Nordland I

I personally had no idea Bathory were doing a new album, let alone a two part double release (Part II is to be released early in 2003). When I initially got this album in the mail and tore into it with glee, I was full of youthful memories so you’ll have to excuse my initial quivering excitement and praise.

Fed as much by the excitement of a long awaited album from the forefathers of my favorite metal sub genre more than anything else, my initial excitement was is indeed warranted. However, after that first wave wears of, you are actually fully aware despite this being a solid Bathory album, it’s not really that great other that than sole fact. Yes, it is a return to Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, era stylings, and does redeem Quorthon somewhat of his last few wretched offerings, but as a pure stand alone album, ignoring who created it and what it stands for, Nordland I is mildly disappointing.

That’s not to say people like myself (that is Viking metal heads), and nostalgic metal purists will enjoy this album. One thing still remains and rears it ugly head; Quorthon cannot fucking sing, and never will. Only when backed by epic choirs and vast instrumentation can his icy croon be tolerated; however, though it didn’t bother fans with Hammerheart, so it won’t here – he is one of those rare artists where you just accept it and enjoy the atmosphere. And that the single thing that this album does accomplish wholeheartedly.

 As with Hammerheart, the album just is overflowing with heroic Nordic imagery and legendary pounding structures laced with Viking bravado. That being said, while I enjoyed the plodding anthemic pace, it does get old after over an hour of similarly paced music. There is some respite with a few moments of speed, but overall Nordland I is all the same chugging through and through. I’m not gonna lie though, when the opening choir belts out the album’s namesake and the riffing kicks in to start the title track, my eyes did well up slightly. But that riff goes, on and on, and on- for nine minutes.

Things really slow down for the ultra lethargic “Vinterblot”, that does see Quorthon using a slightly more listenable whispered rasp over the preferable cringe-inducing “singing,” and it does feature an earthshaking bottom end riff that, while not Viking, is still a rumbling storm of low end power. Things take an awkward turn during “Dragon’s Breath”, which seems to merge the Viking sensibilities with Quorthon’s more rock-based outputs of a few years back. Despite the choirs and lyrical content, the song has awkward riffing, and Quorthon really struggles mightily with the required high notes. Not a worthy Bathory song, so logically it’s followed up by the fitting acoustic Nordic ballad “Ring of Gold”; this album’s equivalent to “Song to Hall Up High”.

Next up is my favorite track from the album “Foreverdark Woods.” It carries with it the torch of the Hammerheart legacy, complete with layer upon layer of “ohhhhhh” vocals, that personally I love. Plus, they do a nice job of covering up Quorthon a little. It’s by no coincidence that this track also happens to be one of the more varied in Bathory’s discography, with more than one actual riff contained in the song.

Then an aquatic intro leads you deftly into one of Bathory’s fastest tracks in years, but also comes across like lost Manowar song from the Triumph of Steel sessions. This song also highlights the album’s strange production (from longtime co-producer Boss) that gives it major weight in the bass and drums, but leave the guitars stranded in buzz land; they sound demo quality. So, the galloping runaway train riff of “Broken Sword” becomes lost in a wall of bottom end distortion. Quorthon’s mainstream meddling surfaces again in “Great Hall Awaits a Fallen Brother,” which ultimately wastes eight minutes of solid choir work.

Luckily, Nordland I ends with a better song, with the slightly Native American feeling “Mother Earth, Father Thunder.” Ultimately, those expecting the genre defining antics of Hammerheart will be disappointed as this feels more like Blood on Ice. Even though I did enjoy Nordland I, it was more for its classic feel and after the nostalgic glow fades, you can’t help feel that metal might have passed ol’ Quorthon by. Kinda like when Ditka returned to coaching, he and Quorthon appear to have rested on the laurels of their past accomplishments to carry them through. I hope Nordland II has a little more to offer

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
November 30th, 2002


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