36.9 C
Athens

11 Years Standing Proudly In Valhalla (Part Β)

Published:

Last Updated on 06:34 PM by Giorgos Tsekas

Fire & Ice

01

As I had written in the end of the first part of this tribute, the finale of “Blood, Fire, Death” presented to us the new course that Quorthon had decided to set sail on: Grandiose, heavy, pure epic metal with a soul such as which we had not discovered up to then. It was not just “A Fine Day To Die” and the namesake track; the leather-clad, sword-in-hand, forest band photos, despite being influenced by the same source that also influenced Manowar (namely barbaric sword & sorcery), emit a much more original spirit than the Americans’, due to the natural landscape, the lack of excess, but mainly due to their being one of a kind – they were not repeated.

Yet, even if one had taken into account those facts, he would be hard-pressed to not be taken by surprise by the sea waves and the first moments of “Shores in Flames”. Let there be “Hammerheart”(1990). Dicksee’s “The Funeral of a Viking” painting on the cover depicts perfectly the creation’s scope: rough romanticism, an elegy to an idealized past, passionate and lyrical. The guitars have become heavier, have expanded on volume, yet without stagnating. On the contrary, their oscillations are reminiscent of a drakkar in turbulent waters. Fire & Ice, vocals that shed their extremity in favour of a spontaneous, rough yet utterly convincing narration. Hymnal backing vocals that frame the rise to Valhalla. War drums, full of echo, stir the mead for the newborn’s welcome. Acoustic guitars intertwined with monumental riffs, thus creating a whole new school. Mystic awe permeates us as we gaze upon the sky as beginning and end, in “Song To Hall Up High”. “Being monolithic” as a virtue that is perfected in “Home Of Once Brave”. As for “One Rode To Asa Bay”, the track for which the band shot their only video, it is the moment upon which the album comes into contact with linear time. The rest of the songs are depictions of a cyclical time, through their occupation with timeless scenes of a mythical or social past. In the album’s last track however, Quorthon addresses the twilight of the idealized, the invasion of history upon the timeless. A foreshadowing of the next album’s title, which ends this monument of epic sound in a perfect but bittersweet manner.

If “Hammerheart” was, in a way, imaginary folkloric, “Twilight of the Gods” (1991) is the philosophic side of the coin, filtered and bared through a Nietzschean-prism. Apocalyptic atmosphere, which stretches even more the scope, setting the terrain on the empty Ragnarok battlefield. The tools used are those of “Hammerheart”: heavy riffing, a mix of acoustic and distorted guitars, clean vocals (with an awe-inspiring narration in “Blood & Iron” and a chill-provoking performance on the closing “Hammerheart” track), wide production (which is cleaner here). There also appear lengthy acoustic intros, with arpeggios that are more epic than whole albums of other bands. If “Hammerheart” grasped history’s thread only at its ending, “Twilight Of The Gods” is a beholder of history’s disintegration. Finally, there are few musicians that can claim to have composed such a fitting obituary for their own funeral, 13 years in advance.

After “Twilight of the Gods” Quorthon seems to be distancing himslef from his epic period, releasing the 2 “Jubileum”(1992 & 1993) collections, the 2 passable “Requiem”(1994) and “Octagon”(1995), which are exhibits of dry thrash/punk, while he also releases as Quorthon his personal band debut, “Album”(1994). Thus we reach 1996 and “Blood On Ice”, an album that was first recorded in 1988, but whose release was put on hold, due to its drastically different sound in comparison with the band’s extreme era. For this album Quorthon finds inspiration in sword & sorcery comics and books (Conan and Slaine), the record being the band’s only pure concept creation, with intros, narration and interludes. Not as ambitious (quality matters aside) as the previous 2 epic masterpieces, “Blood On Ice” is a narrative with normal structure and time pacing. Musically, it draws upon “Hammerheart” and “Twilight Of The Gods”, adding also some fast, almost power metal-esque moments, reminding quite a bit of Manowar, and ending up not as musically and emotionally charged as the duet. Of course, stellar tracks are more than present: the short lyrical beauty of “Man Of Iron”, the epicness of “The Lake”, “The Sword”, “Gods of Thunder, Of Wind And Of Rain”, and the amazing “The Woodwoman” (easily amidst the band’s top ten songs). This return to epicness brought smiles to the fans, brought the band’s name to the creative foreground again, and despite its being not as ground-breaking as the first 6 albums, it still stands as a shining diamond of epic metal.

After “Blood On Ice” Quorthon released the third “Jubileum”(1998), his sophomore personal album “Purity Of Essence”(1997), and after a 3-year hiatus he returned with “Destroyer Of Worlds”(2001), whose orientation was somehow divided between dry thrash tracks in the vein of “Requiem” and “Octagon”, and beautiful species of epic metal (“Ode”, “Lake of Fire”), the whole permeated by an apocalyptic atmosphere, which is much more grounded and earthly than that of “Twilight Of The Gods”. An engaging album, which has not received the attention it is due.

In 2002-3 Quorthon decides to give in to the fans, releasing the amazing “Nordland I&ΙΙ”. A total recall to the epic sound, drawing upon both “Hammerheart” and “Blood On Ice”. The influence of these albums is great, almost too much in certain moments (the comparison of “Foreverdark Woods” to “One Rode To Asa Bay” is obvious), but that is more a nostalgic wink than anything else. Both Nordland parts have a more typical Viking lyrical content than usual, being a deep dive in the lake of the Scandinavian mythology corpus, with some symbolism thrown in. All in all, they are 2 marvelous albums, a grand finale for the work of a man gone too soon, who nevertheless managed to offer the building blocks for the creation of two whole metal sub-genres.

Bathory’s epic period influence can be traced in the Viking metal sub-genre, which nevertheless never managed to reach the majestic compositional heights of its source. But even epic metal itself was never the same after “Hammerheart”, “Twilight Of The Gods”, and “Blood On Ice”. From Russia’s Scald (“Will Of The Gods Is A Great Power”), to England’s Solstice (“New Dark Age”), from Germany’s Atlantean Kodex (“The White Goddess”) to Ireland’s Primordial(“Storm Before Calm”), the creative influence of Bathory’s epic era has given birth to masterpieces. Even some bands that are dangerously similar, musically speaking, to Quorthon’s sound, like Sweden’s Ereb Altor (“By Honour”), Italy’s Bloodshed Walhalla (“The Legends Of A Viking”) and Germany’s Crom (“Vengeance”), are like small oases if one considers that the main well dried up so unexpectedly in 2004.

02

Athotep Nyarl
Athotep Nyarl
I Dream of Lars Ulrich Being Thrown Through the Bus Window Instead of My Mystikal Master Kliff Burton

Related articles

spot_img

Kerry King – From Hell I Rise

Traveler – Prequel to Madness

Recent articles

spot_img

Traveler – Prequel to Madness