In the winter of 1995, it was safe to assume that Bathory mastermind Quorthon was feeling a bit silly. After the release of the critically demolished album Octagon
, he probably felt the pressure to do something drastic to bring his once heralded band back on track. So, from the thrash metal sound of Octagon
, Quorthon decided to revert back to the genre he almost single-handedly created. Released in a timely seven months after Octagon
was put out, it shows both Quorthon’s hasty retreat back into a place where he felt that he could record best as well as a further refinement on the sounds of Hammerheart
and Twilight Of The Gods
. As 1996’s Blood On Ice
was released, it let fans of Bathory breathe a heavy sigh of relief, because the Viking metal returned in fine form.
Blood On Ice
was actually recorded in 1989, and was intended to be the fifth installment in Bathory’s discography. Instead, Quorthon scrapped the album in fear that it too drastically shifted from his tried and true Viking/black metal combination which was found on Blood Fire Death
and Under The Sign Of The Black Mark
. Instead, Blood On Ice
was left unfinished and unreleased until Quorthon was backed into a corner with Octagon
, and so finally the project was re-recorded and unleashed to the metal world. The album fits perfectly in with the Viking era of Bathory circa the early 1990’s. The songs, however, remain relatively short in comparison to the ten-plus minute epics of Hammerheart
and Twilight Of The Gods
. The tracks average about five or five and a half minutes, but still pack an array of powerful riffs and epic solos, as well as numerous samplings of outside material which adds to the “story” of the album, serving as wonderful atmospheric touches.
Acoustic guitars lay the stage for the distortion of the electrics, coupled with Quorthon’s much improved clean vocals which, unlike his previous efforts, don’t flow wildly into unwanted octaves and leave behind the awkward choirs of songs such as “Baptized In Fire And Ice”. Instead we are met with mid-paced tracks focusing on quality instead of lengthy shots for that “epic” atmosphere from earlier in Bathory’s recording career. However, the side effect of this is that with the increase in quality came the atmosphere, except without the ten or twenty minute track lengths. The wonderful and surprising acoustic ballad “The Ravens” shows how Bathory’s sound has matured, but sometimes maturity doesn’t result for the better. While the entire album doesn’t remain consistent in terms of engaging material for the listener (some tracks are dreadfully overdrawn, like the interesting but unneeded latter half of “One Eyed Old Man”) but for the most part Blood On Ice
shows how, with a bit of inspiration from previously written material, Quorthon has found his sound again.
The production is marginally decent, leaving the guitars in the background in favor of the powerful emphasis placed on the drums. The side effect of this is that, while the drums are perfectly produced for the type of music being played, the guitar riffs are woefully under-produced and leave you straining to find the melody in the overbearing reverb of chords. The acoustic guitars are, thankfully, quite the opposite and add great effect to the songs in which they are placed. Blood On Ice
is a fine example of how you can achieve an epic atmosphere without the aid of keyboards which usually end up ruining the very atmosphere they set out to create. Instead, drums, guitars, and vocals solely achieve this brilliant effect on the listener to get up and knock something over while drinking absurd amounts of mead, something which precious few bands aside from Bathory can achieve.
Blood On Ice
is wholly a success, but is still far from perfect. The same sound noted on this record continue for the rest of Quorthon’s life, ending with Nordland II
. While the music is undeniably enjoyable and well-written, it lacks the punch which was put forth on Hammerheart
, and the ferocity of Blood Fire Death
. For anyone other than Bathory, this record would be a crowning achievement. However, when you slap Bathory’s name on this material, and then look back on Quorthon’s older material, you’ll find that your drunken Viking escapades you and your buddies unleashed on unsuspecting villages while listening to Blood On Ice
just aren’t the same as before. Close, but not quite the real thing.