“Nordland I” was a return to the earlier Viking metal style of Swedish black metal act BATHORY in November 2002. BATHORY made sure that the saga continued with a great deal of grandiosity, as a logical follow-up to “Hammerheart,” “Twilight Of The Gods,” and the unforgettable “Blood on Ice,” especially for fans who enjoy Norse mythology. Now that the iconic record is celebrating its 20th anniversary today, we decided to look back on it once more.
“Nordland I” begins with a grandiose “Prelude”; an epic introduction featuring a fully synthesized orchestra and choral parts by Quorthon himself. The track doesn’t sound cheesy or forced, it all sounds very natural and organic. It truly creates a certain atmosphere, which Quorthon had always stated to be one of BATHORY’S main goals. The title track progresses into “Nordland,” so smoothly almost as if it is an extension of the introduction, roaring with all its Viking might.
The lyrics are trademark BATHORY style, with Viking battles, beautiful nature, and pagan pride, among other subjects, all included. Though they are – in some ways – the same old story as on other albums, yet they don’t seem boring or redundant, which is rather reassuring considering the questionable musicality of the record. The dirty guitars and annoying synthesizers continue throughout the album, making it more difficult to listen to. However, there is another issue: most of the songs sound the same, have the same structure, and have the same arrangements. Take, for instance, the title track, “Dragons Breath,” and “Mother Earth Father Thunder,” which share the same monk chants following the guitar melodies. The fuzziness oftentimes gives the guitars a crushing element – “Dragon Breath” has neo-PANTERA riffage in it, making it a head-banging classic, nestled in between these alternations of stunning soaring vocals and black metal with “Winterblot.” Despite the similarities, there is still plenty of uniqueness concerning riffs and fantastic guitar solos, yet, the rhythm guitar wall is so filthy and thick that it gets lost in the mix.
“Ring of Gold” is a pleasant surprise, a nice melodic ballad that serves as sort of an interlude in the middle of the album, with no synthesizers or electric guitars to be heard. Perhaps this makes “Ring of Gold” the album’s strongest track, as it’s the one that best shows the record’s flaws, precisely due to the lack of synths and electric guitars. There is a magical, mystical quality to the song that further makes it accessible to those would would find the extreme nature of BATHORY to be too much. Though certain tracks stand out from the rest of the album, such as the excellent rush of “Broken Sword,” which is reminiscent of BATHORY’s earlier black metal works, they are still marred by the poor production that plagues the rest of the album. The acoustic and clean passages in songs like “Foreverdark Woods” are some of the album’s strongest points, providing a respite from the album’s stark redundancy and annoyance. The album closes with “Heimfard” with the sound of seagulls on a quiet beach, washing away all thoughts and feelings.
Even though the album’s production is not as polished as it should be, still, it’s quite decent. After years of breaking new boundaries and exploring new fronts, BATHORY continued to do something they stopped doing in the ’90s. It may feel repetitive, but it contains good songwriting and storytelling. Although the record only shines in a few places, but when it does, it does so very powerfully and elevates this album from being dull to something fans love and expect from BATHORY.
Quorthon’s musicianship is excellent as per usual, especially considering that he plays all of the instruments on the album. His programmed drums are occasionally quite poor though and are sometimes too dense or simplistic. However, this is much more noticeable in some songs than others and usually doesn’t become much of a problem. While Quorthon‘s vocal performance is not the best ever, it adds a certain uniqueness to the record. His vocal range is obviously very limited, but in a way, his rough style of singing sounds honest and suits the atmosphere of the music, much like that of BLACK SABBATH’S Ozzy Osbourne. His lyrics fit the music’s themes perfectly, with songs containing vivid imagery of Viking battles and myths.
“Nordland I” contains everything you would expect from a BATHORY Viking-metal release: epic riffs, choirs, and a powerful, believable, and gripping atmosphere. From the start, it is clear that BATHORY is back with grand synthesizer melodies backed by chants and rolling drums. Following that, the music jumps right into a fantastic huge crushing riff, which “Nordland I” is full of and the saga naturally continues with “Nordland II.”
Written by Peter Jerman
- Dragons Breath
- Ring of Gold
- Foreverdark Woods
- Broken Sword
- Great Hall Awaits a Fallen Brother
- Mother Earth Father Thunder
Quorthon – all instruments
Black Mark Production