BATHORY: REQUIEM (1994)
1) Requiem; 2) Crosstitution; 3) Necroticus; 4) War Machine; 5) Blood And Soil; 6) Pax Vobiscum; 7) Suffocate; 8) Distinguish To Kill; 9) Apocalypse.
This has got to be one of the most bizarre twists not just in Bathory history, but in the entire history of heavy metal. Nobody could have expected that — all of a sudden, after one suitably transitional, one fully established, and one somewhat stagnant, but still understandable stylistic follow-up, Quorthon completely jettisons the whole «Viking metal» angle, and puts out a bona fide thrash metal album, conforming to all the laws of the genre. Insane tempos, jackhammer riffs, growling vocals, complete disregard for variety, and a running length of 33 minutes.
Now, considering that this was Quorthon, after all, the guy that moved from speedy black-metal satanism to the sacred hammer of Thor in less than half a decade, something radical could have been predicted, but hardly this, an album that shows no traces whatsoever of anything that made Hammerheart so unique. And the really bad news is that there is nothing whatsoever that would make Requiem comparably unique. It has been reported that Quorthon's goal here was simply to pay a brief tribute to some of his early metal influences — to take a break from rolling the epic stone and do something just for the momentary fun of it. Perhaps so, but this neither explains why the trend continued on his next albums, nor makes the whole experience gain in intelligence.
Two things somewhat redeem this strange decision. One, the production continues to be miles ahead of Bathory's early stuff, and Quorthon's guitars produce meticulously differentiated strings of metallic notes rather than the thick black goo of the first three albums. Second, strange as it is, many of the thrash riffs that he knocks together for these songs are fun — slow them down a bit, paint them less black, and you can get a pretty memorable hard rock album. With everything taken at the same tempo (except for the mood-setting intros, which tend to be slow and sludgy), the riffs are very similar in structure and mood, but each single song does have its own riff, with slight variations, and after a couple listens you might even start appreciating the melodic component — at any rate, these songs are not ultra-quick knock-offs, because you would have to be a musical genius to knock 'em off in a couple of minutes, and Quorthon is hardly a musical genius, but he sure was a hard worker.
So it is not the riffs (which are quite fine for a generic thrash record), nor the solos (which, I do believe, show further improvement in Quorthon's technique) that irritate. Irritating factors involve (a) the drumming: «Vvornth» was fine and dandy working with the slow epic stuff, but with the fast stuff, most of the time he is just too busy trying to stay on time so as to try something interesting — a regular bane with both thrash and hardcore, making the drumming patterns sound moronic instead of properly aggressive; (b) the singing: gone altogether are Quorthon's clean vocals, replaced by sore-throat growling that is not even banshee-style evil like on the early records, just sounds like a freshly excavated zombie from a zombie-trash style movie.
Lyrics-wise, Quorthon moves back to images of gore, violence, and Satanism, occasionally going to such extremes that, once the lyrics sheet is finally pulled out and examined, the parodic status of the album may no longer be doubted — I mean, "the altar covered in lifegiving cum / the smell of forever running wet cunts"? that's not even close to the style of the first three albums, more like Cannibal Corpse or something. But I seriously doubt that somebody will ever want to look at those lyrics with a magnifying glass — in general, my only wish is for this album to have been presented as completely instrumental, in which case we could simply take all these riffs home and stay safe, sound, and undamaged by the expelled shards of Quorthon's Miraculously Self-Regenerating Larynx.
Thumbs up for the brave decision for a radical change — already the second one in Bathory's history, propelling Quorthon's team to further levels of uniqueness — but much as I like some of these riffs, the experience as a whole is so ridiculous that the same gesture can hardly be applied to the music. Still, nowhere near as bad, mind you, as some of Bathory's disappointed fans, yearning for another meeting with the Scandinavian pantheon, would have you believe.