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There’s something about the frosty landscapes and dark horizons of Scandinavian metal, of any style or persuasion that tantalizes the minds of esoteric listeners. However, the origins of what would later become a highly artful and complex sub-genre started off as most prototypes tend to, a simplistic and profane exercise in sheer rebellion against established sensibilities. While many occult obsessed early metal bands from Sabbat to Venom and also Mercyful Fate were onto this idea pretty early in the game, Bathory’s early work is where a true extreme was discovered. Early Sodom, Slayer and Destruction could also be pointed to as culprits in the development of the style, but if a clear line is to be drawn, Quorthon’s wicked opening trilogy shows the most clarity of succession from heavy metal to what was heard in Norway and a few other countries in the early 90s, and perhaps also to an extent some of the more mystical sounding death metal bands of the late 80s.
In contrast to the debut, where the riff set was still largely infused by NWOBHM orthodoxy and a slight helping of punk rock sensibilities, “The Return…..” paints a much bleaker sonic reality that takes into account the switch in conventional thinking that occurred on “Ride The Lightning” and “Haunting The Chapel”, albeit with the same lo-fi, frosty production where fuzz still trumps posh. Many of these songs have a chaotic nature to them, fed in part by a deeper and heavier riff set, that all but predicts the blazing mayhem that would typify the extreme fringes of thrash metal from 1986-87, while still maintaining a very barebones approach of a simple handful of ideas and the same frenzied soloing style that merges the melodic tendencies of metal with the sloppiness of more shred-happy punk soloists. It’s very easy to see where Nocturno Culto and Abbath got their noise driven, frenetic lead style from when listening to this, right down to roughly the same overall character of the guitar distortion.
While quite revolutionary for 1985, this is an album that is pretty formulaic in nature, and largely builds upon the existing template of the first album. Along with beginning and ending with predictably creepy ambient tracks that reek of early 80s horror movie worship, most of these songs generally follow strict structural standards that is far more primitive than what most thrash bands were dabbling with by this point. Nevertheless, “Total Destruction”, “Possessed” and “Sadist” captures, in a more basic fashion, a sense of murky darkness fit for the cannibalistic undead. And even amongst the more mid-paced thrash sounding numbers such as “Born For Burning” and “The Rite Of Darkness”, the mood doesn’t get much brighter than the doom and gloom of a typical Hellhammer tune. But in terms of an out and out memorable song that will please just about everyone, the catchy yet wildly speedy “The Return Of Darkness And Evil” is a metallic celebration fit for any thrash fan.
For 1985, this is among the most ugly yet beautiful piece of filthy, blackened brilliance to be put together, and is rivaled chiefly by what preceded and what followed by the same band. It’s an almost perfect manifesto for just about every straight up, non-hyphenated album under the black metal moniker to be released. What it lacks in theatrics (something that would be addressed on the next album), it makes up for in sheer, unfettered aggression. By today’s standards, it comes off as archaic and still heavily bound by pre-death metal practices, but it’s difficult to imagine how something like this came across at the height of glam rock’s reign on the airwaves. For any black or thrash metal enthusiast, historically oriented or otherwise, this is a must have.