Bathory – Hammerheart (1990) Album Review

A true legend of the underground metal. In a few words, this is how I could define Bathory, originally a band, but later it became the solo project of a prodigy, Quorthon. Quorthon proved his musical skills from a young age, at only 17 years he started Bathory with 2 additional band members. By placing two of his songs in a compilation, his songs attracted a lot of attention.

Hammerheart marked a change in his musical career. This was the first album he recorded alone. From now on, Bathory will be his solo project with him handling all the instruments, including recording, producing and vocals as well. Hammerheart marked a change in his style, changing from the typical hybrid metal black metal that he played until Blood Fire Death (1988) and pioneering a genre that later will be called as viking metal.

Quorthon and his band Bathory are claimed to be the true creators of this genre. However, while listening through all of his albums, you can also feel black metal elements in it. The thing is, he changed his playing style. Instead of continuing with the typical fast tempo guitar riffs and blast drum beats, he choose a more atmospheric path, reducing the rawness that was featured in his more earlier works. He even gave up doing shrieked voice, which later will define all the black metal bands.

Hammerheart has a more slower rhythm, you can feel the atmosphere so to say. Quorthon’s voice is purely awesome. Through this album, you can feel that he does not have the true qualities that the vocals nowadays have, at least on studio albums, but I think, this is what makes his voice rather fantastic. You can say that he has character through his voice, which is pretty much imperfect.

Another change is that you can also hear choirs in the background of his songs. His songs also feature new themes. Mythological themes, historical themes mostly related to the vikings, nature themes as well but also the anti-christian theme was not abandoned either. The only thing that he abandoned was the occult and the satanic themes featured on his early albums.

By far, the best song of this album is actually kept as the last track. One Rode to Asa Bay describes a historical moment when christian missionaries walked on the Norse lands to convert the native villagers to their own religion and for starters they requested the building of a church in a land called Asa Bay. This song is more or less, like a story, depicting the reaction the native villagers had and also the way the Christians reacted once the native villagers refused to build the church for them.

This song is truly the work of a genius. Religious people might find it a blasphemy, but for me, knowing how cruel and how barbaric religion has been with people that had other beliefs, its the truth in its pure state. The ending of the song with the lyrics “Still he heard from somewhere in the woods / Old crow of wisdom say / …people of Asa Bay, it’s only just begun…“. The song was dedicated to a writer named Dean Andersson a person that has been writing books about the viking culture and also the moment when they faced the christian conversion.

The album actually begins with the song Shores in Flame featuring acoustic guitars. The 2nd track Valhalla is a lot more heavier than the previous one featuring fast tempo guitar riffs and amazing guitar solos. Baptised in Fire and Ice is in my opinion the poorest song from this album, it feels a little repetitive at times. It is followed up by Father to Son which is a lot more atmospheric than the other songs which makes it one of the best songs from this album. Song to Hall up High serves as a well deserved pause before the last 3 tracks, featuring melodic elements, it is like an elegy consisting of a resolution made by a viking warrior, expressing his emotions (actually 2 tracks, in the 2003 reissue). Home of Once Brave is another track which competes for the best track from this album, featuring atmospheric guitar riffs and impressive vocals from Quorthon.

One Rode to Asa Bay already mentioned above is the last track of this album. Though the voice might disturb a little bit since it does not quite fit the rhythm, the guitar solos, which are few so to say, and the instrumentals are absolutely amazing. Outro servers as an end for this epic album, being the shortest song.

In conclusion, Bathory’s 1990 release is one of the most noticeable and one of the most important works which defined a genre and inspired many other bands. However, in my opinion, true viking metal died together with Quorthon and Bathory but his music will last forever as a point of reference in the metal scene and also for the fans.

Overall Impression: 95/100