Bathory – Blood Fire Death (1988)
When it comes to my metal listening career, Bathory was a band I got into fairly early on, but primarily due to their “mid-career Viking era” that started with this album. Technically, there isn’t much on this album that is specifically Viking related, but from a musical stance, this album is the first to incorporate elements that would later see use on such things as Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods. It is best described as a ‘sandwich’, in that two lengthy mid-paced tracks bookend a series of fast, “primitive” black-thrash tracks reminiscent of main frontman Quorthon’s earlier career.
Not being hugely familiar with the earliest works of Bathory, I can at least say that the thrashy tracks on Blood Fire Death are more intricate (more complex structures, mostly) and tightly played than earlier works. Part of this was apparently the fact that Quorthon had a proper backing band for the first time in quite a while, so there’s a bit less of a “DIY multitracking” vibe to everything. Regardless, it’s not a huge stylistic change. Things remain fast, with hints of melody driving the music forwards. Furthermore, song structures are often based around modulation, with choruses often relying on different chords than main riffs or bridges. This isn’t very complex music, and it doesn’t really need to be (although it can be nice to have sometimes).
The bookends are where the evolution occurs, somewhat. Bathory doesn’t use a great deal of new musical ideas, but the pace is slower, more are used per song, and there are a few new techniques that show up, like Quorthon’s half-clean singing on the title track. Overall, these tracks are more melodic than the shorter ones, and arguably more memorable as well. The middle, in contrast, feels like it’s more about its “intense” aesthetic – even when the riffs are hooky (which they often are), it doesn’t seem like that was a priority in Bathory’s songwriting process. Much is made of these tracks when discussing the works of Bathory, and musically, there are blindingly obvious parallels to the content on Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods (although the two tracks here don’t go as far into the ‘epic’ songwriting style). The lyrics aren’t specifically about Viking culture, though; we get general images of warfare, honor, and so forth.
In other words, Blood Fire Death is definitely a transition album, and since the drastically new types of content only occupy about 30-40% of the album, it’s not a particularly quick transition. On the other hand, the new types of songs are well executed, and the old types of songs are an improvement on previous albums from a musical stance (even if they’re no longer “necro as hell” or whatever the kiddies called it back in the 1980s). In short, this along with the rest of the “Viking” albums Bathory put out serves as an example of how to explore different styles and musical ideologies, or at least as Quorthon succeeding in this regard. Alternatively, it could be interpreted as a bit of a return to previous influences – the album after this was supposedly heavily inspired by the works of Manowar. Overinterpreting Blood Fire Death is probably a bad idea, though. After all, it’s still rather aggressive at heart.
Highlights: “A Fine Day To Die”, “For All Those Who Died”, “Dies Irae”