Conversing With the Father of Scandinavian Black metal
"Sometimes black metal musicians and fans tell me that I am their god," beams Bathory's Quorthon. "Most of them are between 18 and 20 years old. It's hard to believe that when I formed Bathory [at the ripe old age of 15] some of them were four years old."
Although Bathory's music was influenced by Venom, Celtic Fost and the southern Florida death metal movement of the late 1980's, the band's leader is widely regarded as the father of Scandinavian black metal.
"Black Metal was very different in the early 1980s," he observes. "Today many people associate it with the [anti-Christian] groups [the notorious Norwegian Black Metal Mafia or the Inner Circle] who burn down churches and kill people because of their sexual orientation. When I began, it was everything from Satanism-whatever that is-to witchcraft and the dark side of life. Many of today's black metal artists are 'panda bands' because they wear makeup. Besides, the panda is virtually extinct."
Like many artists, Bathory began by copying their heroes. The band's self-titled debut, released in 1984, and sophomore effort, 1985's The Return, were energetic, but derivative of Slayer, Exodus and seminal black metal legends Venom. While Quorthon may not have equalled Venom frontman Cronos' charisma, he made up for it with talent and ability.
Quorthon is the lone surviving founding member of Bathory's somewhat revolving-door membership. At times, he's found it difficult to find appropriate people to fill out the roster. During the band's formative years, for example, outfits like Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and WASP were popular, and Quorthon was forced to weed through "guys who wore too much cologne, eyeliner and had big hair" when he advertised for new bandmates in local newspapers.
"Early on, I went through five drummers and three bassists," he says. "When we recorded The Return our bassist was on drugs, so I wound up playing most of the bass parts. The same thing happened on our third album, Under The Sign of the Black Mark."
Developing and expanding their sound, Bathory added keyboards, classical guitars, orchestration, harmony backing vocals and sound effects to their repertoire. By their fourth release, Blood Fire Death, the band had abandoned their trademark cartoonish satanic lyrics for words inspired by Quorthon's growing fascination with Vikings and Barbarians.
"When we recorded that album, we had reached a level of popularity where people wanted us to play in the States and Europe," recalls the frontman. "We were scheduled to tour with Celtic frost and Destruction throughout the United States and Canada, but it was canceled when no one could decide on a headliner."
At the time, every European underground metal band seemed to be involved in a feud: Mercyful Fate was waging war on British rock press with Venom, for one. Bathory was fighting with Celtic Frost.
"When I was promoting the album Hammerheart in London a few years ago, I ended up staying in the same hotel as [Celtic Frost frontman] Tom Warrior," remembers Quorthon. "We got stuck in the same elevator, British elevators are not famous for being big, everything was quiet, but as I got off on my floor, I heard him mumbling something under his breath.
"I regret having said negative things about those guys, like we're bigger and better than they'll ever be. Not that I like them, but I have a newfound sense of respect. I've wised up after 14 years, after achieving everything I dreamed of as a kid. I used to read stories about Kiss having sex with all of these girls in limousines. I've done that. I've done everything I ever dreamed of doing except perform at Madison Square Garden [in New York City]."
Bathory's reluctance to tour internationally has made the band somewhat of a mystery, a fact which Quorthon acknowledges.
"We're known as the one-man band who lives in a satanic bat cave that never tours," he laughs. "But if we toured it would ruin the imaginations of people who expect us to perform the songs of Satan while breathing fire from our asses. What people would actually see are three guys wearing sneakers and jeans saying, 'Hi guys, do you remember the '80's? Well here we are.'
"Anytime I talk to bands who tour often," he continues, "they're in a situation where they have no choice. And they always tell me how lucky I am. It's always fifty people on a filthy bus for weeks at a time with bad girls, bad food, bad beer, bad money, bad lights and bad sound. It's nice for the first two or three nights, but it's the same songs night after night and you quickly get homesick."
While keeping off the road has its advantages, rarely being seen in public has its downside as well, including a spate of Bathory imitators.
"There's this guy in Holland who puts on shows," admits Quorthon. "He plays the old records and uses and echo on his guitar amp. The songs have fade-outs at the end, it's obvious he is playing along to a record."
Although he realizes he is being ripped off, Quorthon believes the impersonator is providing free publicicty. "He helps keep the Bathory name alive," he laughs.
Bathory's latest release, Blood On Ice, actually dates back to 1987. Not originally intended for public consumption, the project was born out of the band's reluctance in the mid-'80's to head back into the studio to record another collection of Satanism-laden songs. It was written and recorded at Heavenshore Studio, actually Quorthon's garage in suburban Stockholm, between the recording of the band's regular releases.
Since Quorthon first revealed the LP's existance in interviews a few years ago, he has been inundated by letters from fans either begging for a copy or insisting on its release. The problem was, Blood On Ice was far from finished.
Finally, Quorthon fetched the tapes from the vault (actually a plastic bag in a basement closet in his home) and during the summer of 1995 began the tedious and time consuming task of cleaning up the music and overdubbing everything from guitars to vocals. One of the biggest obstacles he found was imitating his vocal style, which has evolved since the mid-'80's.
As soon as he finishes promoting Blood On Ice, Quorthon will head home to begin work on his second solo album. After that, he will take a well-deserved rest before determining which direction Bathory will take on its next album.
"I am going to have to come up with something real special for the next one," he says. "I don't want to copy anything we have done before. Although we now have the name recognition where we can go in a completely different direction, we obviously cannot record a jazz album."