BATHORY: NORDLAND I (2002)
1) Prelude; 2) Nordland; 3) Vinterblot; 4) Dragons Breath; 5) Ring Of Gold; 6) Foreverdark Woods; 7) Broken Sword; 8) Great Hall Awaits A Fallen Brother; 9) Mother Earth Father Thunder; 10) Heimfard.
By early 2002, the «recuperation» process was over. Time to get back to the regal / brutal majesty of Hammerheart, quoth the Quorthon, and finally make something overtly and inherently epic once again. The project to be realized had to be his most ambitious ever, spanning an astonishing four CDs worth of the vikingest music ever created by a son of Scandinavia. Unfortunately, the wicked Christian god spoiled this noble undertaking like he'd previously spoiled everything else, recalling Quorthon to his heavenly prison (or hellish torture — the pagan devotee probably would not care either way) only two albums into the project.
In a way, the transcendental divinity had his own good reason, because Nordland I, the first bunch of the projected four to see the light of day, is certainly no Hammerheart, and four major servings of this dish in a row might have caused serious aural diarrhea. More precisely, it tries very hard to be an improved-and-updated Hammerheart, and in doing that, loses much of the spontaneity, freshness, and «discovery-triggered excitement» of its ideal. Listen to the first song here and you will pretty much know 90% of what comes next: slow, plodding, monotonous riff-rockers cast in the mold of repetitive sagas. With stern medieval vocal harmonies; occasional presence of, but more often, complete lack of build-ups and crescendos; a screechy, but not particularly «pretentious» guitar solo every now and then; and generally clean vocals singing something about snow, ice, swords, hammers, dragons, and the great hall in the sky.
Exceptions to this formula are intentionally scarce: ʽRing Of Goldʼ is a pure acoustic ballad (although not any less slow, plodding, or monotonous), and ʽBroken Swordʼ is a speed / power metal anthem that is very welcome in terms of tempo, but that's about it, and that is the way it was meant — that is the way, Quorthon must have felt, that one really goes about in honoring one's warrior ancestors, and if you don't like it, you might as well just leave it. You're not necessarily supposed to enjoy the steady, stately, «dull» flow of a medieval Icelandic poetry recital either.
However, with a little bit of tolerance, patience, and secret feelings for fantasy lore, Nordland quickly goes from «listenable» to «enjoyable» and even «respectable». The riffs are far from genius, but they do a generally good job here of supplying proper atmospherics: similar to each other in that most of them precisely follow the rhythm, making fairly short use of half and quarter notes, but each one vigorous and meaningful in its own right. The riff of ʽNordlandʼ plows on with a decisive militaristic sweep; ʽVinterblotʼ is infected with almost «industrial» venom, becoming one of the heaviest tracks in Bathory's entire history; ʽDragons Breathʼ tries out yet another poisonous tone, no doubt, going for a symbolic recreation of the song's title; ʽGreat Hall Awaits A Fallen Brotherʼ goes for a «choo-choo train» playing style, as if the Great Hall in question could be reached by a heavenly railroad, and so on.
The downside is that, yes, most of these songs make their point over the first minute (of the song proper, discounting the noisy moody intros to some of them), and then mostly go on to reiterate these points — you really are in luck if you get to hear a brief solo, or if the song, like ʽForeverdark Woodsʼ, does indeed turn out to consist of two separate parts with two different riffs. For deep fans of Bathory's Viking style, this will be a plus; for everybody else, most likely, a minus — particularly if one starts thinking how all these vast spaces could have been filled up by something much more creative. It also goes without saying that, in 2002, «art metal» bands in general were capable of immensely more creative work than this (Opeth alone would suffice, as a good example of a giant idea-generator next to Quorthon's tiny one).
But, as with Hammerheart, only on a smaller scale, there is still this strange, wond'rous feeling of how this guy, working completely on his own, is able to achieve so much with so little — even if this whole stuff does not necessarily feel «Nordic», it still feels authentic, with a real blazing fire roaring within these notes, and a real dragon's breath escaping from these licks when push comes to shove. I am not in love with the record, but I respect this kind of deep bite, and that alone is worth a thumbs up. Besides, even if it does lack the diversity and the surprise element of Destroyer Of Worlds, it also evades that record's low points — this is, after all, the kind of thing that Quorthon was really born to do, rather than generate strange thrash metal anthems about bedlam and bloodshed on the hockey field.
Check "Nordland I" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Nordland I" (MP3) on Amazon