense of the north, as if becoming an all-encompassing biography of the entire land.
Not one to shy away from recognizing the changing musical landscape around him, Quorthon brings with this new approach to musical creation a strong helping of folksy elements that acknowledges the innovative works of bands like Suidakra and Ensiferum. “Foreverdark Woods” takes a particularly blatant occasion to employ some period instruments (including a Jew’s Harp) to bring in that retrospective flavor into the mix, while still largely maintaining the early heavy metal tendencies of Bathory’s base Viking sound, including the mostly blues infused guitar solos. “Broken Sword” also employs a beautifully sorrowful flute line alongside the typical acoustic guitar passage during the intro, though it ends up erupting into a violent rage of speed metal, though maintaining a consonant melodic contour, almost as if seeking a compromise between the different musical worlds that were “Blood Fire Death” and “Hammerheart”. “Ring Of Gold” takes a fully serene, all acoustic route, but never fails to stay interesting amid a variety of instruments layered over Quorthon’s working class clean vocal approach.
Interestingly enough, the surprises don’t really end with the 3 radically different songs mentioned previously, but rather the whole album reveals itself as a classic novel with numerous plot twists. “”Great Hall Awaits A Fallen Brother” has a rather basic speed metal riff to it, yet manages to evolve itself into a multifaceted epic that bridges a faster side of Bathory that was avoided on earlier Viking incarnations or compartmentalized into the more thrash metal offerings of “Destroyer Of Worlds”. “Dragon’s Breath” actually plugs away on a rather modern sounding doom riff that sounds more appropriate to mid 90s works than “Hammerheart”, yet the surrounding elements softens it to the point of feeling more like a blizzard than a hail storm. The only songs on here to really have an all out retro feel to them are “Vinterblot”, “Mother Earth, Father Thunder” and the title song, all of which stick closer to a “Blood On Ice” sound where atmosphere trumps aggression.
It might be somewhat presumptuous to give this album an edge over “Hammerheart”, but that is the general impression that I’m left with after spending a good bit of time with both albums. “Nordland I” accomplishes something which the other lacked in overall focus, and actually presents a somewhat more logical evolution from the transitional point of “Blood Fire Death” to what now is treated as the Viking metal sub-genre. Quorthon is one of few artists in this craft that has generally not lost his edge with the passage of time, and fits the role of a metal sage of sorts in this capacity, though he died a bit young to fully take on the image of an elder in the same way that Ronnie James Dio had. Even if left unfinished, the Nordland series is a grandiose testament to one man’s quest to make music on his own terms, and it is worthy of all the praise it garners.
I remember the first time I heard this album I had a hard time swallowing the horrible clean vocals and production glitches (at various points some crackles and pops appear - vinyl nostalgia and all). I admit to not being familiar with Bathory's whole back catalog, but I've heard the albums are considered to be the most important ones and I know about the band's history, so of course the atrocious clean vocals and low production values were no surprise to me.
The surprise came a few weeks later when I pulled this album out of the cobwebs for another spin. I have no idea what happened in the meantime, but suddenly the little sound problems weren't so bad and I thought that the production fitted the album quite well overall. Even the clean vocals stopped making me cringe. Had they actually grown on me without my knowledge during the period when I didn't play the album? No matter, lets do a bit of reviewing, shall we?
Most of what you get is mid-tempo "Epic Viking-Metal" (copyright Quorthon), which means lyrics about how Scandinavia is a cold place (when will we get Inuit metal?), mother earth and nature is where it's at and how honour & pride are cool qualities (fortunately, we are mostly spared from the giggle-inducing Manowar image). Lots of rather cool and pleasant guitar riffs (maybe not very original, but the whole album is done with surprising conviction and that's what makes it work) with basic, yet fun melodic leads on top, lots of those infamous Viking choirs here and there for variety's sake, and an acoustic guitar break with samples of sword fights, water and horses. There's even a faster song to remind us Vikings are only part time treehuggers!
Much better than Destroyer of Worlds, this is sure to please diehard Bathory fans, but newcomers should probably start with Hammerheart or another of the classics. In any case, if you're thinking of taking the plunge, I suggest that you give this album some time before deciding if you like it or not.
The second (and final?) disc of the Nordland saga is already available. I have not heard it yet, but I've heard good things about it. Supposedly the two combined are stronger than the sum of their parts. This demands investigation I suppose....
Originally posted at: www.musiquemachine.com
After a couple of atrocious thrash albums and the inconsistent ‘Destroyer of Worlds’, ‘Nordland I’ was to be the return to the popular Viking metal style of Bathory’s earlier albums. The album was planned to be the first of a set of 4 albums but only 2 were completed before sole band member Quorthon’s death.
‘Nordland I’ contains everything that you would expect from a Viking-metal Bathory release: Powerful epic riffs, choirs and a strong, believable and gripping atmosphere. Right from the beginning it is evident that quality vintage Bathory is back with a grand synthesiser melody backed by chants and rolling drums. After that, the music launches straight into a fantastic huge crushing riff, which ‘Nordland I’ contains plenty of. While most of the riffs are often quite slow, they never get at all close to reaching a doom metal pace, instead sounding like slightly slowed down NWOBHM riffs.
Acoustic guitars often make appearances and there are some totally acoustic songs like ‘Ring of Gold’.
These give the album a slightly folky feel, but like the choirs, background ambient sounds and synth this only enhances the atmosphere without becoming too cheesy. The folk metal aspect of the music is always completely serious and never over-the-top in a Turisas style.
The biggest problem of ‘Nordland I’ is the production. Often the guitars sound far too thin, especially on songs like ‘Dragons Breath’ and ‘Great Hall Awaits A Falling Brother’, and sometimes the instruments sound mixed together too much. This is not always that noticeable however, especially when the guitars are covered by singing and chants, and doesn‘t become as much of a problem as it could be except on a few songs.
The weaker tracks on the album are actually the faster-paced ones. One of the album’s weakest tracks, ‘Broken Sword’ in particular is affected by the bad production, with horrible fast repetitive drums completely overpowering the other instruments, making the guitar especially too difficult to hear. ‘Broken Sword’ is however quite a nice change of pace from the rest of the album which usually remains at about the same tempo and can sound a bit too samey and monotonous sometimes.
Quorthon’s musicianship as usual is excellent, especially as he plays all of the instruments on the album. His programmed drums are occasionally quite poor though, and are sometimes too dense or simplistic. Again though, this is much more noticeable on some songs than others and usually doesn’t become much of a problem. The singing is what really drags Quorthon down. His vocal range is obviously very limited, but in a way his rough style of singing sounds honest and suits the atmosphere of the music, much like that of Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne. His lyrics fit the theme of the music perfectly with songs containing vivid imagery of Viking battles and myths.
At an hour long, despite most of the riffs being at a high quality and usually quite catchy, ‘Nordland I’ really relies on it’s atmosphere to stay interesting for its entire running time because of the slightly repetitive sound, otherwise it can become slightly boring. ‘Nordland I’ also suffers from a lack of originality. Quorthon went too far in trying to go back to his old style without doing anything new. He even mentions ‘Asa Bay’, from the classic earlier Bathory song ‘One Rode to Asa Bay’ numerous times on different songs on the album. Because of this, ‘Nordland I’ comes dangerously close to sounding like a poor copy of ‘Hammerheart’.
Because of production problems and some inconsistency and repetitiveness in songwriting, ‘Nordland I’ is not quite as good as the classic Bathory Viking-themed albums like ‘Hammerheart’ and ‘Blood On Ice’, but is still a very good album and a huge improvement on the preceding albums.
To begin with I am admittedly a sucker for Viking related music so this album (and so many others) scored points with me before I even heard it. Now this was really my first exposure to Bathory (what? You? No? Yes!), so I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard portions of Hammerheart before, but never really grasped any of Bathory’s early work. I immediately fell in love with this album. There is a lot of contrast musically on Nordland I that ranges from acoustic folk tracks (Ring of Gold, eerie song that creates amazing atmosphere absolutely remarkable) to the more rock based tracks following the line of 1996’s 'Blood on Ice' to thrashier tracks with blasting drums (Broken Sword). Quorthon’s vocals are, again, most attuned to the style of ‘Blood on Ice’ and are very smooth and very accessible. Production-wise it is very clear; you don’t have to strain to catch much at all. The vocals may seem a little distant at times, but I really feel that it helps create an atmosphere that takes you back to Nordland in the time of the Vikings (the obligatory Bathory horse sample is at the beginning of ‘Foreverdark Woods another stand out track on the album). Though by far this isn’t my favorite Bathory album (yes, I’ve listened to a lot of Bathory now…) this is a very good album, and I recommend it to those who are fans of thrash, power metal, folk, etc. and of course to fans of later
Okay, so after the series of releases in the mid 90's that, barring Blood on Ice for the fact that its release was delayed, made most fans of Bathory begin to doubt if Quothorn would ever regain his stride. I suppose that the jury is probably hung on the Nordland saga, two back-to-back, bonecrushingly epic albums that would aim to tell various stories of Norse legend with the viking metal sound that Quothorn basically pioneered with the opener and closer of Blood Fire Death.
So the deal is?
It's fucking awesome.
What you can expect? The swelling, wordless choirs of a Quothorn overdubbed, along with much more confident lead vocals that only occasionally falter with the imprecision that made his attempts 15 years ago so damned charming. The slower pace (for the most part) that helps to build a totally fucking believable atmosphere about the album, showcasing the simplistic but effective song structure and some absolutely beautiful riffs that are trademark Bathory. The occasional sample of wind blowing, water flowing, horses galloping and some well-placed synth to give things as epic a tinge as you could want. There's something indescribable about the album that just feels right, from the full-on folk of Ring of Gold, to the orgiastic build before the vocals come in on Vinterblot. And I can't quite tell what the instrument is at the beginning of Foreverdark Woods (although it sounds vaguely like a mandolin), but when it returns a few times more throughout the course of that particular 8 minute epic, it really fits in to the flow of the song, rather than seeming like a random instrument choice for versatility. Just about the only song that picks up the pace a bit is Broken Sword, although even that is after a minute-long acoustic build before the key gets dropped down a step and the thrashing begins.
Perhaps the mystique surrounding Bathory in the early career was one of the many pioneering traits that Quothorn brought to the table, but Nordland I reminds you that behind all that, Quothorn was a fucking brilliant songwriter, and even the chance to spice it all up with production work several hundreds of times fancier then the basement 4-track recordings of Bathory's early days, the composition of the songs are still at the forefront. Which is really to the benefit of any metal fan who isn't too busy being an elitist to enjoy some great music. Quothorn and his unquestionably brilliant legacy will be missed.