Bathory: Blood fire death
16/05/12 || Sokaris
Recently I was called into work several hours early. Not accustomed to my day starting so early, it was a chore to drag myself out of bed, make myself presentable enough and begin the trek. I fired up the iPod, put on huge-ass sound-isolating headphones, scrolled through until I found Bathory’s “Blood fire death” and pressed play. I grabbed everything I needed as the epic atmospheric introduction “Odens ride over Nordland” rolled over me and finally took my first step out the door as the monumental epic “A Fine Day to Die” roared through the miniature speakers strapped to my head. I trudged onward as Quorthon’s hymns roused me, my ears pummeled through the speedy trilogy of “The golden walls of Heaven”, “Pace ‘till death” and “Holocaust”. “For all those who died” swept over me, a fitting tribute to those gone beyond. “Dies irae” seethed its hatred and the monumental “Blood fire death” ended things with its colossal rhythms and atmospheric passages. In the midst of my sonic journey the dull yellow of the sun would finally emerge from the clouds, seemingly matching the bombast and power of the songs that graced my ears. My eyes nearly welled up under the magnificence of it all but don’t judge me; if I was driven to weeping from “Blood fire death” it’d be the manliest, awesomest series of sobs ever uttered. In my appraisal of King Diamond’s “Abigail” I endorsed it as something that could be a part of the curriculum of Metal 101, a defining classic and a pillar of the genre. “Blood fire death” can sit comfortably there as well, among the greatest of metal’s accomplishments.
10. Quorthon must’ve noted the impact made with “Under the sign of the black mark” showing a more developed and refined palette of songs. This album is bookended with two massive epics “A fine day to die” and 10 plus minute title track. Even the thrashier numbers twist and turn more, introducing more riffs and diversity while maintaining all the intensity of Bathory’s earliest barn burners. The songwriting is topnotch. Frantic when appropriate, drawn out and atmospheric when it needs to be. Instantly memorable yet rewarding on further listens, every song has its own individual personality while fitting snugly into the overall picture. That guitar lick at the beginning of “Pace ‘till Death” is out of place and annoying as hell, but it’s not enough for me to drop a point. That’d be like banging Sofia Vergara and critiquing the experience because she took 60% of the covers afterward.
8. Maybe a little less firey than “Under the sign of black mark” but appropriately so. Overall though not a drastic change in style, more so an overall tweaking. With a less “in the red” approach the instruments can ring out more fully and this works really well with those midpaced moments on the album. The drums boom and echo, the guitarwork washes over like a tide and the vocals drive the whole thing forward. I’d like if the guitars were up in the mix more. Everything’s clearly audible but there’s room for a bit more power. Keyboards are used occasionally for extra ambiance to great effect despite cheap-sounding samples.
10. “Blood Fire Death” is absolutely chock-full of classic riffing. The strumming guitar lines are the best in the genre, evocative and atmospheric without ever turning dull. That said there’s still thrashing to be done, but we get a slightly different take on things. On the fast songs the riffs build and release tension and explore a lot more rhythmic variations. The soloing isn’t used predictably and helps add another layer of intensity over repeated sections. For instance, about six minutes into “A fine day to die” a gentle acoustic guitar emerges with keyboards and some background samples serving as a bridge. The drums and rhythm guitar build intensity until the main riff returns with a diabolical extended solo over the song’s main riff progression. It’s one of the album’s best moments and the solo helps make it all the more effective. I like that Quorthon isn’t afraid to extend a lead for a few more bars than expected. None of it’s technical for the sake of being technical, but instead used to re-enforce the feeling of relentlessness that the riffing introduces. As usual everything is well-played, catchy but never obvious about it and tightly performed.
6. Doesn’t stand out much but it is audible. It just seems to chug along with the guitars though it does have a good tone and fills the bottom end smoothly and contrasts with the rougher trebly guitar. It would’ve been interesting to hear the bass wander away from the guitar lines on some of the atmospheric parts but the album doesn’t really lose anything for its lack of bassturbation (or masturbasstion if you prefer.)
7. Once again a drummer is credited, once again I don’t buy it. Everything sounds way too static and mechanical. This combined with the fact that no one seems to know anything about the album’s drummer Vvornth (a pseudonym purportedly used by multiple members) just makes it all extremely suspect. Anyway, what’s programmed here fits and even though I’d prefer a human touch I’ll take mechanized percussion over the sloppiness featured on “The Return……”. Also it likely helps Quorthon maintain creative control and after repeated listens it just sort of becomes part of the Bathory experience. The drums usually go super straightforward with verses and choruses but a lot of the transitory moments feature more interesting patterns that accentuate the musical ebb and flow of the songwriting.
8. A few different literary devices are employed this time around on a few songs including two songs utilizing acrostics (poems or lyrics in this case where the first letter of each line reveals some sort of message. Hooray for Wikipedia). “The golden walls of heaven” simply repeats “SATAN” over and over again (while cleverly avoiding to actually use that word in the song) and “Dies irae” reveals “CHRIST THE BASTARD SON OF HEAVEN” over the song’s entire text. “For all those who died” is an adaptation of a “Cassilda’s song” by writer Robert W. Chambers (hooray again for Wikipedia) used to glorious effect. I feel overall the lyrics maintain a similar level of quality as previous albums (even surpassing this level occasionally) but “Pace ‘till death” seems ridiculously out of place. It’s well written even if the subject matter is extremely vague (basically stating “I go fast” in a lot of words) but it doesn’t seem to sit well next to epic tales of dying nobly or envenomed diatribes against Christianity.
10. I generally like the idea of a band having a piece of art created for an album cover more than adapting something that already exists. Sometimes though, a piece of existing work just fits like a glove. The artwork adorning the cover of “Blood fire death” is a piece called “Åsgardsreien” by Norwegian painter Peter Nicolai Arbo (guess where I learned that) and it depicts a maelstrom of Norse gods swooping down from the sky amidst blackbirds and an ominous sky. It’s an ambitious and breathtaking work steeped in a romanticized perspective of Scandinavia in the era of the Viking; a perfect visual representation of the music contained within.
7. That thing looks majestic in gold. It manages to match the color scheme of the painting its placed on and also stand out. Selecting a painting with just enough empty space on the top and bottom was a good choice as it allows text to be placed without covering any of the main subject. Thor’s hammer sits just below the ‘H’ at the very top and center, adding a nice emphasis to the logo.
5. Here we go again with the Black Mark advertisement in lieu of any actual extra artwork or information. Yes I’m going to bitch about this every time. I think the Bathory discography would sell well enough to warrant a little extra time for the secondary elements of this release. Apparently there exists a version of “Blood fire death” released by Kraze Records with even less effort put into it, which is upsetting. At least the intro isn’t merged with the first song on the album, something Black Mark did with the first three Bathory albums.
Overall and ending rant
“Under the sign of the black mark” is dethroned. Quorthon continues to bravely move forward, upping the amount of epic passages and showing impeccable songwriting skill in developing both the midpaced atmospheric songs and the scorching thrash-inspired numbers. Looking back this would be a perfect starting point for any curious about Bathory as it does well to represent the best qualities in both eras of the band’s classic period. The emotional dynamic is raised, more risks are taken and bigger ideas are employed to express one man’s vision. The payoff is huge and Bathory’s “Blood fire death” deserves its classic status.
- Released: 1988
- Label: Black Mark
- Website: www.bathory.nu
- Quorthon: vocals, guitars, bass
- Kothaar: bass
- Vvornth: drums
- 01. Odens ride over Nordland
- 02. A fine day to die
- 03. The golden walls of Heaven
- 04. Pace ‘till death
- 05. Holocaust
- 06. For all those who died
- 07. Dies irae
- 08. Blood fire death
- 09. Outro