After Twilight of the Gods solidified the place of Bathory among the progenitors of viking metal, things went a bit astray. Quorthon put out a solo album, and Bathory went back to the blackened thrash of the earlier albums for a time. Nothing quite seemed to congeal. That is until Nordland I, the first of a planned four-part masterwork that would bring back the viking metal in full force to walk through the tales of Nordic myths and legends. This was my first real experience experience with Bathory, and similar to to when I first heard it, there’s a lot that works and admittedly a bit that doesn’t.
After the requisite synth intro, the title track immediately reminds you why Bathory had no peer when it came to epic metal. The riff is monstrous, the choir righteous, and Quorthon’s singular vocals work great within the context of the song. From a composition and arrangement perspective this is some of the best stuff Bathory have ever released. The trend continues on “Winterblot” with the ominous keys playing in between and underneath the spacious power chord sequence that makes up the verses. This is molten, slab metal of the highest order, its slower tempo allowing each revolution of the riff to land with a titan’s stomp. There’s a break in the heavy with “Ring of Gold” and it’s a clear mark of Quorthon’s maturity as a musician and songwriter. Acoustic fingerpicking accompanies Quorthon’s many harmonized voices, and its fragile nature is memorable and a nice break between sides.
Unfortunately, that second half is where things get a bit fuzzy. Not only do the songs begin to somewhat blend into one another, but the production takes a lo-fi, buzzy turn making everything hot to the point of losing a lot of clarity. It’s odd when this isn’t an issue with the heaviness of “Nordland” and “Winterblot” but songs like “Foreverdark Woods” and “Great Hall Awaits Fallen Brother” sound like they’re not cut from the same production cloth, and it causes standout songs like the ripping thrash of “Broken Swords” get a little lost.
There’s no denying the ambition of Nordland I and its place as the beginning of an epic journey. And as the final unfinished work to Bathory there’s a tendency to maybe heap a little more praise on it than maybe it deserves. I want to be 100% behind this, but truth be told outside of a few tracks this doesn’t feel like an expansion of his ideas….more of a retread.