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Swansong for a dying scene. - 84%

hells_unicorn, January 22nd, 2012

Bathory is an enigma, as is its alter-ego Quorthon, defying any uniform characterization from one era to the next. Some attribute to him the role of pioneering what became the Nordic black metal scene, though in the 80s when he was laying much of the ground work, the term was used all but interchangeably with death and thrash metal. Others are quick to point out his later 80s and early 90s creations where some of the sounds of the likes of Manowar and elements of folk music were blended together into a heroic mixture that now calls itself Viking metal (though today’s incarnations tend to draw a bit from the blackened era that preceded “Hammerheart” as well). But not much is spoken regarding the 3rd era of this band, ergo the one where Quorthon changed his mind about retiring the Bathory name and brought it back in the mid 90s with a very different sound, yet again.

The first offering of the band’s rebirth can be considered as both a throwback and a somewhat modernized answer to a very real and arguably troubling trend in thrash metal. At face value, one could perhaps draw comparisons to Slayer’s “Divine Intervention” when considering what direction “Requiem” takes, at least in terms of its raw, chaotic, yet oddly focused production. The drum sound is all but abrasively prominent, the bass is also unusually loud and raucous when comparing it to similarly frenzied works during the mid 80s, and the guitars are crisp and possessed of an equal amount of punch and bite. But this listens less like a full out copy of “Divine Intervention” than a composite hybrid of the frenetic, all speed all the time character that dominated much of the early incarnations of thrash/crossover, particularly that of Nuclear Assault and S.O.D., though Quorthon’s vocals are about twice as vicious and agonizing as the most dark and twisted of Angelripper’s vocal jobs.

To put it in more basic terms, “Requiem” is a contender for the most vile and raunchy of offerings ever to be conceived in the thrash genre, Had it been released by Kreator 2 years before and had a slightly denser production it would have been hailed as an interesting evolution of said band’s consistent career since 1985 and a stark contrast to the slowed down, safe, almost rocking character of most other bands at that particular time. The riff set is a bit on the limited side, drawing up obvious allusions to a more punk infused mentality within the genre paradigm, but whether it’s the raging fury at mach 3 that is “Necroticus”, or the equally nasty yet slightly slower “Pax Vobiscum”, the relentless combination of anger and political fatalism intended is all but perfectly captured. Whenever a mood of absolute revulsion at events depicted on the news overtakes me, this is one of the albums that I usually go to in order to vent any misanthropic tendencies in my feelings, as if Quorthon teaching a lesson along the same lines as the parent who locks his kid in a closet with a carton of cigarettes for being caught smoking.

It’s understandable why this is not very highly regarded amongst Bathory’s studio efforts, it’s definitely a far cry from anything put out under their moniker before. But when treated in the specific context of a thrash metal album that actually pushes the boundaries of sick, twisted irreverence, this is about as extreme as it gets, especially circa 1994 when most of the thrash world was either dying off or getting in touch with their inner homeboy. Picture the love child of Anthrax and Sepultura, the bastard son of Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies, or any other spawn of a fiendish union between extreme thrash, death metal and hardcore, and this album fits the bill every time. It chooses its audience primarily by weeding out casual consumers of the genre who’ve only dabbled in Metallica, and its low-fidelity presentation will probably scare away most Pantera fans. This is precisely what thrash was about at its inception, giving a giant middle finger to mainstream music, and whether by accident or not, Quorthon found himself coming full circle with his roots in a time when the tree was all but dead.