BATHORY - Under the Sign of Black Mark (BLACK MARK - LP 1987)
People sometimes ask in the interviews about the top ten (or five he!) of metal albums of all time. And usually the questioned musician would say “oh, it is impossible to say just ten, if there are so, so many amazing albums”. I totally agree with it, it is just impossible to name just few LPs, if metal history is 30 years old or more and during this period there were thousands of albums released and among them there are so many absolutely astonishing LPs... But if I was about to make such impossible list, then I am sure that I know at least five LPs, which would just have to be there… sometimes more due to the memories, which I have about them than the actual musical value (which is still brilliant, anyway!). One of such LPs would definitely be Bathory’s third opus “Under the Sign of Black Mark”. I do realize that most people would like either “Bathory” or “Hammerheart” or “Blood Fire Death” LPs more, and sure, they are also fantastic, but for me “Under the Sign of Black Mark” is the most thrilling and perfectly composed and arranged piece of Quorthon’s music. It was also my first encounter with his music and that happened I think back in 1993, maybe 1994. At that time I knew only very few black metal bands – Beherit and Blasphemy, which I didn’t like at all, and Darkthrone (“Under the Funeral Moon”) and Burzum (“Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”), which I liked way more, mainly due to that incredibly dark and ghoulish atmosphere of these albums (I wasn’t so much into their raw production at that time)… And then someone taped me “Under the Sign of Black Mark”… well, I have been hooked by this album immediately, even if I was more into death metal at that time. But there was something truly unique about Bathory’s third album, what I liked so much. Later on, around 1997-98, when I had a two piece black metal project with my friend, we started to play three or four songs of this LP, so much influence it had on us. The feeling when playing them was amazing. So, not only “Under the Sign of Black Mark” is just amazing musically, but also it gives me a lot of good memories. This is why I consider it to be one of my top ten albums of all times, even if I don’t know if making such list is possible at all.
Composition wise “Under the Sign of Black Mark” is pure perfection; an album, which delivers a collection of astonishing, quite often almost catchy, but devastatingly dark and eerie songs. But that’s not all; even the order of tracks, how they’ve been putted together, seems to be carefully thought through, so the album starts with a pure destruction of “Massacre”, then goes through such classics of atmospheric, epic black metal as “Woman of Dark Desires” or “Enter the Eternal Fire”, to finish with such gloomy songs as”13 Candles” and “Of Doom”. When listening to “Under the Sign of Black Mark” I must admit that the production of this album is definitely my favourite one from all three albums, which Bathory has released so far. Both previous LPs were much rawer and almost primitive in many ways, while “Under the Sign of Black Mark” is much heavier and aggressive, but also open for those atmospheric parts, which this LP is filled with. I mean no way would “Bathory” – with the sound it has - be able to have such song as “Call from the Grave” and make it sound so powerful, but dark and eerie, with its fantastic, melodic guitar solos and all the stuff like keyboards in another songs. More so, I must also say that while the guitar sound is just excellent for my taste here, also Quorthon’s voice is just fantastic. OK, it always was, really, especially on “The Return…”, but his voice on “Under the Sign of Black Mark” is even rougher and more powerful, at the same time it’s quite understandable and with some brilliant arrangements. Really, when I listen to “Under the Sign of Black Mark” I just cannot think of ANYTHING, what would be done wrong. From start to finish this LP is perfect. Pure masterpiece…
It’s also just impossible to pick up two or three songs from “Under the Sign of Black Mark” and call them standout tracks. Each song is brilliant, each offers something truly exceptional and each has perfect arrangements, riffs, vocals… “Massacre” opens this album and is fast as fuckin hell, very brutal, uncompromising black metal song and then “Woman of Dark Desires” and “Call from the Grave” are more epic and atmospheric, with fuckin hooks all the way through. Once you’ll hear it, you’ll remember those riffs until the end of your miserable life, trust me! And then “Equimanthorn” will strike again with faster, viciously powerful riffing... and that awesome chorus part… you just wanna fuckin scream “Equimanthorn!!!!!!!!!!!!”! And this is how side A finish and when you’ll hear it, you may understand what I meant when I wrote that the order of track is not accidental here!
And I would think that it couldn’t get any better than side A, but that is until “Enter the Eternal Fire” opens side B… and man, isn’t it one of the best black metal anthems of all times??!! The riffing in it is just mighty and the atmosphere… well, it is gloomy, sinister and the whole effect is even deeper with the bells tolling. The impression is just huge, more so because the structure of this song is quite simple, I mean it is basically based on one main riff, where Quorthon just toys with it, changing the tempos or whatever… Well, you don’t need much to compose a masterpiece. “13 Candles” is another truly exceptional song, one with similar sort of riffing as the one from “Enter the…” or “Call from the Grave”, which doesn’t mean it is exactly the same, only structure wise it also is pretty simple, with basically just one or two riffs, similar tempo and that infectious catchiness. And in case if you don’t have enough then “Of Doom” will massacre you with probably the most insane, vicious, mayhemic, fast and uncompromising riffing from the whole LP. I really, really like this song a lot!
While finishing this review and paying a tribute to Quorthon and his third album, I must also point out how brilliant and fast this composer was evolving and progressing. I mean just listen to “Bathory” and then “Under the Sign of Black Mark”. The difference is big, but from the other hand this third LP still has some traces of Bathory’s old style. More so, I must also notice that the debut was nothing more or less but a Venom / Motorhead influenced black ‘n’ roll sort of stuff, but just take a listen, which way did Cronos and Venom go and how the Bathory style was developing. Isn’t it one of the examples of “the student becomes the master” thing? For me Bathory was always way better than Venom and such LPs as “Under the Sign of Black Mark” only proves me right. I’ve been listening to it for almost 20 years now and still I feel thrills like it was my first time, it just doesn’t get boring. This definitely is one of my top ten metal albums of all time and one, which just must be in everyone’s collection, best on vinyl, if you ask me!
Standout tracks: ALL OF THEM!!!
Final rate: 100 / 100