Thursday, March 14, 2013

Into the Void: The Return......

Bathory - The Return (Of The Darkness and Evil) (May, 1985)

Back in the 80s (and into the 90s), bands didn't make us wait around three or four years between releases. Bathory's second album hit a mere eight months after their debut. Since the first album, bassist Andreas Johnasson had replaced Rickard Bergman. Quorthon later told Pit Magazine that he knew that these musicians (including drummer Stefan Larrson who also hit the skins on the debut) "couldn't be real Bathory members," so the photos of the band were only ever of Quorthon himself. The album was recorded in the same studio that the Scandinavian Metal Attack albums had been recorded (and Bathory was mixed) and produced Börje "Boss" Forsberg (Quorthon denied the rumor that Börje was his father). Fosberg would go on to produce all of Bathory's albums.

The obvious first comparison for The Return is with Bathory. Like the older album, The Return begins with a three minute ambient intro. The first song "Total Destruction," however, has a much stronger presence than "Hades, the first track on Bathory. Why? For one thing, the guitar tone is denser. The bass is, surprisingly (or less surpisingly, given what we know about the future of black metal), less prominent in the mix. The drums are a big improvement over the last album, as they pop right out, giving the album some vertical space. This is how it sounds to me, so I'm just using the words that come to mind. Quorthon's vocals are the largest improvement, though, as it no longer sounds like he's shouting from the other room. Yes, there's still some reverb on him, but he sounds fully engaged with the music. Additionally, while the lyrical themes of The Return aren't too far from Bathory, but the lyrics are much more poetic, and therefore sinister instead of campy.

Every riff on The Return is a classic to my ears. It's one of those odd, future-tense sorts of things, because obviously all the songs that I'm reminded of were recorded years after this. I doubt anyone at the time could have guessed how influential the album would be. Songs like "The Wind of Mayhem" almost reach blast beat levels. You can tell that Larrson is playing at the peak of his abilities on this recording, and there are some moments of sloppiness, but this adds to the raw character of the album, right along with Quorthon's unrehersed solos (which Euronomous would immitate to great effect in the 90s). The final track, which reveals the full album name, "The Return of the Darkness and Evil," is even stuffed full of tremolo-picked riffs, without the thrash sound of Sodom or Destruction. The Return is also ten whole minutes longer than Bathory, clocking in at 36 minutes, which is a great length for an album.

Final Verdict: 7/10 - Bathory is moving black metal in a powerful direction, but they have even further to climb

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