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Not My Personal Favourite, But Still Fantastic. - 80%

Perplexed_Sjel, November 21st, 2010

I won’t delve too deep into the history of either Bathory or the sorely missed Tomas Forsberg, also known as Quorthon. An innovative in every sense, Quorthon inspired and pioneered in the early days. Not only did he have a hand in shaping black metal but he also forged a genre now known as Viking metal. The respect for Quorthon will run deep as long as metal is alive and, I daresay, even after its death. In terms of his discography with Bathory, it’s hard to pick out a defining moment, although many will argue that ‘Blood Fire Death’ is his grand opus, the album which immortalised his name forever. Personally, although I’ve grown to adore, love and treasure this album, his fourth and first steps into Viking metal, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I prefer ‘Hammerheart’, his fifth full-length and second journey into the land of Vikings. However, although this may be true, my initial disappointment with this album has turned into deep admiration and a sense of longing to hear something even remotely close to its godliness.

Even the introductory song, ‘Odens Ride Over Nordland’ sends shivers down my spine. When dealing with a so-called classic, I find it very easy to become underwhelmed by the levels of expectation I put on the shoulders of a release. For example, although unrelated musically, their stories are similar - Slowdive. This is a band I once thought were overrated but, ever since my expectations were lowered and I knew what I was going to hear the second time round, after many months of having left the dust to settle, I was blown away. The exact same thing happened with Bathory’s ‘Blood Fire Death’ and, hopefully, in time, the same will happen with Bathory’s original black metal trilogy, a series of albums I’ve yet to grow to appreciate. The time for the Viking series of albums has come and albums like ‘Blood Fire Death’ are arising to meet with their fate of being labelled some of the best in the industry, as they truly deserve to be.

With Bathory’s original trilogy of history making black metal albums, I could never get into the shorter compositions. Although this album only has three songs I’d consider “long”, it feels, in general, more thought out and has a better style of writing. Bathory’s self-titled, for example, feels somewhat rushed to me. I appreciate the innovation of it, but I could never truly feel for the songs or the atmosphere the way I do with this archaic sounding masterpiece. This also explains why I prefer ‘Hammerheart’ to this particular album. The compositions are longer, leaving more time for variation and wonderful dynamics to become involved. Most, if not all, of the songs on that particular album are terrific at dealing with longer lengths. This album also deals better with longer time frames than it does short. For example, ‘A Fine Day To Die’ is a Bathory classic. At over eight minutes long, it feels worthwhile. The build-up, the middle and the ending are perfected through the use of multiple changes and craftsmanship. Some songs, like the self-titled, also deal with subtle synths, which I particularly enjoyed. They’re not overbearing and don’t have a lessened impact due to the incredible guitar work. They’re just right.

Songs like ‘The Golden Walls of Heaven’ however, feel pressed for time. As if they’re rushing their way through in anticipation for the next big song, the mammoth self-titled song, ‘Blood Fire Death’. Songs like the former are adept at what they do but they don’t have the same feeling, or inspire in the same way that the masterful longer songs do. The shorter songs tend to stick to one tempo and proceed with it until the very end whereas the longer songs are more willing to chop and change dynamics, which makes them far more exciting in terms of the story they tell, which is one of bloodied battles, dismantling armies and destroying regimes. The artwork, accompanied by the instrumentation, is sublime. I often feel that the music should elaborate on the artwork and this is precisely what the instrumentation here does and really well, too. That’s probably why I don’t have as much problem with shorter songs on albums like this because, as with the brooding ‘Pace’ Till Death’, the shorter songs build images in my head of how fragile life is, how quickly a life can end and the destruction caused by man on his fellow man.

There’s something very spiritual about the longer songs, in particular, I find. They’re much slower, very drawn out but in a good way. They deal, in my opinion, primarily with the long nature of war. How tiresome it is and how cyclical by using occasional repetition and strong, shrieked vocals, though he has the ability to alter the vocals on occasions to more of a harsh, raspy scream. The solos of each and every song are well handled and mixed in with the other instrumentation well. Each song tends to feature superb layers so you’re always mindful that several things are occurring at once and the detail is incredible, despite how grimy the production may feel, everything is audible and easily accessible to the listener. The production is something I found quite surprising, in fact. I thought it might be a bit thin but it isn’t. It suitably portrays the story of the album and does a great job of highlighting the elements which are only sparsely used but have a great affect on the album, as shown on the self-titled song in the beginning with the acoustics and synths. The drums, even, on this song are somewhat different but treated well by the production. Despite not being too knowledgeable about Bathory or Quorthon’s history, I still find it easy to love almost everything about this album.