Review Summary: What is dead may never die.
In 1988, Bathory were at the top of their game. Having just come off of the success of Under the Sign of the Black Mark
, the band had established their position as one of the most influential black metal bands within the first wave. By that point, though, it felt like some change was necessary. After all, Quorthon and his comrades had been doing the whole evil satanic shtick for a while now. So, for their next album, they decided to try shifting their focus away from black metal and into a style that was more influenced by….. Vikings. And over twenty-five years later, Blood Fire Death
still holds up as one of the greatest metal albums of all time.
Immediately, you can tell that this isn’t going to be anything like Bathory’s previous works. “Oden Ride Over Nordland” sets the tone perfectly, with the distant sound of a horse whinnying, organ music, and what feels like wind blowing across the mountains setting the stage. Most of the songs are heavily thrash-influenced, such as “Golden Walls of Heaven” and “Holocaust”, with fast, pulse-pounding drums, aggressive guitars, and savage vocals. “Dies Irae” is a particular highlight, with shredding guitar solos and overpowering drumming at a ridiculously fast tempo to keep your adrenaline pumping. Stylistically, it’s light years more intense than anything Bathory’s done since, and it works. The production isn’t as raw as on Under the Sign of the Black Mark
, but it still gives off a sinister aura, fitting well into both the baleful atmosphere and the fierce, almost violent structure of the music.
With all that being said, you can’t talk about Blood Fire Death
without mentioning the two “epics” on it. First, you’ve got “A Fine Day To Die”, which nails the transition between acoustic guitars and a choir into crushing guitar riffs and Quorthon screaming perfectly. Speaking of riffs, “A Fine Day To Die” probably has the best riff on the entire album about two and a half minutes into the song. The ten-minute long title track is just as powerful, focusing more on a couple ominous acoustic sections within song, almost like the eyes of the storm. Both songs are still relatively aggressive and fast-paced, but slightly less so than the more thrash-influenced tracks. The defining component here is the focus on atmospheric elements; the riffs are more complex and have a bit of a Swedish folk tone to them, while the eerie choir singing and clean guitar compositions make the music feel much more immersive as a whole.
When it all comes down to it, Blood Fire Death
could have ended Bathory’s career on a sour note. It could’ve been a failed experiment ( Cold Lake
, I’m looking at you) that sealed the fate of our Swedish black metallers. But instead, not only was Blood Fire Death
a massive success for both the band and their fans, it also paved the way for an entire subgenre of metal music, and reinvigorated the band’s creative juices for the next decade and a half. It’s almost as though the afterlife isn’t quite worth it, because Valhalla is already here.