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Ride The Lightning from the Asgard dimension - 87%

TrooperEd, May 24th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Black Mark Production (Reissue, Remastered)

Make no presumptions from my review title, this album is very much a black metal release from Bathory, and a fascinating evolutionary milestone in the sub-genre. Whilst not as consistently grim as the eternal Under The Sign of the Black Mark, one can't overstate just how important in establishing black metal's identity this was. One would think from that delightfully primitive album title (you really can't get much more tersely brutal than that folks) that this would be more of the same from the previous year, if not faster and uglier.

So why even mention an album by a band that had practically nothing to do Bathory? Well because from a guitar tone perspective, that's what Blood Fire Death sound like. If you make your ears squint and load yourself up on enough booze, you could swear that this was Ride The Lighting from, well you know. I'm not gonna go so far as to say it's what Metallica should have put out after Kill em All, because I'm sure those supposed thrashers that didn't much care for the acoustic openings of Fade To Black are going to feel the same way about A Fine Day To Die and the title track. In fact, in Ian Christe's book Sounds of the Beast Quorthon was rather happy to be isolated from the thrash scene in general, "We didn't have those types of pressures— so we were able to add acoustic guitars, backing harmony vocals and the sound of a seagull flying by. Slayer would never get away with that, but we could." (270) (Incidentally, this came out the same year as South of Heaven, whose final track does start acoustically. D'oh!)

So despite the album title, as well as having lyrics about raping angels and Jesus being the bastard son of heaven, Blood Fire Death isn't quite pitch black as it's three predecessors. This is the result of adding acoustic guitars, backing harmonies and a few heaping spoonfuls of native Swedish Viking culture, to which there was an authenticity we hadn't quite seen before in metal. Dungeons, dragons and vikings had always been side symptoms of the genre as a manifestation of Ronnie James Dio, but those were always more of an enthusiastic, yet imaginary romp through Frank Frazetta/Robert E Howard collaborations. Blood Fire Death drops us right smack on the fiery shores of Nordland. This album is very much ground zero for unironic, completely serious worship of Swedish viking culture in metal. Enslaved, Amon Amarth, Burzum and so many other artists owe a reasonable debt to this album.

We also see the irony in slightly less variety in the songwriting as a result of Quorthon choosing to expand his artistic palette. We have your raging thrashers (there's really no other way of describing them), the marching epics, and For All Those Who Died, which feels like a drunken jam of Tie Your Mother Down except nobody bothered to tell Quorthon he's putting copy-written music in his video. The Golden Walls of Heaven and Dies Irae belong in the first category, but they are slightly more dynamic with various time changes and intros. I also have to note that the main rhythm of the two epics is the same as the previous showstopper Enter The Eternal Fire. My love for the song was less about the tempo and more a perfect combination of atmosphere, production and riffs, but I can't complain too much about the use of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" formula.

If there is a complaint I have about this album, it's that this slightly altered presentation of the Bathory sound buries what I feel was the band's greatest strength towards acquiring new black metal fans: Quorthon's solos. They are noticeably buried in the mix. I'm of the general opinion that if you are the only guitarist in the band, you shouldn't have rhythm guitar tracks under your solos as they usually distract from the leads. If there are two guitarists in the band, make the rhythm just basic enough so that ear is drawn the lead no matter what (Iron Maiden were masters of this). The Golden Walls of Heaven in particular has a lead around 1:50 that sounds like the Pope's cardiovascular system is being ripped out, but you have to pay slightly more attention to hear it over, say the debut. Perhaps Quorthon's design aesthetic was to have the leads be the lamentations of the women, barely audible over the sounds of your enemies being crushed and driven before you.

In 1988, hot off the heels of Under The Sign of The Black Mark, I'm sure the Bathory hordes celebrated Blood Fire Death as more of the same, just with a bit more Nordic spice to the steak. But with hindsight being 20/20, it's quite clear Quorthon was evolving his outfit to something quite different, and the clearly shedded black metal skin could no longer be attached to the animal.....