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Twilight of the Gods was the sixth full-length album from Bathory, released on Black Mark Productions in June 1991. This was originally meant to be the final chapter of this band's career and shows even more classical influence than on the previous album. The title comes from Wagner's opera, Götterdämmerung. Recorded at Montezuma Studio in Stockholm, Sweden and produced by Boss, this record continues the sound that had been developing on Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart, while adding in yet more new elements. It is somewhat difficult to label this as a Viking Metal album, as it represents a bit of a departure from the atmosphere and approach of its predecessors. There are traces of modernity within the lyrics and musical arrangements that simply do not fit well. It also lacks any sense of aggression, content to move along at an almost relaxed pace, throughout. Even the production is very smooth and rounded-off, with no rough edges remaining.
It was back in high school when I borrowed this album, on cassette, from a friend of mine. Along with The Somberlain and Where No Life Dwells (from Dissection and Unleashed, respectively), Twilight of the Gods remained in my tape player for quite some time. Over and over, I listened to this release, until the unthinkable happened: some of the tracks began wearing thin and the magic wore off. After repeated plays, inconsistencies were more noticeable. From lyrical themes to riffs and song structures, this turned out to be Quorthon's own Ragnarök, for some years.
This majestic album starts out with the title track, which is introduced by a sombre guitar melody and the sound of the north wind blowing cold. The drums burst forth from the silence, pounding steady and giving the feeling of a war march. The build-up is accompanied by an acoustic guitar, taking its time to let the listener drown in his own anxiety and eagerness to see what happens next. Once the main riff comes rumbling through, joined by a backing choir that adds a dismal atmosphere to the already-epic masterpiece that is slowly unfolding. The music is mid-paced and carries a feeling of doom. The lyrics go along with this, yet once one takes the time to pay attention, it is clear that the theme deals with modernity rather than the distant past, which takes away from the overall effect and makes it more difficult to enjoy. The arrangement is somewhat monotonous, but the lack of dynamics actually helps the song out. The final couple minutes feature a lengthy acoustic passage, along with the return of the bitter cold winds.
"Through Blood By Thunder" picks up where the first song left off, opening with more freezing winds and a clean guitar section. The main riffs are mid-paced, as would be expected, and the aura is still rather sorrowful. Quorthon's clean vocals have developed a little more and, while still kind of an acquired taste, he seems to have more control over his voice at this point. Still, the vocals are buried in the mix, probably to hide any weaknesses. The riffs are heavy and epic, and though it is not the strongest track on here, it is very solid and memorable.
The next song also starts with an acoustic guitar. "Blood and Iron" might have been better off if placed elsewhere on the album, as there is no real logic behind lumping together three songs that all start out in such a similar manner. Unfortunately, the sound here is almost reminiscent of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive", and the comparisons with that poser outfit are not limited to this song, alone. Thankfully, once the song progresses, it moves far from this mild similarity and the heaviness of the guitar riffs and the thundering drums is enough to crush your skull into a fine powder. The lyrics, again, move from themes of the past to modern topics, making mention of space exploration and so on. Things like this really work against the material and make it difficult for the listener to really get lost in the music. There is still a rather sad vibe here, but the presentation does not really do well to convey the true sense of hopelessness that Quorthon may have been going for. Overall, this song does not live up to its potential and is far too soft.
"Under the Runes" seems to be a favourite among fans and it is no surprise, since it is the catchiest song on here. Regrettably, it has to be said that the structure and melody of this tune appear to have much more in common with mainstream music than Viking Metal. The sound is more akin to some 80s Rock band, like the aforementioned group, and the atmosphere kills what little momentum the album had by this point. The solo work is decent and the song could have been something better, but Quorthon had lost his focus and one should not be surprised that this was planned to be the final Bathory record.
Yet another acoustic guitar intro starts out "To Enter Your Mountain", and remains even once a somewhat heavy riff emerges. The atmosphere is really much too light, as in weak and bright. This is not as dark as it wants to be, and the sound is quite soft and has more in common with fluffy morning clouds than a harsh and rugged mountainside.
"Bond of Blood" comes along, quite late in the album, attempting to salvage things. This is, certainly, the darkest track on the record. An earlier version of this song can be heard on the Jubileum III compilation, when it was titled "In Nomine Satanas" (of course, another coincidence related to Venom). Perhaps, the Satanic content of the original is the reason for the darker tone. As with the rest, this one is slow and plodding, managing to retain some heaviness despite the weak production. The lead solos add so much to the song, creating a dark and melancholic vibe. This is, easily, the best and most memorable track on here. The epic quality is not ruined by the lyrical themes, which are vague and yet also seem more focused on what one would expect.
"Heading north after long a journey
We have sailed for so very long
Heavy seas endless sky above us
Heading north going home"
The final track is "Hammerheart", which utilizes music composed by Gustav Holst, from his Planets Suite. It is not terribly dark, yet there is a sadness that cannot be denied. Listening to this in the years since Quorthon passed away makes one hope that he had more of a connection to these lyrics than he let on, at times. At least, it is what many among the Bathory Hordes would like to believe. It definitely would have served as a suitable way to end a career, as it possesses a certain feeling of finality.
Twilight of the Gods is highly regarded, yet it is an album plagued by weaknesses that get more and more difficult to ignore, as time passes. There is only one original composition that is not dragged down by its flaws, while the rest of the material wallows in mediocrity and is destroyed by inconsistent songwriting. The best moments are among the most epic and majestic in Metal history, but the low points are horrendous when one considers what this band was capable of. It is fortunate that Quorthon redeemed himself, a decade later, with the Nordland records.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com