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With a discography as extensive as Quorthon’s, it is easy for certain releases to overshadow others, especially when the quality of his material is as incredible as it is. Now, while it is undeniable that Blood Fire Death, Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods are all absolute masterpieces, I feel that Nordland II, the final chapter of Quorthon’s legacy, deserves far more recognition than it receives because it is honestly just about flawless. Following much the same direction as part I of the Nordland saga, this hour long epic crowns one of metal’s most important and influential figure’s legendary career, featuring some of Bathory’s finest material ever written.
Like its predecessor, Nordland II is a thunderous return back to the epic viking metal sound of mid-era Bathory, but only better. The song-writing is simply masterful, displaying a true sense of wisdom and maturity through nine magnificent compositions, which is complimented by Quorthon’s genius lyrical musings, that transport you right into the middle of a bloody battle raging on across a barren, permafrost laden plain, all taking place underneath an ominous, swirling vortex of black and grey, with the occasional fork of lightning piercing through the clouds and illuminating the sky. The music itself is to a similar effect, with the combination of Quorthon’s riffing, lead and keyboard work all predominantly accompanied by a steady, mid-paced beat conjuring a mental image of charging into battle along side your fellow warriors, with shield in hand and sword at the ready. It is the way the riffs and melodies just feel like they are marching into battle themselves as well as possessing this warlike conviction, which makes this album so damn spectacular and just so majestic. Channeling Bathory’s more thrash orientated material, “Death and Resurrection of a Northern Son” however, shows that Quorthon has not completely ditched the furious pace of his early and mid-90’s records, opening up with a fast, pummelling barrage of double-bass and thick, gritty tremolo picking which continues on right throughout the verse. This ferocious assault though, is short-lived, as we are soon greeted with soaring leads and epic keyboard choirs which make for a climatic build-up into the second verse, which is slightly disappointing as the verses are pretty average both instrumentally and vocally compared to the rest of the song, and is actually the album’s weakest moment.
The following track “The Messenger” however, is absolutely flawless, and one of the stand-outs on the album. Once again, an elevating keyboard and guitar melody kick off the song, accompanied by the sound of the wind howling through the air, which soon explodes into a herd of storming power chords rolling across a field along side a troop of thundering horses galloping into the distance. At 10 minutes in length, this phenomenal track is one of the longest songs on the album, together with “The Wheel of Sun” which clocks in at just over 12 minutes. Plodding along at a much slower tempo, this epic album closer flows much smoother, with Quorthon churning out walls of slower, sustained chord progressions, as well as two conquering guitar solos full of soaring string slides, pulls and bends as well as blazing shredding runs, which also make appearances in “Blooded Shore,” “Sea Wolf” and “The Land,” and are all just loaded with a tonne of pure, emotional energy. Quorthon’s vocals are also just packed with loads of raw energy, utilizing a combination of aggressive, yet brilliantly executed singing, the occasional full-fledged scream and almost archaic sounding chanting, which are all usually accompanied by beautiful back-up choirs. Overall, Quorthon’s vocal performance from a technical standpoint is the best of his career despite a few shaky passages, with his voice sounding better than it ever has and just booming with confidence and maximum energy.
Driving the songs forward towards the horizon with a valiant force, the drums further compliment Quorthon’s mighty guitar and vocal performances, and while they are relatively simplistic consisting of fairly basic beats and patterns with minimal fills, they are still immensely powerful and work with the music exceptionally. Production wise, they’re not perfect, but I don’t feel this is to the album’s disadvantage in any way, and actually adds to its overall charm. The heavily distorted, fuzzy tone of the guitar and gritty bass tone initially didn’t sit to well with me though, but, after a few listens I had no problem with them, as every last instrumental nuance just blends together perfectly. From the epic keyboard droning opening the album in “Fanfare,” to the pan flute synth melody that kicks off “Sea Wolf” or the soft, atmospheric build up in “Death and Resurrection of a Northern Son,” as well Quorthon’s extraordinary vocals, everything just comes together as one charging, triumphant mass of pure brilliance and majesty.
While it doesn’t quite match up to the almost unparalleled magnificence of Blood Fire Death, Hammerheart or Twilight of the Gods, this phenomenal record is certainly still worthy of any metal fan’s attention, and is a grand testament to one of the most legendary musicians to ever grace this planet.