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Quorthon’s excursion into the widely criticized 3rd era of Bathory is somewhat of a sensitive topic amongst the faithful, but nowhere is it near as uniform in its ambivalence than where the 8th album dubbed “Octagon” is concerned. Perhaps the big issue is that most choose to see this as either being a modern groove/thrash album, or as a really poor attempt at rehashing the blistering rawness of “Requiem”. While there are elements of both to be found here, there is a case to be made that this album is more suited to the extremities of the growing raw black metal school, but with stylistic quirks that point towards hardcore and modern thrash influences. Or for a less conventional title, this could be seen as an avant-garde blackened thrash album of sorts, though obviously free of all the ambient oddities the go with the first part of the hybrid style.
To be clear, the approach to production on here is comparable to the unfocused, decrepit character that generally tends to go with obscure black metal demos from a few years prior. The drums borderline on obnoxiousness in how loud and pervasive they are, particularly the popping snare which sounds akin to an exaggeration of what is normally heard out of grindcore bands and a fairly overpowering cymbal presence to boot. The vocals are also a bit loud in comparison to previous work out of this band, while the bass is virtually buried under the rest of the arrangement and the guitars vary from being in the background to fighting with the vocals for the 2nd most prominent spot. While this mixing approach does help to bring out the angst-drenched punk mentality that’s fueling the lyrics (some of which are about as gratuitously profane as the gibberish heard on “Suicidal For Life”), it is definitely understandable why most fans of Quorthon’s work choose this as their reason for dismissing this album.
But in spite of the obviously glaring air of inaccessibility that permeates the production of each song, I find myself drawn to a good amount of them. “Sociopath”, “GRCY” and “Judgment Of Posterity” reprise the Slayer on cocaine character heard on “Requiem”, but with a vocal character that is somewhat less agonized and more shouting in character. But even among some of the slower, Pantera-like material the creeps into “Born To Die” and “Schizianity” there is a charm to the repetitive guitar lines and Quorthon’s sloppy, heavily accent drenched ravings, even when the lyrics read like something out of a 13 year old kid’s diary. The guitar solo work, which occurs about as often as the typical Slayer or Cannibal Corpse album, is generally a one-dimensional flood of venting pentatonic shred licks and noisy whammy bar noise, but it fits in quite nicely with the equally simplified character of this album.
The best way to really qualify what this album is in regard to the rest of Quorthon’s discography is by an analogy to Bill Hicks’ famous meltdown in response to a heckler shouting “Free Bird!” by suggesting that Hitler was an underachiever. It’s something that would normally horrify a lot of even the most irreverent of comedy consumers, yet because of the context in which Hicks shouted it out, it was funny and in the minds of some, even appropriate. Nobody really thinks of it as Hick’s best quote or joke, but everybody has a place for it in their memory and has a moment in the course of their lives where they find themselves restating it. That is basically what “Octagon” is; a spur of the moment fit of enraged revulsion that inspires dissonance in the squeamish, yet a reserved nod of agreement from depressing cynics like me. And like the infamous Hicks rant, it definitely loses its effect when listened to over and over.