Have you ever been so emotionally moved by a record that it brought you to tears? Has that record ever been a heavy metal record? Has it ever been by a band known for their influence in the extreme underground? In 1990, Bathory shed their skin as pioneers of black metal and arose from the rubble with a cleaner sound and subject matter that only existed in the realm of the most incredible, grandiose, and epic masterpieces of artistic expression. The scope of ‘Hammerheart’ is one of the grandest in all of metal and, given this, Bathory, throughout the duration of this record, was on the verge of creating something that would exasperate everyone who came upon its audio onslaught.
This record opens with the track “Shores in Flames”, which doesn’t take much time to present itself as something dramatically different than anything that had ever been heard before. The credit for this, in large part, belongs to the imagination of the band’s leader, Quorthon, who always maintained a reputation as being very mysterious and having a personality that was uncategorizable. One thing that is clear about him, though, was his love of Scandinavian paganism and viking traditions, both of which dominate the overall concept of this record. “Father to Son” celebrates these ancient traditions and presents them inside of a world that is unhindered by modernity. In order to fully grasp and understand this record, you must be able to take yourself out of the conventional mindset that we’re programmed to occupy in our current culture. This is precisely why heavy metal has long been misunderstood. It’s music that doesn’t exist on our playing field and, because of this, the listener has got to be able to follow the subject matter with their imagination in order to get it. The record also begins to reach for its immense emotional climax on the track “Song to Hall Up High”. This is a record where magic exists and gods reign over the earth, which will undoubtedly be unreachable for many listeners. Nevertheless, the record carries on to what is perhaps the most emotional, heartfelt heavy metal song ever written, “One Rode to Asa Bay”. This track is an absolutely spiritual experience; a perennial powerhouse of magical expression that just has to be heard to be believed. Within the telling of a people building a house for their god, Quorthon has given us an incredible story of faith, belief, and the power of family and community. It’s been said that music is proof of the existence of God. If this has any merit, this track does a great number in carrying that merit.
If you’re someone who thinks that heavy metal is nothing but a bunch of mindless phonies singing about dungeons and dragons or a group of oversexed buffoons who care about nothing but sleeping with as many groupies as possible, well, you’re an idiot. For more reasons than the scope of this review could express, but one of the many reasons exists inside of this record. This is an example of a perfect record. There is no filler on this record and each song serves its own individual purpose in building to its explosively spiritual conclusion. Another thing, much less important than the emotional ramifications, mind you, that Bathory accomplished with this record was the creation of the term ‘viking metal’, which would be used for describing this record and many others later on down the road. The religious nature of this record can’t be understated. This record exists in a place that’s outside of time or space; it’s infinite and eternal, much like the gods that exist in its world. Obviously this record won’t be for everyone and many will scoff at it on principle, but who are they?