Bathory – Nordland I / Nordland II

up_030804_bathory_nord1The “Nordland” saga is filling me with visions of snow capped mountains and the weathered warriors that once sailed below them. Regardless of all the things you may have heard on the Net by one time fans of Bathory like, “this is nowhere near as good as the Hammerheart and Twilight years”, I’m here to tell you to ignore the senseless bashing, for Nordland I feels just as poignant as Quorthon’s early Viking years and would have been the sensible follow-up to the ever enchanting “Blood on Ice” (one of my top 5 faves of all time). “Destroyer of Worlds” was an unbalanced album that possessed a fair share of crap since Quorthon felt the need to cling to the Requiem and Octagon years, but there is no denying the greatness of the first 3 tracks on that release. If you were inspired by “Lake of Fire” in particular, then Nordland I will blow you away as it strikes me as a more developed and layered descent into Bathory’s past. It amazes me that Quorthon can seem so unconcerned about his music by trying to dip back into a tired thrash rhetoric time and again, then out of nowhere produce such a lengthy epic where every track flows with an inspired majesty to suck the listener in to stand with him upon the shores of Asa Bay. Whether he means it or not, I’m convinced, as film quality sound bytes of waves, horses, birds and sailing ships add to the nature element of this album. The drum sound is the most authentic he has captured in years. The guitars possess a unique and full power, while his voice sounds very strong and robust even though it does waiver at times as he stretches to reach those higher notes. And the music… “Nordland” and “Vinterblot” come off as spacious and free as the oceans as Q drapes many emotive harmonies over a power chord foundation that plods along to resound off the mighty halls of Valhalla. The mid-paced delivery is the basis for the entire album, but Quorthon breaks up what many feel is the monotony with an amazing acoustic song (“Ring of Gold”), the spirited power metal-esque “Broken Sword’ (lots of double bass and traditional metal riffing), but the best song on Nordland is the infinitely dense “Foreverdark Woods.” Beginning with a mandolin melody, the theme is carried into the meat of the track where riveting movement and painfully memorable progressions/riff work show just how amazing a songwriter Quorthon can be, even though he rarely breaks out of his formula when everything is working so well. Add even more tasteful colorization to this album in the form of Quorthon’s patented 100 man choir to give certain tracks that “warriors of the mighty hall” feel, and his actual vocal harmonies as well interact perfectly with the musical vessel that is Bathory. “Nordland I” was my #1 release for 2002 and to this day spends many hours enriching my life.

up_030804_bathory_nordland-2After what seemed like an eternity, Nordland II has finally arrived. Being recorded at the same sessions as Nordland I, there is a definite continuity in overall sound and feel, but this album strikes me as more adventurous musically than its mellow predecessor. He had more time to fine tune this album, so the guitar and drum sounds are the most rich and pounding tones that have graced a Bathory album in ages. Where “Blooded Shore”, “Sea Wolf” and “Vinland” (my favorite track on here) maintain that loping march found on Nordland I, other tracks like “The Land”, “The Messenger” and “Death and Resurrection of a Northern Son” unleash more intricate rhythms and solo work as the dynamics seem to explode within the movement of these tracks. The challenging compositions take Quorthon’s vocal range into dark lands where honestly, it should not go, for his voice cracks time and again beneath the strain. Somehow, this still doesn’t bother me… in fact I like it. Even when his throat isn’t up to the challenge, Quorthon sounds like no other performer in the metal world, and somehow saves each track with his determination and melodic/theatrical charm. He sounds great in the mid-range area for singing (As on “Vinland”) and I hope he maintains this delivery in the future. The movie soundtrack elements seem far less on Nordland II, as the album becomes far more guitar dominant and I am once again amazed at what the man can pull out of his head and heart to capture in the studio. To hear him downplay the music of Bathory in interviews used to piss me off, but as I listen to these 2 albums, I have to take his own ridicule as being humble. Perhaps he is merely emulating a popular style in his back catalog, but I for one am greatly moved by the conviction and musical depth he has created. Is this the end of the Bathory “Viking” legacy? I truly hope not, for I feel with these 2 albums, Quorthon has built upon what he did years ago and has taken it in a more powerful direction that can unlock many new avenues of metal for us to worship. Get both of these albums and be amazed. – Marty


~ by martyworm on January 3, 2009.

3 Responses to “Bathory – Nordland I / Nordland II”

  1. Good reviews, Marty. I agree 100%. You’ve captured my thoughts exactly. Most of the bad reviews I’ve read on the net I’ve found to even be more flawed than the albums they are slamming. For example (one of many): Some complain about Quorthon of treading old waters (been there, done that–he’s run out of ideas), but how many bands can we count that are still doing the same ol’ crap they’ve been doing since their inception? Tons. Such criticisms are not necessary, and are indicative that at least Bathory has given their (his) audience enough variety to even make that kind of comparison. Bathory is not black metal, thrash metal, or “viking metal”. Bathory is BATHORY, and nit-picking with this band is a fruitless enterprise. Once you think you have him pegged, he throws a curve ball at you for good or ill.

    Like many others, I think overall Hammerheart is the better, but in my opinion these two possess something that Hammerheart doesn’t; and that is real energy. They are actually fun to listen to regardless of mood.

  2. I really enjoy Hammerheart as well, but you’re right…. the Nordland albums possess an organic vibrancy that rings out. He came back into the Viking style with a real sense of awareness and excitement, and it seems the recording techniques/technologies finally gave this style a full bodied sound his past efforts lacked.

    Hammerheart is great, but the limitations of his recording facility (Heavenshore) rounded off the atmosphere a bit.

    One album to me that continually stands out as a triumph in his catalog, will always be “Blood on Ice”. Such an epic album. The atmospheres were amazing. A great storyline. Fantastic vocal melodies in spite of his vocal imperfections…. “The Lake” and “The Woodwoman” are simply amazing.

    Anyway…. Quorthon is greatly missed.


  3. just stumbled on this fantastic review of the Nordland albums. i agree with you wholeheartedly! I LOVE these albums so much man! when people ridicule these, or any of Quorthon’s work, i just brush it off. he was a true master.
    One thing in particular that you touch on is his vocals. It is the strangest thing with Bathory. In a way he really is not a good singer, but he actually is the greatest. it is so honest, and powerful. It just works perfectly, and there is NO way that anyone else could possibly take his place. Perfection. i may have to revisit Requiem and octagon. I usually go for Hammerheart onward, but i do love all of his work. I am listening to Nordland 2 as i type!
    HAIL THE HORDES brother!

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