(Join Ionnas in this six part epic that will reveal the secrets of one of metal’s greatest treasures)
Part I: Bathory and the Prophecy of the Seeress
In this album analysis, we shall surf the Kali Yuga in quest for the essence of metal, the journey of the human Will from its twilight, through the dithyrambic ecstasy of life’s passion for death. It is truly, a fitting companion through the Age where God is Dead.
Our aim is to find what makes music great, and if we do, we might be able to unveil what makes metal music great. In the end, perhaps we shall manage to see what elements in metal can enhance our lives.
We will accomplish this by studying each of the compositions. But before we begin, we shall expound on the organic growth of the record, the result of an interplay between the artist’s will, convergence and divergence. From these dark materials, we will formulate the strategic vision of the record, and subsequently the positioning of the songs and the maneuvers through which the strategy is accomplished.
Quorthon’s idiosyncracy and character
The artist’s idiosyncracy and internal chaos are the heart of his art.
For Quorthon everything revolves around the story and the music. We are going to use plenty of his quotes, which should be taken with a grain of salt, since he is a known provocateur par excellence, who sometimes wants to make a point through exaggeration. The fact that some of his comments might be derogatory towards his subject matter and look like purposeful attempts to dispel the mystique surrounding him, should not be misunderstood: this man took music more seriously than most people would ever fathom and this is proved by his commitment to art and groundbreaking works. Him being not pretentious, reveals a man who smashes idols, even the ones that others make in his image and him being pretentious is part of showmanship – the temperance of minor and major reflected in his creations.
On the other hand, everyone seems to derive further meanings from listening to Twilight. To quote Varg Vikernes ‘I wish I knew what did the Twilight of the Gods mean for Bathory’. The author thinks however, that either consciously or unconsciously, a successful record follows the Law of Similarities: elements that fit together, make out of the record a more powerful impression. From an anthropological perspective, we as human beings are naturally inclined towards this sympathetic worldview, even to the point of entangling our religious views and aesthetic criteria upon commonality.
In addition, we also know in our guts that increase in the quality of life is paid with pain, a process where the consciousness has to experience what is called ‘psychic death’ in Jungian psychology. This leads us to a twofold conclusion: first there is an archetypal pattern of narrative that might exist, purposefully or not, in this album and second, the vira elements through which one emerges reborn through struggle are rightfully among the most treasured virtues of humanity. Hence, the author believes that the latter are the hidden treasure to be cherished from this beautiful work:
A bunch of men on horses or whatever you know, attacked by a major force. Well, (smiles) you’ve got to stand up for what you’re doing, regardless if you know you are going to die or not. Tomorrow, the battle was done and it’s a fine day to die, regardless if you are going to win or lose or die, you know it’s a fine day to die ~ Quorthon on the meaning behind the song A Fine Day to Die from Blood Fire Death
So what do we call ourselves now after seven years? Well, why not power metal? Because we draw the best of power that goes to your heart, the noise that goes to your ears.
Thus, let us assume that the goal of this record is to make the blood boil in your heart. To achieve this, the listener must be exposed to the forces of dissolution and re-emerge through mythological parables as a kshatriya that shall gain a brief glimpse of Valhalla and “life ever after”.
Quorthon’s vision and compositional strategy
I’m self-taught, having started to play the drums at the age of nine, then guitar and bass, piano and some other instruments at the age of fifteen.
Narratology-wise, the pattern that Quorthon followed for this record seems to be the monomyth of ‘The Hero’s Journey’, an algorithm common to most great myths and quests. There are certainly elements of a call to adventure in the first and mainly the second song – the first being a crisis that requires adventuring and the second being the proper call from the gods – then revelations and crises on the third and fourth (fifth is revelatory also but also bears transformative elements), while the last songs are the return home (Bond of Blood is literally about a Viking’s homecoming) and atonement in regards to death – the Hammerheart is the gift of the goddess!
Let us now study the architecture of Twilight of the Gods.
There are seven songs in this record, which is an interesting number in itself. According to our gothic qabalah, seven represents divinity and corresponds to the seven alchemical processes and the seven planets known since antiquity. This might be due to pure chance, but then again, from a perennial perspective it indicates the perfection of this work, even on the symbolic level. It is also worthy of note, since Gustav Holst, whose genius is venerated in the epilogue, used the septenary template out of astrological fascination. Taking this into account, as well as the fact that metal is a continuation of romanticism and more specifically, the fact that Quorthon claims to have only been listening to classical music from the 80s onwards – a provocative but possibly somehow true statement – let us see how the Planets suites of metal would look like mode-wise:
Twilight of the Gods: Aeolian
Through Thunder by Blood: intro in Aeolian verse in Dorian chorus in Ionian
Blood and Iron: intro in Aeolian verse in Dorian
Under the Runes: Intro Aeolian Dorian bridge in Lydian
Enter Your Mountain: intro Dorian verse Phrygian
Bond of Blood: intro and verse in Phrygian, climax and chorus in Locrian with an augmented fifth.
Hammerheart: Phrygian without the diminished second, climax in Mixolydian
We see that those seven songs correspond to the seven modes of old, by using each to differentiate themselves from each other. We also see that they all fit together, on the first half by having the Aeolian in common and on the second half by having the Phrygian. Due to genre as well as thematic conventions, the most prevalent modes are the Dorian, Aeolian and Phrygian with the rest used as brushes of color on the canvas of imagination.
We could also correspond the songs to a certain planet, but this can be done through the reader’s experience and aesthetic criteria, since ancient texts that assign modes to planets are not within the author’s research scope. Kepler’s music of the spheres, the theory that each planet emits a tone as its distance from the Sun varies from perihelion to aphelion and back, a ‘whistling produced by friction with the heavenly light’, might help in such an endeavor.
There is also something mystical in a record that defies the ten-song per album template: ‘Quality must triumph over quantity’.
Key of each song
The dominant keys for each song are the following:
Twilight of the Gods – F
Through Blood by Thunder – A
Blood and Iron – C, G
Under the Runes – C, F
Enter Your Mountain – F, Bb
Bond of Blood – Bb
Hammerheart – Bb
We see that each song is not played on the same positions on the fretboard and possibly a lot of them were written on the piano and then executed on guitar were extra chromaticism was added on the bridges, considering the lack of more than two accidentals on each key and the overall harmonic maturity of every piece.
Texture and themes of each song
Since Quorthon first writes the music and then the lyrics – as he has admitted on interviews, generally he frowns upon fans such as the Norwegians who took his lyrics literally – thus, it is natural that the mood of each song connects the music and affects the lyrical content. It is almost certain that with the music as a starting point the two are molding each other.
Twilight of the Gods: dark and dramatic; the end of the world and the decline of mankind.
Through Blood by Thunder: tragic, heroic and hopeful; after the storm, a return to eternal values, a warrior willing to die for the gods
Blood and Iron: epic and hopeful; a cosmological story; titanomachia; mankind’s destiny
Under the Runes: joy; the warrior is perishing in battle
Enter your Mountain: nature, joy, darkness, epic, revelation, volume; a warrior achieving illumination
Bond of Blood: darkness, melancholy, nostalgia, hope, anticipation; the warrior coming home
Hammerheart: detachment, gratitude, honor; a Viking funeral
Structure and lyrical content
Each song follows a more or less verse-chorus pattern with occasional strong climaxes that take the song somewhere else by various means, transposition being the most prevalent. The base elements that comprise their music are catchy and essential.
In comparison with previous songwriting styles implemented by Quorthon on Hammerheart, the music here is less abrasive or violent. Doom elements prevail, as well as huge choruses – monolithic sounds as a context, the album cover is reflective of this.
Quorthon has confessed that people usually take out more things from his albums than he intended. To begin with, Quorthon states that this is not a concept album. Then again, there is a common thread with ancestral belief and the role of humanity in the Universe, and a wise creator would never want the listener to form a prefabricated opinion. Therefore, take my raving due to the unconscious projection of life unto my favorite music with a grain of salt. I am sure you have your own perspective on this artist – and I think that’s beautiful, further proof that Twilight of the Gods is one of the greatest albums of all time.
“O brave new world,” he repeated. “O brave new world that has such people in it. Let’s start at once.” A. Huxley, Brave New World
Musical analysis and morbid political paroxysms
“Twilight of the Gods” begins with a prolonged melancholical silence. Is it the serenity of nature, though? Is it the silence of contemplation between phrases in a Wagnerian overture? The sad acoustic passage that emerges is uneasy, the cadences unresolved; it is a song unsung and the painting of a landscape that none shall ever tread.
The wind is howling; it is the silent premonition of nuclear winter.
Anticipation is rewarded in the fade-in of a distorted guitar – possibly a lesPaul or an Ibanez Destroyer – which strives to imitate an acoustic one with a slight distortion. As the magic of the minor playful mannerisms of the pseudo-acoustic guitar unfolds, encompassing most notes of the d minor scale in a primordial soup of potentiality and lack of obvious rhythmical tempo, the listener understands that this is not a display of virtuosity, this is an emotional and passionate performance:
I don’t see myself as a guitar player. I just use the guitar for writing songs. I may use the bass or a piano when writing other times. ~ Quorthon
Indeed, there is an apparent lack of direction in this melody, it resembles the song of birds and it is honest folk music in soul. His guitar gently weeps. There is a motif that appears later in the song, the theme of Blood and Iron, and perhaps other small motifs and cadences which are characteristic of Bathory. There are many orientations presented to the listener and therefore to the composer, as there are melodic lines within Dm, but there is a certain road, signified by the arpeggio Bb-(next octave)G-A-Bb-A-G-E hammer-on F pull-off E-C. Going up an octave is natural as an exclamation or a human sigh, a sigh for what was lost and the choice of a chord pattern change from Dm to Bb is a mini climax on its own. Quorthon, like Hercules was presented with two paths: the path of technical wankery and the path of songwriting virtue. He chose the latter! Which one will you choose o reader?
It is harsh in the world,
—an axe age, a sword age
—shields are riven—
a wind age, a wolf age—
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another.
Voluspa – translated by Ursula Dronke in the Poetic Edda : Volume II: Mythological Poems (1997)
Harsh bass drum sounds are smashing through the beginning of this magnificent song. The storm is here, the distorted power chords ring and the tragedy called ‘Man’ commences, in the pace of i – VII – VI that drags in penitence throughout the song. The lead melody emerges in highly inventive power chords on which the sound of F G F E dominates and after the assertion of F for a long time, G takes over and then it all falls to E. Why? Because we are talking about twilight! F is the natural state of humanity, that lasted millions of years. G is the state of apparent growth and E is the fall of pitch as well as of humanity in its dying throes. Apocalypse.
The choir is created by one man, perhaps with the aid of a keyboard. A gong and a real acoustic guitar contribute to the iceberg-wall of sound that traverses the black ocean of might. I5 – VII5 – I5 the theme of the chorus appears here, in a cadence of pure strength, the heavy metal heritage passed down from Black Sabbath and Motorhead to Quorthon. The choir, at first a mere hum now has evolved into a full concert of voices as riff A returns, and the melody that is performed creates insurmountable tension, by being transposed a whole interval upwards and then falling down again, perpetually, like the modern absurdist man dragging his stone on the cliffs of Hades.
I began to listen to classical music shortly after forming BATHORY, and from 1985-1986 it was all I would listen to. I had been playing various types of rock in various constellations since 1975, so picking up Wagner, Beethoven, Haydn and others really broadened my musical awareness extensively. The motif signature naturally comes from the world of opera.
On the verse, riff A perseveres under a different form: the choir drags the final notes longer to better accommodate the vocals. Funny thing is, it feels like the riff has changed like three times, when the changes have been kept minimal. This trick is descended directly from classical. It looks like this music has been played and visualized again and again and again in enjoyment, before Quorthon wrote the epic:
There is a serpent in every Eden
Slick as grease and cold as ice
There is a lie in every meaning
Rest assured to fool you twice
A raving man, a man amongst the ruins, preaching the fall of civilization. Within the ruins, geopolitical games, clashes between autocratic ideologies and dogmatic religions, suicide and depression are rampant:
In this age of utter madness
We maintain we are in control
And ending life before deliverance
While countries are both bought and sold
Quorthon’s voice merges with the melodic line of the choir. This ties up perfectly the human heroic element.
The enemy is not named; music delivers the gnosis, not words, this is a manifesto of the heart, to be lived and experienced, not parrotized. The pattern of the fall, F G F E, offers no political solution for small minds to cling. It is simply, there.
Holy writtings hokus-pokus
Blaze of glory and crucifix
Prepried costly credit salvations
TV-preachers and dirty tricks
Don’t trust nobody
It will cost you much too much
Beware of the dagger
It caress you at first touch
O, all small creatures
It is the twilight if the gods
In a society without values, you cannot disagree with a nihilistic madman, when he is more eloquent than you. And thus, utter madness dominates. It is the lies told by politicians and preachers. It is the lies we tell ourselves. In tyranny after all, even we, the subjects, are small tyrannical men, deserving of our constitution.
The twilight motif C5-D5-D5-C5-D5 returns again to pave the way unto the skies, shattering the clouds and unveiling emptiness in a total change of mood. Despair turns to triumph, as power chords rise upwards. We are six minutes into the song which has not ventured away from D5 C5 and Bb5. We are still hooked. It’s that good. Because some people are so talented that have beauty imprinted in their eyes and ears. This climax, serves a purpose as we shall see later.
“Twilight of the Gods…! Twilight of the Gods!”
Then is fulfilled Hlín’s
when Óðinn goes
to fight with the wolf,
and Beli’s slayer,
bright, against Surtr.
Then shall Frigg’s
sweet friend fall.
Without the gods, we are left with new ‘revelatory’ truths built not upon reality, but narcissism. The manifestations of these will end at the same place, where the world will end, not with a bang but a whimper. And the new men are the hollow men, the last men, enslaved by their need for comfort, neither happy nor unhappy, hands neither clean nor dirty, much like misdirected artists in sadistic metal reviews. For what is art but a reflection of who we are, as people?
Weakness crowns a generation of addicts, the result of the lack of a common thread underlying our culture but that of hunger – it is each man for himself, war of all against all, ‘don’t trust nobody’! Witness the passive nihilist generation drunk. Witness the architecture that Lovecraft admired, the only solace in the urban decline of interpretivist aesthetics; and in the alcove, the needle and the damage done.
The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human being to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in “advanced” countries ~ Industrial Society and its Future
When you realize that electricity is a poor substitute of fire; that men spend their days hovering an arrow at the eyes of their digital brother, and this brother knows all about them, us and you. When you feel misanthropy as men are unleashed from the pregnant bowels of metallic beasts, trains, planes, buses, hurrying to delay the inevitable you might wonder ‘what were their mothers, and all mothers, but well lubricated machines for slave generation?’ And then you feel the awe when the ants rush off to their lowest-wage slavery ‘over the bridge they come so many, I never thought that death had undone so may’.
“Restriction on Freedom is Unavoidable in Industrial Society”, item 119
And if anyone ever witnessed the Twilight of the Gods and wanted to do something about it, he might have noticed the transvaluation of values within the harbingers of change, the crowning of the weak, the degenerate and the addicted in the throne of power, under the religious command of ‘morality’ which is a mantle for revenge. Yet, true morality is not a social construct, but rather an adherence to immortal principles, that find their analogues even in mathematics, molecules, cosmology and metallurgy. One must experience it, and find it imprinted upon the helix of his very soul. Until then, all leadership for change will be corrupt – for leadership without followership is dead.
No change can ever occur in the world without changing ourselves. To die every day. To be reborn every day. This is the asceticism that brings out the most pleasure – this is the asceticism that brings out freedom! The ever-striving pursuit of the summit transcending d minor to reach into E major with an added F natural to facilitate the transition, power-sus2-chords pushing upwards Dsharp, F, Fsharp, Gsharp, A, B, Csharp into the Eternal Fire!
“Exposing what is mortal and unsure to all that fortune, death and danger dare, even for an eggshell. Isn’t there something in that?” he asked, looking up at Mustapha Mond. “Quite apart from God–though of course God would be a reason for it. Isn’t there something in living dangerously?”
“There’s a great deal in it,” the Controller replied. “Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time.”
“What?” questioned the Savage, uncomprehending.
“It’s one of the conditions of perfect health. That’s why we’ve made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory.”
“Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenalin. It’s the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences.”
“But I like the inconveniences.”
“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
~ Brave New World
Even the gods of countless religions
Holds no powers against this tide
Of degeneration because we have now found
That there is no thrones up there in the sky
Run from this fire
It will burn your very soul
Its flames reaching higher
Comed this far there is no hold
O, all small creatures
It is the twilight if the gods
The lyric ‘there is no thrones up there in the sky’ is the heaviest in the song. It is indeed the end of the forces that protected humanity from its degeneration into beasts, the gods are dead and we have killed them. And the huge voids that this lack of culture leaves behind, swallows the sun of individuality forever in the shroud of oxymorous ideological nebulae. When the foundations of our existence begin to crumble one by one, as the lyrics say, we will all be swept away. So what can we do? The song leaves us lyrically unresolved, yet in its final throes we see a ray of light, in the funeral procession of d minor acoustic and rolling timpani, emerging from the ashes of the chorale eruption, the notes that will rejuvenate the soil.
When the chords fall behind the riff, and then on A5, you are reminded of the climax of a Fine Day to Die. Therein lies the hope and the solution:
You’ve got to stand up for what you’re doing, regardless if you know you are going to die or not. Regardless if you win, or die, or lose, it’s a Fine Day to Die! ~ Quorthon
Under the new orchestrated logic of Bathory, a bass solo is sweeping down a minor Hispanic scale, into a solo reminiscent of the way progressive rock bands end epic songs, leaving the listener uncomfortably numb with awe.
The Savage stood looking on. “O brave new world, O brave new world …” In his mind the singing words seemed to change their tone. They had mocked him through his misery and remorse, mocked him with how hideous a note of cynical derision! Fiendishly laughing, they had insisted on the low squalor, the nauseous ugliness of the nightmare. Now, suddenly, they trumpeted a call to arms. “O brave new world!” Miranda was proclaiming the possibility of loveliness, the possibility of transforming even the nightmare into something fine and noble. “O brave new world!” It was a challenge, a command.
~ Brave New World
54. Then comes Sigfather’s | mighty son,
Vithar, to fight | with the foaming wolf;
In the giant’s son | does he thrust his sword
Full to the heart: | his father is avenged.
55. Hither there comes | the son of Hlothyn,
The bright snake gapes | to heaven above;
. . . . . . . . . .
Against the serpent | goes Othin’s son.
56. In anger smites | the warder of earth,–
Forth from their homes | must all men flee;-
Nine paces fares | the son of Fjorgyn,
And, slain by the serpent, | fearless he sinks.
57. The sun turns black, | earth sinks in the sea,
The hot stars down | from heaven are whirled;
Fierce grows the steam | and the life-feeding flame,
Till fire leaps high | about heaven itself.
58. Now Garm howls loud | before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free;
Much do I know, | and more can see
Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight.
Voluspa, The prophecy of the seeress.
A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields as the age of Men comes crashing down! But it is not this day!
This day we fight.