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It seems that Quorthon tires of one style and moves onto another rather quickly: with the first two black metal albums, the new two being an introduction to the Viking themes (and slowly losing the Satanic influences in favor for Norse mythology), the fifth and sixth albums being unadulterated Viking metal classics, and the next album being a somewhat overrated "return to form", Octagon tends to get little to no respect, and I really can't understand why.
This is raw, ugly and dirty blackened thrash, plain and simple. Anyone who would expect Quorthon to sit still and continue to ride out any of his eras for any limited time would be foolish.
First, let me say that while the production is dirty, it is very listenable. You can decipher everything that's going on, so this shouldn't be a complaint.
It seems that a lot of people would've loved for Quorthon to continue on the Viking theme, but as a musician, I believe he was prone to low attention levels at times, and this is proof of it. If anyone was hoping for the quality of Hammerheart or Twilight of the Gods, you're going to have to wait until the epic Blood on Ice and the Nordland releases.
But, the change in style doesn't make this a horrible release - on the contrary, it comes off as a breath of fresh air after having Thor's Hammer shoved down our throats for a while.
As for the album itself, overall it has a dirty feeling, which I can only attribute to the Motorhead influence, or a lack of money (I believe he was still recording the the garage / studio, so it makes sense in that context). The drums are a bit tinny, but they're still very listenable. And, unlike what other people want to say, the riffs are definitely there.
Quorthon's voice also seems to be a point of contention with many fans. I ask this: was the culture shock from Blood Fire Death to Hammerheart that bad? Did it make you hate Hammerheart? I agree, his vocals did change: for the better since the Requiem album. You can understand him - he pronounces the lyrics instead of making them into a long lost Viking warrior, or a demon possessed. They work. Keep in mind, his vocals changed many times; this is just another facet of his ability.
Musically, this isn't the thinker's album that the Viking trilogy (Blood Fire Death through Twilight of the Gods) were; this is simply a fun, dirty rock 'n metal album that is the meeting place between Quorthon (his "rock" band) and the many faces of Bathory. The music is a bit more simple - the guitars have more bite than flow and it seems a record for tossing on when you feel like listening to some good metal when you don't want to imagine the longships or Valhalla, To that effect, if anything, this is Quorthon's "party" album (sorry, but that's the only way I can put it).
Lyrically, we go all over the place. Immaculate PinetreeRoad #930 is about a kid who kills his parents with an axe, then kills himself with a gun. Okay, maybe "party album" isn't exactly fitting unless you're like me - if find the topic fascinating.
Charles Manson is also lyrical fodder (Sociopath)and John Wayne Gacy gets a turn as well (33 Something). Then there are the flat out "Fuck off" songs in form of Born to Die and Psychopath. Political statements come to play in Grey, Century and Judgement of Posterity (which, interestingly enough, could be a song an environmentalist could get behind).
The cover of Kiss's Deuce is interesting, but isn't really a favorite of mine. It's fairly faithful to the original (save for the vocals), but it just doesn't do anything for me.
Also, to the people criticizing the "immature" lyrics, I'd only have to point out that Swedish was Quorthon's home and more than likely some things were lost in translation. And, let's face it, Bathory and The Return were "marred" by lyrics of the same (or lesser) quality, yet that's both hailed as classics.
This divided a lot of the fans of Bathory back in the day as well. I think it's a good, solid metal album. When Blood on Ice came out, it was a masterpiece, but this is a damned fun listen if you like your rock and metal to be down and dirty and sound like something you could have some drinks to. It's not black metal, it's not Viking metal - it's simply good old fashioned metal played directly from the gutter and into your stereo.
I'd advise any fan to give this a fair listen, and to remember, this is a different beast than anything that came before or after.