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Bathory > Under the Sign of the Black Mark > Reviews > Normaan
Bathory - Under the Sign of the Black Mark

One of the finest examples of "extreme" in music history. - 100%

Normaan, April 2nd, 2024

It’s extremely hard for me to write about such a monumental record, it’s praised in the metal community worldwide and for good reasons. The influence it had on me as a listener and musician is simply not quantifiable, and I want to make it justice.

You can analyse the record objectively, without taking into consideration any of the history behind it, or you can think of the fact that it was recorded in 1986/87 mostly by a single individual and be blown away either way. Quorthon and Boss were on a whole other level in the metal community since the very first Bathory recordings in 1983, but Under The Sign of The Black Mark was definitely the biggest jump the project ever made.

Bathory’s debut presented a revolutionary take on speed/early thrash metal by focusing heavily on satanic imagery and atmosphere, Incorporating shrieking vocals to the Venom/Motörhead sound and thus creating what many consider to be the earliest example of black metal. But at this point you could clearly tell the influences. A year later, with “The Return…”, we can already hear the departure from the Venom inspired genre towards a more primitive, eerie and bestial sound. Some of the thrash elements survive, but we are mostly presented with a new soundscape that no other band had explored yet. This was a crucial transitional album.

Finally, in 1987 we get UTSOTBM. We are greeted by a very distant organ playing an eerie but comforting melody in what seems to be a wind storm. Moments later, without any warning we are hit by a wall of pure noise. Guitars, drums, bass and vocals all come in at the same time revealing the purest form of musical aggression. Every instrument is fast and pounding and leaves no time to decipher what the hell is going on. You can only let yourself get carried by the flood. From a distance it just sounds like TV static emitting the voices of the damned straight from hell. Out of nowhere huge guitar leads come thundering out in a sea of reverb revealing that, in fact, there is some structure and melody to this madness.

I could describe the entire album but hopefully with this brief description of “Nocturnal Obeisance” and “Massacre”, my point comes across: This record is absolutely violent and eerie. The lo-fi and heavy reverb really makes you feel like you are listening to the deepest pits of hell. The atmosphere is extremely coherent throughout the entire length while also offering quite a bit of variety, grandiosity and introspection. If you listen closely and manage to dig through the pounding and distortion, the album has plenty of memorable melodies to offer. You just need to look for them. Songs like “Call From The Grave” and “Enter The Eternal Fire” convey a sense of epicness which in my opinion has been rarely reached in any other black metal release without sounding “””forced”””.

In fact, I will go as far as saying that Under The Sign Of The Black Mark is the greatest black metal release of all time.

It finds itself in a time frame which makes it the first true black metal record, while keeping its musical significance separated from the scene stereotypes that the genre would later base its entire character on. It’s pre-church burnings, pre-corpse paint and pre “kvlt” tryhards. It’s the OG. The only other project that I feel came close to this level of impact/originality in the BM scene was Burzum. But then again, here we are dealing with a much different beast that goes beyond music into the realm of religion and politics.

This is just my totally subjective opinion on a topic that is totally subjective in the first place, but it’s also what drove me to write this review in the first place. First isn’t always best, but to me this record is the big bang of the entire black metal genre. Over the years I haven’t found any other BM release that gave me the same sense of wonder and excitement that I felt hearing UTSOTBM for the first time.