The world of metal would definitely be a different place had it not been for Bathory. Highly regarded as one of the most influential "bands" in metal (and I use the term "band" loosely - more on that later), Bathory is attributed to being a major influence in both the black and viking metal genres, and also influenced bands outside of those genres as well, such as some band called Metallica - you might have heard of them.
But Bathory in itself was hardly a band, but instead an outlet for the late mastermind Quorthon to expunge his seemingly limitless supply of music. On many albums, Quorthon played every instrument - and this guy churned out albums like it was his job or something. However, on some albums, he did make use of some session musicians, and Blood Fire Death is one of those. Regardless of who or what played with him on any given recording, one thing always remained constant (at least later on in his career), and that was the fact that Quorthon never played live. In fact, it became debatable as to whether or not he even left his house regularly at some points. Adding to the mystery is the identity of Quorthon himself - many people still disagree as to what his real name even is. But up until his sudden death a year ago, he continued to churn out all sorts of quality metal.
Because Quorthon worked on a shoe-string budget, many of the albums have relatively bad production. I want to say that he actually recorded a lot of albums himself, but I can't even make any assumptions judging from the packaging of Blood Fire Death. The album comes in by far the most minimal of bells and whistles, including nothing more than the cover on the front (with pure black on the flipside) and just a tracklisting on the back. Had it not been for some research over at metal-archives.com (don't write a metal review without it!), I wouldn't have known about the session musicians used on the album - Vvornth on drums and Kothaar on bass. Quorthon took care of the guitars and singing.
Blood Fire Death is widely regarded as the beginning of the Viking metal genre, however to my ear the Viking aspects aren't as readily apparent as they are on other albums. There's a good amount of black metal on here (as always), and as a nice bonus a large thrash element as well. And of course, you've got your Pagan aspect as well. Personally, I've always found it relatively hard to pin down Bathory's music to one specific genre, especially because they/he was never afraid to experiment.
Despite the bare package, Blood Fire Death truly packs a punch musically. Once the ominous, horsedrawn raids from "Odens Ride Over Nordland" begin, Quorthon takes him through his dark world of evil and despair and all sorts of metalness. And I wouldn't want it any other way.
"A Fine Day to Die" is definitely a song that stands out in the Bathory catalog, an epic masterpiece that weaves together somber moments with loud, chaotic spurts, perfectly complemented with Quorthon's tortured screams (which to this day I'm still trying to perfect). The bleakness of the opening and the frenzy of the first real riffs contrast so beautifully that you just know the guy is onto something. As the song marches along, you really begin to feel drawn in and don't want to even think about fighting it.
Despite the more mid-tempoed fare of the first track, Quorthon really picks up the speed on the following tracks. "The Golden Walls of Heaven", "Pace 'Till Death", and "Holocaust" are ridiculously thrashy, and fans of old school Slayer, Dark Angel, and Kreator will definitely eat these songs right up. Of course they have Quorthon's stamp on them, especially when it comes to his frequent soloing and patented screams - with the exception of Varg Vikernes of Burzum/Mayhem fame/infamy, I really can't think of a single vocalist who could say as much as Quorthon with just a single growly scream.
"For All Those Who Died" is much in the same vein, albeit not as balls-to-the-wall in terms of tempo. Instead, the song has more of a straight-up metal feel to it, of course accompanied by gritty vocals. You almost get the feeling on here that Quorthon was listening to all his Venom albums when he wrote this song - he even uses a lower voice, perhaps coincidentally. The one misfortune of this song is that it happens to be surrounded by so many outstanding songs that it has the unfortunate title of "Worst Track on This Album", but if it were put on many others I'm sure it would slay almost every track on there.
But that's ok, Quorthon definitely redeems himself with the final two tracks - the sonic insanity of "Dies Irae" and the outstanding title track. Generally you'd expect a song called "Died Irae" to be slow and ominous, but instead it's the exact opposite. Maybe it was Quorthon giving the finger to preconceptions - you never really knew what he was thinking. I mean, awww sure, the song hits mid-tempo speeds (oh no!), but anyone looking for a slow, somber death march will definitely be surprised. And if you're anything like me, you won't care in the very least.
And finally, the album concludes with the epic title track, which carries on in a very similar style to "A Fine Day to Die". Peaceful parts are interwoven with louder segments, and once again we get a journey through dynamics as Quorthon screams along as the song marches by. I go back and forth between this and "A Fine Day to Die" as to which is my favorite song on the album - however this one seems more polished (as polished as this album can be) and a bit more powerful.
To most people, Blood Fire Death will just sound like a poorly recorded, sloppy record with unappealing vocals. But of course, I'm not most people. Because quite honestly, production goes only so far - as Dave Mustaine says, you're just "polishing a turd." Instead, something can be said about the relative simplicity of Bathory's music - it almost seems to have some magic to it. Of course, the music on Blood Fire Death is definitely not as minimalistic as other stuff from that time (especially within the black metal genre), so those with short attention spans will definitely find Bathory more appealing than say, a Burzum or Nargaroth. There certainly may not be anything pretty about this music, but that doesn't take anything away from it. Anyone looking for something old school but still pretty raw and aggressive should look no further - Bathory will definitely quench your thirst.