Review by Chris Pratl on January 13, 2020.
What does one say about Bathory? To most underground metal fans of the 80's the one-man show from Sweden was the absolute king of black metal, designing and forging the ground for all who followed after. To others? Well, Quorthon was one of the masters of the medium, so anyone who can't or won't recognize this isn't worth including here. After all, it's opinion if the man's music was any good; the fact that he laid all of the groundwork for the early 90's rise of the so-called second wave of black metal is fact, so it's indisputable.
Some 35-years after this debut first slithered into the metal underground, Bathory has solidified its place in the annals of black metal history. Its coveted time in the grand halls of metal luminaries is not only well-deserved but necessary in the formation of at least two other genres. Black metal, from any era, country and sub-genre, owes a tremendous debt to Quorthon, without question. I understand well that Venom coined the phrase, had the album of the same name, yadda yadda. Venom's sound was rooted in NWOBHM and thrash – debate it if you like – and while the style and subject matter was firmly established, the sound was certainly cultivated by Bathory to the nth degree. No one screamed wails of perfect tortured anguish before Quorthon; no one else took barely-tuned guitars and managed to create a whole new area of heavy metal music that would stump, shock, and delight kids the globe over; no one in 1983 knew that metal history would forever be changed without benefit of expensive production, proper instruments, big label pushes or anything even close to positive reviews.
The underground would be the eternal judge and jury for these little pieces of art.
I first heard Bathory early in 1985, my 13th year, by way of my wonderfully-departed neighbor, whose dubbed and store-bought tapes made my pre-teen mouth water. My education from Scott Preston will always be immeasurable to me, and this album was no different. What I managed to take in was some of the worst-sounding production I'd ever had the pleasure to hear. I had no idea something so badly muddled could leave such a resonating statement echoed ruefully among the ruins of the metal contingent over the last five decades. The cover alone, the coveted yellow (or white) goat's head surrounded by a sea of pitch black that long associates itself with heavy metal. What managed to come sputtering out of my headphones in such harsh and high-pitched messy tones were songs that would not only help define my slight, innocuous role in heavy metal's grand pantheon, but set me on a path from which I was never to again stray. Between this album and Venom's "Black Metal" I was home.
Bathory comes on like a runaway train, overused analogy forgiven, tumultuous and painstakingly raw with its pre-Pelle Ohlin “corpse sound” in full effect from the first distorted chords of “Hades”. Satanic imagery and romanticism aside, the screeching vocals, tinny guitars, non-existent bass, and haphazard drumming cast a dismal shadow over the underground music scene. By mid-1985, people were either impressed with Bathory or wondering aloud what the guy was medicated with; like it or not, Bathory was here. This record is rife with hooks and thin riffs that would later emerge on many a black metal catalog. Every song on this debut is absolute essential “first-wave black metal”, riding close the coattails of such masters of bleak and black imagery like Black Sabbath, Coven, Black Widow and the less dismal Motorhead. Possibly by accidental design, Bathory is a resignation to the whims of a colossal madman ripe in years, but old in vision. Songs like “Necromansy”, “Sacrifice”, “In Conspiracy with Satan”, and “Raise the Dead” cast considerable shadows on the peers of that time; no one was simply daring (or poor) enough to attempt this to such a memorable degree (while I, too, love Hellhammer the overall talent was to emerge later under the seminal Celtic Frost moniker). This is a record filled with horror movie visuals, biblical warnings, sexually-sadistic fantasies, and enough Halloween caricature to satisfy any ardent metalhead. What Quorthon managed to do, either by aforementioned accident or impetuous youthful design, was to set the bar so high with such low material that thousands of imitators have slapped on cheap dime store make up to mimic the “black metal mode” in either accidental or deliberate servitude to him. Either way, this album, the finite areas of early black metal, was to stand and serve as a constant reminder that music is always a sincere rush of blood and passion, not always a technically sound foray into instrumental bliss.
It should also be noted that there two distinctively different versions of this recording going around. The coveted “yellow goat” version issued in 1000 copies is somewhat superior in sound, allowing for sharper tones and clearer sound all around. Once Black Mark decided to “remaster” it, the charm was lost, and the sound thickened to where it just doesn't sound organic anymore. Every copy of this post-yellow goat suffers the remastering fate, so unless you can plunk down the $1000-$2000 price tags on the vinyl or about $80 to $100 for the Combat cassette the flawed, albeit inoffensive remaster will have to suffice.
Bathory music is NOT for everybody, and, to be quite frank, it really shouldn't be. It's not designed for everybody – you shouldn't just waltz into this genre with patches you order from social media halfwits or shirts you can buy at the local hipster hangout in the mall. This is music for the truly fringe fan base: searchers, hopefuls, introspective and impressionable people in a time frame where impressionism was still a trait, not a symptom. Bathory's Bathory was a time, a place and feeling long before people with too much free time on their idle hands decided social media memes and cute cut-and-paste jokes were how this music should be seen and heard. When you hear this record for the first time, or even the thousandth time, you should always catch the feeling of it: dark, foreboding, evil, even comical fare with such tongue-in-cheek lyrics to be had deep in the songs. All of that should be Bathory.
And it forever is. Lighting in a bottle.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10235