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"The Return......" is in a difficult situation. It is framed by the groundbreaking debut and Quorthon's undisputed masterpiece "Under the Sign of the Black Mark". Compared with these mind-blowing classics, "The Return" (forgive me for neglecting the dots from now on) is eking out a meagre existence. But in relation to any other album of Quorthon, his second work is a real gem, a magnificent triumph of creativity and relevance. As a matter of course, Viking fans will disagree. Well, I admit that "Blood Fire Death" houses two fantastic tracks, but seen through the eyes of a black / thrash fan, Bathory never reached the form of their first three albums again. Only a few early non-album tracks such as "Satan My Master" or "Burning Leather" trample some pieces of "The Return" into the dust.
The atmospheric cover was an eye-catcher. Back in 1985, it distinguished itself from many artworks that showed bloodthirsty or ugly scenarios. Nevertheless, this was the only element of "The Return", which "normal" people would have described as aesthetic. Anyway, sick weirdos find a lot more nice details. In terms of music, Quorthon was still influenced by Venom. Songs like "Bestial Lust (Bitch)" could not hide the fact that he had drunken from Cronos' chalice, which had naturally been filled with a very exquisite cocktail of blood, sperm and alcohol. Lines like "She is hot and drives me wild and still she is open wide / Just when this torture seems to end / She is there to drain my sove again" were obviously inspired by tracks such as "Lady Lust" and the laughter at the beginning also indicated Quorthon's inspiration. Additionally, the break between "Rite of Darkness" and "Reap of Evil" was a slavish imitation of the bridge that connected "Buried Alive" and "Raise the Dead". Yet it has to be said that he had begun to emancipate himself. A certain number of tracks did not show an evident link between his and Venom's approach.
The songs were still aggressive, but less grim than that of the debut. The dull yet more or less unique guitar sound created a less satanic aura, but this does not mean that "The Return" lacked of power or violence. Quorthon had nothing but contempt for any kind of filigree or fragile lines and he tortured his guitar in a very coarse way. Nevertheless, he knew how to impress the audience. Despite or exactly because of the primitiveness of his riffs, songs like the programmatic "Total Destruction" with its staccato riffs and vocals or the furious and impulsive "The Winds of Mayhem" hit the nail on the head in the most efficient manner. Not to mention the most evil number of the album; the sombre title track built a bridge to the most malicious pieces of the debut. Its density, ferocity and cruelty set new standards. If Quorthon had intended to demonstrate his affinity for sonic bestiality, then he was absolutely successful, no doubt at all. Nevertheless and almost unbelievable, there exists an even better version of this song; Cruel Force, please allow me this patriotic remark, have proven that Quorthon was not fully aware of the potential of his own composition.
In comparison with the obstinate yet totally excellent debut, the Swedish lone wolf offered more variable song patterns. A few number of breaks was incorporated and tempo changes also occurred every now and then. Perhaps due to this slightly more fastidious approach, not each and every track sent me shivers down my spine. However, the album had some very dark vibes and, when excluding the completely useless intro, it did not suffer from any manifest fillers. Even the almost amateurish awkwardness of the main riff of "Sadist (Tormentor)" had a certain charm, although the song fought a losing battle in comparison with the highlights of "The Return". Speaking of the best tracks, I have forgotten to mention the inquisitorial "Born for Burning", a relatively relaxed mid-tempo piece with catchy riffs. Only its ending was a little bit too long. So what. "The Return" was a strong full-length, neither flawlessly produced - just think of the guitar sound and the vocals with an extra dose of reverb on it - nor compositionally sophisticated, but highly effective. Anyway, Bathory's larger-than-life album was yet to come. Rest in piece, Quorthon.