Bathory released their self-titled debut album in October of 1984. As far as the first wave of Black Metal is concerned, Bathory were a bit late in the game. Slayer’s Show No Mercy, Sodom’s In the Sign of Evil and Hellhammer’s Satanic Rites all came before Bathory. Nevertheless, the 3 albums released by Bathory in mid 80s were likely the most influential in Black Metal. Getting progressively faster and more extreme, Bathory, The Return… and Under The Sign of the Black Mark created a crucial liaison between the essential first wave bands such as Venom and Helhammer and the second wave pioneers: Mayhem and Darkthrone. There were others, of course, but the legacy that Bathory left cannot be underestimated by any Black Metal fan or artist.
Named after the noble Hungarian serial killer, Bathory is a brain child of Quorthon, the band’s front man. On their debut album, Bathory combined influences from Motorhead, Venom, Hellhammer and Slayer, but also added their own elements. Quorthon’s high-pitched, screechy vocals, for example, were quite unusual at the time of the release. The production is also quite odd: there is an unconventionally large bass presence and the drums were recorded with an absolutely terrible sound. Luckily, the guitars are the highest in the mix and are allowed to shine through the otherwise grimy production. In some sense, this odd sound complements the music and it doesn’t take long for the ears to adjust and enjoy the tunes.
The album begins with Storm of Damnation intro track where the whistling winds and the ringing bell are supposed to serve as a build up and create an eerie atmosphere, but, at over 3 minutes long, it certainly overstays its welcome.
Hades begins with a great riff that keeps repeating through most of the song. Normally this would get boring quickly, but I dare say it’s hard to get enough of this particular series of guitar notes. The music is played at a very fast tempo, likely on par with any other band in the scene at the time.
Forgotten damned domains
where curse and hate collide
Where the cold and darkness meet
and the truth have turned to lie
Reaper is another high-speed aural assault, also centered around a brilliant riff. The band takes a quick breather with a slower track, Necromansy. Next up is Sacrifice, one of 2 songs that got the band a record deal in the first place. Played at a fast pace, this track also features a great solo, of which there aren’t many on this album – a noteworthy similarity with Venom’s Welcome to Hell.
Tie the angel to the altar
Sacrifice to Lord of hell
Let the warm blood torrent, baby
While the moonlight sets the night on spell
In Conspiracy With Satan takes things up a notch in terms of speed and the lyrics. The pace here is comparable with Slayer’s Hell Awaits, to be released a year later. The haunting, twisted guitars make it fell like you are actually about to make a pact with the devil.
I have turned my back on Christ
to hell I have sacrificed
I have made love to the Pagan Queen
the gates of hell I have seen
Armageddon continues in the same vein as the previous tracks. The album is very even from the point of view of the quality of material: it’s very difficult to spot high and low points. Raise the Dead is a great mid-paced track, which creates a nice cushion before the final piece, War. A brief Outro wraps up the album.
The record is only about 27 minutes long, with just a few of the tracks going over the 3-minute mark. Typically in Metal genre, this would not leave enough time to fully develop the musical ideas, but Bathory managed to do it. None of the tracks feel unfinished in any way. Barring the obnoxiously long intro, this album is perfect. This is one of the most essential Metal albums of all time.