A Looking in View: Bathory – Nordland II

"A Looking in View" is The Beacon's newest online-exclusive music review segment. With each edition, our resident metal music aficionado Parker takes a look at an iconic album released in the world of metal on the day of its anniversary.

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Parker Dorsey, News Editor

In many ways, a parallel can be drawn between Bathory and Death. Both were pioneering bands in their respective genres in the 1980s, both were essentially one-man shows and both had their respective frontmen pass away in the early 2000s.

While Chuck Schuldiner from Death can be considered the godfather of death metal, the same could be said of Quorthon from Bathory with black metal. Bathory released its debut self-titled album in 1984, a 27-minute piece of monstrous mayhem, replete with blasphemous lyrics, shrieking vocals and raw lo-fi production.

Although Venom laid down the groundwork for black metal, it was little-known Bathory from Stockholm, Sweden who put down the blueprint. This iconic raw sound was duplicated innumerably a decade later just one country over in Norway. Bathory meanwhile, would release a slew of iconic albums in Under the Sign of the Black Mark, Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart.

Bathory’s lyrical content evolved to become focused on Norse mythology, and Bathory could even be credited in spawning a second, smaller genre of metal known as Viking metal. Bathory (well it was really Quorthon and a revolving door of musicians at this point) wound up experimenting with more primal thrash styles in the mid-1990s before reverting back to Norse/Viking themes. Throughout this process, Quorthon began experimenting with sung vocals and intricate song arrangements.

Quorthon eventually officially started running all the instruments (if he hadn’t been already), and Bathory fully became a one-man band. When the 2000s hit, he had a grand idea for a four-album epic on Norse mythology. Unfortunately, he was only able to get halfway in before passing away from a heart attack in 2004.

On this day in 2003, Quorthon released what would ultimately become his last album: Nordland II. Along with Nordland I, this record sees Quorthon dropping his raspy scream for clean vocals and employing epic-style song structures, along with the occasional acoustic guitar and other folk instruments. Almost every song on Nordland II has an “epic” feel and deals with some sort of Viking topic.

The album opens with keyboard droning in the instrumental “Fanfare,” before roaring into “Blooded Shore,” a powerful mid-paced track with epic choirs. The next track “Sea Wolf” uses these choirs and additional wind instruments to great effect, and does a good job of portraying the life of a Viking warrior in the mind’s eye.

“Vinland” opens with roaring waves before kicking into one of the heaviest Bathory riffs Quorthon penned, before integrating orchestral sounds and an incredible chorus. This is one of the high points of Quorthon’s vocal work. “The Land” has emotional guitarwork and epic choirs, and is one of the better songs on Nordland II.

“Death and Resurrection of a Northern Son” is a furious fast-paced thrash attack with subtle Manowar attitude before relenting into soaring guitars and keyboard choirs. While the instrumentation stays subdued in the middle part of the track, things promptly pick back up toward the end. Vocally however this is one of Quorthon’s low points on the album.

Meanwhile, “The Messenger” and “The Wheel of Sun” are two of the most epic songs Quorthon penned, both clocking in at over nine minutes long and harkening back to Bathory’s legendary tracks of days gone by, such as “One Rode to Asa Bay” and “Twilight of the Gods.” Both of these tracks are great examples of what made Bathory the best of their craft in Viking metal.

Finally, “Flash of the Silverhammer,” which is sandwiched between the previous songs, serves as an effective reprieve between two epic, long-form songs. This song is interesting in that it has a Pantera-styled riff mixed with epic choirs. It is a curious choice, but it works and it’s a solid track.

The instrumentation here is among Quorthon’s best and nothing feels out of place (such as the folk instruments or keyboards). While he was primarily a guitarist (and obviously his guitarwork here is very good), his drumming deserves mention as well. The drums are simplistic yet intense and thundering, reminiscent of a Viking war march. The bass is surprisingly audible under all the fuzz and provides a solid foundation for each of the songs.

Quarthon’s vocal work is hit-or-miss. While this is undoubtedly his best vocal performance, he honestly wasn’t too much of a singer to begin with. He’s certainly come a long way, and his performance is filled to the brim with emotion and grit. He sounds incredible on certain verses, but he also has some very shaky passages too.

The lyrics are what you would expect from a Viking album: Vikings. While Nordland I was more focused on Norse mythology, Nordland II looks more at Viking folklore and epic battles. The lyrical content is quite simple, but Quorthon is very effective in conveying these themes in an easy-to-digest way that complements the instrumentation well.

The production is raw, but much less raw than previous Bathory releases and what the black metal genre would become known for. You know what you’re getting from Quorthon, and at this point it just adds to the charm.

Nordland II doesn’t match up to Bathory’s legendary trifecta in the late 1980s, but very few things would have. Bathory retreads old ground here, but Nordland II sees Quorthon doing what he does best. It functions at its best when it’s paired with Nordland I, which is a very strong album in its own right.

Revisionist history has looked favorably on the Nordland saga and it is certainly up there in the Bathory catalog. Although unfinished, part two of the Nordland saga is a fitting swansong for Quorthon, one of the true great pioneers in heavy metal history.