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Black Metal History

BATHORY: The Blackened Chronicles

In the first installment of a three-part series spotlighting pivotal bands in Black Metal's past and present, we take a look at the history of one of the genre's founders, Bathory.

In the first installment of a three-part series spotlighting pivotal bands in Black Metal's past and present, we take a look at the history of one of the genre's founders, Bathory.

Black metal has long been associated with a particular rawness. An unpolished grit that not only resonates sonically but physically and emotionally. It is a rawness that many bands have replicated in their music for over thirty years now. This characteristic visceral feel to black metal can be traced back to one of the genre's pioneering bands, Bathory. Hailing from Sweden, Bathory became one the first bands to produce black metal in Europe. Some of his contemporaries included the Swiss Hellhammer and the Danish Mercyful Fate. While his contemporaries are important in their own regards, much of black metal as it came to be ubiquitously known as is derived from what Bathory was doing between 1984 and 1988.

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Born Thomas Forsberg, Quorthon formed Bathory in 1983 in Stockholm, Sweden. Choosing the name based on the Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Báthory, a member of nobility in her country and also one of the world's most infamous serial killers who allegedly bathed in the blood of girls to keep her youth. Much like Venom's Black Metal (which sometimes draws notoriety as the first black metal album), Bathory's self-titled debut wasn't actually black metal, but more of a thrash record. Black Metal gave the genre a name, Bathory gave the genre its rawness. Quorthon recorded his albums in a garage known as Heavenshore Studios, and for most of early recordings, lacked the necessary funds to properly produce an album. The lack of money in addition to  Quorthon recording a heavily distorted, lo-fi sound gave birth to the synonymous black metal sound.

Following the release of Bathory's self-titled debut, Quorthon went on to release three more albums that are considered black metal by today's definition of the genre. 1985's The Return…… (of the Darkness and Evil), 1987's Under the Sign of the Black Mark, and 1988's Blood Fire Death all became foundational pieces of music in black metal. Each release more vicious than the last, they solidified Bathory's place in history as black metal's origin. The lyrics spoke to satanism and were hissed through shrieks, screams, and raspy growls that have become the trademark for black metal. The albums operated in a dark and hellish atmosphere, as though they were conduits for pure evil.

After the release of his first four albums (and a split album in 1984 entitled Scandinavian Metal Attack), Bathory's music began to trend in a different direction. Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods saw the black metal originator cross over into the viking metal realm. Masterpieces in themselves, Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods spurned the metal subgenre dedicated to Norse mythology and symbolism. Following the release of those two albums, Bathory returned to a thrash sound similar to some of the bands emerging in the Bay Area of the United States for the records Requiem and Octagon. Following the release of those albums in 1994 and 1995, respectively, Bathory would ultimately return to the viking metal approach for the final two albums Nordland I and Nordland II (this was intended to be a four-part saga, unfortunately Quorthon died before it could be completed.)

Throughout Bathory's active time in metal, all of the music was written and recorded by Quorthon. There were a few years during the eighties where Quorthon had additional members of Bathory. Numerous musicians came into and out of the fold of the band, but ultimately it was Quorthon who crafted the menacing and epic sounds of Bathory. Quorthon continued to make music into the early 2000's, opting for the viking metal style in his Nordland albums. Unfortunately, in the summer of 2004, Quorthon passed away from heart failure at the age of 38. Gone too soon, Quorthon left a lasting legacy as a foundational piece in not only black metal but in viking metal. His brilliant works over the course of twenties years of activity has served as inspiration to countless bands and musicians in the metal world. His music was vital in the second wave of black metal that came to prominence in the nineties for bands like Immortal.

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