1989 Black Mark
To many (including myself) this is the ultimate Viking Metal album. While Blood Fire Death was more heavy and thrash-like, and Twilight of the Gods is more epic and giant sounding, neither quite captures the Viking metal sound like this album. Of course Quorthon and Bathory created the very idea and style with Blood Fire Death, and now with this album make everything slower, and much more epic.
The album opens with the sounds of an ocean, and then quiet guitar lines, as Quorthon sings "Mother winter leaves our land, And opens wide the seas. The lukewarm breeze does beckon me, as it whispers through the trees, It says: Set your sails, and let me take your ship to foreign shores." Then after a few more lines the song explodes with heavy drums and guitars and Quorthon sings "Odin in the sky up high, Let the Ravens of yours fly, To guide us on our sail to foreign shores, Let your ravens fly." The song then continues on in this manner, getting to a scene of destruction and Viking pillage before changing gears with the lyrics "When the wind cries out my name, And time has come for me to die, then wrap me in my cape, And lay my sword down at my side", with this funeral concept the song ends and feeds into the next song "Vahalla", which describes a Viking's ascent into heaven and Valhalla. "Fallen heroes in battle slain, awaits my arrival at the gates of.. Vahalla, Shields of Gold, Valhalla, Great warriors hall," which I think describes nicely the ascent to Valhalla. Quorthon also makes good use of his choir vocals with the chorus, this sound and effect would be repeated many times by Therion, who based their career on songs like "Valhalla".
The classic "Baptised In Fire and Ice" comes next, with a heavy and epic repeating riff for the chorus and some excellent lyrics: "Born a Son of Nordic tribe, Early spring morning I arrived, when sails were set, ships all done, To sail with Wind a Waves for long, Down foreign shores across great waters, many hindred miles from home, This hlaf a year deep frozen land, were I on this morning was born." The song continues describing a Viking warrior's upraising and baptismal battle. The song is a classic for many reasons, not the least of all that the whole song fits together in many ways, and sticks in your head. "Father to Son" opens with sounds of a Viking camp, some folk music playing, a dog barking, talking, a blacksmith working, a child crying, etc. and then the song actually starts with its heavy guitars and choir. The song continues the story progression of the last song, this time from the father's side, or from the narrator of the last song talking to his son. "Now born my son I name thee, After the sound of my Hammers beat upon the anvil, on this chilly springtime day... Never lose the values I have taught you, Always keep your moral and ideals, Do never bring your flag disgrace." Again the lyrics are excellent, and I only sample a few verses.
"Song to Hall Up High" begins with some beautiful guitar lines and some of Quorthon's best singing. "I know you watch over me, Father of all the past, And all that will ever be, You are the first and the last. The Watcher of all that lives, The guardian of all that died." This actually sounds a lot like a hymn to the olden gods, which is nice, it inspires me more than a lot of actual hymns.
"Home of Once Brave" again is epic, giant, and also sounds a bit like a funeral song. "Above the Ravens, messengers of the wise One Eyed God, Who ruled this land, Of the strong and the great." It also has a bit of the swagger of many Scandic thought, that Odin created this beautiful land for the Nordic people to live in, as long as they keep morals and keep brave. Or something like that. It's a good song though.
Another absolute classic comes next, "One Rode to Asa Bay" this is an excellent song, full of the epic Viking feeling, and it also happens to end the album. This has some great interplay of acoustic guitars and heavy distorted electric guitar, which is one of the best things about the song. The melody also works very well with its medieval and Norse folk sound. "One man rode the way through the woods, Down to Asa bay, where dragon ships had sailed to sea. More times than one could say, to see with own eyes the wonder people told of from man to man, The god of all almightiness had arrived from a foreign land, the rumours told of a man, who had come from the other side of the sea, carrying gold cross around neck in chain, And spoke in strange tongue of peace. He had come with strange men in armour, dressed in purple shirts and lace, Smelling not of beer but flowers, and with no hair in face." The song continues its tale of the beginning of Christianity in Scandinavia, and the end of the Pagan gods. It moves directly into the next cd Twilight of the Gods, which tells in more detail the slow slide into decay of the Pagan gods. That cd has the feel of a funeral of the Gods, and ends the Viking trilogy on a very correct note, but that's for another node.
This cd is the less brutal and ferocious chapter of the Viking trilogy, going into more epic and dark territory, and is in many ways the ultimate chapter, being both heavy and at times brutal, and other times epic and dark. I can't suggest this album highly enough for any fans of Viking metal.
1: Shores in Flames
3: Baptised In Fire and Ice
4: Father To Son
5: Song To Hall Up High
6: Home Of Once Brave
7: One Rode to Asa Bay
Bathory on this release:
Quorthon: Vocals, All guitars, backing vocals & FX