Quorthon with Bathory gave birth to black metal. I could stop here and say nothing more. But since it has been a long time since he created the genre, the tale must be told, briefly at least. Quorthon, aka Tomas Börje Forsberg, born in Sweden, started his own band at the age of 17. Being mainly the sole member of the band, he worked with a lot of session musicians throughout his career. In 1983, along with Jonas (Vans McBurger, drums) and Freddrik (Hanoi, bass), he created the band Bathory, named after Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary.
Around that time, the heavy metal scene was becoming huge thanks to big names who wrote the history of this music as we now know it. In addition, new forms of heavy metal were born, the so-called genres. Generally speaking, there is N.W.O.B.H.M., thrash metal and speed metal which adopt rock n’ roll and punk music elements, among others. When Quorthon put out an ad in search of musicians, he asked for those influenced by Exploited, Motörhead, G.B.H., and Black Sabbath. His music used the speed of punk (and oi! punk), the aggression of thrash, and the pluralism of heavy metal. He added also the sinister image of what was immediately called black metal. Initially, he did that with his name, which is the name of a demon from a book with satanic rituals, and the band’s name, since according to the myth, Countess Bathory bathed in young women’s blood in order to stay young forever. The early photos of the band show the image the emerging black metal bands adopted: swords, pentagrams, leather outfits, and always in the woods. These things had been done partly by others around that time such as Venom and Manowar. But, Quorthon perfected the genre which was about to be born. He gave another dimension to the epic and sinister, reinforcing the main theme of black metal.
When someone listens to ‘Under The Sign Of The Black Mark‘, especially for the first time, they should take into consideration this history to understand why Quorthon has asserted his place among the other legends of music. ‘Under The Sign…‘ is nowadays considered Bathory’s best work. The intro to the album doesn’t quite prepare you for what is about to follow. You may think the sound of wind will take you to the forests, but the opening track ‘Massacre‘, with an insane speed, points to somewhere beneath the earth. And then comes the tribute track to the woman who named the band. ‘Woman Of Dark Desires‘ is a catchy track, and as Quorthon stated, he wrote the song with Saxon’s ‘Machine Gun‘ in mind. The next track, ‘Call From The Grave‘, is perfectly performed by Quorthon as vocalist also. Generally, throughout the whole album, the vocals serve the purpose of the theme. They are sick, edgy, eerie – like they are coming from the depths (of earth, of hell, of a dark well, whatever your choice is). The next tracks, ‘Equimanthorn‘ and ‘Enter The Eternal Fire‘, introduce the audience to the satanic theme. Technically, they are thrashy with dry and sheer cuts, something that is either due to the intentionally lo-fi production, or as Quorthon later stated, to lack of attention. ‘Chariots Of Fire‘ is a separate track, and is one of the few attempts of Quorthon to write on social and political matters. With ‘13 Candles‘ the album returns to its satanic theme. ‘Of Doom‘ is a song dedicated to the – as Quorthon called his fans – “Bathory Hordes”.
And they really were! The impact of Bathory was huge. People worshiped them, copied them, and also questioned them. When new genres were attributed to them (black metal, but also Viking metal), and the first black metal bands rose, he chose a lower profile, but it was too late. He denied being influenced by Manowar and particularly Venom, a topic which is still discussed among the fans. A statement of his gave a partial answer: “I’ve since understood Venom’s music is regarded as more Black ’n Roll rather than actual Black Metal, and that ‘Under The Sign Of The Black Mark’ is considered as the first true Black Metal album. There’s no limit to how honored and flattered I’d be if that is also the generally accepted notion out there”.