Bathory Hammerheart 01“Spirituality” is a word that causes many people to assume the focus of the coming conversation will be one of a religious context. But I find the word to be broader than that (so does Webster’s Dictionary). “Spirituality” in reference to only religion is like implying that to be human requires one to be a theist in an almighty deity. To me, “spirituality” is an impression that interrupts my everyday life and causes me to emit a sense of nirvana that no one can touch or aggravate. Music – more than anything – is a medium capable of implanting spirituality in my soul. However, it takes more than an Album or Song ‘o the Year to achieve this emotion. In actuality, most of the time it’s not so much an album alone that purveys this sense of spirituality, but rather a combination of being in the right place, at the right time, and at the right state-of-mind to allow this sensation to take hold. One of those moments for me was my first experience with Bathory‘s Hammerheart.

I began listening to Bathory fifteen years ago. Starting from the beginning with the “Black Metal Trilogy” (Bathory, The Return…, and Under the Sign of the Black Mark), I quickly ventured off into early ’90s Norwegian black metal. Sadly, it took me a few years to finally return to the rest of Bathory‘s catalog. I still remember treading through a snow storm one cold evening heading to my favorite record store (I know it sounds dramatic but this really happened). In the warm interior I was astounded to find original copies of Bathory‘s Blood Fire Death and Twilight of the Gods buried deep in the used bin. Of course, I purchased them immediately and headed back through a perfect blizzard to the captivating quest that began with Oden’s ride across the sky and finished with a final stand against oppression alongside the warrior’s triad of blood, fire, and death. Unfortunately, much like watching the first and last installments of a trilogy, Bathory‘s “Viking Trilogy” lacked a midsection and the gap between the epic “Blood Fire Death” and “Twilight of the Gods.” The itch to complete the story was so strong that I felt both teased and mocked by the fact that Twilight of the Gods closed with the song “Hammerheart.”

When Hammerheart finally arrived in the mail later that week, I was not disappointed. Be it the opening acoustic passages and battle-horn emulated vocals summoning Viking warriors to “Shores in Flames” or the equally epic journey of “One Rode to Asa Bay,” Hammerheart is a quest like none other. Expanding his vocals from clean to cleaner and stretching his definition of “epicness,” Hammerheart stands as one of Quorthon’s greatest achievements (and perhaps the reason he considered ending the band upon its conclusion).

Bathory Hammerheart 02Throughout his career, Quorthon constantly evolved and improved his musicianship, songwriting, and vocals. Though some inconsistencies existed in his vocal performances, I find it difficult to imagine anyone else singing these songs. What Quorthon lacked in vocal range, he made up for in passion. Without the desperation and character he conveys in songs like the overly addictive “Valhalla,” the beautifully crafted “Song to Hall Up High,” and the anthemic personality of “Home of Once Brave,” it is uncertain if this album would have stood the test of time.

Both Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart created Viking metal in its purest form; passionate, binding, powerful, and unforgiving. Numbers like “Baptised in Blood” are addictive enough to provoke a baby to bark out its mighty warrior chant and “Father to Son” stops the needle in its tracks so all listening can pick up the phone and call their pops. Hammerheart pulls from every influence Quorthon ever had and his fervor comes through to a degree most musicians would kill to express. Love him or hate him, Quorthon poured his soul into every release (even Octagon) and left us with aural otherworldliness.

Quorthon composed music for himself; never filling his pockets or allowing it to be corrupted by the masses or records labels. Bathory still burrows to the core and represents the top rung I measure all bands against when it comes to passion and spontaneity. For me, this is spirituality. And, after finishing my first year as a writer for Angry Metal Guy, I am honored to get a chance to shamelessly fanboy the hell out of a great musician and a great album for the the greatest metal blog on the interwebezphere.

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  • Ralph Plug

    Great article. Brings back memories as well. I got into Bathory through Blood On Ice, after I heard The Sword on a metal programme on Dutch radio, in days way before we had internet at home.

    Hammerheart was the second Bathory album I bought. In Berlin, on a school trip, on a rainy Autumn day in a small, alternative music store. Brilliant album, brilliant artist. Might give this one a spin tonight.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Nice! Works well in rain as much as it does in snow.

      • Ralph Plug

        Works just about as well as waking up just before the crack of dawn, taking a stroll to a Greek beach and seeing the sun come up whilst sitting on the rocks and playing Twilight of the Gods. Pure magic. Like Hammerheart and blizzards.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          Oh man, they would work well!

        • Celaeno

          is this a thing? have you done this?!? #jealous

          • Ralph Plug

            This is definitely a thing which I’ve done, and it was glorious. Should work on other beaches than Greek ones as well.

      • [not a Dr] Gonzalo Salazar

        I get the rain part, put how am I supposed to mow my lawn in the snow?

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          You make a good point… If you were a doctor, I bet you could figure it out.

          • Hulksteraus

            You’d need to be a doctor of meteorology or physics or something…

  • De2013

    Thank you good Doctor! I’ve enjoyed reading your reviews and got to know great new music through it.

    Bathory’s “One Rode to Asa Bay” is one of metal’s milestones, it’s epic and one of the first metal tunes I totally digged when I was in my early teens. I recorded it from a Dutch radio show called Vara’s Vuurwerk on those good old Basf 60 minute tapes, which gained more and more static along the way during endless playbacks.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Thanks for the kind words!

      And those are some good memories there!

  • This is the first album where I really noticed the production and wished it was a lot better.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      That’s how it was for me and Blood Fire Death. There is so much going on that the old, raw sound of his previous albums didn’t work as well.

      • Daniel

        The albums are not actually that poorly recorded, mixed, and mastered. There was major tape decay when they made the first CD versions in the early 90s that they tried to hide with reverb and “remastering.” Go track down some original LPs or more affordably, download FLAC rips of the original Black Mark or Under One Flag LP pressings from certain websites.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          They really aren’t bad. Especially for a 8-track recorder that only had three-four reliable tracks (for BFD anyway). It isn’t a deal breaker for me at all (obviously) but with the Viking style he was doing, it would have been interesting if he had a cleaner end-product.

          • Daniel

            The recording quality is noticeably worse on Hammerheart than any of the post debut albums. My theory is that they were reusing tapes.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            You’re probably right.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    It has been a good year Mr. Grier. A very good year indeed.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Doctor! Dammit! But indeed it has been.

  • Feytalist

    Ah yes, Hammerheart. One of my top favourite albums ever (and as a Viking fanboy, how else can it be?).

    So this is a bit of a raw album, and Quorthon’s vocals were never great – let’s face it, he couldn’t actually sing all that well – but it doesn’t matter even in the slightest. This album, above all others, has the ability to transport one to another place, another time, and I think that’s exactly where Quorthon intended the listener to be.

    I’d say thanks for the trip down memory lane, but I listened to it just two days ago, and am doing so now again :D

    So in lieu of that; thanks for the retrospective!

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Glad you enjoyed it and glad you listen to it as much as me :)

    • DIMENSIONAL BLEEDTHROUGH

      I actually love the hoarse, untrained, blown out vocals. They really convey a lot of passion at the expense of prettiness – more modern “clean vocal” bands could benefit from this approach. He’s the John Fogerty of Viking metal!

      • Feytalist

        He certainly made it work for him.

        It’s damn expressive anyway.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Well said. I really like what he does. Passionate and cathartic vocals.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    I am completely with you on the spirituality thing (Even though my “medium” is usually Funeral Doom). But, this album for me is what got me into Bathory. And also, the album art was why I kept calling them “Bathord” for 3 months (Before you judge, I was 15 years old).
    Thank you Doc for bringing back the memories!

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Glad you enjoyed it. Now put down the funeral doom and listen to more Bathord!

      • Doomdeathrosh

        Hey I’m on it. (And for the record: Life’s good!)

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          Excellent!

  • Monsterth Goatom

    OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve heard of Bathory, but never listened to them. This is my first time hearing Hammerheart, and I love it. Thanks, doctor. This is is the Viking metal I’ve been looking for.

    I’ve also recently discovered AMG’s and Steel Druhm’s epic posts on “Best Heavy Metal Songs of All Time”, which I wasn’t aware of before. Lots of great stuff for me to discover.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Nice! It’s like Christmas for you! Check out Blood Fire Death and Twilight of the Gods too.

    • Martin Knap

      Have you been introduced to Cales by your Czech wife? They are sometimes called “Bathory worship”, which is a little unfair, but he definitely carries on the spirit. They also made a tribute album to Bathory.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Hold on, I’ll go ask her; she’s still sleeping. “Miláčku, Miláčku! Who’s Cales?!”
        Seriously, no. She’s not into Metal. If she likes anything Czech it’s the Folk and Folk-Rock stuff from the 80s and 90s. I’ll check them out. Thanks.

        • Martin Knap

          His music is all over the place, he made a straight rock album, some of the stuff is kind of proggy doom, some more straight folk metal; besides Cales he has a black metal project (he has a split with Master’s Hammer, in case you are familiar); he was the main songwriter for the legendary band Root… people who are not into metal might like proggy stuff, but I’m not sure anymore, the other day i recommended Ghost to my sister and she said it was too metal :-) There is a track called Moravian Highlands by him, check that out, that’s really a nice and soothing peace.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            How did I know you’d bring up Cales and Root again…?? ;)

          • Martin Knap

            Bathory + Czech wives = Cales :-)

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Well, I’ll be…

  • DIMENSIONAL BLEEDTHROUGH

    I think I prefer Twilight of the Gods just a little bit over this one, but all three from this era are unassailable classics. Think I might put this on while mowing the lawn today.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I did that this last weekend! I actually think it took me longer to do the lawn…

  • JL

    Didn’t you write this and post it a few months ago or am I imagining things?

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Ummmm… Are you referring to my other YMIO? That was on Iced Earth and King Diamond.

  • Kreegwaldo

    I’ve also never listened to an actual Bathory song like this before, I’ve only ever heard covers ( all of which I’ve liked ) and just assumed they were great too.

    I’m probably going to lose what little cred I may have had and say that while I can appreciate Bathory for the influence and like the music, the vocals on this song in particular are unbearable. I just tried to listen to it again and whatever he is doing, I hesitate to even call it singing, is frankly embarrassing to listen to.

    It’s ironic really, like most non-metalheads say “I like the music, but I hate the vocals”, and it’s the same case for me here. The vocals 100% ruin this. I think this must be a “rose-tinted goggles” or an era thing for people who had this as one of their first exposures to metal, because I just can’t get past the vocals. Of course a lot of people ( metalhead or otherwise ) would say that about Fall of the Leafe/Man eating tree’s Tuomas Tuominen, which I like for some reason so I guess who am I to judge?

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I understand your issues with his vocals. I too (years ago) had issues with them but the music itself if so strong that I got over it and then his voice just seemed natural and “charming” (if that makes sense). I know there are people out there that agree with you and dislike Bathory but I am too much of a fanboy :)

      • RU63

        Makes sense to me, I had the same experience too. Voice fits, love this album.

      • Feytalist

        As I mentioned elsewhere, he definitely made his voice work for the music. In fact, I’m halfway convinced he created this chanty music expressly to fit those hoarse, off-key shouts of his.

        And I’d certainly not have it any other way.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          I absolutely agree. I wouldn’t have it any other way either.

    • Daniel

      Raving Satanic maniac Quorthon voice > Quorthon trying to sing.

    • Wilhelm

      His vocals aren’t very good in some spots. I always thought that Quorthon kind of chanted rather than he actually sang. It’s not perfect but somehow that made it all the better, for me at least.

  • Daniel

    The Manowar influence is strong on Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart.

  • sir_c

    Even though I have known this band for years, I have never actually listened to it. I checked a couple of linked videos from the embedded track.
    Must say that I also liked the track Twilight Of The Gods.

    I think I’ll get me some Bathory for self study purposes. And some Highland Park.

  • Wilhelm

    One can argue what the first death, thrash, doom, black, and power metal albums were but I think everyone agrees that Hammerheart was the very beginning of the Viking/Pagan metal genre (Manowar doesn’t count!). Imagine hearing this back in 1990? nobody but maybe Candlemass, performed emotive songs such as these while still being metal. A Brilliant release in every aspect.

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    Brilliant write-up, Doc. This is probably third or so behind BFD and UtSotBM, but that hardly matters when the music is so good. Also, the “quest” to get records is something I still cherish, it makes for good stories. A lot more fun than saying “found it on a distro, paid with my Visa”.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Thank you kind sir. I do miss those days. I’m back in the exact same town I got this album but the record store is long gone… *rolls up in ball and cries*

  • IndignantN00b

    Quorthon is the only one of the Lords of Metal who stands like a monolith at the beginning of not one but TWO distinct metal subgenres (black and folk/pagan/viking) and as such his visage is carved into Metal Mount Rushmore alongside Iommi, Halford, and the rest of Thee Most Mighty. “Hammerheart” is his greatest achievement and one of the best, most powerful, and most beautiful metal albums of all times. It stirs the blood–it converts all its potential flaws into strengths–it radiates majesty–it single-handedly redeems Manowar’s legacy (yeah I wrote that and I stand by it). It’s the decisive turning point in black metal’s history, for which Quorthon’s career arc–from nihilistic blasphemy to deeply felt mytho-spiritual yearning–provides such a definitive blueprint that the entire 2nd-wave could do little better than essentially recapitulate it (see Enslaved, etc). I’ve never posted here before and might not ever again but I had to toss some praise at the altar of this album’s glory. It changed how I listen to and understand metal and still burns today with a flame imperishable. A completely out-of-time masterpiece.

    • Based on this comment, you better keep commenting!

      • Feytalist

        Word.

      • IndignantN00b

        Thanks man! Love the site, and YMIO is my favorite feature.

        Should have said it above but, great article!

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Yeah listen to this guy, We want more YMIO When do we want it? A little bit more than semi regularly!!

    • Martin Knap

      of course hero worship in american metal had to degenerate in superhero worship alá Marvel comics, and in Europe it would become linked to romantic (Völkisch, Gemeinschaflich) nationalism, because the Americans didn’t reject the idea of metaphysics for the idea of Being. That’s a very pretentious way to say it, I know.

      • IndignantN00b

        Ha- I think I get you– but maybe not? Most of those “continental” dudes make my head hurt…

        • Martin Knap

          These are old ideas: ontology of absence vz metaphysics of presence. Heracleitos vz Parmenides.

          The classic formulation of the ontology of absence, in the words of Plotinus:
          “Because there is nothing in the One, all things derive from it; (for) in order for being to be, the One cannot be being, but the breeder of being.”

          But I’m not sure it the current right-wingers/neo-nazis are Heideggerians, maybe in a way…(?) :-)

          • Daughter of Achelous

            Can you translate into normie speak.

          • Martin Knap

            haha, ok: some ancient Greek philosophers thought the basis of the universe were some static forms, some thought it was all a dynamic process; thanks to the presuppositions of the former ones we have modern science (mathematical modeling of nature), but the latter were in fact right.
            And some people today think that this has some implications for how we should understand the world around us. Maybe they mean that nothing has a real “basis”, like mathematics can not be grounded, it can never become a complete self contained system, and the same goes for meaning. Or maybe they mean that we shouldn’t impose our concepts too much on reality, because they are static and thus can not have a basis in reality. So that’s what seems to be at stake.

          • Keep it up and we’ll make you review nu metal to bring you back to Earth.

          • Martin Knap

            lolz, ok I shut up.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Well said!!
      You just perfectly articulated a whole bunch of swirling thoughts i was grappling with!

      • IndignantN00b

        Thanks man– cheers!

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Good comment. Except for the Manowar jab. No need to diminish Manowar´s legay in order to make Quorthon’s appear greater. Both of them are towering monoliths of Metal

  • Celaeno

    Agreed on spirituality. Music is the thing that completes my soul. Yeah, yeah, corny, whatever. It’s the truth. *shrug* And the right time, right place, right state of mind thing in connection with a song or an album is dead on. Those experiences leave such a deep tear in my heart that anytime I hear those songs, I am immediately supplanted by the me that existed then. Thanks for the ardent piece. Now I know what I’ll be listening to all day tomorrow. It’s nice when the AMG staff decides these things for me.

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    Oh weird… My bad. I swore I put the “Ice” part in there… Oops!!!

    I find it to be the weakest chorus but the song is great and the melodic stuff toward the end makes up for the chorus.

    Also, this is a good cover.

    • BenMech

      but not the BEST Bathory cover by the guy playing the cover. Emperor’s version of A Fine Day To Die is remarkably on the mark

  • Innit Bartender

    I respect the hell out of Bathory and Quorthon, although I could never get into them. That said, I’d love to read the good doctor or anyone of the AMG staff express his thoughts about Octagon, in that recurring feature that has somehow been missing for a while in which you tackle “difficult” albums.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      That would be an interesting article… I personally don’t “hate” Octagon but it is not good compared to his other material.

      • Innit Bartender

        More than anything about Octagon, I appreciate the fact that Q tried to write about “real life” (in his own way), a more “social”, contemporary approach to metal instead of writing about Satan or warriors. It was something the genre needed desperately in those times, IMHO, until Nirvana blah blah blah…

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        It’s 20 years since Octagon… How about a 90’s metal weirdness piece?

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          You have to say “please” first.

          • Carlos Marrickvillian

            With cherries on top!
            Great read BTW, thanks!

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Glad you enjoyed it. And I’ll see what I can do….

  • Luke_22

    Great write-up Doc. Bathory are one of those classic bands that I’ve never really listened to in any great detail, but this has inspired me to get schooled quick smart.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Thanks muchly. Let the schooling begin!

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I totally agree with the sentiments expressed by IndignantN00b below.
    For me there are a handful of Artist’s that encapsulate what metal is (for me). Harris/Dickinson, Voivod, Halford, Cliff Burton, Iommi/Dio/Ozzy, Lombardo, Schuldiner and Quorthon.
    I totally disagree with criticism of Quorthon’s vocals. He had a unique voice and approach, which of course won’t be everyones cup of tea which is fair enough … but, what he did have was a passion and singular vision which fortunately, was combined with talent and personality. A perfect storm which made him such a compelling artist.
    I would have said Octagon was his only misstep but just below Innit Bartender is arguing its significance 20 years after its release!!! … RIP Quorthon

  • miradautasvras

    Not to mention, the most hair raising moment in the history of metal. People of Asa land….it’s only…just…BEEEEEEEGUUNNNN!! They must play this before declaring me gone; if the head doesn’t bang, I am with Quorthon

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Nice!