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Bathory is widely known as a pioneer of two genres of music: black metal and Viking metal. He released his first album in 1984 which I consider to be the absolute first black metal album and, four years later in 1988, he released a prototype to the Viking metal genre with "Blood Fire Death". This album contained the first Viking metal tracks to ever be recorded but was still firmly rooted in black metal at the same time. It wouldn't be until 1990 with the album "Hammerheart" that Quarthon finally transitioned Bathory fully into the Viking metal sound and created something truly breathtaking that would be completely perfected with the final album in Bathory's "Viking" trilogy, "Twilight of the Gods". This give new meaning to the word "epic". This is usually seen as the lesser of the three albums by many and while I still hold "Blood Fire Death" and "Hammerheart" in the highest of regards, "Twilight of the Gods" is the epitome of Viking-era Bathory, and probably Bathory overall.
This album begins with the title-track of "Twilight of the Gods", and clocks in at 14 minutes in length. The song follows a slower pace, similar to that of "Hammerheart" with songs like "Shores in Flames", and choir vocals soar like a Valkyrie readying for The Wild Hunt. This is the longest track on the album and the most epic. Why wouldn't it be? It bears the name of the album itself. The acoustic guitars are absolutely magnificent and add to the heroic atmosphere, combining beauty with epic metal. The solo in this song doesn't flaunt its technicality, rather boasting an elegant atmospheric beauty that became synonymous with Quorthon's Viking metal albums.
Although the title track opens up this album perfectly, both in the overall theme and musical structure, it is not my favorite song on the album. "Through Blood by Thunder" and "Blood and Iron" both tie for that honor. They both open up with the exact same guitar riff, although the one in "Through Blood by Thunder" features an undistorted electric guitar, while "Blood and Iron" utilizes an acoustic guitar. Both of these songs execute their respective styles beautifully. "Blood and Iron" is the longer of the two and thus, it sounds a bit more epic. The pace remains slow and hypnotic by showcasing an evident influence of epic doom metal. This seems to be a central musical idea throughout the album, of course. This is the least black metal-sounding Viking album Quorthon had produced at this time. The drumming is especially simple and focuses on overall groove rather than technicality. This is the case with all of the songs throughout the album and while it doesn't change much, it really doesn't lessen the quality of the music.
It seems that Quorthon's clean vocals had improved a bit from "Hammerheart", to my ears, anyway. He sounds more heroic and comfortable with his vocals. However, it also seems that his performance here has been panned by quite a few listeners, as well. I guess different people have different opinions. I've never thought he was a particularly great singer anyway but here, he sounds more natural and comfortable, and less awkward, not that he was bad to begin with, of course. The lyrics to this album are also top notch and themes of epic tales of battle, nature, and Viking mythology are perfected here. The lyrics aren't necessarily complex in syntax, as Qurothon is Swedish and English would be a second language, but they still evoke the heroic atmosphere:
"Though death may await me on the battlefield
I die to go on but by the great hail I will go,
I am marching under the runes"
See? They're simple but still follow the epic themes and we can understand them clearly due to his improved clean singing being the primary vocal style throughout the album.
While Bathory has always had a strong discography disregarding the second album of his fairly watered-down thrash metal era, "Twilight of the Gods" remains his strongest original Viking-era album and may be his strongest overall. I'd rate this among the best albums of all time and every time I listen to it I get the same feeling I have always gotten, and images of epic battles in the North.