Having played volleyball for many years and now being well past 40, not all parts of the body can endure the pressure I want it to take, and a year or so ago, something tore in my left shoulder whilst spiking the shit out of a ball. Shit happens. So, on the 6th of January, I finally went through surgery after having postponed it a couple of times. Shoulders are complicated to mess with, and they need rest after surgery. Three weeks of wearing a sling day and night, then an additional three weeks of wearing it in bed. Driving isn’t allowed either. Consequently, the first three weeks were basically just sick leave and typing as much as I could with one hand and generally feeling rather helpless, given the fact that I’m left-handed and could only move my right arm. Brushing your teeth with the ‘wrong’ hand takes some getting used to, trust me.
Anyhoo, one of the marvellous things about having been forced to stay at home has been the fact that I’ve had time to do things I don’t normally do. I’ve been much closer to the school work of my three daughters, I’ve watched the entire DareDevil series on Netflix and I’ve walked. A lot. I’ve walked between five and ten kilometres almost every day, simply to stay in shape (I’m not allowed to run or cycle either) and to get away from the house. The phone and a headset have been my faithful companions during these long walks, and it has been my good fortune that the new Ereb Altor album landed in my inbox in early January. ‘Blot – Ilt – Taut’ has been the perfect background music to set the mood for my walks, especially when snow graciously covered the landscape. Here’s a few impressions from my walks in the area where I live:
So, there I was, walking around in the woods, minding my steps because a fall would be a disaster for my shoulder, listening to these gigantic Viking metal tunes, originally conceived by a genre-defining musician when I was a much younger person, now conveyed to us by a band who have decided to lift the heritage of said musician.
What was it, exactly, that made Tomas Forsberg, better known in metaldom as Quorthon, something special? Was he an exceptional singer? No, not really. He sang and screamed with passion, yes, but technically he wasn’t great. Was he a sublime guitar player? Nah, he was certainly no Yngve Malmsteen. As a bassist he was also capable, but not world-class. He even used a drum machine for a big chunk of his recordings! Well, then, what was it?
Like other musicians who eventually become beacons for others, those who define genres, Quorthon dared to be different. He dared to alter recipes and find his own vision for music as a way of expressing emotions. From the feeble and raw beginnings, where Venom and Motörhead were but all too clear inspirational sources, over to ‘Blood Fire Death’ where the vision would finally take shape, and then unto the power and might of ‘Hammerheart’ and ‘Twilight of the Gods’, where the soul of Quorthon’s vision for a truly Scandinavian brand of metal was definitively unleashed in a merger of doomy bombast, passionate vocals about life and death in the high North as well as beauty into a great, epic unity. That was, of course, combined with the fact that Quorthon was perceived as a bit of an eccentric character, but in fact I always imagined that he was basically an introvert profile who would eventually abandon live performances entirely because he felt mostly at ease recording in the studio and staying away from the hubbub of the music business.
The two latter-mentioned albums together form the apex of Quorthon’s creative legacy, since his later albums never quite captured both the grandeur and the freshness of ‘Hammerheart’ and ‘Twilight…’. This is not unusual for bands and musicians. There are peaks and downs and peaks again. Who knows; if heart failure hadn’t ripped Quorthon away from us in 2004, we could have been in the middle of his comeback with a series of intense and relevant albums, just like we’ve seen it with so many other older bands.
Anyway, speculations about a future that never was to be are futile, and we can just observe how many black and Viking metal bands would not have existed without Bathory. If I were to point to any band who have earned themselves the right to pick up the torch from Bathory and carry on the flame of those Northern fires, it would indeed be Ereb Altor.
With a considerable number of releases now, the Swedish quartet have shown how to strike a balance of on the one hand paying perfect homage to Quorthon and on the other hand to create their own music. Apparently, the time has now finally come for Ereb Altor to make an actual tribute album to the old master. Hence, this cover album, ‘Blot – Ilt – Taut’ (very cleverly entitled so: it means ‘Blood – Fire – Death’ in old Swedish).
The general impression of the album is that it stays true to Bathory’s versions of the songs without being exact copies, and at the same time, this is also an update, even fine tuning, of the material. I’d claim that it can only be so because Ereb Altor have been so close to the heart of the matter for so many years now. Again relying on my overactive imagination, I could picture this as Quorthon’s re-recordings with today’s technology to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ‘Twilight of the Gods’ or his 50th birthday or whatever.
To be honest, the two songs The Return of Darkness and Evil and Woman of Dark Desires sound terrible in the original versions. Perhaps back then, I appreciated them, simply because they were noisy and raw and I wanted music to be extreme, but I never really liked them. These are the most obvious examples of the fine tuning I talked about before. Ereb Altor have managed to take these songs and make them sound fresh and hard and…well, they finally sound as good as they deserve to sound!
The other six songs of the album, the classics, the great, epic monoliths of doomy Viking metal, they have also received the respectful treatment of Ereb Altor. Sharpened, cleaned up, altered slightly, but never too much. They still hold the fire and atmosphere of the originals, but simply sound more up-to-date. I can’t see how anyone could have done a better job of paying the honours to Quorthon and Bathory.
I’ll conclude this piece by thanking Ereb Altor for helping make my walks through the woods something special – tack så mycket – jävla bra skiva!
1. A Fine Day to Die ***
2. Song to Hall Up High °
3. Home of Once Brave °
4. The Return of Darkness and Evil *
5. Woman of Dark Desires **
6. Twilight of the Gods °°
7. Blood Fire Death ***
* originally from “Scandinavian Metal Attack”
** originally from “Under the sign of the Black Mark”
*** originally from “Blood Fire Death”
° originally from “Hammerheart”
°° originally from “Twilight of the Gods”
Playing time: 47 minutes
Release date: 11th of March. 2016
Label: Cyclone Empire