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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.