Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bathory - The Return... (1985)

In February 1985, Bathory entered Elektra Studio in Stockholm, Sweden, to record the follow-up to their self-titled debut. A new bassist, Andreas Johansson, had been brought in yet Quorthon still handled some of the bass duties on the album. As with the previous effort, this was produced by Quorthon and Boss. The Return... was released in May 1985 to the hordes of darkness. It is said that Quorthon was not entirely pleased with how the album turned out. Despite whatever inadequacies it may possess, this record further establishes the minimalist sound and grim aesthetic of the growing Black Metal scene. Where their debut displayed obvious influences, these are reduced to obscure shadows on The Return... The structural expansion allowed for wider atmospheric space to go far beyond the limitations present on the debut. The aura created here is pitch-black, much like the nocturnal abyss from which it spawned.

It all begins with an intro titled "Revelation of Doom", which imbues the listener with a sense of dread. The distant screams sound as those burning in the flames of the all-consuming eternal fire. This serves well to set the tone for what is to come.

"Total Destruction" is a fast-paced aural assault of grim and unfeeling Black Metal. The production is slightly less abrasive than the previous album, though the approach is just as barbaric. This one is very straight-forward, though featuring a few riff changes. Even the drums switch up, briefly. A mid-paced section adds an epic sense of doom, near the middle of the song, as Quorthon's demonic screams signal that Hell is here. The open, extended chords only add to this feeling. The song structure is more advanced than the first album, released a mere six months earlier.

The next song opens with a very memorable thrash riff, cycling through a few times before the song really gets going. "Born For Burning" was actually the second Bathory song I ever heard, a short time after being introduced to this dark cult through "Equimanthorn". The main riff sounds like a sped-up version of Venom's "Welcome To Hell", though the overall tempo of the track is fairly mid-paced. The possessed vocals are joined by malevolent whispers that emanate from the shadows, before the song fades back into the unknown.

"The Wind of Mayhem" begins in a similar fashion to some of the songs on the debut L.P. yet this is murkier. The vocal approach is more evil and demonic than before, as Quorthon perfected this style. The lead solo is well-placed, suiting the music very well. This one is rather brief and straight-forward, keeping the intensity level high. The lyrics remain dark and sinister as well.

"...Satanas is present but yet he is unseen..."

The next song is "Bestial Lust", which sounds very reminiscent of an old Venom tune. For someone that spent so much time denying any knowledge of this unholy trio from Newcastle, Quorthon didn't mind mimicking them when it suited his needs. The fast pace is pretty consistent, throughout the track, with the drum beat never changing. However, there are a couple of riff changes and a decent lead solo.

"Possessed" isn't much longer than the previous song, and it keeps up the same frenzied tempo. This one features more memorable riffs and vocal lines than the last one, featuring a multitude of demonic voices for the chorus. With this coming just a month after the Venom album of the same name, it may be stretching it to imply that this title was borrowed from them. This is pure Black Metal, containing lyrics that deliver a grim feeling that matches that of the music.

"I am trapped in its icecold blaze
It drains the warmth from my soul
Feel the dread and my mind is in torment
And still its eye of death glows so cold"

"The Rite of Darkness" has more of a subdued pace, allowing the morbid atmosphere to permeate every note. The riffs are surprisingly memorable and the vocals are grim and evil. This is a very brief song, though adding depth and character to the overall feeling of The Return... It bleeds into the next song, much in the same way that Venom's "Buried Alive" flows into "Raise the Dead", on Black Metal.

The tempo speeds up as "Reap of Evil" bursts forth, for a short time before slowing down. During this mid-paced section, a chorus of demonic howls fills the night sky and swirls around you like the bitter cold wind of endless winter. The effect is rather hellish and discomforting for the average soul. The song ends with a chaotic solo that melts the skin from your bones.

"Son of the Damned" continues the necro sound that dominates this record. The opening riff builds a sense of tension, but this is ephemeral as the song blasts through the darkened gates like a horde of demons escaping from the Kingdom Below to wreak havoc upon the world of the living. This is the grim sound of cold, minimalist Black Metal in its purest form, complete with raspy, corpse-like vocals. This fast-paced track is over far too soon.

The album draws near its conclusion with "Sadist (Tormentor)". This one picks up where the last one left off, maintaining an intense pace. Things change up a bit, half-way through, for a wicked thrash break that features one of the most memorable riffs of the record. The bass lines give the feeling of descending, as if you are being dragged toward the yawning abyss. The time has come for you to pay for the crimes committed on this mortal plane. Your punishment is eternal suffering at the fathomless depths. The lyrics mirror this sense of doom.

"But now the sand of time is running out
I feel old (so cold)
Can hear the bell toll
So weak (must sleep)
Can hear my victims shout
Can't stand their cries, their call"

This displays an interesting, often ignored, perspective. The earlier verses seem to celebrate this sadistic lust, yet as the tension in the song builds, the lyrics seem to show an understanding that these vile deeds shall not go unpunished. There is almost a hint of remorse in the tone. Already, on the second album, signs of maturity are apparent.

The album concludes with "The Return of the Darkness and Evil". This one fades in from the darkness of eternal night, with distant tormented screams. The Black/Speed Metal riffs carry the song at a fairly fast pace, though the open chords used during the chorus place more emphasis on the lyrics. The lyrics are blasphemous and perfectly suited for the devilish sound of this track.

"Sacrifice a virgin to the flames of burning Hell
Black Witch of beauty recite the words of spell
Gather masses run in circles scream for mercy cry of pain
No mercy for the blessed in Hell you all will burn in lord Satan's name"

After the second chorus, there is a blood-curdling scream as someone who is in the throes of death. The song seems to fall apart, near the end, losing all sense of structure and turning into a nightmarish soundscape of demonic screams and hellish guitars. The album then closes with the trademark Bathory outro, as heard on all of the early albums.

Simply put, if you are not familiar with The Return... then you have no business speaking of Black Metal. This record is somewhat underrated, for unknown reasons, yet it stands as one of the first pure Black Metal albums ever recorded, cementing a sound that would influence countless legions for decades to come. This is an important step in the evolution of Bathory and essential listening for all.