BATHORY: NORDLAND II (2003)
1) Fanfare; 2) Blooded Shore; 3) Sea Wolf; 4) Vinland; 5) The Land; 6) Death And Resurrection Of A Northern Son; 7) The Messenger; 8) Flash Of The Silver Hammer; 9) The Wheel Of Sun.
Considering how much time — around five minutes altogether — ʽThe Wheel Of Sunʼ requires to go through with its massive coda, one might have thought that Nordland II was not only designed to be the last Nordland installment, but was actually to be the last Bathory album ever, that last big fat chord after which Quorthon could finally retire, or remove his presence from this Christianity-soiled earth altogether. Which he actually did around June 7, 2004, allegedly dying of heart failure — so very impatient to finally honor that Valhalla reservation.
In reality, though, Quorthon himself had stated that there were to be four Nordland albums, and a third one was already in the works when misfortune fell. And, indeed, other than the grand coda to ʽWheel Of Sunʼ, there is nothing on Nordland II to suggest intentional account closure. Quite on the contrary, it sounds a wee bit disappointing as a follow-up to Nordland I: obviously, one could not expect any major stylistic changes, but a minor twist or two would have been nice. The only minor twist I see here is that the ultra-heavy, «industrial metal» vibe of Nordland I has all but disappeared, and that, consequently, the second volume made one small step away from brutal heaviness and towards «artsiness» — a tiny step that will make it seem a bit more visionary to some fans and a bit more boring to others.
The «fanfare» sequence that opens the album is a good illustration: three and a half minutes of stern icy synth-pomp — for my tastes, this stuff is way too crudely composed and produced to be emotionally engaging, but there will always be some Bathory fans ready to see it as a Grand Opening of the Gates to Ancient Scandinavian Consciousness. Thereupon, ʽBlooded Shoreʼ is a stately one-riff march, full of predictably martial solemnity, but it is neither heavy enough to properly wake up my inner Viking, nor perfectionistic-majestic enough to disturb that old Wagnerian temptation. The song, and most of the other ones that follow, is worthy of a sleepwalking Quorthon, not so much a Quorthon ambitious to prove that he is able to go beyond the confines of Hammerheart while playing by the rules of Hammerheart.
In fact, the album is surprisingly mild and slow all the way through to ʽDeath And Resurrection Of A Northern Sonʼ, where the old thrash instinct finally awakens and starts generating truly thunderous riffage: too bad that the «thunderous» sections of the song occupy less than half of its ten-minute duration. The major highlight comes a little later, in the form of the shortest song on the album: ʽFlash Of The Silver Hammerʼ (Paul McCartney and Maxwell dropped by to say hello, no doubt) is the first, if not the only, number to dispense with the stately majesty and simply bash it out in a «take-no-prisoners, show-no-mercy» style — none too soon, actually, or you might start wondering whether Quorthon really began to mellow out in his last years.
He did not, but overall, Nordland II is hardly an achievement to brag about: if the remaining two albums were to show the same quality, my guess is that the man would be running a serious risk of running out of fans before the saga was over, except for the usual bunch of diehards who would be happy enough if their idol released an entire album of minimal variations on ʽThe Hall Of The Mountain Kingʼ. The only saving grace of the album is the man's commitment to his mission, and clear understanding of his own role in it — but it is well nigh impossible for music like this to run on commitment alone: would it have hurt too much to add some emotional variety and a slightly larger number of memorable riffs? As of today, only Odin knows the answer.
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