It seemed to all these thousands of fans and fanzines a frustrating fact that we could let a complete epic-type of a theme- album collect dust on a shelf. The truth is it was, of course, far from that complete, ready-to-be-released epic creation of a theme- album it was made out to be.
Blood on Ice was an hour long of material recorded during the same circumstances that four of our albums were recorded... that is on equipment hailing from the late 60s, early 70s and using a 14-track demo-style mixing table of home made-fashion (in reality 12-tracks due to the fact the table itself didn't have any effects of its own - hence two tracks were used for echoes etc. mind you, sometimes tracks on that old made tape-machine we used just wouldn't work from one day to another). This private demo-studio was seldom, if ever, used for anything serious other than BATHORY and occasionally up until '87 (but all the time after that) it was actually working as a garage (which in fact is just what it was to begin with) and not only used car parts be stored there, but the damn place would function as a repair shop in between the recording of Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart (and as such all the time when the latter was recorded)...
Oh, those were the days...
The size of the room where we would 'pile' our amplifiers up against the wall (if we're talking the first album, that's plugging in my shitty little 20w Yamaha amp, mind you) and where we would rig up our drums, was not large enough to allow us to record, say, the guitar and the drums or the bass and the drums at the same time (hence the use of clique-track on most of our albums). More than once a very primitive, not even a second generation drum machine had to be used to replace the snare-drum due to the poor sound quality. When we did the first album we didn't even have a complete drum kit but worked with a snare drum, a ride cymbal and a bass drum only.
Working with such a comparatively limited number of tracks meant that an instrument and a sound effect such as thunder, wind or church bell or whatever, could occupy one single track. This became routine when our music developed and became more and more arranged, incorporating stuff like harmony backing vocals and acoustic guitars. At times a track could host the acoustic guitar that started a song off only to some moments later feature a doomsday type of drum in the choirs or whatever, maybe paired with a clap of thunder or some other type of sound effect. Then a guitar-solo would usually follow before that acoustic guitar would end the song. Of course very primitive and sometimes extremely frustrating as each instrument or sound effect would have to have its own particular sound (and volume level) meaning that the Eq's and effects as well as level would have to be switched (by hand in those days) while the whole thing was run down onto the quarter-inch master tape (and this is just talking one single track on one song - there could be five or six tracks on a song that had to be taken care of in the same way - simultaneously!). Screw up. And you would have to do it all over again. Many times we just left things as they were because we couldn't care less about fuck-ups at that stage of the recording process. These small 'errors' are there every time that I listen to a Bathory track and not only will the 'studio-artist' in me concentrate on picking them out and get upset about them, but the metal-fan within is never allowed to simply sit down and enjoy the stuff like so many others.
Many times the recording room would be occupied by more or less usable parts of old Porsche-cars to such an extent that we had to record those lead vocals, backing vocals or an acoustic guitar in every possible confined area such as a bathroom, the cleaning cabinet or, if possible, any small unoccupied area in the actual recording room that was just large enough to stand when doing your vocals or where you could place a chair for sitting down with your acoustic guitar.
I remember vividly one moment in June '89 when we came down the Heavenshore Studio to record the material for what was to be the album Hammerheart. The whole place had not only been stripped of everything that functioned as sound isolation, but the whole place was filled with a three foot thick layer of coarse gravel (to be flattered and covered with a layer of asphalt any day now we were promised). When we recorded the drums, the kit would have to be placed any way possible on top of that undulating landscape of coarse gravel, which only just reminded me of the Sahara desert. And as if that wasn't enough, there were no lights in the studio. We had to use a small table-lamp to be able to see anything at all. Don't ask me how we did it, but somehow we did just that.
To this day I wonder if these circumstances haven't contributed just a bit to our 'sound' in those days. Just imagine all those car doors, hub caps and assorted odd pieces rattling along. I recall when recording Hammerheart, working around these ordeals in a rather casual way: when I was sitting down doing the acoustic intro for Valhalla, how the neighbours' motorized lawnmover would find its way onto the two-inch tape, sort of taking the Viking or barbarian atmosphere away just a bit. The recording room itself had been soundproof before the whole place was literally torn apart to be transferred into a repair shop, so I was now sitting in this cleaning cabinet while the asphalt was setting in, and the cabinet with its paper thin walls was surely anything but soundproof. If this makes you drop your chin from pure amazement, wait until you hear about the lead vocals done in the bathroom.
Few bands, if any, would accept to record under these circumstances, I'm sure, and even our patience could be pushed to the limits occasionally. But still today, when even the most ill-sounding black or death type of bands have access to the very most modern recording techniques, using todays DATs and computer mixing possibilities, I'm not sure whether I really would have wanted to miss out on those days. It is with a great big fat smile that I look back on those days when I could stand knee-deep in either hub caps, packages of washing powder or even laundry while doing my lead vocals or an acoustic guitar intro, usually with my arms and legs wrapped around broomsticks, pipes or hoses, while worrying about whether the neighbour's lawnmover, a bypassing car, an airliner or just a dripping toilet would find its way onto the tape too much. This certified but charming hell is forever after immortalised as the Heavenshore Studio, the very place where Bathory, Under the Sign..., Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart were recorded... and the original material which lay as the base for Blood on Ice as well. Especially charming is it that not only is Heavenshore Studio a legendary place among our fans and known to most folks with at least one foot within extreme metal, but the studio as such just doesn't exist anymore other than in the form of a private garage in a residential area in a southern suburb to Stockholm.
Recorded not only during these circumstances but also in a sort of half-hearted way, I was amazed, when listening to the tapes again all these years later, that the material even held together. Half- hearted in the sense that we were not too damn sure about the great stuff in going onto a Viking styled concept-album after having produced such wonderful mother-of-all-evil slab of satanic shit like our second album The Return... (from January'85... and mind you, once labeled as the most evil album ever released... incredible what liberal amounts of Swedish vodka and some distorted guitars really can accomplish). Going from stuff like the demons of hell etc. To an all- and-all-out Viking styled concept-album based on a self-written saga containing swords and muscles and snow soaked in blood (and who knows what else...), in other words, stuff quite a bit far away from good ol' Antichrist and his grandma, was quite a big step to take.
I'm astonished when thinking back, realizing not only was the material that forms the base for this album laid onto tape in pieces where one song would feature a single rough guitar and a monotone drum beat and another would have been worked on a little more, including a bass and even vocals, but all the more astonishing is it that virtually all of the original material for Blood on Ice was recorded not only in between albums (Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart) but some of this material was worked on even during the recording of the Hammerheart album. The original Blood on Ice material was worked on in the studio over a period of one and a half years.
The confusion and the element of distraction of working on the 'real' albums at the same time as we were trying to find out whether Bathory and a theme album really was such a good combination really should have made the original Blood on Ice material sound like a mishmash, but when listening to the stuff all over again after all these years, I was taken by surprise how good some of the stuff actually was, making me all the more convinced that maybe I should spend some time giving this material a touch up and a patch job.
So what was the 'soul' of Blood on Ice'? It actually started with the decline of enthusiasm for yet another full length album packed with screams of satan etc., and all this due to the fact that I came to the personal conclusion that this whole satanic bit was a fake: A hoax created by another hoax - the Christian church, the very institution and way of life that we wanted to give a nice big fat ball breaker of a kick, by picking up the satanic and occult topics in our lyrics, in the first place. It's not easy coming out of school and starting a band at the age of fifteen and lacking the sort of experiences that great metal lyrics seemed to be made of, such as striding a Harley going down the highway doing 120 and fondling a babe's tits while drinking from a bottle of whiskey, like all the big bands seemed to do it. And what the hell... you gonna write songs about something, right!?
And so there was this thing created by the church (or Christianity, if you like) to herd the terrified world into its arms (and cathedrals). A thing like the satanic or occult dish is bound to work well as a bad motherfucker or main ingredient for your lyrics. Usually old gods and religions were turned into bad ones, and the Christian image of a bad anti-god was swiftly accepted by the uneducated mobs of eleventh century Europe (it's really amazing what we are prepared to accept and do when facing the sword held in one hand and the crucifix in the other, as well as facing the danger of missing out on that eternal life-trip up there... but then there is always that forgive-you-all type, so I guess a little bit of sin can't be too bad after all). Nevermind. This personal conclusion of mine had me set my mind on finding other stuff to use when writing material for future Bathory albums.
Since I am an avid fan of history, the natural step would be to find something in history that could replace a thing like the dark (not necessarily always the evil) side of life (and death). And what could be more simple and natural than to pick up on the Viking era. Great era, and great material for metal lyrics. Being Swedish and all, having a personal relation to, and linked by blood to, that era at the same time as it was a, if not a well-known, so at least an internationally infamous moment in history, I sensed that here I just might have something. Especially well suited was it since it was an era that reached its peak just before the Christian circus came around northern Europe and Sweden in the tenth century, establishing itself as the dictatorial way of life and death.
And so that satan and hell type of soup was changed for proud and strong nordsmen, shiny blades of broadswords, dragon ships and a party- 'til-you-puke type of living up there in the great halls... an image of my ancestors and that era not too far away from the romanticised and, to a great extent, utterly wrong image most people have of that period in time through countless Hollywood productions etc.
When I grew up there were two comic magazines one read every week. One being a horror type of mag called Chock (in the same vein as say, Tales from the Crypt). The other one was Savage Sword of Conan or Conan the Barbarian. Having grown up reading Chock, I was already nourished with a great well of inspiration when stuff for the first triple set of albums were written (no serious reading of the so-called black bible here, oh no... not even the blue, yellow or even the pink one either, mind you). Now the world of swords and swelling muscles of Conan worked pretty well as an inspiration source when I was writing what was to be the material that ended up on Blood Fire Death and to a certain extent maybe even on Hammerheart, the latter being, actually, a compromise, having rejected the idea of a concept-album as being something too far fetched, an album that instead would deal only in general with the Viking era but enough to at least satisfy ourselves, was regarded as a good solution and bit of a compromise and so Hammerheart was born.
I was also a long time fan of the life and works of Richard Wagner, addicted to his operas and aware of what he read when finding inspiration for them, I turned to the same books and legends. As it turned out, I was borrowing liberally from both Scandinavian and Germanic mythology. Ingredients like Mjolner - the hammer of Tor, Sleipner - the ieght legged stallion of Oden, as well as Hugin and Munin - his ravens, all became important subjects of inspiration when I started to write the Saga of Blood on Ice. From the works of Wagner I more or less stole the legend of Siegfried and the dying gods of the Gotterdammerung, as well as the sword Notung.
At this stage, even as the saga was coming together, I had not yet thought about putting music to it or cutting it down into rhythm and rhyme. Blood on Ice was still just a story I had written for my own pleasure. Realizing, of course, the potential in the story for a great epic-type of a metal album, the transformation from a private saga to what you now hold in your hands was not too far away once the idea had crossed my mind.
So why was the whole thing aborted to begin with and that at a stage when we had even bothered to start to record the basic tracks, some even featuring vocals? Well we probably weren't too sure whether this really was such a good idea to begin with. It had only been two years since The Return... when I started to write Blood on Ice in saga format, and the fanzines were still referring to us as that "...satanic band from Sweden...". Even as I was putting down guitars for some of these tracks back in '89 I would still receive fan mail from all over the world asking me if those rumours about me eating infant babies, drinking angels' blood and living in a satanic (!) bat's cave in the north of Sweden really were true. And man... I'm telling 'ya... judging from how they came across in their letters, not to mention all those inverted crosses and magical symbols they had drawn all over the pages in presumably their own blood... they were really knee-deep into that shit... I ain't kidding.
Even though we had done things since The Return..., stuff like 'Enter the Eternal Fire' or 'Call from the Grave' and would do things like 'A Fine Day to Die', 'Odens Ride over Nordland' and 'Blood Fire Death', stuff that guaranteed no one could ignore the fact that new frontiers were being explored both musically and lyricly, an all-and- all-out theme-album might just prove too far, too deep, too big a step to take and maybe too hard to handle for someone out there who might just be able to afford only one or two albums a month. Those dollars, pounds, marks or kronor might just as well be spent on a safe bet rather than on a theme album by an already narrow band like Bathory. And remember, we are talking '88-'89 here, times when bands like Bathory not necessarily would be released on the then new CD format. Blood on Ice on vinyl would have meant a double album. As if the whole project wasn't swaying already... here was another grain of salt in its wounds to prevent it from becoming reality, it seemed.
With all this in mind, no wonder the thought of spending all this time and all this money all these years later in a modern expensive studio putting all these pieces together into a releasable and representable CD never crossed my mind when people asked me about it. Until the day came when I dug that cassette up and was taken by surprise...
If I hadn't been constantly reminded of Blood on Ice when I read fan mail or was doing interviews with fanzines and magazines, either personally or over the phone, I am sure that in the future I would probably only think of Blood on Ice as a birthday present you never unwrapped or a girl you never nailed. That is, something that just didn't happen. But the underground movement should never be underestimated as a contact net. From the time I had breathed about Blood on Ice, sometime in '89 very little time passed before piles of fan mail regarding Blood on Ice would start to drop in. Especially intensive was the campaign to have me release Blood on Ice when I was traveling around Europe for a month telling folks why there was a solo album out. That European promo-trip and long conversations with all sorts of people not only made me think about Blood on Ice with a different attitude, but everybody seemed to know about its existence anyway, as well as urging me on to release it. There were moments however, when fans would gather around me and with almost tears in their eyes, tell me about how much Bathory had meant to them, as well as filling me in on that revival things and what Bathory has meant to a whole generation of fans and bands in terms of inspiration etc. I think it's safe to say that I started to rethink and refuel.
After Twilight of the Gods and celebrating ten years on record by releasing two Jubileum CDs instead of a more expensive and cumbersome double-monster, I had found myself out of ideas and totally uninterested in loud guitars and that loose subject of "rock'n roll". To make things a bit worse (!)... from '86 and thereafter, the only thing spinning at my place was classical music in general and Wagner and Beethoven particularly.
The solo effort, Album, worked as a sort of therapy. I found the way back to enjoy playing again. Imagine someone asking you to go into this studio on your own to spend two weeks in there doing whatever the shit you feel like. If you have been tied down something like Bathory for ten years, every single note and word you've done in the studio having to fit under a certain umbrella, you're gonna ask yourself "Just who the hell am I?" Especially when a solo release is also supposed to be a personal effort, you're bloody well intitled to know, right!? Love it or hate it, but that step aside, that breath of fresh air brought me back to rock'n roll no matter how little or how much "rock'n roll" you can track down in stuff like 'War' or 'Dies Irae'.
Urged on as I had been by those fans talking about the "good ol' noisy days", within two weeks after I had returned to Stockholm from that promotion trip, virtually all the music for what was to be Requiem had already been written. When Requiem has been recorded and mixed, I was still running on top gear. That is when the stuff for Octagon was written. The two of them being recorded within six months of each other, as well as being released six months after one another, roughly. This had brought me back on the track again. Having left off some steam, I figured now was the time to earmark the coming handful of months for Blood on Ice.
That's when I decided to track down a cassette I knew I was keeping in a plastic bag in a closet. Upon finding it and listening to it for the first time in many years, I was, as stated earlier, amazed it didn't sound too bad. I realized it would take some work to breathe some life into it, but I decided to arrange a session in a studio to listen to the old two-inch tapes that I knew I had stored somewhere down my basement.
Ready to take notes, all levers up so to speak, I was at first very confused. The stuff seemed to be all over the place. Everything had been recorded on that old 14-track tape machine at Heavenshore. While listening to the tapes on a modern 24-track tape-machine, a guitar would "leak" or spread out over three tracks and nothing seemed to be where it should be. I realized then that this would take all of the summer to straighten out.
What we had to do was to separate each and every instrument and to decide whether we should keep a particular piece or not. Then we had to transfer it all, instrument by instrument, down onto another tape using a second tape-machine. Now we had all the songs neat and clean down onto two 2-inch 24-track tapes.
Most songs featured only a rough guitar together with a basic drum beat and occasionally a bass played using chords and that through a guitar amp if I remember correctly. Only three quarters of the songs had a vocal track and none featured backing vocals or a lead guitar. I realized I had to start to rehearse those old guitar riffs again to be able to lay down a second rhythm guitar right next to the old one.
Secondly a bass, this time lined and played using single notes, was added. The drums was a story of its own. We had to separate each part of the drum kit and then give each and every part a totally new sound using a disc from a sound bank as well as correcting a few blows here and there by a millisecond. Some drum rolls were added live and a smack on the snaredrum or floor drums would be enhanced here and there. Most of the hi-hat and ride were re-recorded using a computer. To tighten the material further, some songs were speeded up about fifteen per cent to add a flash of modern sound and crunch to them.
Next in line were lead vocals, something a handful of the songs actually just didn't have. I had great troubles finding my old lyrics. A few corrections here and there in the story, and all I had to do when doing the lead vocals for those songs, as well as the backing vocals, was to place myself before that microphone and imagine myself being back at Heavenshore in '88 or '89 when the original material was recorded. It was actually difficult to change my voice so that I was sounding late 80s rather than mid 90s, this was, of course, necessary since I didn't want to ruin the general mood of the material by all of sudden sounding seven years older.
Now the only thing missing (except for a lead guitar, something I usually always put down during a tea-break) were backing vocals. Now this was a field we had pioneered years before on Blood on Ice. Sound effects followed next. Since it was a theme album, we worked with the effects as if it had been a motion picture and not an album. I wanted the listener to feel the frozen wind tearing his face. The topic of the lyrics, the story itself, had to come alive.
After having worked on the project for a month and a half during the summer of '95, from listening through the original material to chosing what shit to keep and what shit to scrap, from transferring the usable bits down onto a second 2-inch, 24-track tape to picking the new sounds for each part of the drum kit, from recording an additional rhythm guitar and bass right next to the original ones to laying down lead vocals on the songs that didn't have any, and from working hard with the sound effects and backing vocals to making sure we weren't ruining too much of the original atmosphere, we would now let the whole thing set in for a while. It would be mid February '96 before we were able to reassemble, to finally cement it all together in the mix.
Once all of the material had finally been digitally mixed down onto DATs, we all had a feeling of great satisfaction. The fact that Blood on Ice had finally come to life as an end product was a rather strange feeling.
Now that Blood on Ice is finally here, our hopes are that you will take this souvenir to your hearts. Because that is exactly what this release is all about, a souvenir to all our fans who have followed us throughout the years and who have written to us begging for this album to be put into releasable format. Although it could very well sound embarassingly outdated to some aware of trends, this album nevertheless deserved to be released. This effort embodies everything that our mid 80s phase stood for, the so-called "Viking" albums. This album was written and recorded in '88 and '89, completed in '95 and mixed and mastered in '96. All in all it captures pretty well what Bathory has been doing in between recording the vinyls and compact discs you already have in your collection.
This saga is for you all...
Quorthon, Stockholm 1996
Gavin Doherty, email@example.com