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The first band to outdo Venom in the all-important areas of satanic imagery and fearsome mood, Sweden’s Bathory pretty much invented the very idea of black metal in all aspects. Musically, lyrically, and in graphic appearance, Bathory said it all first, which would be a daunting enough task for an entire band to take on, much less one person. But at most stages of their legacy, Bathory was just that. Quorthon (real name Snorre Ruch) is the dude to hail (blame) for codifying the first setoff rules for what BM should look and sound like.
The band’s 1984 self-titled debut was a screechy, treble-drenched collection of songs that came across like a demo Venom might have recorded after a night of obscene alcohol abuse. Some good tunes were there, but on the whole it didn’t say a lot about Bathory’s potential. The Return, however was a different crock of bisque completely. First instead of being washed out with high-end white noise, the sound here is so dark the songs seem to crawl out of a shadow rather than simply begin. It’s all about the black here, and it doesn’t matter if the song is high-speed mayhem or slow plodding menace. The mood of impenetrable darkness is absolute. Even better, the album actually features something of a running storyline, inconsistently spinning a yarn about Satan reclaiming the earth from the grasp of God. Song wise, we’re in good shape too. A few thrashing blasters appear, the best of which being “Total Destruction”, “Bestial Lust (Bitch)”, and my personal fave, “Sadist”. But Quorthon really straps on the goat horns for “Born for Burning”, a slow, deliberate track parading the Bathory evil vibe in spades, and a real highlight of the band’s catalog.
The bottom line is without the shadow of Quorthon casting itself across metal, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, and hundreds of other corpse painted denizens of our planet just wouldn’t have known what to do with their spare time. Bathory is an icon and The Return is their blackest hour.