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Hail the Horde! - 90%

VilliThorne, October 31st, 2013

If you gather ten Bathory fans and ask each of them what their favorite album is, chances are at least seven of them will have a different reply due to the diversity within the twelve full-length releases that spanned from 1984 until Quorthon's untimely death in 2004. None being as identifiable by looks alone as the debut self-titled album that boasts a sinister goat head and olden gothic font, however. This iconic record set Bathory ablaze in the underground from the get-go and it has remained a cult phenomenon decades later. How has this original black metal classic held its ground for so long?

Lets keep in mind that this album was released in 1984, at the very dawn of the black metal genre. If released in modern era, Bathory would most likely receive a lot of negative comments for a variety of reasons. It's not that the content itself is bad, but the production and execution of said content is sloppy. The work is as raw as a freshly cut hunk of blood-filled steak and often the material comes off as if it was recorded in one or two takes, which given that the total time spent on the record was 56 hours this is quite possible. Often the listener will find the instrumental elements switching audible locations from track to track; the guitar will fade into the abyss especially during solos, the vocals will become vibrant and then distant, the bass will perk up and sink back down... the only real constant remain the drums. There are also many off tempo areas that cause the album to be jagged around the edges and more regularly than not the guitar solos hit off notes or the hammer-ons/pull-offs get tripped up. All that being said, those characteristic flaws are what made this album what it is. The raw quality, immense energy and greasy pace of the material spawned an entirely new perception of metal at this time; it doesn't have to be done in outstanding quality with hundreds of dollars invested in recording equipment, nor be neat and tidy like a lot of the more well known records and it can be ultimately, bluntly evil.

Everyone who has at least a moderate knowledge of metal in general will already know how prolific Bathory as a band is in general, they will also already understand how big of an influence their self-titled debut album was on many notable bands, so it's really no use to reiterate the topic again and again. The music itself is a dark descent into necromancy, Satan worship, the apocalypse and a variety of blasphemous themes that leave a heavy imprint on the audience, even more so if one thinks back in terms of when it was released. Though Coven predates Bathory by about ten years, Quorthon said "fuck it" to any lyrical limitations and raised the bar tenfold in terms of malevolence. "Storm of Damnation" is also one of the earliest heard uses of an atmospheric introductory track to help set the theatrical overtone to an album; this track is compromised entirely of tolling bells, howling wind and thunder for over three minutes and as such it truly lives up to its given title. One can almost imagine walking through Hell and through its vast chambers all the way to Satan's throne, and when "Hades" bursts onto the speakers all thoughts of salvation are thrown out of mind.

The guitar is made up of a high treble tone that rips through fast onslaughts of early thrash riffs, dancing an unholy tango between power chords and hammer-on/pull-off bridges. Being both fast and relentless, Quorthon's fingers trip up from time to time on a few of the solos, but the louder you play the album the less this seems to matter at all. The riffs are actually quite memorable and they never once are heard incorporating tremolo picking, which is a technique overused by black metal bands of today. The drums manage to keep a breakneck speed throughout the content, only slowing down at key parts and then quickly picking back up again. They do go off tempo a few times, however they also recover with recognizable agility. While a lot of modern black metal stoops to using one-two blast beat drumming with bass kicks for nearly the absoluteness of an album, Stefan Larsson only uses blast beats within "Hades" and "In Conspiracy with Satan", the rest of the while making use of an assortment of standard early trash metal patterns. The bass varies on a track-by-track basis in terms of audibility, however when it is heard Rickard Bergman pulls off powerful walking lines, the beat riding the drums to help glue them to the guitar in a grooving fashion that has a very subtle Venom inspiration.

All of the tracks on Bathory are prominent in their own way and given the wavering production quality they each have features that stand out more than the other. Arguably, the "first black metal album" is truly a force to be reckoned with, still by today's standards. Maybe not in terms of quality, but in the aspect of wickedness and brutality it is for sure. The greatest thing about this album is that the band didn't even have to try to be raw, it just came out like that and they didn't give a fuck. This is unlike the way follow up groups have their material edited post-production to give a similar likeness. The album is raw, authentic, gritty and down right obscene. Still causing mayhem and influence to this day, recently Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust even released a similar tribute album, The Yellowgoat Sessions. All hail the hordes!

- Villi Thorne