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The final chapter of any saga is ultimately where one’s steel is truly tested, regardless to whether one be an instrumentalist, front man, songwriter, or in Quorthon’s unique case, all of the above. While a number of great bands have misjudged their own longevity and elect to fissile out over a slow period of decline, the true greats take their final bows right at the zenith of their respective careers, even if one could potentially put out more works that are still marginally good. But in the case of Bathory, a resurgence of unexpected vigor and vitality resulted in a career that went on more than a decade from this, the intended closing of the curtain on a brilliant and innovative career. To put it mildly, this is the greatest conclusion that turned out not to be.
“Twilight Of The Gods” is the ultimate example of where an album can be epic, and not have to serve any other purpose. While stylistically most of its emulations differ greatly, this colossal congregation of massive atmospherics, majestic acoustic guitar lines, thunderous guitars, bombastic drums, and all the imagery of frost covered landscapes and dragon boats approaching the shore to boot is the archetype for what many Viking oriented black and folk metal outfits from the land of Norse exploits have become known for since. Take Manowar at their most stripped down, battlefield laden, true metal greatness, subtract the speed metal and the mid-tempo NWOBHM influences, and what emerges is a tower of an album casting a shadow engulfing all in its wake.
Within the misty landscapes of the album’s opening trilogy, which was actually compressed into a single song on the album’s 2003 reissue, is the testament of unfettered genius at work. With winds blowing and a distant cry of a clean electric guitar drone that bears some similarity to ones heard on “Hammerheart”, the spellbinding adventure that is this album’s title song kicks off with a blast loud enough to parallel Thor’s hammer striking down a legion of giants. The moods switch between nostalgic and fearsome, with dense acoustic and distorted guitar voicing that meshes brilliantly with droning chorus line that trades blows with Quorthon’s rough edged and dirty lead vocals. Things come to a head somewhere in the latter half of the song, just before the guitar solo where a gratuitous bass shred fest that was obviously paraphrased from Joey Demaio’s extended repertoire signals where this song owes its origins to, while simultaneously pointing out how far Quorthon has refined the concept.
As the rest of the opening trilogy unfolds, it becomes apparent that keeping the ideas interrelated and minimal is one of the biggest draws to this otherwise ambitious endeavor. The 2nd chapter “Through Blood By Thunder” begins on a restful guitar drone before launching into another dark and heavy onslaught of trudging grooves at a punishing slow tempo, and like most middle movements of a 3 part series, is the shortest and behaves more like a bridge for 2 more ambitious extremes. “Blood And Iron” contains the most memorable elements of the song, particularly the easily recognizable acoustic theme that sort of comes and goes amidst a sea of thudding guitars that literally sound deep enough to make Zakk Wylde take notice.
While the first 3 songs found on here definitely can stand on their own and sum up the nature of this album, it is easily rivaled by the equally chilling follow up in “Under The Runes”. With an intense mixture of acoustic and electric themes that almost seem like a slowed down answer to “The Call Of Ktulu”, this thing manages to be the catchiest number to ever come out of Quorthon’s catalog. The tendency is towards a vintage 80s sound, yet at the same time it hints at a coming end for this style of song, as if Quorthon himself is predicting the eventual death of the 80s with the rise to prominence of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and others at around this time and has translated it into a swansong requiem for a time when music was capable of being sorrowful and passionate without being cynical and a complete drag.
The remnants of this album’s contents largely draw a similar picture to the 4 instant classic preceding them. “To Enter Your Mountain” has more of a folksy, almost slow dance nature to its acoustic themes, amid a the heavy riffing and gravely shouts. “Bond Of Blood” plays up the heaviness a bit more and sounds closer to an all out doom metal song with a slight bit of epic detailing, in much the same fashion as some of Manowar’s more menacing slow songs. And the closing rendition of Holst’s “Hammerheart” is a surprising change of pace with Quorthon actually trying out an operatic baritone with a synthesized orchestral accompaniment to close out an album more characterized by roughness than restfulness. It’s a fitting end, yet an all but completely unexpected one as well given Quorthon never sounded so brisk and clear while at the microphone.
This is an album that is defined by embracing an extreme, and though its greatness is obvious to anyone who goes for atmospherics and triumphant themes, its polarizing nature is equally as obvious to any casual observer. While this spits in the face of common radio oriented music, it also is about as distant from the vile extremes of what defines black metal ala Sodom and Venom as can be without crossing into the world of hard rock. It will likely be doomed to an existence of semi-obscurity despite its impeccable brilliance, in much the same respect as Manilla Road tends to be. But anyone who can take the slow tempos and the unorthodox production is recommended to part with hard earned dough in order to experience Quorthon’s second brush with perfection.