“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).
Throughout 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.