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Yes, I am a sucker for atmospheric music. But this music is more beautiful than anything else Quorthon has done. Ever. Crystalline guitar passages flow like clear northern rivers over the massive, booming drums, and are accentuated by acoustic passages both within and without the regular passages. The singing is often done in a more baritone voice than on Hammerheart, though it's still obvious it's the same person singing.
The production is probably the best among the first era bathory releases (1984-1991), but still bears many similarities to Hammerheart. The main differences are in the snare, which is A LOT more echo-y, and the guitars, which are more transparent. The whole production is drenched in reverb, which could end up in a mess, but Quorthon keeps it simple here, and creates a masterful production that envelopes the listener and leaves him/her with a feeling of awe of the power of the gods.
And yes, this release is slow. It is content to stroll along at a doom-like pace through most of the CD. This can be construed as a metaphor of pessimism for a world that is in its last throes, though, in all honesty, it's more likely just a way of keeping things "uncluttered", as it were. Whereas Hammerheart (the album) was more focused on the vikings themselves, the imagery of this album is more of the vikingland. The lyrics are even better than Hammerheart's, with vast imagery and attention to the natural elements. It describes the exploits of the vikings with more attention to the surroundings, which paints a much better picture. And the music is a lot more grand and epic than Hammerheart, though, in the process, lost the intensity of Hammerheart.
However, it does have intensity in this release, but it's saved for the symphonic closer (which is actually a cover of Gustav Holst's "Jupiter", but with viking themed lyrics.) That song makes up for ANY shortcomings the rest of the album has, and is the song I want played at my funeral.
What are these shortcomings? Sometimes, this album can drone on. The songs are long, and slow, and often (in songs like Blood and Iron, Twilight of the Gods, and Bond of Blood) a non-avid bathory fan can get bored.
However, I cannot make a review of this album without mentioning Under the Runes, which I feel is the strongest song on this album. Words do not describe it. It's just awesome. The acoustic intro is mystifying, and the rest of the song seems perfectly executed.
One thing, though, is that this album isn't for everybody. Those looking for intensity, look elsewhere. Those looking for speed, look elsewhere. Those looking for clean sounding drums, look elsewhere. Those looking for palm muted riffs, look elsewhere. This is all about being big and epic