Bathory was an extreme metal band formed in Vällingby, Sweden, in 1983 and named after the infamous Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Báthory. The band’s frontman and main songwriter was Quorthon (Tomas Forsberg). Considered to be one of the most influential acts in heavy metal, Bathory’s first four albums are considered to be “the blueprint for Scandinavian black metal”. The band departed from this style on their fifth album, Hammerheart (1990), which is often cited as the first Viking metal album. Bathory continued in the Viking metal style throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, although the band returned to thrash metal with the albums Requiem (1994) and Octagon (1995). Bathory ended when Quorthon died from heart failure in 2004.
The band Bathory was formed in Vällingby in 1983. Quorthon (then known as Ace, after Ace Frehley of KISS), a 17-year-old guitarist, was joined by bass guitarist Fredrik Melander and drummer Jonas Åkerlund. According to Quorthon, he settled on the name ‘Bathory’ after a visit to the London Dungeon, although Jonas says that it was taken from the Venom song “Countess Bathory”.
Quorthon worked part-time at the small record label Tyfon, which was owned by his father, Börje Forsberg. In late 1983, the label was putting together a compilation of songs by Scandinavian metal bands. However, at the last minute, one of the bands backed out. Tyfon agreed to let Bathory appear on the record as a replacement. The album, called Scandinavian Metal Attack, was released in March 1984 and was Bathory’s first appearance on record. Unexpectedly, the Bathory tracks drew a great deal of fan mail.
Soon afterward, Tyfon asked Quorthon to record a full-length album. His bandmates having moved away, Quorthon recruited Rickard Bergman as bassist and Stefan Larsson as drummer. On 22 May 1984, they had their first and only rehearsal together before recording the album. The debut album, Bathory, was recorded in June at Heavenshore Studio (a converted garage) in Stockholm and released in October that year. Over the next four years, Bathory released a further three albums : The Return…… (1985), Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987) and Blood Fire Death (1988).
Bathory’s early work was dark, fast, heavily distorted and raw recording (lo-fi). Quorthon’s vocals were harsh, high-pitched and raspy with occasional shrieks and screams. The band’s lyrics focused on ‘dark’ topics and included anti-Christian and ‘Satanic’ references. These traits came to define black metal and the band used this style on their first four albums. Quorthon said that the band were not Satanists but used ‘Satanic’ references to provoke and attack Christianity. With the third and fourth albums he began “attacking Christianity from a different angle”, realizing that Satanism is a “Christian product” and seeing them both as “religious hocus-pocus”.
The term ‘black metal’ came from Venom’s 1982 album of that name. Many fans and reviewers have claimed Venom was an influence on Bathory, or even accused Bathory of copying Venom; however, Quorthon said that the band’s early work was influenced primarily by Black Sabbath, Motörhead and G. B. H., and that he “heard Venom for the first time in late 1984 or early 1985” and never owned a Venom album. Bathory’s early sound also have always been associated with Slayer but Quorthon denied to be influenced by them.
Bathory stopped performing live in 1985, with Quorthon viewing organizing concerts as too much hassle. Although Bathory’s fourth album, Blood Fire Death (1988), largely followed in the style of the albums before it, some songs had a very different style. These songs have a much slower tempo, acoustic passages, choral background singing, and lyrics about Vikings and Norse mythology. Music critic Eduardo Rivadavia of AllMusic describes this ‘epic’ style as “possibly the first true example” of Viking metal.
Viking Metal Years (1990s, 2000s)
After Blood Fire Death, the band shed its early black metal style. Their fifth album, Hammerheart (1990), was the first “archetypical Viking metal album”. This was said to have been influenced by the American power metal band Manowar, although Quorthon described this rumour as “another total misconception”. A music video was made for the song “One Rode to Asa Bay”. The style of Hammerheart was continued on Twilight of the Gods (1991) and Blood on Ice (recorded in 1989 but completed in 1996).
With Requiem (1994) and Octagon (1995), Bathory changed style once more, this time turning to retro-thrash in the vein of 1980s Bay Area thrash bands. However, the 2001 release Destroyer of Worlds was a transitional release that led to a full return to the Viking metal style with the releases of Nordland I (2002) and Nordland II (2003). These were meant to be the first two volumes of a four-album saga, but Quorthon did not live long enough to complete it.
In June 2004, Quorthon was found dead in his home, apparently due to heart failure. He was known to suffer from heart problems in the past. On 3 June 2006, Black Mark Records released a box set in tribute to Quorthon, containing three CDs of his favorite Bathory and Quorthon songs, a 176-page booklet, a DVD with his long-form video for “One Rode to Asa Bay”, an interview and some rare promo footage and a poster.
Several Bathory tribute albums have been compiled by black metal artists, such as In Conspiracy with Satan: A Tribute to Bathory and Voices from Valhalla – A Tribute to Bathory.