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Bathory - Octagon
Review: After a graceful arc through primitive underground black/death metal into epic Viking metal that merged folk music and black metal, Bathory attempted to reinvent itself by merging past influences and its own successes in a series of albums that hit with blinding speed and abrasion yet felt hollow within.
Unlike earlier albums, there is no binding theme expressed in imagery and music that unites these works; they are like a pamphlet of haiku poems, each finding a different insight that together reads like one of the more insightful newspaper columns from the time of the collapse of a once-vibrant culture. Clean vocals that are true to Quorthon's poor singing voice quite thin cover riffs that for the most part could have been outtakes from the second Bathory album, but here are inserted into the context of songs in speed metal structure and tempo.
Unfortunately, percussion is a mechanical drum machine that fails to take advantage (sensu Godflesh) of what can be done with a deliberately ahuman machine sound; this is complemented by the speed of the work, which requires it to bang along like a rattling two-stroke. Guitars are both loud and thin, as if tracks were not doubled except in the mixing booth. These errors of production and aesthetic make it difficult to hear the power this music at times has, and have even confused the artist, as this album flags in intensity and confidence as it progresses; earlier songs hold together well but later songs have a penciled-in and pasted-together feel which adulterates the power of these creative and often hard-hitting riffs; the ingredients were good but the concept missing, so the artist shoved everything into an adaptation of standard song format that seemed appropriate for the style of the album (see comments on production/aesthetic factors above).
All of this contributes to the sensation that this album is a four-track bedroom demo that, through a diabolical clerical error, got pressed and released while the artist was in a depressed and/or drugged funk. Had Quorthon had the energy to listen to this for a couple years and then return to it, he might have shaped these excellent raw materials into a top-notch album, but for now these will always fit between the seminal Bathory work and the hard rock-influenced disasters at the conclusion of its career, as remains of the old hanging on before a total giving-up ushered in the insincerity of the new.