Friday, April 17, 2009

Bathory - Bathory (1984)

Bathory was formed in Stockholm in 1983. Founder Quorthon, a seventeen-year-old guitarist, was joined by members that wouldn't last long. The band name was inspired by a trip to the wax museum in London, where Quorthon saw a display dedicated to the Blood Countess, Erzsebet Bathory. After doing some research, he realized that the name 'Bathory' would perfectly suit the themes that the band would cover. Contrary to popular rumours, the band was never named anything else (such as Nosferatu, then Natas, Mephisto, Elizabeth Bathory and Countess Bathory). Their first recording deal came that same year, when Quorthon managed to secure a spot for the Scandinavian Metal Attack compilation, from Tyfon Records. The songs "Sacrifice" and "The Return of the Darkness and Evil" gained unexpected attention by fans. Soon afterward, Quorthon was asked to record an L.P.The problem was that, for all intents and purposes, the band had ceased to be. He would have to recruit new members if Bathory was to become something more serious.

In June 1984, Quorthon was joined by Rickard Bergman on bass and Stefan Larsson on drums as they entered Heavenshore Studio in Stockholm, Sweden. The album, which was planned to be titled Pentagrammaton, was produced by Quorthon and Boss. Influenced by Black Sabbath, Motorhead and punk rock, Bathory's self-titled album, released in October 1984, took the established Black Metal sound of Venom (which Quorthon later admitted) and refined it. In this case, they made it uglier, faster and used the low-fi production to their advantage, as it added to the feeling of the record.

Side Darkness begins with the intro, "Storm of Damnation", a whirlwind of torturous sounds. Through the dismal moans and screaming winds, one can hear the sound of a funeral bell chiming in the distance. This does well to set the tone for the album as it creates a dark atmosphere.

This intro leads into the opening guitar riffs of "Hades", which aren't so far removed from the early albums of Metallica and Slayer. The thing that really sets this apart is the inhuman manner in which the vocals are delivered. The sound is primitive and minimalist, yet there are more riffs here than one would expect.

The next song is "Reaper". This shows obvious Motorhead influences and is pretty similar to what Megadeth were working on around this time. This is another fast-paced track, with a definite NWOBHM feeling to the guitar melody. The guitar solos fit in very well, though the don't cut through the fuzzy production as well as on later albums. Quorthon was definitely one of the first vocalists to master this style of vocals, sounding very demonic.

"Necromancy" is one of the more memorable tunes on the record. The pace isn't quite as fast as on the first two songs, though this allows for the evil atmosphere to permeate the riffs a little better. The lyrics are in the vein of the early releases of Venom, Slayer and Mercyful Fate.

"Hail satanic majesty
tonight we sacrifice
We drink our own blood and blasphemy while
the moon is our only light"

The vocal delivery is more possessed than on the first two songs, while the lead solos are more thought-out. The old school drum beat that accompanies the closing solo is a nice touch. Definitely one of the best songs on here.

The next song is pure Motorhead. With a title such as "Sacrifice", it is a little difficult to believe the early claims that Quorthon had not heard of Venom. The chorus section of this song features the best riffs, though the verses aren't bad, at all. This one is pretty fast. It's not up to the speed of Slayer, though it races past Venom and Hellhammer, with ease. The lead solo, near the end, suits the song and adds more depth.

Side Evil starts out with "In Conspiracy With Satan". Again, it's a little difficult not to laugh at the claims that this wasn't inspired by Venom's "In League With Satan". The fast tremolo riff and the blasting drums join together with the demonic vocals to create the blueprint for the Second Wave of Black Metal. This one is short, fast and to the point.

"Armageddon" rages forth from the abyss, at full speed. This is another fast-paced and primitive-sounding song that never relents. There's a brief section where it appears that something else is going to happen, yet the main riff returns and crushes this thought. This song is, somewhat, overshadowed by the one that follows it.

The most memorable song on the album is "Raise the Dead". This is, oddly enough for someone that claimed ignorance of Venom, the second song that uses the same title as a song previously released on Black Metal. Funeral bells and a slow heartbeat introduce this morbid track. The opening to this song is a slow build that creates the most hellish atmosphere on the record. The first vocals from Quorthon actually sound a lot like Dave Mustaine, as he yells, "Dust to dust". As for the rest, it is nothing but cold and evil Black Metal. The guitar solo is perfectly timed and suits the song very well. This is the highlight of the album. The lyrics are straight from Venom's Black Metal album, adapted from "Buried Alive" and "Raise the Dead".

"I gasp for air
I scream for sight
and fight against torment and dread
Calling the vengeance
I tear at the lid and
promise to raise from the dead"

This isn't to say that there is anything wrong with showing one's influences, but it is simply more proof that Quorthon lied about not hearing Venom until after this album had already been released. I can understand why he might have felt it necessary to deny this, but there is no shame in being inspired by someone. Many would say that Bathory took what Venom created and perfected it, myself included. At any rate, this is one of the most memorable songs on the album.

The L.P. concludes with "War". This intense song owes a lot to Motorhead, regarding the riffs. As on the rest of the album, the guitars are sharp, yet fuzzy. Quorthon's screams of "WAR!" have a lot of power and energy. The feeling is accentuated by the well-timed guitar solo. This song closes the album out with speed and fury, before an eerie outro fades in and then back into the obscure shadows.

The first Bathory album set the standard for those that followed. Taking the influences from Black Sabbath, Motorhead, punk rock and Venom, Bathory was the beginning of Black Metal's evolution into something colder and more harsh. It would go on to be far more influential to later Black Metal bands than the likes of Venom or Sodom. This is an essential release.