An ineluctable focal point in the history of metal resides in BATHORY‘s The Return… which necessitates our mentioning of the several traits that make it the authentic and original black metal work arising from the satanic speed metal circle1 of the early 1980s. The first of these is a change in focus in the way ‘evil’ is now treated, and the angle at which this is approached. The second is the way instrumentation is sublimated so that, going beyond the simple expressions in the language of speed metal, Quorthon virtually ends up almost single-handedly creating the basic black metal template and ideal in this one album, much in the same way that Black Sabbath brought metal (the original heavy metal) into existence in 1969-70. This is only a very brief exposition of these points and it should be taken as such; a longer and continued commentary on the subject will be provided later on through a different medium.
To properly see BATHORY within the musical evolution of metal, we must tie its music to that of the early Black Sabbath. In it we recognize the proper heirs to a forward-looking metal which was inspired on the teachings of the past but through a search of their own brought into existence a voice unique to its author. BATHORY is born almost at the same time as the regular speed metal acts, those that influenced death metal and but became known as a style in its own right. Quorthon completely bypassed this stage and went from a crude metal-punk hybrid in the debut to the virtual creation of the black metal musical style in The Return….
The controlled and minimalist nature of the music in the present album echoes what we see in Paranoid, however maintaining a more uniform style. This style is not enforced through a stiffness of form, because like Black Sabbath, BATHORY‘s songs here develop in their own way with respect to their own needs. The language and variation in The Return… is narrower, and we can start to see the way structure is treated. While Black Sabbath gave us thinly-textured rondos and da capo aria organizations, BATHORY seems content with A-B-C-A-B-C(‘Born for Burning’) or A-B-A-B’ (‘Wind of Mayhem’). Quorthon is able to put together long-riffs out of very simple parts (as in the main section of ‘Possessed’), and these add to the musicality of the work which in combination with the reduced work of the drums gives this music a trance-like quality which requires the cooperation of the listener.
Narrowness of language and simplicity of variation place BATHORY as technically less versatile than Black Sabbath in their early years, but a more detailed inspection of the matter reveals that the narrowing down of the latter leads to a clarifying. In demolishing the expressions to simplicity, smaller vocabulary is accessed, higher granularity is achieved in potential at least. The inherent elitism of black metal derives in part from this, for in good hands the simplicity of the elements can bring forth incredibly eloquence, but from those who can only see the exterior and share in the common short-sightedness, only brutishness can be expected —the recent defense of talentless imitators by Varg Vikernes notwithstanding2. This reveals a common ground between black metal and esoteric practice, both on the side of the listener and the artists involved. The terrain, the style itself and its requirements contains challenges that weed out certain weaknesses and promote deeper subjective understanding of the whole.
D. A. R. G.
October 6, 2016
The beauty burning
Like the moon at harvest
Her seared flesh falling apart
And feed the hungry flames
When the flame still bites her thigh
She is not afraid to die
She will burn again tonight
(she will always burn)
But her spirit shall survive…
1By ‘circle’ there is no intention of alluding to a ‘scene’, but simply a grouping of units with a common descriptor.
2In a recent string of very interesting and enlightening rants, most of which I agree with, Varg has gone out in defense of imitators, arguing that in imitation there is a compliment to be found, and that nobody is ‘original’. This only reveals a poor conception of the distinction between being original and trying to appear as being original. One is a natural consequence of some talent and a clarity of mind with a purpose; the second is trying to do things for the sake of displaying an exterior appearance. Varg Vikernes is not the first artist to be unaware of the vast superiority of his own work to all the imitators, and that those who are on his same level sound completely distinct from him. Related to this, Antonio Espinosa has discussed innovation in contradistinction with novelty in an interesting article on Black Ivory Tower.