I’ve reviewed several albums by Sweden’s Ereb Altor, all approvingly. They even captured my Song o’ the Year for 2015 with the mighty “Midsommarblot.” Whenever I discuss their style, I’m forced to compare them to Viking-era Bathory because that’s clearly their chief influence and they do nothing to hide it. With that in mind, I wasn’t surprised to hear they were doing an entire album of Bathory covers to honor the late, great Quorthon. Blot Ilt Taut is a loving recreation of some of the most iconic works of Bathory‘s storied and extremely influential career and no band is better situated to do the job. The album features seven cuts spanning the various eras of the ever-evolving Bathory style and as you might expect, they do all the renditions with great love and care. But do we need an entire album of Quorthon covers at this point in time? That’s a question without a definitive answer.
Ereb Altor covering gems from Bathory‘s “Viking period” seems like a no-brainer as 96% of their sound comes from that exact musical wellspring, and things kick off in fine form with “A Fine Day to Die” off Blood Fire Death. They stay shockingly faithful to the original with the one stark difference being the vastly superior production. As good as much of the classic Bathory albums were, they uniformly sounded like utter ass dust and I can’t tell you how many times I listened to platters like Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods and wished they sounded better. It’s here this album serves its highest purpose by giving old fans a chance to hear the classics in a much more flattering light. You can almost close your eyes and pretend you stumbled upon a cleaned up, professional mix of your beloved favorites.
They soldier on to hit two of the most beloved chestnuts in the catalog (both from Hammerheart) and run through highly impressive versions of “Song to Hail Up High” and my all time favorite, “Home of Once Brave.” Both renditions are righteous, valiant, trve and kvlt, especially the ever stirring “Home of Once Brave.” It does my aged hammerheart good to hear this song with a real production after decades spent listening to the original’s muddy, muffled mix. It feels like Mikael and Mats took especially great pains here to keep their vocals as close as possible to what Quorthon did and it works damn well.
They then drift backward to cover Bathory‘s more extreme proto-black metal era with “The Return of Darkness and Evil” and “Woman of Dark Desires” and it’s here they take the most liberties with the original compositions. They smooth out the claustrophobic and chaotic sound of the originals and embed the type of epic marching beat the later era material had in spades. These alterations rob the songs of their Neanderthal charm, leaving them feeling bland and safe – things the originals could never be accused of. When The Return dropped in 1985, “The Return of Darkness and Evil” and the rest of that album’s material were the most caustic, oppressive and terrifying sounds the world ever heard. Time has muted that effect significantly and the dialed back, restrained version here only accentuates it. “Woman of Dark Desire” is particularly watered down, sounding almost nothing like the original and it doesn’t work for me.
Things improve as the band returns to Nordland for the closing epic tracks “Twilight of the Gods” and Blood Fire Death,” both faithful and well executed with more bombastic Northern pride and war chants than any one long ship could accommodate. Ereb Altor is much more at home in Bathory‘s Viking era and it shows, especially on “Twilight of the Gods.”
While the band does their level best to keep the Viking themed songs true to the source, the vocals are far better than Quorthon’s, but in all fairness, he never was much of a singer. The clean chants and singing really pop and it’s interesting to hear these songs with a more capable vocalist. The music itself is kept essentially the same but it all sounds much cleaner and more grandiose due to a modern production.
I doubt anyone could have done a better job on Bathory’s material and there’s a lot here to appreciate for fans of the man’s work. I’d rather have an album of new material from Ereb Altor, but since they dropped a solid album last year, I certainly can’t begrudge them paying tribute to one of the great acts in metal history. If you love albums like Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, you should check this out, but I hesitate to call this an essential listen for anyone but the most ardent Bathory-ophiles.