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“Certainly in this country as far as power, speed, brutality and utter noise is concerned, nothing in Sweden even came close for about a decade” - Quorthon
Indeed, that quote form Bathory’s main man is VERY TRUE considering how fast, loud and raucous this album is, especially for the time that it was released. Okay, so The Return… may have consisted of some SLIGHT punk influences (Bestial Lust) and a few occasional rockish riffs that were present on the first album (Born For Burning), but this album here, Under The Sign Of The Black Mark, completely eliminates every element that caused Metal heads to cry out “Venom clones!” to Bathory, and instead, broke the boundaries of everything that was once considered extreme Metal in the 80s. There are songs on here that make Kreator, Slayer and Dark Angel seem like little girls! Not to say that those bands weren’t lethal and/or brutal for their time, because in 1986, all of the aforementioned groups released three of the greatest, most lethal albums to ever grace the ears of man kind; Pleasure To Kill, Reign In Blood and Darkness Descends. Were they giving Bathory a run for the money? Perhapse so, but just as songs like Massacre and Chariots Of Fire destroy anything that was previously known as thrash, black and speed Metal, Under The Sign Of The Black Mark is also the album that foreshadowed the heavier, far more epic direction that Bathory would soon take. Call From The Grave and Enter The Eternal Fire a perfect examples of that change in direction.
Under The Sign Of The Black Mark surpassed the doomed heaviness of Celtic Frost’s To Mega Therion, the speed of Sodom’s Obsessed By Cruelty, and the brutality of Kreator’s Pleasure To Kill and Slayer’s Reign In Blood. It was overall more unique as well. Most of the lyrics weren’t about summoning the powers of Hell, sadistic death, torture, destruction and all of that other good stuff that Bathory, as well as all of the other aforementioned bands, used to write about in their lyrics. Instead, the lyrics on Under The Sign Of The Black Mark were about historical battles (Massacre), Norse mythology (Equimanthorn), nuclear war (Chariots of Fire), the afterlife (Call From The Grave, Enter The Eternal Fire), the Bathory fan base (…Of Doom), Elizabeth Bathory herself (Woman Of Dark Desires), and even one more song based around Satan and the occult (13 Candles).
Also, unlike the previous two Bathory records, this album also consists of more variety musically speaking. From fast, neck snapping mega-thrashers (Massacre, Equimanthorn, …Of Doom), to mid paced approaches (Woman Of Dark Desires, 13 Candles), and all the way to the slower, epic numbers (Call From The Grave and Enter The Eternal Fire), Under The Sign Of The Black Mark is a mile stone in the history of Metal music. Actually, that was quite an understatement there but anyway, let’s get on with the song by song descriptions…
1. Nocturnal Obeisance (Intro) - If there is one flaw with this album it would be the intro. Why? Well compared to Storm Of Damnation or Revelation Of Doom, this one is basically nothing. Just a few random echoes and wind effects. Aside from that, I also have a problem with the title. I know that it’s in Latin, but in English, it translates to Nighttime Obesity…WHY?! I have no fucking clue.
2. Massacre - What an appropriate title for such a brutal track. The lyrics here are based on the battle of Little Big Horn, yet are ultimately indecipherable when considering the speed that Quorthon sings/growls at. Musically, the song is blazing fast, heavy, brutal as all hell, and at the time, made bands like Kreator and Slayer seem like nothing more than traditional rock! So both lyrically and musically, this song is BRUTAL, in all caps, in the true sense of the word.
“I remember virtually stealing the entire base for that track from Saxon's "Machine Gun". Their "Wheels of Steel" and "Denim and Leather" albums are highly underrated I think” - Quorthon discussing the base technique used for the following track…
3. Woman Of Dark Desires - Finally, a song written about the dark and lovely Countess that all extreme Metal fans tend to adore. Hey, it all started with the Venom track Countess Bathory from 1982. Then a band that’s actually called BATHORY comes into the scene, yet waits a few years before actually writing a song about the woman whom they named the band after in the first place. Here we have it, a song about Elizabeth Bathory herself. Amongst all of the other songs that Bathory has done, this one is a bit more traditionally structured, consisting of that verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-verse-chorus format. There are also some gothic, church organ keyboards included in here as well, which only adds to the darkened atmosphere of the song. The chorus itself is catchy as fuck. Yeah, try getting that one out of your head!
4. Call From The Grave - This song begins with some strange noises, something that sounds like a man gasping for air on the edge of his life. Pretty soon though, the thick, swinging drum beats come thundering in which are backed up by ultra heavy, mid-paced riffs that simply crush in all their might. Quorthon sounds like he’s in total pain on this song, which only adds to the affect and atmosphere of what the song is really about. Is there an afterlife? Or does your soul just stay in your grave? The lyrics of the song are from the perspective of a dead soul who is trapped in his own grave and unable to escape, calling to God for help but no one hears his pleas. By the way, the guitar solo on this tune is by far the best one on the album. It isn’t fast nor is it extreme in any sense, but shit…the tone and harmonics that this solo is played at just simply SLAY! Possibly one of the best solos that I have ever heard!
5. Equimanthorn - “I basically ripped the opening passages from the soundtrack to the "Jaws" movie writing that one” states Quorthon. And yes, you can actually tell that the intro to this song is a reminisce of the movie Jaws. So, what does Equimanthorn mean? I have no clue, but the lyrics are obviously Norse based, which foreshadows the direction the Bathory would later turn to in late 80s/early 90s with their so called Viking Metal albums. Musically though, this song sounds NOTHING like the later, Viking works of the band. The first half of the track is ultra fast Speed Metal at its best. As a matter of fact, this song is played so fucking fast, that the terms Speed Metal and Thrash Metal can NOT be used to describe such a rapid song. You’d have to hear it for yourself to believe and experience the brutal intensity of a track such as this. Quorthon spits forth the lyrics at like….500 miles per hour! Now how the FUCK does he do that?! Midway through though, the pace changes drastically, and a semi-fast, main riff carries on the rhythm as Quorthon continues to growl his lyrics of Norse mythology at a much steadier pace than before. Quorthon shouts the word “EQUIMANTHORN!” over and over at the top of his lungs up until the pace picks up all over again, leading the track’s rhythm back into its hellish pace, ending it all off with one crazy as fuck guitar solo that…you know what? I can’t even begin to describe how amazing that ending solo is. No, it’s not complexed, but if a guitar solo could be considered lethal and/or brutal, this would really be it!
6. Enter The Eternal Fire - Although the lyrics here have absolutely nothing to do with any Nordic subject, the music alone is a reminisce of what Bathory would later become when they would start to release the Viking albums. The entire song consists of mid-paced, swinging drum patters and steady riffs, much similar to the material off of the band’s Hammerheart album released in 1990. The lyrics here though are another tale of the afterlife, much like Call From The Grave. However, this one is more interesting. It’s about a guy who ends up in the fiery place known as Hell. Bathory wrote references to Satan and Hell before in their two previous albums, but the lyrics on this track are far deeper. They convey a strong anti-religious meaning since the lyrics are about a man who is sentenced to burn for all eternity just for living a life of pleasure. Now how fair is that?! Bathory has always been one to attack religion, but with this track, the message seriously gets across pretty damn well instead of the band just blabbering about Satan, death and blasphemy, which can still be good, by the way, but those kinds of lyrics tend to get old pretty fast. My favorite part of this whole song is where Quorthon begins screaming “Oh Lord! Have mercy oh lord! This can’t be! Raging flames consume my soul! THE PAIN TURNS MY MIND! OH NO THIS CAN’T BE! OH NO! OH NOOOOOOO!!”….he screams as if the pain of fire is actually consuming his body.
7. Chariots Of Fire - Once again, the album picks up the pace with a blazing fast Speed Metal song in the vein of Massacre and the first half of Equimanthorn. Much like Massacre, though, this song never changes pace. It’s constantly fast through out, almost too damn fast to head bang to. But hey, I can do it! VERY FEW people can without getting whiplashed anyway…not to brag or anything. Anyway, the guitar solo that ends this track off is another extreme, godly one. Nothing like the one at the end of Equimanthorn, but it’s still amazing.
8. 13 Candles - With this song, Bathory returns to their Satanic roots by making a song about birth of Satan’s child. You all know of the “virgin” Mary who gave birth to Christ while still being a “virgin“, right? Yeah, she sure used a good cover up, eh? Well anyway, this song must be a mockery of that story since it’s about some virgin giving birth to the son of Satan. The song itself is far more mid-paced than the previous track, yet manages to be a overall faster than Call From The Grave or Enter The Eternal Fire. The dark chants in the background add so much to the evil atmosphere as well. “Born a child of the underworld” you’ll hear the demon choir chant! Shit, if only this was put on The Return…, it would have been even better!
9. …Of Doom - Now this track has NO RELATION to the previous song. Even I thought at first that both tracks would be combined into one song hence their names. I thought it was something like 13 Candles Of Doom, but it’s really not. This track is nothing more than another rapid, fast Death Metal assault that is also a blunt tribute to Bathory’s fan base at the time. The lyrics are basically an ode to Bathory Hordes all around the world. It’s a great way to end the album off with such aggression as well.
On a side note, all of the quotes from Quorthon on this review were taken from the official Bathory site. www.bathory.se . There’s some pretty interesting stuff there to read. I only took the quotes that described the music alone.