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Blood On Ice - 97%

James Slone, January 27th, 2017

Bathory is legend in our fief. As much as the names can be like Iron Maiden, Slayer, Venom or Death. Other bands like Enslaved, Darkthrone, Immortal, Dimmu Borgir, Emperor or Satyricon owes their lives to Mr. Quorthon. No more no less. The viking metal owes its birth to a multitude of factors and past bands, but the total icon of the fief, the name that sums up the viking idiosyncrasy in the metal kingdom is that of Bathory.

Blood On Ice has been recorded in 1989, just after "Blood Fire Death", but the disc decided to sleep and not be edited. One can imagine the young Quorthon furtively assembling the bits and pieces, knowing he was onto something exciting. Sadly, Quorthon underestimated his own abilities and left the album unfinished until 1996. As a result, the first proper Viking metal album wasn't actually released until the basic concept had already solidified into a working genre.

Sure, "Blood Fire Death" might be the first Viking metal album thematically, but "Blood on Ice" took the concept much further, making the distinction between blazing thrashy black metal and heroic Viking metal far more apparent. It's a concept album about a young Norse hero traveling far and wide to avenge the death of his family. Clearly Qurothon had seen "Conan the Barbarian." It's a frosty affair, big and bold, deliberately paced epic metal with shades of folk and mood-setting samples (snorting horses, forging of swords, clashing of weapons and old men rapping about ancient Norse prophecies). With its mechanical drum sound and generally mid-tempo gallop, the album sometimes sounds for medieval enthusiasts. It's a primitive affair, with simple songs and a fucked-up production, and yet, beautifully inspired, metal taken to new heights of epic grandeur.

Because it was deemed unsuitable for release, the sound, re-mastered though it may be, is raw, clumsy and flat. Quorthon was new to the whole singing thing, and his voice is wildly uneven. But when he really pushes it, as he does on "The Lake," his voice is as resounding and powerful as the best metal has to offer. He does a great job warbling his way through balls out heavy metal thrash fests like "One Eyed Old Man." But it's ultimately the untested honesty of his singing that sets it apart, lacking range but dripping authenticity. This is not some tongue-in-cheek irony-laden entertainment, but a sincere and convincing performance.

"Blood on Ice" might have been buried, but it still served a purpose; it was the prototype for the balls to the wall folk-inflected metal sound that future bands (Falkenbach, Einherjer, Thyfring, Enslaved, etc.) would draw on. The album suggests the frosty outer limits of black metal, the possibilities that lay beyond self-imposed Satanism and evil posturing. By pulling in elements from folk music, Norse mythology and Manowar, Quorthon single-handedly created (forged?) Viking metal.