BATHORY - Hammerheart - BLACK MARK - LP 1990
“Hammerheart” – it is for sure one of the most influential albums in the history of the metal music; one, which brought something completely new to it – a concept based on the Scandinavian mythology of the Vikings… Already “Blood Fire Death” had started it, but it was on “Hammerheart”, where Quorthon has fully based his work on the Norse legacy, with every song telling the story about it. And when you listen to “Hammerheart” you can truly feel that with every second of the album – with the atmosphere of the music, with the lyrics… It is a great experience, when you listen to “Hammerheart” and at the same read the texts, so you can feel the whole atmosphere… And when looking at the front artwork, it is like “oh yeah, amazing!” – it is an old painting titled “The Funeral of a Viking” done by an English artist Francis Dicksee; absolutely amazing piece of work, very detailed and perfect, dramatic painting…
Bathory’s music has changed and transformed a lot since the debut LP “Bathory”, but despite all these changes I still love it and consider the Viking albums of Quorthon as some of the most phenomenal stuff ever composed by the metal bands. Why? Well, just listen to it, for fuck sake. The music is so passionate, so emotional that every time I listen to it I feel like the aura of it fills me and is so real… The way Quorthon transformed all the feelings and that medieval, heathen magic into the sounds is just unbelievable and bloody effective and I dare to say that no other band have ever achieved such a thrilling effect. When listening to such LPs as “Hammerheart” or “Twilight of the Gods” you simply feel the atmosphere with all the heart and move back in time to the ancient days, living it fully, and even if you’re not Scandinavian it actually starts to mean something to you. With such amazing anthems as “Shores in Flames”, “Song to Hall up High”, “Home of Once Brave” and “One Rode to Asa Bay” it becomes fully involving, epic, emotional and essential listen.
I guess a lot of respect should go for Quorthon’s vocals on the album. Long gone are the times of black metal, which the band has played in its beginnings, becoming more and more harmonious, epic, easier to listen to and way less harsh and obscure… And together with the change of the music the vocals have developed a lot. Quorthon stopped using his harsh, throaty voice, opting for absolutely phenomenal way of clean singing; one which fits the music perfectly, in my opinion, as it is as epic and as melodic as the music itself, fitting the sounds impressively well. Actually, in my humble opinion, the vocals are the main force of the album! They seem to carry the whole tension and emotions, as well as the melodies, while sometimes the riffing is almost in the second plan, like in “Home of the Brave” – would this song sound so damn excellent and effective if the vocals were different? I think it wouldn’t be even half as good. And the same goes really for the whole album.
Musically “Hammerheart” goes even deeper into what later have been called Viking metal than “Blood Fire Death”… While the previous LP had some truly unique, epic anthems such as “A Fine Day to Die” and “Blood Fire Death” (which are some of my favourite metal tracks of all time!), it still held a number of more aggressive, almost thrashy songs, which if were recorded badly would surely fit the debut LP without a problem. “Hammerheart” has been completely devoid of such aggressive and fast songs, being fully dedicated to slow or mid paced monumental, majestic metal. This way I think it sounds like a more complete and conceptual work, where everything fits together better… And the songs, which I have mentioned earlier, and which are on side B of the vinyl, are a prime and most perfect example of what “Hammerheart” is… “Song to Hall up High” is an acoustic song, with some emotional singing of Quorthon, one which may sound odd and sort of like a monumental Viking ballad, but I love it anyway and I find is as very, very memorable tune… The ending part of it, with the final verse is just beautiful and I can listen to it over and over again, hailing Quorthon for such a great music. And then there’s “Home of Once Brave” – and what a fantastic song that is. It is very powerful, very catchy and majestic, with some absolutely splendid vocal arrangements, while the musical background is quite simple and classic Bathory, but here that simplicity of the structure is unimportant, if you hear some truly bombastic and epic riffs and drumming, plus these absolutely phenomenal vocals. And “One Rode to Asa Bay” is a ten minute long piece of monumental, epic work, which puts bands like Manowar to the shame. I just love it and I always have the old video for this song in my mind when I hear it – great stuff about the christianization of Scandinavia… But mentioning only these three tracks when speaking of “Hammerheart” is not enough, as the whole LP is just excellent and perfectly arranged, composed and performed, with such tunes as “Shores in Flames”, “Baptised in Fire and Ice”, “Valhalla” or “Father to Son”.
I think the most emotional part of “Hammerheart” is when I read the lines: “Northern wind take my song up high, to the Hall of glory in the sky, so its gates shall greet me open wide when my time has come to die …” from the beautiful acoustic “Song to Hall up High”… It is very emotional, as Quorthon has died and it feels like a great anthem and tribute to this amazing musician, who, I am sure, had been greeted by his ancestors with all the glory. For such moments “Hammerheart” is just a timeless classic album – yet another in the great discography of Bathory.
Standout tracks: “Song to Hall up High”, “Home of Once Brave”, “One Rode to Asa Bay”, “Shores In Flames”
Final rate: 90/100