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Perhaps as an inevitable consequence of the more atmospheric tendencies of its predecessor, the final album of Bathory's long-lived classic period is a significantly less metallic affair that anything that would come before or after, expanding on the folk elements of Quorthon's innovative Viking metal style and coming up with an epic and majestic album that may alienate some of Quorthon's long-time followers, but is equally capable of attracting newcomers.
While 'Hammerheart' slowed Bathory's breakneck pace down considerably, it grinds to a standstill in 'Twilight of the Gods,' which largely relegates Quorthon's guitars to a backing instrument and increases the focus on keyboards. These seven songs are similarly long to those on the previous album, and once again an oddball acoustic hymn is thrown in to take the neofolk elements to an extreme. This finale 'Hammerheart,' not to be confused with the title of the previous album (why do bands do that?), is a straightforward performance of Holst's 'Jupiter, the Bringer of Joy,' a song that has been largely appropriated in this country as a hymn to England's majesty seemingly just because the middle section is particularly upbeat, but the Swedish Quorthon is able to escape this influence and instead makes it into a sort of hopeful death march that's a nice finale to the album, if more than a little plagiarised and not as effective as the previous album's 'Song to Hall Up High.'
Direct comparisons with the previous album are inevitable as this is fundamentally a direct sequel to 'Hammerheart,' having nothing at all in common with earlier Bathory releases when they were a primeval black metal band. This direct contrast works to the album's credit, and its shame. It's clear that the basic style pioneered on classic Hammerheart songs such as 'One Rode to Asa Bay' has been duplicated more or less exactly here, the chorus melody from that song showing up in 'Through Blood by Thunder' and the epic opener 'Twilight of the Gods' being more or less a remix with a slower tempo, less energetic vocal performance and a whole load more acoustic guitar. It's the acoustic strumming that really places this at the height of this release, adding a distinctly mournful and tranquil element that was a little absent from the last album and had to be compensated for with sound effects. At fifteen minutes it will be far too long for some, especially as the opening and closing sections are nothing but a few minutes of wind noise, but it's an excellent performance from Quorthon and deservedly acclaimed as one of his finest songs.
The other tracks tend to replicate these more successful elements to some extent, featuring acoustic introductions and interesting prominence for the usually overlooked bass guitar now Quorthon's own guitar is out of the limelight, and the choruses are brilliantly sing-along in a gloomy folk manner, particularly in 'Under the Runes' and the more dynamic 'To Enter Your Mountain.' If I'm being completely honest I probably rate 'Twilight' as highly as Hammerheart in terms of its unparalleled mood and Viking innovations, but it does tend more towards tedium and atmosphere and came a year later, after all. Bathory unfortunately went downhill from here, at least for a while.
1. Prologue - Twilight of the Gods - Epilogue
2. Through Blood by Thunder
3. Blood and Iron
4. Under the Runes
5. To Enter Your Mountain
6. Bond of Blood