Bathory – Blood Fire Death (1988)
“You ARE walking out of here with that,” my metal friend commanded, nodding towards the copy of this album with a five-dollar price tag in my hand. “You won’t be sorry.”
I had come into the black metal genre rather later than I had gotten into other genres, and although I like it now, it was a bit of an acquired taste for me personally. With such a profusion of bands and very few universally agreed-upon classics, I was looking for a good place to start. Luckily, even the most elitist black metaller would have no issue starting with the legendary Bathory and this incredible classic.
Needless to say, I did walk out of the record store with it that day and entered the world of black metal as soon as I slipped on the headphones.
1. Oden’s Ride Over Nordland
2. A Fine Day to Die
3. The Golden Walls Of Heaven
4. Pace Till Death
6. For All Those Who Died
7. Dies Irae
8. Blood Fire Death
9. Winds of Mayhem (outro)
The painting on the cover of “Blood, Fire, Death” depicts a mythological battle; the original was created in 1872 by Peter Nicolai Arbo “Asganrdsteien” and hangs in the Norwegian National Gallery in Oslo. Two armies clash, both human beings and otherworldly beasts as the sun breaks over the skyline. Although it evokes medieval times, the choice of this image is appropriate for the time period the album was released.
1988 was the Cold War, the clash of two worlds still carrying on in the modern globe outside the painting, and you can’t help wondering whether Bathory mastermind Quorthon (Tomas Forsberg) chose it for commentary on the political environment at the time. The song “Holocaust,” for instance, describes a terrifying image of a room filled with innumerable nuclear warheads, each with the name of a target city on it. The nameless narrator can only stand in terror as the countdown to launch reaches zero. Considering the time period, the threat of such an event happening was still very real.
“Blood Fire Death” details its Viking war themes in a beautifully epic way, with its raw, blazing riffs and blast beats complemented by the occasional choral backup and acoustic interlude. The lyrics describe the fields of battle both earthly and heavenly. Not bad for being recorded in someone’s garage in Stockholm.
The second half of the album is loaded with a quartet of black/Viking metal classics, including the aforementioned “Holocaust.” “For All Those Who Died” and “Dies Irae” are primal songs with apocalyptic themes and frenetic, powerful riffage, setting the stage for the epic finale and my personal pick for the greatest black metal song of all time: the title track, “Blood Fire Death.” Summoning the warriors to battle, the song builds from a doom-laden first half laced with organ and choir into a slow gallop. It fades into the winds of mayhem, a Bathory tradition that has the feeling of leaving the battle behind for now until we revisit it.
“Bloody, fiery, and deadly,” was my joking response when my friend asked me what I thought of the album later that same day. Naturally, from metal-ese that translated as “magnificent.”
Quorthon (Tomas Forsberg)
5 / 5
Written by Matt P