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Doom metal, anyone? - 88%

TrooperEd, March 9th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Black Mark Production (Remastered)

Well, ok. maybe power metal? Power doom? Doom power?

I'll tell you what this album is not: Viking metal. There's no such goddamn thing as viking metal. Viking metal is the stupidest excuse ever conceived for a change from Slayer to Manowar I've ever heard. Folks with more conservative mindsets do have a term for this, and if I'm going to be brutally honest, I believe it's called selling out. That being said, I can understand not wanting to classify Hammerheart under those previously established subgenres. The fact is, this Bathory LP is so much more than a power metal or doom metal album. The way I see it, Hammerheart is Battle Hymns with a lower fidelity production, combined with a genuine affection for ancient heritage, and gargantuan barrels full of moonshine mead.

Of particular note is Quorthon's newfound singing style. Yes, singing. We already saw him subtly move away from the black metal demon rasp style he helped innovate over the years on Blood Fire Death, and here he just baptizes himself in a more tonal style, though not necessarily an accomplished one. From a strictly technical standpoint, most people would probably call this some of the worst singing they've ever heard. Quorthon sounds like a raging belligerent hobo on the streets of Stockholm preaching on how Christianity raped the European culture. I'm sure some Pavoratti biographer could point out all the mistakes, bum notes, and times where the man is flat-out out of key. Isolated and taken out of context of the album, most would probably call this singing dreadful.

But within the context of the album, these vocals are the glue, nay, the molten steel which binds this album together like a sturdy viking ship. If Quorthon had listened back to his vocals, decided they weren't good enough and gotten someone like Halford, Dio, Dickinson or even Eric Adams to sing the lead vocals, it would be the musical equivalent of diluting the mead with a washtub. They are perfect for this album, giving it a true old-country authenticity that most nationalist musicians could only dream of. I'm not sure any of those men would be able to capture the pure northern soul expressed in Song To Hail Up High.

As for the rest of the album's sound, well, if you came to thrash or to hear anything remotely fast, you are going to be sorely, sorely disappointed. Perhaps one reason why people were quick to festoon this album with a new sub-genre because its pace is as slow as a giant vessel traversing the open sea, yet no one would dare ask if this was Candlemass or Pentagram. The song that can be considered the least slow here is Father To Son. Father To Son sails at the speed of Unleashed In The East's version of The Ripper, which might seem very uptempo, but the way it drudges along will make you think that it's slower than it actually is. Couple that with the three even slower songs preceding it, and the song feels more like a switch-up than an attempt to trim the sails for speed. Despite the obvious departure from the early Bathory albums, this is very much a natural progression from the direction Bathory began on Blood Fire Death.

The highlights of Hammerheart include Shores In Flames, Home of Once Brave and closing number One Rode To Asa Bay. The latter in particular is a massive tour-de-force of about Christianity's annihilation of native European culture, complete with the greatest guitar solo echoing a vocal melody I've ever heard (5:54). This song should be an absolute downer, a big pile of misery that leaves you angry and helpless against the power of religion. Bathory makes it into an almost joyous celebration about the wondrous birth of grand, brilliant new way of life, almost like a hailing of the Renaissance. Anyone who writes this off as swords and sorcery poppycock and not a wholly original continuation of Black Sabbath's moralizing of the ills of the world can take their yuppie Rolling Stone attitude and get an entire dragon-ship shoved right up their ass.

Hammerheart is the Nordic funeral of the black metal Bathory. If you can't accept them playing anything except lo-fi, treble-soaked bloody odes to Satan, this album may very well leave you cold. But if you're open minded enough to embrace the new direction (or perhaps just hate black metal), than this is an indispensable metal classic that is just as essential as Under The Sign of the Black Mark, Blood Fire Death, Nightfall and Holy Mountain. Yes, I meant to pool those together, and it should be very easy to see why.