Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bathory - Nordland I (2002)

As one of the founders of Black Metal, Bathory left its black mark on the music world, already, throughout the mid-80s. By 1988, however, Quorthon took his band into a different area, creating what would come to be known as Viking Metal. Blood Fire Death served as a transition from one era to the next, preceding such classics as Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, the latter being intended to be the final Bathory album.

A few years later, Quorthon returned with a few disappointing albums. Much of the spirit seemed to have been drained from these works. However, in the fall of 2002, Bathory returned to its Viking Metal days with the masterpiece known as Nordland I. The sound is quite majestic, while remaining crushingly heavy and powerful. This is the album that fans of Viking-era Bathory had been waiting for, since 1991.

After a brief intro, the album truly begins with the song "Nordland". Within mere seconds, it is quite obvious that this belongs alongside those albums of the past, far removed from the output during the mid-to-late 90s. Quorthon succeeds in creating an epic atmosphere, as one would expect. This song is mid-paced, with a galloping riff that possesses the distinctive Bathory style. This song has the feeling of a war march, as the Northern hordes gather to cleanse their lands of invading filth. Quorthon's vocals are much like those found on Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, though a bit less awkward-sounding. His singing voice is very confident and proud. The chorus features a brilliant chanting choir as this piece celebrates the glorious lands of the North.

"Endless forests, lakes of water dark and deep
Misty mountains, where giants sleep"

This may be the most impressive song of Bathory's Viking-era, a distant second to "One Rode to Asa Bay". An incredible way to begin a long-awaited album.

"Vinterblot" begins with crushing riffs that pound on the skulls of those that would embrace Judeo-Christian values and poison the mighty Northland with such alien propaganda. The guitar riffs carry more of a feeling of doom. The choirs remain, but they seem somewhat darker. Quorthon's vocals have made the same transition; sounding more sinister and strained. This song tells the tale of a winter sacrifice, to summon the return of the life-giving sun.

The next song is "Dragon's Breath", which begins with a thunderous sound and a bleak feeling. The guitar harmonies are very interesting, though the song quickly transforms into something quite different. It seems to have more distortion than the first two and a heavier groove riff, before transitioning to a majestic bridge. This is all too brief, as the song returns to the groove riff which is almost too distorted to even listen to. This song is quite inferior to the two that came before it, though not completely without merit. Quorthon's vocals possess a sense of desperation at certain points and the chorus is very pleasant. Basically, the riffs during the verses just don't seem to fit well into the style of the album.

"Ring of Gold" changes things up, beginning with a soft acoustic passage and accentuated by sound effects such as the sound of a thunderstorm, and loons calling across a deep, cold, foggy Nordic lake. This song has more of a folk atmosphere and is very peaceful and calming. Quorthon's vocals almost remind one of an old minstrel. This was done to perfection.

The next song is "Foreverdark Woods", and this is one of the highlights of the album, right behind the title track. This shows a continuation of the same folk style utilized on the previous song, before progressing into yet another majestic riff. This song was an instant classic, the very day it was recorded. Quorthon's clean vocals are powerful and precise. This mid-paced epic cannot help but to fill those listeners of Northern European blood with a great sense of pride, while inspiring the rest with pure awe. Late in the song, the lead solo flows, seamlessly, into the song in typical Bathory fashion. The lead melody, at the very end, is absolutely incredible.

"Broken Sword" begins with the sounds of waves crashing against the jagged, rocky shore, accompanied by a calm acoustic intro that lulls the listener into a (false) sense of security before the all-out speed attack. This is the fastest and most furious song on this album, maybe seeming out of place to some but making perfect sense in the way it was placed on the album to offset some of the slower songs. The song fades out, just as it faded in, to the sound of the waves and acoustic guitar.

"Great Hall Awaits A Fallen Brother" begins with a very thrashy riff, though not as fast as the previous song. The chorus is a little slower and possesses the same majestic feel (surely, in part, due to the choir) that is found elsewhere on the album. With harsher vocals, this would have easily fit on Blood Fire Death, though Quorthon's vocals are actually perfect for this song, as is. This song really takes one back to times of old, when our people sought glory through battle and achieving great deeds.

"Washed away, your blood, a gentle rain
The blood shed is blood of mine"

"Mother Earth Father Thunder" is the final song of Nordland I. This one begins with the chanting choir, before crushing guitar riffs come in like a massive glacier to slower force its way across the land and destroy all in its path. This song imbues those listeners of Northern European blood with a sense of pride and strength.

"As if written in the snow, the lies, shall melt away
By the wheel of sun to cross the sky this day
Shadows may lay heavy upon the earth
But the truth, cut deep in stone, will last
Till the heavens comes tumbling down upon this world"

To describe this song as incredibly epic, majestic and glorious would sound repetitive, yet even these words don't do justice the atmosphere created by this song, and the album as a whole. The sounds of thunder end the song, as one hears sea gulls and water splashing against the shore in the brief outro, "Heimfard".

Nordland I is a classic album from the band that created this sound, the mighty Bathory. If you are a fan of Viking-era Bathory, this will not disappoint and you are encouraged to seek this out, immediately.