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And it even sounds extreme and vile 21 years later. Quite a remarkable achievement. A lot of modern black metal albums sound either too polished or just aweful. “Under the Sign of the Black Mark ” is still a transparent but loud motherf**ker. And to think Quorthon also used a battery powered amplifier for this. An experiment gone well I must say.
The shortcomings of their previous record “…the Return” have gone. This album is very tight (tight enough would be a more appropriate description) and dynamic. Changes in paces are all over the place but the album remains powerful the full length.
Once again the intro is overlong for me so I always skip to the first song “Massacre”. Brutal and not even close anymore to their early days punkrock nor even thrash metal. Fast, furious, brutal, satanic. Best fast song here however is “Equimanthorn”. A simple intro riff played through two different amplifiers before all hell breaks loose without, and I stress without, losing catchiness. If Hell were to exist, this song would be played on parties every single night! I would have been a cover band though since, being a Metal God, Quorthon has obviously gone to heaven (or Valhalla perhaps).
Obviously a few mid- or slow paced songs are here as well. Most notible would be “Enter the Eternal Fire” which already sounds more than a lot like the epic pounding metal Quorthon would started to play on Hammerheart (and of course two earlier tracks on Blood, Fire Death) and what most of us years later would start calling Viking Metal. Now slow paced pounding songs with dark riffs like these had been written before by numerous metal bands since Black Sabbath came around but once again it’s the extra amount of eerieness and Quorthons typical screeching vocals that made songs like these sound so much more evil when Bathory played them.
The viking theme wasn’t exactly new of course. And of course in this period of their career Bathory only made some hidden references to it (the Jewelled Bridge etc). Manowar had done some before and even Yngwie Malmsteen (check out “I Am a Viking” on the superb ‘Marching Out’ album) but honestly with this dark music the violent and mystical atmosphere surrounding viking came more to life on Bathory albums. Quorthon managed to find a style of metal which suited the lyrical contents in the best possible way.
I always chuckle a bit when I hear terms like ‘Blackened’. For me, Blackened is a Metallica song. But I understand the point. It’s a retrospective historical term which I, consequently, never use since I grew up with albums like these and not those terms. But yes, one could call this ‘blackened thrash’. The riffs are far from mainstream thrash even though they touch the style once in a while and as far as the vocals go, well, if I try I can make a comparisson the the early days of Kreator and Sodom.
Now “Under The Sign” is not an album I would play during summer when it’s 30 degrees celcius out there but otherwise..you can wake me up for this one!