Bathory - Blood Fire Death
Black Mark
Black/Viking Metal
9 songs (45:41)
Release year: 1988
Bathory, Black Mark
Reviewed by Tyler
Archive review

Bathory. Blood Fire Death. Simply uttering these names to those with the comprehension of their immense impact invokes powerful feelings and memories within them. Led from the time of its inception by the brilliant Quorthon (born Tomas Forsberg), Bathory is undeniably one of the most influential extreme metal bands of all time. With his first three albums, Quorthon laid the foundations for what a group of young Norwegians would eventually shape into true black metal. His tortured rasp and thrash/death metal hybrid combined with Satanic and Pagan lyrics became absolute black metal standards. On his 1990 masterpiece Hammerheart, Quorthon once again pioneered a soon to be popular genre that we today call Viking metal. However, it was the 1988 album Blood Fire Death where he perfected his signature mixture of epic and extreme elements, effectively completing the blueprint inherited by the aforementioned Norwegian bands. Blood Fire Death is extreme metal’s last great ride of the 80s, simultaneously a summary of much of the scene’s activity of the preceding decade and a dark premonition of what was to come.

Some bands know how to start an album; others don’t. As least for Bathory’sBlood Fire Death, Quorthon had the art perfected. If the sounds of wind blowing, horses neighing, distant armies galloping, priests chanting, and drums beating on Oden’s Ride Over Nordland isn’t the most epic way to begin an album ever conceived, then I honestly don’t know what is. The galloping and neighing slowly fades away into the beginning of A Fine Day to Die as Gregorian-esque chanting and possibly the most foreboding acoustic guitar piece in extreme metal history build an ambiance and tension that is in truly in a realm of its own. Pounding drums, blazing guitars, and an absolutely piercing scream explode from the speakers, and a true metal classic begins. I don’t mean to over-hype this song for those who haven’t heard it, but in my opinion A Fine Day to Die is among extreme metal’s defining moments; if I had to make a comparison, I would say that this song is to black/Viking metal as Master of Puppets is to thrash. It is that good. Impressive shredding, chaotic drumming, and insanely memorable riff after riff make this song an absolute standard, and this is before Quorthon’s vocals are ever introduced. I’ve heard this song numerous times since I was introduced to Bathory, and hearing Quorthon scream, “Tomorrow is a fine day to die” with absolute conviction and malice still gives me shivers every damn time.

Following the epic A Fine Day to Die, Blood Fire Death veers off into a five song tour-de-force of crude, unrestrained metal. The songs are much more straightforward and heavy, but retain some of the epic feel of the first two tracks. Dies Irae is a particularly notable track, with a number of tempo changes that offer a change of pace to the mostly unrelenting tracks preceding it. While those tracks aren’t particularly revolutionary or memorable, they are nevertheless harsh reminders that Bathory knew how to throw down with the best of the 80s thrash and death metal scenes. Pace Till Death and Holocaust are the albums shortest tracks, and they have an almost hardcore punk feeling to them. The Golden Walls of Heaven is an absolute beast of a track, and with lyrics like, “Attached to spear of the Beast, now spitted at is the scalp of God”, Quorthon proves that at his most evil, he can make Slayer sound like Anthrax.

The final full track, Blood Fire Death, returns to the slower, epic sound of A Fine Day to Die, chanting and all. The chorus is particularly epic, sounding something like Am I Evil?, except way more evil. Its songs like these where you start to hear clear indications that without Bathory, the metal world would have never gotten bands like Emperor, Cradle of Filth, and Dimmu Borgir. I really can’t say enough about how huge the sound is; the production has plenty of room for improvement, but it is clear that Quorthon knew how to use what he had to capture the grandness of the music he was making. As I listen to the gentle acoustic guitar fade into the chanting outro, I can only wonder what this album could sound like if given a modern mixing treatment, similar to recent Dimmu Borgir albums. I am honestly not sure if it would take something away from Quorthon’s original vision, or if perhaps it would earn this album the praise it deserves.

Something I think that is important to remember about Blood Fire Death is that by the time the album was recorded, Bathory had essentially become a solo project, with Quorthon arranging every bit of music, writing every lyric, singing all vocals, and playing every instrument. As you listen to this album more, it becomes more and more shocking that he was able to do all of this. The arrangements, even for the more standards thrashers, are far from your standard metal fare. The bass is solid, the drums are precise and played excellently, and the leads are consistently impressive. Bathory may never get the recognition it deserves, but considering Quorthon’s incredibly influential body of work, most of which he did on his own from Blood Fire Death on (with the exception of Hammerheart), I think it would be fair to call him one of contemporary music’s truly underappreciated geniuses.

The word influential is thrown around a lot in music. What differentiates a great album from an influential album is something that could be debated upon forever. But in the case of Blood Fire Death, I think we have an album that is both. What made it great is also what ultimately made it influential; for Blood Fire Death was when Quorthon most perfectly combined the aggressive early days of Bathory with the envisioned grandeur of what was to come. This aggressive-epic formula served as a musical guideline for the Norwegian black metal scene about to erupt. So ask Ihsahn. Ask Nocturno Culto. Ask the Occulta duo. Ask Mr. Vikernes. They all will amlost certainly tell you the same damn thing: Blood Fire Death is the shit. End of story.

Killing Songs :
Tyler quoted CLASSIC
Vrechek quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Bathory that we have reviewed:
Bathory - Blood On Ice reviewed by Ben and quoted 93 / 100
Bathory - Bathory reviewed by Jared and quoted CLASSIC
Bathory - Under the Sign of the Black Mark reviewed by Jared and quoted CLASSIC
Bathory - Hammerheart reviewed by Jeff and quoted CLASSIC
Bathory - Nordland II reviewed by Jay and quoted 71 / 100
To see all 8 reviews click here
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