Sacred cows have been slain before. They’ll be slain again. Today, we’re not butchering yet another divine bovine (not in total, we’d be nuts and in poor taste), but rather turning the tables on last week’s Bathory post (HERE), where we unsheath our Bathory collection (from 1984’s Bathory to 1988’s Blood Fire Death) listening for Quorthon’s sonic hell-born warts. Er, songs. Quorthon, now in Valhalla, wasn’t always on target with his infernal tuneage. For every “Equimanthorn” or “A Fine Day to Die” or “Sacrifice”, the Swede had a donut or two. Where he was unquestionably innovative and visionary, he was also profoundly average, caught up in his own designs without a filter or mentor. It wasn’t easy or pleasant, but we’ve found 5 of Bathory’s worst songs from the group’s black metal (now, black metal) era. What we unearthed indicates that 1985’s The Return…… reigns as the sorest spot in Bathory’s illustrious, informative, and genre-defining catalog (again, up to 1988). To wit, in 1987 journalist Bernard Doe in also called The Return…… “a little disappointing” in Metal Forces #23. That we’ve lugged not one but two songs from Bathory’s sophomore full-length for the Top 5 list is, well, telling. This list is for all those who died…
5. “The Golden Walls of Heaven” (Blood Fire Death)
The ascending intro hints at epic — it follows “A Fine Day To Die” after all– but what follows is a teenage dip into rapid-fire soloing with no logical beginning or end. It’s as if Quorthon’s new trade tricks, learned between Under the Sign of the Black Mark and Blood Fire Death, needed a home. Verse, solo, verse, solo, solo, verse, solo. And none of the solos are particularly noteworthy — their speed or wickedness. While “The Golden Walls of Heaven” benefits from a more robust production, courtesy of Heavenshore Studio (essentially Bathory’s home studio), it doesn’t have the viciousness of “Holocaust” or “Dies Irae”. Like other Bathory songs on this list, as in “Reap of Evil”, it does tighten up at the end — oddly — in a veritable thrashfest (with bad solos), and it’s here where Quorthon, Kothaar, and Vvornth rip the spirit out of whatever was happening musically at various ends of the planet. That it reminds of Slayer during their Reign in Blood configuration is probably not a coincidence. NOTE: “Pace ‘Til Death” nearly bested “The Golden Walls of Heaven” as the worst song on Blood Fire Death with its neener-neener intro lick.
4. “Massacre” (Under the Sign of the Black Mark)
“Nocternal Obeisance” spooks the bejesus out of metalheads right and left. Even today, the intro is the kind of thing to play on Halloween nights (looped) when you’ve run out of candy and you don’t want kids knocking on the door. Anyway, Quorthon had a penchant for the dramatic before summoning chaos. Opening track, on Side Darkness, “Massacre” isn’t where the darkest of hearts resides on Under the Sign of the Black Mark. “Massacre” is, more or less, “13 Candles'” little shit-stain brother, the kind of kid who pranks everyone, gets into trouble, doesn’t study, and will eventually amount to nothing. “Massacre”, like many of Quorthon’s faster offerings, just rifles through a riffset and repeats it. Reckless abandon. There isn’t much depth, outside of his incredible vocals and story-like lyrics. Certainly, Bathory played this song (to death) on the self-titled, The Return……, and now on Under the Sign of the Black Mark. But, truth be told, he played it better when he didn’t know what he was doing. “Massacre”, of course, isn’t the worst track in Bathory’s black metal era, but it’s no “Woman of Dark Desires”, “Equimanthorn”, or “Enter the Eternal Fire”, which is the album’s crowning centerpiece at the start of Side Evil.
3. “Armageddon” (Bathory)
A veritable conundrum with “In Conspiracy With Satan” or “Armageddon” as the self-titled’s worst song. Side Evil, as it were, starts off like Side Darkness ends, though without the strength and power of “Sacrifice”. Both “In Conspiracy With Satan” and “Armageddon” sound pedestrian compared to the tracks that follow, the mid-paced killer “Raise the Dead” and the uncompromisingly brutal “War”. Too many bands to mentioned were influenced by both “Raise the Dead” and “War” (like Witchery and Enslaved). In the end, “Armageddon” is awarded the demerit. Quorthon and team (uh, drummer Stefan Larsson and session four-stringer Rickard Bergman) imbue “Armageddon” with a shit-load of piss and vinegar, but the furor ultimately goes nowhere. The same riff motif that works so well on “Reaper” and “Sacrifice” comes off as flaccid here. It’s as if it’s missing the end of a hook. Certainly, Bathory’s 1984 debut is pivotal in all regards — especially to the second wave of black metal in Norway and Sweden — but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an open wound or two.
2. “Wind of Mayhem” (The Return……)
Bathory’s follow-up, 1985’s The Return…… (replete with elipsis mistreatment), certainly upped the evilness and darkness ante. The song titles were more intense — like “Bestial Lust (Bitch)” and “Sadist (Tormentor)” — and the haunting intro, called “Revelation of Doom”, was real enough to scare the betitties off ’80s moms (like bag-o-shit Patricia Pulling) in terrible slacks looking for ‘normalcy’ in their teenage sons. On Side Darkness, Bathory didn’t unfurl a turd until “Wind of Mayhem”, a song that bifurcates the rhythm and, well, the rhythm. On top, is Quorthon, his inimitable vocals, his insipid riffs (muted and musty). On bottom, the drums of Stefan Larsson, who miraculously jammed the same thing regardless of what the music called for. It’s not unlike two bands in the same rehearsal room gunning for Sodom’s “Deathlike Silence” and “Witchhammer” at full bore. There isn’t much to write home about on “Wind of Mayhem”. At least it isn’t “Reap of Evil”.
1. “Reap of Evil” (The Return……)
Oh, the tempo. Oh, the lack of time-keeping. Oh, what’s happening on Side Evil? Presumably, the same drummer — Stefan Larsson — played on The Return……. Oddly enough, master Larsson regressed considerably from 1984 to 1985, an unusual turn of events for most musicians on the proverbial prowl. That, or he was tanked while tracking “Reap of Evil”. Even Quorthon’s saturnine riffs (typically, punk-metal variations on Motörhead’s “Overkill”), the very same that made the debut unquestionably great, seem loose and lazy on “Reap of Evil”. While these qualities qualify as ‘cult’ in some circles — the back of the eBay bus crowd — on “Reap of Evil” they’re particularly mephitic. The song does pick up, in tempo and sophistication, around the mid-mark, and it’s here where Quorthon shows he’s running with a moderately talented backing band. But then again, the solo, a 5-year-old’s interpretation of a Kerry King solo (from, say, “Praise of Death”), retards the song’s try at innovation. If there’s one thing to be said about The Return……, it’s that Quorthon’s vocals were untouchably evil. The kinds of sound not meant to emanate from mere humans were ensorcelled for The Return……. Quorthon at the crossroads makes a lot of sense in 1985.