Review Summary: As far as the audience is concerned, this album revolutionized how black metal turned out to be today.
Ace Thomas "Quorthon" Forsberg's family ran their affairs under quite the topsy-turvy. With Quorthon's early immersion in his music and the great success that he was ladened with, Black Mark Productions fell into the hands of his own father after his death. Truth is, Quorthon was really the linchpin of his generation. His skills hadn't been descended from a natural gift of success among his family, but rather achieved by self-determination. By the age of 17, Thomas was pretty much leading a life that could only be described as the norm, surrounded by smug neighbours mowing the lawn, and impartial mechanics stirring around his home. Yet, instead of peeping at the hot girl next door or spending his teen years looking down in the shower, he wrote some of the finest Black Metal songs to date. All he used was his garage and a 4-track recorder. These set the template for many bands to come, and that's to say, as far as the audience was concerned, Bathory was right up there with bands like Venom
, Celtic Frost
and Mercyful Fate
. In his days, Quorthon was a very queer bloke. His name presumably originated from a historical demon, and when once asked in an interview what his actual name was, he replied "Runka Snorkråka" which directly translates into "Jack-off Booger".
Owing to a small budget, Bathory's music was restrained to a poor production, which later turned into an inherent trend among Black Metal bands. Quorthon's solo project merely began with an unpolished 'rock' sound, while later the man single-handedly set the tone for the Black Metal genre. Under The Sign of the Black Mark is Bathory's third album, depicting Swedish bodybuilder Leif Ehrnborg at the time wearing a goat-mask and standing on top of the Royal Swedish Opera House on its sleeve. The sound is a giant step forward in both style and substance, conjuring a more grim and hateful aura than anything ever done. In an interview, Quorthon himself claimed he wasn’t too fond of the album and denied any influences from fellow bands. On a further note, was his being dismissive of all his contemporaries only a cover-up to his success? Given his bluntness, I wouldn't even dare call Quorthon modest. He isn't, not towards his record, nor considering his harsh dislike for black metal, death metal or thrash metal. "It's mostly crap. I can't figure out what band influenced me to perform this type of hellpaced metal."
For all fans of Black Metal, Under The Sign is something that must be experienced in any life. It began the ripple effect of black metal bands, with a sound even more potentially developpable then its contemporaries. A great lyrical development is present as well, as the album eschews the obsession with schlock Satanism which was found on previous material, instead evoking scenarios of a nuclear war on Chariots of Fire, and focusing on something of a more spiritual nature without mentioning Satan in Equimanthorn. Guest drummer Paul Lundberg contributions appear under the limelight considerably and each song sparkles with surprise; the drums become more piquant, or the vocals simply intensify to accompany the chord progression. In this perspective, every track has an interesting riff which is different and almost ground-breaking in terms of the genre. If I were to get down to brass tacks, then I could begin briskly by asking, why is this a classic? Considering the time during which this was recorded and how influential the album turned out to be, it's almost burdened with such a name. But, I'm not here to work off of what is established, there are simply different ways to look at the quality of this album. In terms of elaboration, this was far ahead of its time.
Repetition is a niche of the genre, and then later sounds were malleated to diversify songs. While most tracks rely on one riff, tracks like Woman of Dark Desires would have you believe otherwise, with the power it conveys on an emotional level, it seems very few have emulated such a haunting melody. This is very well being the stand-out track of this album, and one of the best songs ever recorded in the genre. The sheer sinisterness of this song will be enough to send shivers down your spine, together with portrayal of Elizabeth Bathory while the yielding drums are pummeled excessively. Trombone is played during the refrain, soundly pillaring the distorted riffs. It doesn't stop there however, as Call From the Grave may well be the epitomy of it's title. Here the vocal work is leniently twisted, and it just seems so fitting when Thomas cries "God of heaven hear my cries of anguish, I'm in pain". As classic as the album may come off, it has its obvious flaws which prevent it being accessible to listeners who are unfamiliar with the genre. The production goes without saying, but the album begins to drag on towards the end and there is, whether you like it or not, some sort of structure which keeps it from budging. Sure, every track is like cat and dog compared to each other, but this album needs time, time to work through it and time to grasp its beauty. I'm one of those, that if there isn't something that reinvigorates my excitement, it's not going make it much further. However, it didn't take long for me to love everything about this album, it's seminality and it's belligerence. Those who are more fascinated by getting to know the origin of black metal will not be disappointed.
When all is said and done, it's difficult to overstate the importance of this album to the development of Scandinavian, and especially Norwegian, black metal. The buzzing chainsaw guitars, distorted bazz, tormented vocals and pounding jackhammer drums not only set the bar for extreme metal bands, but was also the first example of any modern BM. It would be unlikely to see modern bands as we know them if it weren't for Bathory, and this 1987 opus. Ace Thomas Forsberg died at the age of 44 from an inborn heart deficiency and is considered the innovator of the genre. Under The Sign is hailed as a Bathory classic along with Blood Fire Death which is more elaborated than this outing and also the reason this album is overlooked. The fact that the album is already a classic can be interpreted in many ways, but personally, I'm finding it difficult to contradict the fact. To put the dots on the i's, I will veil what press coverage has to say, and use Quorthon's own words to put a conclusion to this analysis. As far as the audience is concerned, this album revolutionized how black metal turned out to be today.
"I have heard Slayer's first, and a few bands such as Sodom, Destruction, Celtic Compost and I think they all suck." - T. Forsberg
- Woman of Dark Desires
- Enter The Eternal Fire