1990, Music

Hammerheart (1990) by Bathory

I have read that this is perhaps the second “viking metal” album ever. I really can’t confirm that because, well, I’ve never heard of viking metal before. I didn’t know it was a thing. What I do know is that black metal was definitely not this varied in its early years but I don’t know the genre well enough to really say for sure if anyone had done anything like this before. All I can say is that I read the credits for Blood Fire Death and it sure seems like the sound is likely more varied on this record, making it perhaps the bigger deal. (But what do I know?)

What does it sound like? Imagine if Swans were a metal band with normal tunings and crunchier and more varied riffs. That’s sort of the impression I get, only instead of Gira singing there’s this guy who sounds like a black metal singer sometimes and other times like a really awful version of Paul Westerberg. (Seriously.)

And that is the thing that is the hardest to deal with: Quorthon’s more melodic vocals are basically like that of a hoarse punk singer, but he’s singing over music that doesn’t always fit those hoarse vocals, (And he’s clearly no Westerberg.)

The other quibble is the production. But this is black metal we’re talking about. Sorry, it’s metal heavily influenced by black metal and made by a band that was making black metal as recently as two years earlier. So it’s supposed to sound bad. That’s one reason why I don’t love black metal, but I’m not sure I can really fault them for the mix if it’s not only on purpose but on style. (I know sometimes I do that anyway, but when everything is mixed poorly, rather than one instrument, and it’s a hallmark of the genre, it feels forgivable.)

Despite not loving the mix or the singing, I still feel like this is probably a really big deal. Most black metal I’m familiar with from the ’80s does not deviate from the formula. (And much of it is really just thrash with poor production values, dark lyrics and people claiming it was influential.) Sure Celtic Frost used horns but I’m not sure how purely black metal you can claim that band.

What I’m saying is that, this is a really big deal. It basically invented a genre of music, as far as I can tell. (Or it’s the second album, but that album seems like it was less ambitious.) The unconventional instruments and choral backing vocals feel really unique to the scene, as far as I know. So I can’t help but give it high marks.


PS The intro to the first track sounds like a Tool song. So we know where they came from now!

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