Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Bathory "Under The Sign Of The Black Mark" (1987)

 Continuing another adventure into the music of my youth, Bathory's third effort was one less acquainted with. It had however solidified a memory as being remarkably decent for the time. Well this has been an absolute treat to get back into! Its been so long the experience was practically fresh to my ears! Coming of the back of the overly ambitious The Return..... It sounds like the moment where the stars align. The group shed their prototype skin and bathe in the blasphemy of self actualized Black Metal! Under The Sign Of The Black Mark is where everything they were trying to do works.

We will however start with the negatives. Not everything is exceptional, although the bulk is. The intro and outro tracks seem utterly pointless as their dusky ambience fails to ignite any atmosphere to lead in the satanic metallic onslaught. The final two proper tracks, 13 Candles and Of Doom, both feel a little lacking with the pile of brilliance before it. They do have there moments with musical shifts but the offerings feel like soft rehashes of the genius in the songs heard beforehand.

They stand in the shadow of brilliant songwriting, which is quite diverse and distinct. The record kicks off with Massacre, a thrashing juggernaut of vicious hate, lashing out from the mark as we are plunged into blast beats and vile screams. Its a straightforward but well executed idea. The following Woman Of Dark Desires is unsuspecting until it lunges into an unusually catchy chorus as Quorthorn cries out with throaty strained screams the name of Elizabeth Bathory. The inclusion of evil organs towards the end, foreshadows more brilliance yet to come our way.

Call From The Grave steadies the pace, a mid tempo track with soaring riff work, toying with some dissonance. The approach to this dark music is expanded as the haunting throaty screams roar with menace over the grave atmosphere conjured. Equilmanthorn hails back to the records opening, another plunge into ruthless pummeling that shifts to a half step riff, then slamming in with another catchy hook in the chorus as Quorthon cries out the title track over and over  in memorable fashion.

The song has an incredible guitar solo to see it end on a thrilling climax, which bring me to a point, the lead guitar work which seems to frequent every track is phenomenal. Either creating a Slayer alike barrage of noise or delivering a blaze of evil melodies, everything that was tried before feels mastered here. That includes the screams, the most aggressive and shrill to date yet the temperament and texture is just perfect for what these extremities can achieve in the context of Black Metal.

Enter The Eternal Fire is the last of these incredible songs but for entirely different reasons. An incorporation of atmospheric synth tones and epic mid-tempo setting foreshadows the heritage influenced Bathory sound to come. All in all the record is a stunning maturity in songwriting. The haphazard ideas and sloppy performances of its predecessor blown out of the water. The inclusion of synths lay down foundations for the popular Symphonic element to come in the 90s. I also adore the inclusion of the Funeral Macrbe melody on Call From The Grave. Possibly my favorite moment of many fantastic ones on this truly remarkable and pioneering album.

 Rating: 9/10