Monday, March 12, 2012

Bathory - Nordland II (2003)

Released by Black Mark in March 2003, Nordland II is not only the second part of this Nordic saga, it is also the final chapter in the career of the mighty Bathory. The Nordland albums represented a return to the band's Viking era, something that many had been wanting since the days of Twilight of the Gods. While Blood On Ice served to quench this thirst for some, it still failed to realize the same glory as Hammerheart. Yet with this epic saga, Quorthon achieved such greatness once again, just a short time before he met his untimely demise. Though the band's middle period was disappointing for most, Bathory's legacy was redeemed with the final two records.

This epic record begins with "Fanfare", which sets the tone quite well. One gets the feeling of having been pulled back through the centuries, into some distant past that bears more of a resemblance to The Lord of the Rings than to recent times.

"Blooded Shore" begins with the same type of epic, mid-paced riffs that characterized so much of Nordland I. There is a great deal of power conveyed by this music. The majestic guitar melodies are supported by thundering drums and a passionate vocal delivery to create something that is memorable and moving. Quorthon's voice seems to be much more confident than on his earliest forays into clean singing, while the trademark choirs add to the atmosphere. Late in the song, a lead solo builds off of the melody of the main riff, before fading into the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore.

This is followed by "Sea Wolf", which starts out with some medieval-sounding instrument. The lyrics tell of a tale immortalized on a rune stone, preserving the deeds of heroes for many years to come. The feeling stirred up by the riffs is a bit darker than on the previous song, though not in an oppressive manner. This one is slower as well, crushing your skull with the force of a giant hammer. Already, one can tell that the arrangement of the songs is no random thing and that they are ordered in such a way as to build upon one another. While progressing toward its own climax, it serves well to add a sense of tension to the album as a whole.

"Vinland" is another epic tune that carries a lighter feeling than the preceding track, though not lacking in terms of powerful riffs and memorable vocal lines. In true saga form, this tells the tale of the glorious deeds of the northmen leading to the discovery of the new world. There is an optimistic feeling present in the guitar melodies, yet Quorthon's voice is almost sorrowful, at times. The track features subtle use of acoustic guitar as well, joining the backing choir in adding more layers to the sound and bringing the song to life in a much more profound manner.

The next song is "The Land", and this destroys a lot of the filler found on Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, within the first minute or so. The riffs are very heavy and powerful, yet melodic at the same time. The vocals fit well with the music and manage to increase the intensity with each passing line. Late in the song, he emits a scream that sends chills down your spine. As with the rest of the record, you get the feeling of being transported back in time to a world that has since become long forgotten. The guitar melodies are reminiscent of "One Rode to Asa Bay", in some ways, and the overall atmosphere is steeped in grandeur. There is not an extreme amount of variation in tempo, though this is in no way detrimental to the flow of the song.

"Death and Resurrection of a Northern Son" is, arguably, the most dynamic track on the whole album. It is also one of the longer songs on Nordland II. It features fast riffs that sound like a holdover from the mid-'90s, yet these are interspersed with a much more sombre tune, with mournful melodies and vocal lines that create a somewhat darker feeling. The middle section of the song is quite soft, with only Quorthon's woeful voice and minimal instrumentation in the background. Despite the diversity on display here, everything flows seamlessly. The only downside would have to be the vocal delivery during the fast parts, which really does not work that well.

Clocking in at ten minutes, "The Messenger" is one of the longest tracks on here. Unfortunately, it may have benefited from being cut down a little. The main riffs are decent enough, but not quite at the level that one would expect from a song of this magnitude and really kind of possess a generic hard rock feeling. Though not one of the album's highlights, this song includes some really dismal guitar melodies and some bleak and depressing riffs in the final minutes that definitely salvage things.

"Flash of the Silverhammer" is not one of the better songs and is built around some fairly annoying riffs. Thankfully, the rest of the elements manage to pull this one through, relatively unscathed. Still, this is probably the low point of the album and the one track that may be deemed unnecessary. It is unable to stand on its own and fails to add anything to the record, overall.

The grand finale of Nordland II, and ultimately the final song of Bathory's legendary existence, is "The Wheel of Sun". This masterpiece is nearly thirteen minutes in length and is one of the most impressive songs that Quorthon ever wrote. Starting out with a clean guitar passage, the roaring guitars and thundering drums slowly crush everything before them, like an ice age glacier. One of the riffs sounds very reminiscent of "To Enter Your Mountain", from Twilight of the Gods, though this is far superior to anything from that L.P. As if the preceding songs were not epic enough, this track is filled with powerful vocals and majestic guitar melodies that will forever be embedded in your mind. Much like the majority of the material on this album, this song is mid-paced but makes the most out of every single moment. Everything comes together, perfectly, with a strange sense of finality coming across with each note. Even the lyrics speak of the cycle of death and rebirth, and the music really captures the essence of this, with an atmosphere that consists of a combination of the darkness and optimism.

To say that this album is essential would be an understatement. Together with the previous release, Nordland II not only returns to Bathory's classic Viking-era, but it builds upon the foundation that had been laid down over a decade earlier. Rather than just rehashing what had gone before, in a bid to please those fans that had been let down with albums like Octagon, Quorthon picked up from where he left off and took things to their logical conclusion. This is not only a worthy addition to the band's discography, it is the final glimpse of brilliance from a man that was responsible for so much development within the Metal underground. If you have not yet heard this, do so now.