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pioneering black metal - 85%

odradek, January 16th, 2007

Buried beneath the buzzy, lo-fi production of Under the Sign of the Black Mark is some well crafted music. The songs vary quite a bit in tempo, but generally share a common structure: a driving, energetic base laid by the rhythm section, embellished by the occasional guitar lead (furious tremolo picking while the left hand meanders capriciously about the fretboard) and, most importantly, Quorthon's tremendous vocal performance. Quorthon's raspy delivery is pleasantly abrasive and yet the lyrics are clearly understandable.

The real magic of this album is the syncopated interplay between the vocals and the rhythm section, which generates an intensity none of Bathory's contemporaries in the late 1980s could rival. Unfortunately Bathory themselves would drift away from this formula in subsequent releases, as they began to forsake rhythmic complexity in favor of a more epic sound; and to my ears, none of their later albums ever managed to recapture the energy of this album. But this album itself remains a masterpiece, and arguably spawned an entire genre of music.