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Huginn and Muninn: An Overview of Bathory's Discography

The pioneering Black Metal band fronted by the iconoclastic Quorthon not only have a storied history with metal, but can claim to have dominated every sphere of the genre that they involved themselves in. I've broken Bathory's discography into four trilogies, each building off of the styles from the prior, and each taking the band in a new direction.


 

1st Wave Black Metal TL;DR

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Venom are often identified as the first band in the 1st Wave of Black Metal, having released their second record, fittingly titled Black Metal, in 1982. Mercyful Fate and others were highly influential to early BM, but it was Black Metal's aggression, satanic imagery, raspy vocal style, and lo-fi values that would go on to be the defining characteristics of the genre. Also... the name? However, later groups like Bathory, Hellhammer, and Celtic Frost took the sound that Venom were toying with and ran with it.


Albums:

- Venom: Welcome to Hell (1981) & Black Metal (1982)

- Mercyful Fate: Melissa (1983) & Don't Break the Oath (1984)

- Hellhammer: Satanic Rites (1983) & Apocalyptic Raids (1984)

- Celtic Frost: Morbid Tales (1984) & To Mega Therion (1985)


And of course, Bathory.....


 

The First



Bathory (1984) | 4/5
Black Metal | Thrash Metal | Speed Metal

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Led by the now legendary Quorthon, Sweden's Bathory formed in 1983, taking a myriad of punk and metal influences- from Black Sabbath, Motörhead, and Venom to Sex Pistols and GBH- and crafted what would become the de facto template for Black Metal. Bathory's debut was released late in 1984, and while at this point Hellhammer had pushed 1st Wave Black Metal to a more extreme point, Bathory began to crystalize the

genre and help isolate it from its influences. Hellhammer's Satanic Rites might be more "pure" in terms of Black Metal's core sound (especially given it came out a year prior), but Bathory better embodied its aesthetic. Bathory's debut is dark, atmospheric, and satanic, all things that Norwegian Black Metal would expand upon in the early 90's. Recorded and mixed in less than 60 hours, the album displays a band who sound surprisingly tight. This is despite Quorthon having brought on the other two members of Bathory at this time (drummer Stefan Larsson, also on The Return, and bassist Rickard Bergman) only a few months before recording the album. "Reaper"'s surging tempo and chant-like vocals seem especially influential on the blackened-speed metal sound that has been popular for the last decade or so (hello Hellripper). And the croaking "froglike" vocals present on the likes of "Necromancy" and "Raise the Dead" would also prove an influence on Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. With Speed Metal grooves, Quorthon's Black-Metal-defining screeched vocals, and murky lo-fi production, this could have been released this year and still sounded fresh.


 

The Return..... (1985) | 3.5/5
Black Metal | Thrash Metal

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The Return...... holds a special place in Bathory's discography as it mixes in some of the Doom Metal stylings of Hammerheart (1990) five years before that album was released. The Return amplifies the atmosphere of Bathory's debut and builds off of a similar style of Thrash-meets-Black-Metal riffs, but with the occasional slower and more lumbering passage. However because of this, The Return doesn't carry the same energy and consistency that Bathory has. While it's a bit more polished, it doesn't have the same drive and passion that their debut had. Nonetheless, The Return is still a glorious display of the early years of Black Metal. Quorthon's riffs and vocals are as gnarled and sharp as on Bathory's debut, and the additional doom elements and darker overall tone fits tremendously well. Songs like "Total Destruction" and "Son of the Damned" feature a thicker, blunter guitar tone than Quorthon had on Bathory. The Return feels very transportive, bringing to mind cold autumn wilderness, and frequently referencing feelings of losing control and being trapped. The Return sees Quorthon taking his lyrics towards more varied topics and away from as much direct satanism. This is despite the fact that The Return is otherwise a less thrashing and Speed Metal influenced album, more directly Black Metal than its predecessor. The Return also has Quorthon begin implementing guitar solos into Bathory's songs more, as on the dual-solos of "The Winds of Mayhem".


The Return...... saw the return (......) of drummer Stefan Larson, along with new bassist Adde. Larson once again lending his punkish drumming to Quorthon's jagged guitar work, leveraging the albums intensity. It was also around the time of The Return's release in 1985 that Bathory went the way of The Beatles and stopped playing live, with Quorthon not thinking it was "worth the hassle".


 

Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987) | 4.5/5
Black Metal

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Frequently regarded as the first "pure" Black Metal record, Under the Sign of the Black Mark is a menacing and disturbed album. Where previous Bathory records would counter-balance their jagged Black Metal elements with speedier, punkier, passages, or the occasional song with lyrics about good old sex, Black Mark is an album which dwells in darkness. Emo I know. Bleak are the lyrics and bleaker are the themes of eternal damnation, desperation, the apocalypse, agony and suffering. While Under the Sign of the Black Mark still has its faster sections, it jettisons much of the thrash influence from Bathory's first two records in terms of the riff construction itself. For instance, Quorthon's riff on "Call from the Grave" slowly builds on itself, mounting upon the songs desperate imagery of a man entombed alive, begging God for death. And these sort repetitive almost hypnotic riffs are a staple of Black Metal. Similarly the riffs on "Massacre" and "13 Candles" laze throughout the songs, developing the albums cavernous atmosphere and dark imagery. Under the Sign of the Black Mark would be the final Bathory album recorded with an unstable line-up, with Quorthon having replaced his drummer and bassist for the record.


For late 80's metal, speed was the name of the game in trying to push to more extreme levels. Under the Sign of the Black Mark and Death's highly influential Leprosy (1988) (among many others) showed that metal could test its limits without pushing its tempo to 11. Black Mark proved to be hugely influential for what was to come in extreme metal, inspiring not only the 2nd Wave of Black Metal in the early '90s, but also the rapidly approaching tidal wave of Death Metal. Black Mark can also been seen as the final album in Bathory's first trilogy of releases. The band had helped define and refine the essence of Black Metal on Bathory, The Return, and Under the Sign of the Black Mark. And by consequence their next three records saw them breach even more new ground.



"Woman of dark desires, Elizabeth Bathory"
"Woman of Dark Desires"
Under the Sign of the Black Mark



 

The Second



Blood Fire Death (1988) | 4.5/5
Black Metal | Thrash Metal | Viking Metal

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The last of Bathory's original slew of Black Metal albums and the start of their Viking Metal era. Blood Fire Death saw Bathory accomplish what vanishingly few bands have ever done once- for the second time. After becoming the leading force in the 1st Wave of Black Metal, after releasing a definitive genre heavy-weight like Under the Sign of the Black Mark, Bathory shifted gears and began pushing towards a more naturalistic, atmospheric, and epic sound. Pulling the sound of Viking Metal out of thin air. While Bathory's forthcoming projects would become the go-to examples of Viking Metal, Bathory had laid the groundwork with Blood Fire Death. Songs like "A Fine Day to Die" and "Blood Fire Death", whose doomy, churning riffs and throaty, shouted vocals create very vivid imagery. Much like the album's cover, Blood Fire Death calls to mind epic battles, raids, pillages, and heaving seas. Blood Fire Death also sees the introduction of Bathory's stable "lineup", with Quorthon on guitar and vocals, Vvornth on drums, and Kothaar on bass, this lineup would stay the same until 1997, after which Quorthon performed all instruments himself. Notable however is that Kothaar and Vvornth were pseudonyms used by multiple members, and no actual names are known for who was who after this point.


While Blood Fire Death is the origin of Bathory's viking era, it is also their most straight up Thrash Metal album, and its middle features a slew of aggressive, in-your-face riffs. "Holocaust" is especially thrashing, with a blistering tempo and raucous vocal performance. Vvornth really proves his worth on BFD, his dead-simple laser-focused groove on "For All Those Who Died" keeps the song stumbling forward. And his thundering performance on "Blood Fire Death" gives the song the power and grandeur that it deserves. And while many of the riffs and the general atmosphere of Blood Fire Death is less "blackened" than its predecessor, Quorthon's ragged vocals certainly aren't. Blood Fire Death demonstrated Bathory's versatility more than ever before, and it was only a taste of what was soon to come.


 

Hammerheart (1990) | 4.5/5
Viking Metal | Epic Doom Metal

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Hammerheart sees a seismic shift in Bathory's career. The Black Metal pioneers almost completely drop their iconic sound, doubling down on the epic, militant elements present on Blood Fire Death. Thundering and thick, Hammerheart displays a different form of intensity and aggression for Bathory. It's production is dense and overwhelming, and Quorthon's more commanding shouts are distinct from previous record's shrieks, wails, and croaks. Additional backing vocals, like on "Baptised in Fire and Ice", are used to fill the albums mix, complementing the chunky guitars, and really nailing the viking aesthetic. The album maintains a much stronger emotional element than any of their prior records, and this works wonders in amplifying its tense sound and epic proportions. Hammerheart is atmospheric in a different way than previous Bathory albums. The Return..... or Blood Fire Death might have been atmospheric much like Burzum (Nazi), Paysage d'Hiver (not a Nazi), or other Atmospheric BM bands would be. Hammerheart instead creates atmosphere by relying more on production and tonal qualities. Rather than bathe the listener in guitar feedback and buzzing noise, Hammerheart develops a forceful, doom-y wall-of-sound which sweeps through the album building an immense momentum, not unlike epic doomers Solitude Aeturnus and Candlemass. Opener "Shores in Flames" demonstrates this immediately, slowly building to a wailing and thundering solo, using pounding drums and Quorthon's raspy voice to drive the song upwards and outwards.


Similar to Blood Fire Death, Hammerheart has a more natural and earthen sound than previous records. Frequently the album uses the sounds of rain, waves, and lightning, like in the thundering crashes interspersed in "Valhalla"s repetitive, building riff. Hammerheart has a tremendous sense of identity, it owns a sound all its own. Future bands like Enslaved and Moonsorrow would strive for the chugging riffs and distant solos of "Father to Son", the atmospherics of "One Rode to Asa Bay", and the colossal power of "Home of Once Brave". But yet, nothing quite matches it, still remaining to my eyes the definitive statement of Viking Metal (if you choose to believe it is a proper subgenre), and even among the best from the entire Black Metal world. Hammerheart's lyrics are also quite the step up from previous Bathory releases. "One Rode to Asa Bay" articulates Christianity's cultural domination and decimation of Europe, and most others on the album tackle similar paganistic and Nordic-centric themes. This almost seems a premonition for the justification behind the dozens of church burnings committed by Varg Vikernes and other members of the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the early-mid '90s. Hammerheart was yet another genre defining statement by Bathory, so far ahead of the game they seem almost clairvoyant.


 

Twilight of the Gods (1991) | 4/5
Viking Metal | Epic Doom Metal

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Twilight of the Gods follows in Hammerheart's footsteps, mixing grand Doom Metal with pagan imagery and natural, acoustic elements. Twilight of the Gods would however differ from Hammerheart in a few ways, containing far more folk influence, and completely expelling any lingering Black Metal elements. Where Hammerheart was, despite Bathory's turn away from tremolo riffs and aggressive drumming, still fairly heavy, Twilight of the Gods is not so much. The riffs on Twilight of the Gods can be weighty, but they contain far more melody than on Hammerheart, and this is certainly not a problem for me. I may prefer the all-encompassing power and crushing weight of Hammerheart, but the tremendous leads on "Through Blood by Thunder" are undeniable, as is its melodic and radiant main riff. "Through Blood by Thunder" is also a great point to mention Quorthon's soloing on Twilight of the Gods, reason being that it is given a greater emphasis on this record than ever previously in Bathory. "Through Blood by Thunder", "Under the Runes", and "Twilight of the Gods" all feature mind-melting solos, rip-fast and wildly tonal, Quorthon proves that not only is he a tremendous riff-maker, he can also tear it up on a solo if need be. And speaking of riffs, Twilight of the Gods certainly isn't lacking in great riffs, "Twilight of the Gods" and "Blood and Iron" both feature truly great viking riffs, but it is more of a weakness here than on previous Bathory records. A song like "To Enter Your Mountain" feels much less inspired than the material on Hammerheart. Additionally, Quorthon's vocals maybe aren't quite as great as they've been previously, he shines on the Heavy Metal-esque "Under the Runes" but his style of somewhat-toneless rambling doesn't work quite as well as in the past.


Twilight of the Gods was also Bathory's first foray as a one-man-band, with Quorthon recording all the instruments for the record. Unfortunately this results in less memorable drumming and less guitar-complimentary bass than previously. Twilight of the Gods is the last in Bathory's second "trilogy", after this the band would fall back on their Thrash roots and churn out three duds. But when Quorthon returned to Viking Metal in the 2000's, Twilight of the Gods more than any other album was the template.




"
Children of all slaves
Stand united and proud
All people of bondage shall triumph
And live by the sign of...
Blood Fire Death
"
"Blood Fire Death"
Blood Fire Death



 

The Third



Requiem (1994) | 2.5/5
Thrash Metal

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Requiem starts on a concerning note, with a terribly mixed, clattering bass riff courtesy of Kothaar and a guitar riff I swear I've heard like 3 times. Comprised mostly of what sounds like watered down Slayer or Kreator riffs, Requiem is in poor form, even for '90s thrash. Quorthon's vocals are even raspier than normal, which admittedly fits the albums raw feel very well. And while the riffs on "Requiem" and "Pax Vobiscum" are very derivative, Quorthon's leads on the album are actually quite decent. "Requiem" has a fairly ripping solo section, and the parts of the album where some of the black and viking metal elements from Bathory's past seep out really shine, like the leads on "Apocalypse". Unfortunately they stick out because just about every other element of the album is just wrote thrash with an atrocious production and mixing job. The album has a very round sounding bass, which makes it near impossible to discern notes, where it just becomes this incessant pounding right at the top of mix, louder than the guitars. The drums and guitar are mixed far better by comparison, though on occasion (like on "Suffocate") the snare sounds more like a plastic recycling bin than a drum. Though some riffs, like the ones on "Distinguish to Kill" and "Apocalypse", can be a bit more interesting, a lot of them have this awkward sort of tentative sound, where they don't quite loop on themselves effectively. Overall, I can appreciate Quorthon wanting to move back towards a more raw, heavy, and vitriolic sound. But I don't think Darkthrone vocals meets Slayer riffage layered over all the bass tone stolen from ...And Justice for All is the answer.


 

Octagon (1995) | 1/5
Thrash Metal

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Requiem had its issues, it was poorly mixed, its production was a little too raw, its drumming was somewhat sloppy, and its riffs uninventive. Unfortunately for Bathory just about every issue with Requiem returned ten fold with Octagon. Remember those awkward riffs? "Immaculate Pinetreeroad 930" has you covered, with a riff that sounds like Quorthon was improvising all throughout the song. Awkward transitions and weird, out of place elements you say? Don't you worry, "Psychopath" and (again) "IP 930" have you covered, no one in the band seems to know what they are doing! Shitty guitar tone? I've got you, Quorthon seems to have heard Left Hand Path by Entombed, not realizing that buzz-saw guitar doesn't work when your riffs have no space to breath, turning them into an incomprehensible mess. You're curious about Quorthon's vocals? Well, on Octagon he opts for a more punkish Tom Araya-soundalike to fit the more pure thrash sound. Makes sense... except that it makes the album's total bankruptcy of riffs and new ideas even more apparent. Even the pretty alright lead guitar from Requiem is gone. Quorthon's solos are limp at best and totally frustrating at worst, and his leads on songs like "War Supply" are just irritatingly boring. Drummer Vvornth also seems to like Slayer quite a bit, copping many a trick straight from Dave Lombardo, but with about half of his precision and power. And I think between Requiem's "Suffocate" and Octagon's "Judgement of Posterity" we know what inspired Lars Ulrich on St. Anger. Ah, but don't worry, the last song is a KISS cover! All's well that ends well I say (that was close, this album was almost coherent!) Octagon is a tremendously disappointing album which sounds more like an amateur garage band than it does like Bathory. The production could be far worse, Quorthon's vocals sound just fine, and most of it is pretty inoffensive, however ultimately this just results in an album that is entirely unremarkable, the absolute pinnacle of lazy and uninspired '90s Thrash Metal.


 

Destroyer of Worlds (2001) | 3/5
Thrash Metal | Viking Metal

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Destroyer of Worlds was released more than 5 years after Octagon, and was the first Bathory album recorded as a proper one-man band, with Vvornth and Kothaar completely out of the picture. The album has a more broad blend of styles than its predecessors, mixing in elements of the thrash from Requiem and Octagon along with the viking elements of Twilight of the Gods. Immediately Destroyer of Worlds gives a better impression than the previous two, it opens with a beautiful passage on "Lake of Fire". Fairly quickly the album brings back some of those recycled thrash riffs and at times Quorthon's vocals get pretty questionable, but overall the instrumentation is far better than the previous two albums. And the song-writing and structuring is also much more cohesive and thought out. Admittedly the album presents the least interesting take on Bathory's viking sound, with the riffs feeling very sluggish and without much energy as on "Pestilence". And on a song like "109" or "Sudden Death" you're reminded why thrash was dead and buried by the 2000's. But there are some solid songs on Destroyer of Worlds: "Ode" is grandiose and powerful, "Kill Kill Kill" is surprisingly groovy, and "Liberty and Justice" is explosive and bombastic, with a pretty tremendous vocal performance by Quorthon. All in all, Destroyer of Worlds is solid record, its definitely a little long, being Bathory's longest at about 65 minutes, but it is a significant improvement on their other releases from this era.



"Eat my shit. Suck my dick"
"33 Something"
Octagon



 

The Fourth



Blood on Ice (1996) | 3.5/5
Viking Metal | Folk Metal | Heavy Metal

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Seeing as Blood on Ice was released in 1996- well before Destroyer of Worlds in 2001- you might wonder why I would lump it in with Bathory's final albums. This question is more complicated than it first seems. Blood on Ice was actually originally written and recorded in 1989 as a follow-up to Blood Fire Death. However Quorthon was unsure about releasing something so drastically different from their prior material, due to Blood on Ice's proficiency in melody and prominent folk elements. So, this album chronologically fits in the third "trilogy" and was recorded during the second "trilogy". But I ultimately included as a part of the fourth and final "trilogy" due to it most closely resembling the sound on Nordland I and II. All of this is important to recognizing the position that this album holds, and the value it presents in Bathory's discography. Even in 1990, the comparably intense and blackened Hammerheart was a huge jump for the band, the fact that this album predates it is almost unbelievable. Blood on Ice is a melodious and dramatic affair, it takes the natural elements that would be present on Twilight of the Gods to the next level, with acoustic riffing pairing with electric. The martial themes that would pop up on Hammerheart are also largely absent, replaced with pagan and Nordic imagery.


The album follows the story of a young man whose home has been razed by a monstrous entity ("Blood on Ice", "Man of Iron"). We hear his prophetic tale, meeting the Norse god Odin ("One Eyed Old Man") and being gifted a sword and steed ("The Sword", "The Stallion") to slay the beast. Eventually our protagonist learns of the beasts location, and using Odin's ravens- Huginn and Muninn ("Hey, that's the name of the show!")- as his "eyes in the skies" he defeats the creature and frees his townsfolk ("The Revenge Of The Blood On Ice"). The story itself is nothing incredible but it works tremendously with Bathory's epic and mythical style. Quorthon's vocals, as on "Man of Iron", are far less aggressive than on previous albums. He tends for a far more melodic sound, oftentimes more so even than would be on Twilight of the Gods. Blood on Ice also utilizes the creative interpolation of Heavy Metal and Black Metal style riffs that would be present on Hammerheart. The two albums excel at taking the atmosphere of BM and mixing it with a HM energy and melody.  The drumming on this record is quite exceptional ("Gods Of Thunder Of Wind And Of Rain" especially). Vvornth plays powerfully, taking the attention when necessary and laying back when it's not. What Blood on Ice is lacking is consistency. While Quorthon has some classic riffs on "Man of Iron" and "The Stallion", much of the album doesn't feel as strong as what was on Hammerheart or Twilight of the Gods. And songs like "The Lake" and "The Revenge of the Blood on Ice" feel a bit limp and over-long. Blood on Ice has some really fantastic sections and some classic Bathory tracks, but as an album it's lacking that X-factor that made the bands earlier records so great.


 

Nordland I & II (2002/2003) | 4/5
Viking Metal | Folk Metal | Heavy Metal

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I

Bathory's two-fold swansong is a fitting end to one of metal's most illustrious careers. As mentioned in the review of Twilight of the Gods, Nordland I and II take the sound present on that album and bring it to its logical end. The clean, melodic vocals of Twilight of the Gods dominate the albums. Nordic themes (hint hint Nordland) inspire every song, losing the viking raids from Hammerheart and Blood Fire Death for troops of bards and naturalists, tradition and heritage (I'm aware that sounds sketchy).


Nordland I relies more on the sound of Folk Metal than any previous Bathory albums. With the bright, cyclical leads interpolating chunky bass and guitar with back-to-basics drumming and layered vocals (as on "Foreverdark Woods"). Quorthon's singing betrays reverence and pride, moving from battle cries to regaling stories around a fire. Songs like "Nordland" and "Great Hall Awaits Fallen Brother" are the perfect microcosms for Nordland I's sound. With guitar leads that sound like flutes and choir-esque vocals that bring out the albums communal sound on "Nordland". And with aggressive riffage, passionate vocals, and smoldering bass on "Great Hall Awaits Fallen Brother".


Though none of this is to say that Quorthon sanded off all of Bathory's sharper edges for folksy charm. "Winterblot" has a thick and powerful riff reminiscent of classic Candlemass, and an emotive and epic solo stolen from a Iron Maiden record. "Dragon Breath"s intro riff sounds like a less off-kilter Pantera riff and has Quorthon delivering his vocals in a more doomish Wino-style. The album also picks up the pace occasionally, espeically on "Broken Swords" which rips along at a blistering tempo with positively crushing drums. Nordland can sometimes feel like the natural conclusion of Bathory's viking era. There are moments where it teeters on the edge of self reference, where it begins to sound almost redundant in comparison to the band's historic catalogue. It's at just these moments that Quorthon dashes that idea, "Ring of Gold" is one such moment. It is a beautifully heart-wrenching song making even the most proud city-slick nostalgic for the forest and wilderness from whence we came.


II

Nordland II is the perfect complement to the first "installment". II is more grand and upbeat, with more classic Heavy Metal riffs than on Nordland I. Additionally the album tends towards more of Quorthon's classic vocals from the bands second era, calling to mind Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods more than the more cleanly sung Nordland I.


The likes of "Sea Wolf" and "Blooded Shore" feature wicked chugging riffs and raspy, biting vocals. And "Sea Wolf" has an ascendent keyboard break just before its rapturous solo. Nordland II shares all its best elements with I, but the two do actually maintain some distinctions despite their similarities. II's production is more thunderous, both albums are open but in different ways. I brings to mind snow-swept fields with smatterings of ice-coated trees, where II's feels more like a vessel churning through ice water. A song like "The Land" nails this (ironically), with its confident staggering riff and wailing leads. And the devastatingly desperate vocals on "The Wheel of Sun" really bring a whole new feeling to the album-duo, describing the equal actions of life and death and ever setting "sun" in the wheel of life.


As with Nordland I, there are times where these albums struggle to drift from Bathory's staple sound. The backing vocals sound almost identical throughout these albums, and throughout Bathory's back-catalogue up to their emergence on Hammerheart. And Quorthon's habit of squealing notes out on the downbeat leading into solos is very recognizable. However on both Nordland I and Nordland II, Quorthon gets away with this by fully owning the sound. Elements may remain from album-to-album, and some might say the albums become overly repetitive, but Quorthon's rock solid songwriting and distinctive vocals kept Bathory sounding fresh, and cemented them in the history of metal forever.



"Afar high adventures await me, I hear my brothers calling"
"Ring of Gold"
Nordland I



 



February 17th, 1966

Rest In Peace

Thomas "Quorthon" Forsberg

May your hymns resound forever in Asgard

June 3rd, 2004

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