Bathory

Under the Sign of the Black Mark

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With their third album, 1986's Under the Sign: The Sign of the Black Mark (which, as you may have guessed, provided the name for their future record label), Sweden's Bathory took a major step forward in their development -- most notably when it came to the improved quality of the actual recording. Whereas their first two, technically challenged efforts had benefited from all the class and precision of a plane crash, this album's clearer, more professional sound finally allowed Seth Quorthon's fast-maturing songwriting skills to shine through the murk. This did not, however, mean that Bathory was forgetting their roots. Quite the contrary, for, while original fans unwilling to let go of the band's inaccessible past could content themselves with full-throttle thrashers like "Massacre," the shrill "Equimanthorn," and the downright furious "Chariots of Fire," those willing to grow along with the group could appreciate less-frenetic, more diversified numbers such as "Call From the Grave" and "Enter the Eternal Fire." In the latter, Bathory achieved their first bona fide epic, and this more than any other track here suggests the future glories soon to come. Quorthon's raspy, anguished croak remains an ever-present reminder of Bathory's primitive origins, but his increasingly musical guitar solos, usage of the occasional eerie synthesizer intro or accent (see the excellent "Woman of Dark Desires"), and gutsy decision to print his lyrics demanded a greater level of respect for what Bathory was trying to achieve beyond those simplistic first LPs. Finally, interesting closer "Of Doom" offers a Judas Priest-styled rave-up (thanking the fans for supporting the group, helping them rock out, etc.) and quotes the riff of Metallica's "For Whom the Bells Toll" to boot. In short, though clearly transitional (which of their albums wasn't?), Under the Sign: The Sign of the Black Mark remains a career highlight for Bathory and a crucial LP for all lovers of extreme metal.

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