Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Review: HORNA, Sotahuuto

*soon to be published on

Bathory was one of the first, and best, black metal bands to ever have existed. This is inarguable. Seriously, have you heard “Under the Sign of the Black Mark? That album got me into black metal (and, oddly enough, into college. You know that part of the application essay where you have the option to write about “a book, movie, or work of art that has greatly impacted your life?” Well, obviously, that album is an absolute masterpiece…I guess I somehow managed to convince the admissions people of it as well). The band that launched a thousand imitators, if not an entire genre or two (can’t forget the Viking metal years!) has been enjoying some extra attention lately, thanks in part to Black Mark’s decision to reissue twelve of Quorthon’s finest on limited edition picture discs. The tribute box sets/CDs/merchandise/cover songs keep on comin’, and I daresay it’s been a pretty good year for good ol’ Quorthon -– well, as good a year as one can have posthumously, I suppose.

On top of all that, Finnish black metal horde Horna have just released a very special Bathory tribute of their own. On their latest album, Sotahuuto, Shatraug & Co. do their damnedest to recapture the spirit of the earlier Bathory releases, down to the production values (god, I love me those buzzsaw guitars). They do a fine job of it, too. It’s nice to see a grim/raw/kvlt/whatever band like Horna not only admitting to taking vast amounts of inspiration from the First Wave, but actively giving their heroes a nod of thanks and respect. Bands who dwell on the rawer side of the black metal spectrum are often accused of sounding similar, cookie-cutter, uninspired, intentionally “shitty” – genre detractors are merciless in their derision of the style, sound, and aesthetics of low-fi black metal. While it’s grossly unfair to write off an entire (sub)genre for crimes of which nearly every style of music may be found guilty, even I have to admit that sometimes, they do have a point. Happily enough, though, Horna is a sterling example of good, original, talented-yet-still-raw-edged black metal, and showcase their formidable skills admirably in this worthy tribute to the one who first rode to Asa Bay. All the trademarks of vintage Bathory are there – slow, plodding tempos that quicken into a menacing gallop when the mood strikes; scratchy, venomous vocals; caveman drumming; no bass lines to speak of. In short, Horna achieved their goal – the closest thing you could possibly compare Sotahuuto to is, well, Bathory. They put their own stamp on the music, but ultimately, this is slavish Quorthon worship at its finest. The production is perfect for this kind of thing; rough around the edges, tempered with that oh-so-classic “buzzy” sound, but still clean enough to hear what’s going on.

If you appreciate the brutal, primitive beauty of the first three Bathory records, you will absolutely love this record. If, however, you’re looking for some uber-brutal northern hyperblasts, French-fucked insanity a la BAN or DsO, or something to throw in the CD player when that hot little number from chem lab stops by, this sure ain’t it.

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