Storming onto the scene in 1984, Bathory released their scorching, self-titled debut to an audience that, when it came to black metal, had previously been privy to a couple of landmark releases from Venom. And while Venom may have coined the genre, Bathory educated the masses on its meaning. With one of the most recognizable album covers in history and one of the most extreme albums of the time, Quorthon and Co. cemented their status in the metal world and instantly became one of the most—if not the most—influential bands ever.
I first heard Bathory in 1990, when a good friend from the local record store shared the LP with me. (And yes, it was the version with the yellow-printed cover that currently goes for over $1,000.) At the time, my canon was mainly death metal, but this…this was so different, and I ended up spending hours upon hours in the stockroom listening. From the monotonous intro into “Hades'” full-on, both-ear blast to the brain, this was the extremity I had been unknowingly searching for.
Over the years, I’ve seen this album mentioned as thrashy—and with the way thrash sounds today, I can kind of see the comparisons. But really, this was the beginning of black metal: from the furious pacing, the wailing, tinny guitar sounds, the blasting drumming, and of course, Quorthon’s gravelly-sounding yells. Factor in the Satanic imagery, song titles and lyrical content, and this indeed hit the sweet spot for me—and still does, at least every couple of weeks.
I don’t really have a favorite track here; to me, the whole album is genius. With that said, though, “In Conspiracy With Satan” is probably the most aligned with black metal, what with its full speed ahead riffage and incessant, devastating drumming. On the flip side of the coin, “Raise The Dead” offers a slower pace and almost steps into abrasive rock territory. The guitar, while remaining vicious, keeps to a slower riff and adds a grin-inducing solo at the 2:18 mark. Even with Quorthon taking his foot off the gas a bit, the track still rips.
The remainder of the album is an exercise in taking speed and evil to extremes. And to think Quorthon had just hired the other two members of the band just before tracking! It’s a testament to his vision and cognizance for exactly what he wanted. This is an album I’ve been playing for years and will be playing for years to come, and it reminds you what a shame it is that Quorthon is no longer with us. You can’t pretend it wouldn’t be interesting to see what his contemporary output might have sounded like.
With twelve full-lengths and countless compilation appearances, Bathory had a tremendous career. But no matter where your opinion lies on the discography, I think we can all agree the self-titled debut was a game changer, defined the black metal genre, and will be an absolute landmark of an album forever.