Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bathory - Blood Fire Death (1988)

Blood Fire Death is the fourth full-length album from Bathory. Recorded in Heavenshore Studios, in early 1988, this album marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. The last strains of Black Metal were heard on this record, as a new sound emerged from the mind of Quorthon. Further loosening his grip on Satanic and occult themes, he chose to explore the rich history and culture of his forefathers, taking a great deal of inspiration from Norse mythology. In reality, only the first and last songs exemplified this change, while many of the others seem to have lacked focus, at times. Released in October 1988, Blood Fire Death began the transition that would spawn the sub-genre of Viking Metal.

The record begins with "Odens Ride Over Nordland", which is a very good aural depiction of the cover art. Among the various ominous sounds, the call of Sleipnir is very clear. The atmosphere is somber and sets the tone for something truly epic. Words fail to describe the feeling of this intro.

"A Fine Day To Die" picks up from the introduction, beginning with a serene acoustic melody and faint chanting. It slowly builds until the song, finally, unleashes all of its power. With blood-curdling screams, Quorthon's voice calls out from the darkness, accompanied by heavy, mid-paced riffs. The epic atmosphere is ever-present. The vocals sound more tortured than on any of the previous Bathory albums, yet intelligible.

"Along the black mountainside scattered
By the campfires awaiting the dawn
Two times a hundred men in battles
Tried by the steel in the arrow, axe and the sword"

The production is loud and clear, while still being distorted and harsh. Most of all, it is very powerful. The pace slows down, even more, near the end, building to a lead solo that pierces your brain and destroys your feeble mind. The main riff returns, as do the anguished screams of Quorthon. As the final notes fade out, you realize that you have experienced something incredible and draining.

There is little time to regain your composure, as "The Golden Walls of Heaven" bursts forth with intensity and speed. Interesting to note is that the first letter of each line goes together to create a 'hidden' message, repeating the name 'Satan', several times. Quorthon's raspy vocals are still as forceful as on the last track, but the music possesses a completely different feeling. This isn't too far from the material from the first record, consisting of pure Speed/Thrash Metal riffs.

"Pace 'Till Death" begins with a strange doom riff, as well as a humourous lead bit that is tossed in. After less than a minute, the song hits full throttle, but the sound isn't all that good. There seems to be some unwanted distortion on this one, as if it was taken from a demo. The song is fairly adequate, yet it doesn't quite hold up to the classic opener.

This continues on "Holocaust". This is another fast song that sounds like it could have been featured on any of the first four albums. As the track progresses, you can hear a countdown and an explosion, in the background. There isn't much to say about this one. It is very solid Black/Speed Metal, with nothing to complain about. It's the shortest one on here, being the most straight-forward as well.

"For All Those Who Died" is a little slower, being more mid-paced than the last few songs. The atmosphere is very harsh and it is similar to the opener in that is is somewhat draining. It has a pretty unique sound, while Quorthon's vocals are very strained and tortured.

"Burning naked but smiling
Not full of fear but pride
Knowing death alone could cleanse them
Of the reasons for which they all die"

This one features some of the most memorable riffs of the album, outside of the first and last songs. There's a lengthy solo, near the end, and the bass is a little more audible on this track, giving an added dimension of doom. The song ends with the song fading into the sound of raging flames. Presumably, this is supposed to represent those who were burned as witches by the Christian scum that was dominating Europe in the middle ages.

"Dies Irae" is next, being very fast and intense. The lead solo, early on, is enough to melt the flesh right from your face. Like the earlier song, this one has a message in the first letter of each line, reading "Christ the Bastard, son of Heaven". The vocal lines are incredibly fast, keeping pace with the speed of the riffs, for the first part of the song. The tempo slows down, near the middle, unleashing very memorable riffs and vocal lines.

"Hear our master calling us his children
Eternal life is given death withdrawn
As wolves among sheep we have wandered
Victory lies beyond their spit and scorn
Even the heavens shall burn when we are gathered
Now when the flames reach for the sky"

There is a great deal of conviction in the delivery of these lyrics. Quorthon's voice sounds very strained and tortured, conveying a lot of feeling. This track has an epic feeling, especially in the closing moments, and ranks among the best on the whole album.

This monumental record comes to a close with the lengthy title track, "Blood Fire Death". This one begins with an acoustic intro, before the powerful guitar riffs explode, keeping a pace reminiscent of "Enter the Eternal Fire", from Under the Sign of the Black Mark. Everything about this is perfect in conveying the intended feeling. The epic atmosphere grows as the song progresses, building to great peaks, descending into dismal valleys, and then back up again. To listen to this piece is to take a journey into a land forlorn; a time long-forgotten by most and kept alive only in the tales told by the aged and withered. Words cannot properly articulate the brilliance of this song, which is the highlight of the record (along with the first track). Slightly beyond the mid-way point, everything becomes fairly silent, leaving only the acoustic guitar and some keyboard effects. As the electric guitar and drums return, the aura is drenched in tension, as a galloping riff builds in slow anticipation of the main theme's return.

"A chariot of thunder and gold
Will come loud
And a warrior of thunder and rain

With hair as white as snow
Hammer of steel
To set you free of your chains

And to lead you all
Where horses run free
And the souls of the ancient ones reign"

Blood Fire Death is the last of the records from Bathory's classic era, for some. It is also the beginning of the middle part of Quorthon's career; the Viking Metal era. As a whole album, it is a step down from the previous release. A couple of the songs seem like filler; however, this album contains some of the most powerful and epic songs in Bathory's entire catalogue. This is essential for any Bathory fan.