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'Nordland II' was intended to be the second in an epic quadrilogy celebrating myriad Ancient Viking themes, but Quorthon's death cut it short in 2004. As the final album of the talented Swedish musician's incredible career, this ranks among his very best and succeeds its immediate predecessor in a tragic way that makes me long to hear the albums Quorthon is currently writing up in Valhalla.
While the grand, long, heavy and folky Viking metal style has an inherently selective audience, an off-shoot of black metal that even hardcore black metal fans wouldn't go near, it's one of my very favourite of all the stupidly named metal sub-genres, and Quorthon was the Allfather. The previous 'Nordland I' dealt with a mixture of pastoral and battle themes that resulted in an album both crushingly heavy and tranquil, at its most effective when combined, and while this presented a more authentically metallic continuation of the earlier album 'Blood on Ice,' it also resulted in something of a dichotomy between the early and later songs. 'Nordland II' is more refined and disconcertingly elegiac, more in line with the atmospheric 'Twilight of the Gods' but continuing to possess the heavier edge, and this extensive brooding and grandeur results in some songs being quite unreasonably overlong. Normally I might have deducted a star for this somewhat alienating drawback, but it's the last album Quorthon would ever produce, the final chapter of his fantastic legacy, and I enjoy every false ending and desperate extended solo that 'The Wheel of Sun' has to offer.
Extensive length doesn't become an issue until the later songs, the earlier sea-bound tales being more concise and subdued Viking metal that's every bit as good as the last album, but doesn't need to rely as much on repeated lead guitar melodies to retain interest. Quorthon's vocals are probably the best they've ever been, singing passionately to the elements in 'Blooded Shore' and sounding a little like a pirate in the grittier 'Sea Wolf.' The arrival on land makes for the most engaging part of the album just as the central woodland epics did on its predecessor, 'Vinland' offering a monstrously heavy, below-decks, slow rocker that remains fascinating throughout, and its lighter counterpart 'The Land' embraces its newfound freedom and return to shore with the most melodic and memorable guitars so far, with an upbeat, near-power metal chorus in the style of 'Blood on Ice.'
It's here that the album becomes distinctly darker and not for the faint-hearted (or easily bored), 'Death and Resurrection of a Northern Son' returning to the harsh industrial sound of 'Nordland I' for the most part, but making time for some excellent calmer sections and another great, folky chorus. It's one of the finest songs here, and worth sticking around for even though it initially seems to end about four minutes before it really does. It's a slight disappointment to be offered 'The Messenger' hereafter, clocking in at an even longer ten minutes and being consistently good, though lacking a distinctive spark to make it stand out, Quorthon's dynamic vocals taking us on a journey rather slowly and to an unknown destination, but one that includes a resurgence of the galloping horse sound effect from 'Hammerheart.'
Perhaps as a gesture of goodwill to the thrash crowds, 'Flash of the Silverhammer' is another scratchy and fierce industrial piece, though disappointingly kept at the same medium pace at a time where something faster would have been appreciated, and the finale 'The Wheel of Sun' is the most gargantuan and devastating of all, approaching doom metal in its powerful, brooding lethargy and pained vocals, and boasting the aforementioned ludicrously long swan song of a finale, before the hidden track reprises the twenty-second outro from the early Bathory albums of the mid-eighties and makes even the most ardent Viking cry. Quorthon may not have died in battle, but he fought many difficult conflicts over his career and scored more victories than defeats to guarantee himself fine standing in the afterlife (eleven classics verses 1995's 'Octagon').
2. Blooded Shore
3. Sea Wolf
5. The Land
6. Death and Resurrection of a Northern Son
7. The Messenger
8. Flash of the Silverhammer
9. The Wheel of Sun
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Blooded Shore
3 Sea Wolf
6 Death And Resurrection Of A Nothern Son
8 Flash Of The Silver Hammer
9 Wheel Of Sun