Review by Felix on September 10, 2023.
“Hammerheart”. Oh my God. So many people seem to love and recommend it wholeheartedly, I don’t. From my point of view, the fifth full-length of Quorthon (R.I.P.) marks the beginning of the end. He never reached the form of his first albums again. And no, I don’t “see through the hype” and I don’t want to be the Mister Know-it-all. I just say that I don’t like “Hammerheart”. The list of deficiencies is long.
Already the opener “Shores in Flames” reflects the mediocrity of the entire work. An emotional, lame intro leads to an acceptable, heavy guitar line. The stoic mid-tempo approach lacks dynamic. Quorthon tries to give his voice a very meaningful undertone, but if I translate his vocals into a picture, I just see a crooked oak before my inner eye. Thank God, the guitars are able to create a profound depth and the longer the song lasts (and it lasts very long), the more they can pride themselves for an almost hypnotic effect. Another positive aspect is that the chorus shows up only one time – it is terribly weak, a small nothing that gets lost in itself. (By the way, the inhomogeneous chorus of “Baptized in Fire and Ice” also sucks.) Yes, “A Fine Day to Die” and “Blood Fire Death” (the song) gave first indications of a new direction. But despite their monumental dimensions, they were thunderous, thrilling, dynamic and subliminally brutal. “Shores in Flames” holds its head above water, but it cannot score with these attributes – and this is just the beginning.
“Valhalla” is not as cumbersome as the opener, but Quorthon’s vocals get even worse and the penetrating sterile background choirs which deliver an additional yet useless melodic touch do not make things better. Of course, they do not just their best to ruin “Valhalla”, but reappear in a terrible manner in further songs. If you want to create something like atmosphere with a minimal effort, this is your tool of choice. But don’t be surprised when you are then pilloried for your primitiveness. Of course, you can also integrate a bell (“One Rode to Asa Bay”), but if the entire song is nothing but the acoustic equivalent to a sleeping pill, this does not make much sense either.
The design of the album is okay. A classic artwork and a romantic scene on the inside of the gatefold give no reason to complain. Listing the songs in alphabetical rather than chronological order is kind of dumb, but come on, that was one of the less bad decisions in the making of this album. The sound of “Hammerheart” is, just like the song material, not totally toothless, but it also cannot deny its own averageness. Admittedly, when it comes to a track like “Song to Hall Up High”, the quality of the production does not matter anymore. A kitschy downer with religious-naive lyrics is nothing that fits into my personal frame when I think of heavy metal. To add insult to injury, the song hurts the flow of the B side (analogue times, no skip button far and wide!) which presents with “Father to Son” and “Home of Once Brave” two pieces where the skills of the formerly glorious song-writer shimmers through the pretty crisp guitar lines. These tracks have a slightly stormy touch and this feels good, because it goes without saying that I really tried to fall in love with “Hammerheart”. It was just not possible.
So my conclusion is that Quorthon’s albums after “Blood Fire Death” dwell in the shadows of his early works. I hope he proudly rides the sky standing on a quadriga pulled by four horses that symbolize his albums from the years 1984 to 1988. “Hammerheart” is obviously no bullshit in objective terms, the reviews of my well-respected colleagues speak volumes, and Quorthon’s talent did not allow him to write only stinkers without any substance. But he himself had been the one who had set the bar high with his former albums. Too high… and now I listen to “Massacre”, "Total Destruction" and "Armageddon".
Rating: 5.7 out of 10397
Review by Jack on August 8, 2001.
The calming, splashing waves of the ocean beat up against an isolated beachhead in northern Scandinavia... followed by nice acoustic interludes tangled with quiet chants and then rabid blasts into furious Viking riffs. Enter the world of “Hammerheart”.
Bathory’s second guise through out their doppelganger history has them madly swinging axes and brandishing war-hammers to majestic Viking melodies. Bathory started out playing an overly crude, but trademark wall of black metal sound. It was through their fourth album, “Blood Fire Death”, that Bathory initiated the beginnings of their trilogy of Viking masterpieces (culminating with “Twilight of the Gods”). “Hammerheart” is therefore the second working from the Viking phase, and Bathory’s finest hour in musical history. Bathory consists of Quorthon on vocals, electric and acoustic guitars and on sound effects, Vvornth doing drums and percussion stuff, whilst contributing to bass guitar duties is Kothaar.
“Hammerheart” can essentially be viewed as an album that is built around majestic Viking choirs, and simple, yet elegant guitar riffs. Based around extremely well driven lyrical concepts, some fiction, some maybe not. The closing track ‘One Rode to Asa Bay’, for instance deals with Christian invasion and occupation of the Viking lands of the North. “The God of almightyness Had arrived from a foreign land... Who had come from the other side Carry gold cross around neck in chain”. Lyrics such as these really help to convey how strong a story each of the songs tell. Incidentally, this album was said to be recorded in a garage, and for 1990 the production is pretty damn good.
“Hammerheart” contains elements that many bands today lack... soul, real soul. Bathory dug up their ideas from the heart, and focused their thoughts in creative and innovative music. Nothing will ever replicate that. ‘One Rode to Asa Bay’ is true genius, splendid, dazzling, grand, moving, exalted and any other adjective you want to throw in. From the galloping of horses to the simple tweeting of birds on the fly, to the heartfelt lyrics of the Christian invasion, to the lovely background of expertly struck guitar chords, to the cry of the church bell and epic Viking choirs. This is the song that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up (and at over ten minutes long, you know the moments won’t be fleeting to quickly).
Favoured tracks for me are zip, zilch or none. All perfect, maybe (not surprisingly) ‘One Rode to Asa Bay’ gets the slight nod ahead, probably more for it being the closer of the album, and thus sticking in your head that bit longer, plus it kicks donkey ass. I really can’t do any more to convey to you budding metal collectors out there, how much you NEED this album in your collection, it’s timeless. Please buy it. Do yourself a favor.
Bottom Line: Most should already own this classic masterpiece, the only thing lacking at all on this album is the production (and that is only slight fuzziness and distortion). Essential...the pioneers of the Viking metal ballad. ‘Nuff said.
Rating: 10 out of 10