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It goes without saying that Hammerheart and Blood Fire Death were not just some of Bathory's greatest works, but also for the subgenres of Viking and black metal. Both albums saw explorations in neo-classical composition, acoustic interludes, clean singing, and a lyrical base revolving around Norse mythology. Supposedly, Twilight of the Gods was the creme de la creme of this style. It topped both albums in its towering scope, showed a big step up in Quorthon's skills as a guitarist and songwriting, and was hailed as Bathory's most "epic" album to that point. While it certainly lives up to its nature, it walks a fine line between epic and cheesy.
Now, on a basis of musicality and composition, this release is fucking ace. Powerful, driving sections of sustained power chords are backed by slow powerhouse drumming, which gives the music a seriously mountain-like atmosphere. The riffs in these sections are straight-out epic heavy metal with some folkish feel. These passages are drawn out just the right amount of time before it can be labelled as repetitive, and they often lead into solos or acoustic passages. It's the moments like these on "Under the Runes" and "Through Blood by Thunder" that help the album out immensely. Quorthon's shredding neo-classical solos provide plenty of epic ear candy, and the acoustic guitar passages that open and close the title track are nothing short of jaw-dropping in their display of musicianship and atmosphere. Things are layered very wisely; the electrics are backed by acoustics for climax and power, or vice versa. Layers of deep baritone vocals are used on "Through Blood by Thunder" and "Hammerheart," the latter of which is a totally neo-classical work that gives the album a sense of closure.
And now comes where I flame this album. Quorthon's vocals are fucking horrid. His clean singing was tolerable on BFD and Hammerheart; the former, because it was the first attempt at doing such, was traded with the harsh screams, and was kept to a bare minimum; and the latter because it only served as another tool of the music. But here, he actually tries to be a lead vocalist. The bad thing is, I believe the man actually convinced himself to think he was a good vocalist. His lower range singing isn't too bad; a little rough, but it suits the dramatic tone of the music perfectly. The choir effects on the closing track are rapturous, and "Blood and Iron" is probably the best song on the album vocally. It's the songs like "Under the Runes" and the title track that will make you cringe in disgust, though. Quorthon attempts (I emphasize the word "attempt") to go above his range, and fails horribly. Sour notes, lack of emotion or charisma in the voice, and a nasally, strained voice. It seems like Quorthon is attempting to size himself up to a band like Manowar; and while he may surpass musically, the vocals damn near ruin the songs. Upon first listening, I just took it as an acquired taste. But the more I listened and dissected the vocals, I came to the conclusion that Quorthon struggles to maintain competency throughout the album's course.
The lyrics do help things out a bit, though; the larger-than-life feel of the music coexists perfectly with Quorthon's lyrics focused around Norse mythology and Viking lore. The title track takes a different stance on things, though; it almost seems like a social satire. There are plenty of lines to chant along to, and some moments when used in the context of the music will definitely raise some horns.
This is one of the only Bathory albums that really didn't do it for me. The music is damn genius: epic, atmospheric, and ballsy with tons of guitar virtuoso. Unfortunately, the vocals will probably make your nutsack shrink in horror. Sorry guys, I'll stick with Under the Sign of the Black Mark.