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I wanted to start by saying that the most positive thing that can be said about ‘Octagon’ is that it’s not quite as bad as some people claim, but that would be untrue. If this had been a terrible first release from an unknown band it would be easy to dismiss, but as the seventh album in the mostly perfect Bathory chronology (yeah I know, the seventh – an octagon has eight sides, it doesn’t even make sense) this is one of those albums that it physically hurts to listen to. To this day I can’t even look at an octagon without screaming in despair and pummelling the ground with my bloodied fists, which is why they threw me out of the University of Sheffield’s conference centre. What an obscure joke.
While its predecessor ‘Requiem’ was content to replicate the sound of European thrash bands such as Kreator, keeping more in line with the evil Bathory ethos, this follow-up sounds like nothing more than a cheap and lousy attempt to imitate Slayer, and none of it works. Quorthon’s usually exceptional guitars are only decent when directly stealing from that other band, as is the case in ‘Century,’ and Vvornth’s drums have achieved the unfeasible and actually become significantly more annoying than on the previous release, starting the proceedings as they mean to go on with a far-too-long drum roll on some bins, or whatever it is he’s using. The production sound here is terrible – not good-terrible, like the early Bathory albums that reeked of an evil tomb, but practically unlistenable, and the double bass drums ticking away in the background almost sound like a CD fault. But most tragic of all is that the flaws can’t be placed solely on the production, but more squarely on Quorthon’s lousy performance, songwriting and lyrics.
While ‘Requiem’ attempted a sort of snarled approach to the vocals, here Quorthon opts for the singing style that worked so well on ‘Hammerheart’ and ‘Twilight of the Gods,’ where it didn’t even matter that he can’t sing. Here it matters a great deal, especially as songs like ‘Grey’ basically see him talking over fast thrashing riffs that should probably be conveying a sense of power and urgency, rather than a bored Swede spouting ridiculous lyrics like “your clothes will always bite big chumps right out of their concrete ass.” ‘Schizianity’ (nice pun there, Quorth) attempts something different, which at least shows some hope, but ends up being even less coherent than the rest in its near-doom style with the worst vocal performance of the lot. And there’s a Kiss cover that’s even worse than the original, figure that out for yourself. And now it’s in my head, goddammit.
This is a horrible album that should never have been released, but at least things only got better from here on, to the point where the final two Bathory releases rank among the best Quorthon would ever record. I love Quorthon, in fact he’s probably my favourite dead guy after Graham Chapman, but I have no idea what possessed him to release this. Certainly not the inspiring demon that influenced his classic early works.