So here’s why you sometimes have to be dubious of what you buy. After finally succumbing to the black metal bug, I decided I needed to dig deeper in Bathory, one of the primal godfathers of the genre. I had heard the earlier stuff but didn’t own anything beyond the final two albums which – as we’ll see in a few days – were decidedly different. So after deliberation I decided to start with Blood Fire Death, the touchstone for mainman Quorthon’s transition from the gnarly black metal of his earlier album into the more viking metal pomp if his later stuff. And so I bought a CD off of Amazon.
From the Kraze label.
There’s been a lot of confusion and anger over Bathroy’s output on various labels, particularly with Kraze who from what I can gather handled a lot of the US distribution. Now, I get that Bathory, and earlier Bathory in particular didn’t have the most shining production, but the noise that emanated from my speakers when I played the CD sounded like someone took the mix, smashed it together, wrapped it in in foil, and then decided after all that to remove all the bass and clarity, shive it in a case with smeared artwork and sell it. I listened to it once, sighed, and shoved it in the closet where it sits to this day.
Fast forward a few years and I now have a turntable, though I was determined at the time to not buy metal on vinyl, instead focusing on the analog recordings I grew up loving and felt more at home on a record player. But my aggravation at Blood Fire Death kept nagging at me, and so I finally caved in and looked around to find that Black Mark, which is the label dedicated to preserving Bathory’s music (and I think run by his father at one point – don’t recall) had all the albums available. And so I bought the album again, this time on 180g vinyl from the very very good folks over at Gilead Media, who happen to know a thing or two about metal.
I’m sure there are better examples of how vinyl can triumph over digital out there, but from a metal perspective, and especially if you’re taking into account the shameless ripoff job from Kraze, this one might take the cake. It was like listening to the album for the first time, and discovering layers and intricacies and nuances I never knew existed. You can dig into the small flourishes in the opening heavy riff on “A Fine Day to Die.” I used to think that “The Golden Walls of Heaven” was a useless mess until I could actually hear the riffs clearly. Coming back to the album again last night night one of the things I realized about Blood Fire Death was that, as much as is made of the lengthy tracks like “A Fine Day to Die” and the title track I start to find myself drawn more to the short, punchy songs. “Pace ‘Till Death” has that “nyah nyah nyah” lick in the beginning for a reason: it’s a complete nose thumb to the seriousness of the tracks that came before. “Holocaust” might be one of the nastiest, thrash furled songs Bathory ever released. And despite the almost comical similarity to Metallica’s “Fight Fire With Fire” there’s a wicked pulse to “Dies Irae” that keeps the album flowing into the longer songs.
Make no mistake – the more epic, pagan tracks are majestic, and point to a style Quorthon would perhaps mine better than anyone else. There’s a reason Blood Fire Death is so revered among the metal community. Hell, a quick check will show you that. But I learned a lot more about the band, my reaction to them, and why I collect music in the first place by my shitty CD experience, so rather than focus more on the music today you got this instead.