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With his two mediocre thrash albums rendering Quorthon something of an embarrassment and a tragedy to those who admired the born-again Viking's pioneering early work, his casual revelation during an interview that there was an entirely original, unheard album recorded in the mysterious year's gap between the classics 'Blood Fire Death' and 'Hammerheart' inevitably led to enormous fan pressure and a change of heart seeing the fabled lost Bathory album finally coming to light, and it's a real cracker. A concept album in the tradition of Ancient Norse sagas performed in a slightly more energetic variant of the folk-tinged sound of 'Hammerheart,' this was a radical departure from the earlier Bathory style and it's understandable why Quorthon was a little hesitant to release it originally.
Chronologically recorded before Hammerheart then, this was the first album where Quorthon replaced his demonic grunt with a clean singing voice, and backing choral vocals started to substitute for guitar melodies as a rhythm instrument, though Quorthon still throws out some excellent riffs. There's a nice mix here between slightly faster, more rocking songs a little in tune with the old Bathory style, and more drawn-out and atmospheric epics that tend to work better. It's clear that returning to this album in the late nineties was a major inspiration for Quorthon to return to the Viking style with his later 'Nordland' albums, which are based far more on the dynamic established here than the somewhat grander style of the early nineties stuff.
That's not to say that this album lacks the atmosphere of 'Twilight of the Gods,' and the unique notion of an overarching narrative not otherwise seen in Bathory makes for a compelling and entertaining listen, even if the spoken word sections of some songs, particularly the old man's lengthy exposition in track four, may irritate people not overly fond of concept albums like this. It reminds me a lot of Blind Guardian's later Tolkienian epic 'Nightfall in Middle-Earth,' particularly as Quorthon's voice resembles Hansi Kursch and the actors drafted in to provide voice work are equally bad in both, and although the story itself is only really a little diversion to add another slight layer of enjoyment to the album, it does make for a nice sense of continuity as the listener is taken on a journey through the woods in what may be the album's finest, central section, in the excellent 'The Woodwoman' and 'The Lake' that rank among Bathory's finest material.
The harder edge of this album is maintained with consistent pounding drums, but only really becomes prominent in songs like the slightly punky 'One Eyed Old Man' and the galloping, Manowar-style metal of 'Gods of Thunder, of Wind and of Rain.' Despite a couple of short interlude tracks clouding perception of the album from the tracklist alone, the songs tend to be shorter than the more grandiose and lethargic Viking albums produced around the same time, with only the closing song approaching the ten minute mark. This ranks among my favourite Bathory albums and is certainly distinctive for its more power metal leanings (and anticipations), but even with its intriguing concept it lacks some of the beauty of 'Hammerheart' and its twin, though anyone who enjoyed the later 'Nordland' albums should certainly check it out.
2. Blood on Ice
3. Man of Iron
4. One Eyed Old Man
5. The Sword
6. The Stallion
7. The Woodwoman
8. The Lake
9. Gods of Thunder, of Wind and of Rain
10. The Ravens
11. The Revenge of the Blood on Ice
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Blood on Ice
3 Man of Iron
4 One Eyed Old Man
9 Gods of Thunder of Wind and of Rain
11 Revenge of the Blood on Ice