Home > Music > Bathory – Hammerheart (1990)

Bathory – Hammerheart (1990)

folderAllegedly, this is what broke the floodgates of Bathory to relatively mainstream audiences (as opposed to tape traders greedy for the sickest metal they could find). It’s almost like Metallica’s infamous self-titled album in that it’s almost entirely unlike prior albums in favor of sounding somewhat closer to “normal” rock and metal. Had Blood on Ice been released in its place, that comparison would be more accurate, but Hammerheart still contains its share of mid-paced, clean-sung material. It also represents Quorthon embracing the more experimental side of his last album, ushering in a new musical direction and me repeating myself frequently to make a point.

Hammerheart  shares a soul with the minimalistic variants of Norwegian black metal that would pop up in the early 1990s, even if the aesthetic is far closer to traditional/power metal. The songs here rely on repetition, particularly in their choruses, and there aren’t a lot of small variations like some of this work’s spiritual successors use. Even if there were, this sort of album relies heavily on its anthemic qualities to get anywhere in the listener’s mind. As is befitting of such, Hammerheart has a far “larger” production than its predecessors, in that it’s bassier and has more presence, although it’s hardly high fidelity. Blood Fire Death occasionally channeled the same compositional frameworks, but its thinner sound felt more suited to the aggressive, thrashy tracks.

Along with the dramatic change in songwriting, Hammerheart  seems a more confident album than its predecessors, as if Quorthon has stopped wearing another’s costume (although he did do black metal genre-defineingly well) and forged a new identity for himself. Since Quorthon’s singing is far from technically perfect, one could argue that some of the moments intended most as epic come across as overly melodramatic. On the other hand, being able to transfer the overall energy from previous works reflects pretty well on the band. Incidentally, represents the first released Bathory album to actually delve into Viking themed lyrics, which seems appropriate given the overall more uplifting approach. It doesn’t go as far into the mythology and culture of the Norse as much as Blood on Ice did, but it does set a mood and function as a benchmark of Quorthon’s development as a songwriter.

If there’s one thing about this sort of stylistic change worth noting, it’s that Quorthon must have found it himself quite enchanting, as most of Bathory’s later released work follows its general approach. I tend to slightly prefer Twilight of the Gods for being slightly more refined, but some will be drawn to the greater aggression and energy this one has. In the end, Hammerheart’s main historical function appears not to be its lyrical themes or musical approach remniscent of power-metal, but the fact it opened up the ears of many black metal writers to extend their writing in the way bands like Manilla Road or Manowar did. That in itself is a trend worth writing about.

Highlights: “Shores in Flames”, “Valhalla”, “One Rode To Asa Bay”

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