BATHORY: BLOOD ON ICE (1996)
1) Intro; 2) Blood On Ice; 3) Man Of Iron; 3) One Eyed Old Man; 4) The Sword; 5) The Stallion; 6) The Woodwoman; 7) The Lake; 8) Gods Of Thunder, Of Wind And Of Rain; 9) The Ravens; 10) The Revenge Of The Blood On Ice.
Apparently, the story is as follows: In between the «transitional» Blood, Fire And Death and the stylistic revolution and public success of Hammerheart, Quorthon had actually recorded yet another album — one that explored his newly-acquired interest in his Scandinavian heritage even farther than Hammerheart, being sort of a highly cohesive «rock oratorio». Inside was a Nordic fantasy, loosely based on the motives of Germanic mythology, but «creatively reworked» by Quorthon, presumably in order to avoid being sued by Odin's and Thor's legal representatives for copyright infringement — you never know when that lightning might strike you.
Having recorded the master tapes, Quorthon, however, had second thoughts about releasing the album for public consumption — feeling, as he admitted himself, that his fanbase was not yet ready for such a radical image reinvention. The project was therefore shelved, and Quorthon started working on Hammerheart instead. Only six years later, having accidentally leaked the information and received lots of feedback from the fans (who, by that time, were not only well accustomed to his Viking schtick, but probably also felt seriously irritated by Quorthon's subsequent move to stupid thrash territory), he returned to the old tapes — cleaned them up, remixed them based on improved technology, and finally made them available to everyone under the title of Blood On Ice, which at least sounds a little better than «King Arthur on ice», I'd say.
Frankly speaking, it is not quite clear why this album, had it been out there in 1989, could have been more of a «shock» to fans than Hammerheart. It does suffer in comparison to the latter, but not because of its storyline, or any sort of extra pomposity, or anything like that: it simply does not match Hammerheart in terms of sheer quantity of good ideas. The storyline is a little corny, as is every one-man fantasy-style reworking of any mythological tradition — elegantly shaped and steadily balanced through hundreds of years of «natural selection» — and perhaps he did feel a little shy about unfurling his story of one-eyed wise men, twin-headed Beasts, and eight-legged stallions, replacing it with the superficially more impressive pseudo-historism of Hammerheart. However, Quorthon's verbacity rarely stands in the way of proper music: the real reason why Blood On Ice feels a little disappointing is that, unlike Hammerheart, this one is really envisioned as a «musical saga», and the one flaw that could be naturally expected of a musical saga is monotonousness and repetitiveness.
From that angle, Blood On Ice, with its emphasis on the «never-ending riff» rather than the «awesome riff», has more in common with Twilight Of The Gods, or those particular parts of Hammerheart that pre-announce Twilight (most notably, ʽOne Rode To Asa Bayʼ). The tracks are typically long and repetitive, only occasionally jolted by vocal gimmicks (such as the deep «iron-man» spoken passage in the middle of the title track, or the «one-eyed old man» monolog on the same-titled tune) or an acoustic interlude (ʽThe Ravensʼ; ʽMan Of Ironʼ, despite its title, is actually a crudely constructed acoustic folk ballad as well).
Elsewhere, the riffs are really only there to propel the song forward — martial-wise (title track; ʽThe Stallionʼ) or, sometimes, in a more blues-rocky, almost swampy mode (ʽThe Lakeʼ — did I just say «swampy»?). This is all fine and dandy for a «saga», if we are simply supposed to take this as a heavy backing to Quorthon's story, but if the story happens to be the last thing in which we might be interested on a Bathory album, the number of memorable events on Blood On Ice will not be too large. (For some reason, the only thing that still sticks with me after several listens is the juxtaposition of thumping hooves and bleating sheep — even though I have never suspected myself of anything close to a pastoralist or nomadic mindset...).
Altogether, this one is definitely for the fans, although it goes without saying that it does feel a lot like a gulp of fresh, methane-free air after the previous two albums — and that the story, corny elements and all, does show a deep, sincere interest in the Scandinavian pagan tradition: there are conceptual elements in Blood On Ice that may feel clumsy or poorly stated, but there is no denying the passion and the obsessive involvement. Unfortunately, this is not quite enough to properly «reward» the album with a thumbs up.
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