As everyone knows, Bathory pretty much created the Viking Metal sub-genre with the powerhouse Hammerheart album (foreshadowed with Blood Fire Death), further developing the music with Twilight of the Gods spinner, which has dated slightly more but still contains some amazing pieces. What followed was a wayward period where Quorthon released a couple of respectable (but undesirable from the real hardcore fan's perspective) solo albums, some aggressive thrash outings, the slightly underwhelming Blood on Ice album, plus some of the worst material the man had ever put out (most of Destroyer of Worlds springs to mind). But the wait was worth it.
Nordland returns to the style of Hammerheart and Twilight with a variety of approaches to the whole Viking Metal idea, encapsulating such themes in its lyrics and presenting some of the best music Quorthon ever put on disc. After a fairly average intro (not up there with Oden's Ride Over Nordland, or Rider at the Gate of Dawn) Nordland (the song itself) is a plodding metal piece with a number of good riffs. This track bored me into not wishing to listen to it for a number of years but recently after a revisit it's actually grown on me. Vinterblot sounds like a group of vikings singing some chant during a dragonboat sail, with a driving metal rhythm to back it - an enjoyable track. Dragon's Breath is the low point of the album - a great riff is spoiled by some messy vocals (something that afflicted a number of Bathory tracks from album 5/6 onwards, which is strange given the fact that other tracks were incredibly well sung), and a track I rarely listen to. Ring of Gold is a nicely played acoustic track that steps into Song to Hall Up High territory.
Then comes the album's crowning achievement (in my opinion): Foreverdark Woods. Beginning with a nice litte reference to One Rode to Asa Bay, this features some incredible intertwining of acoustic instrument and metal guitars, with a great distant vocal style to boot. What a fantastic track! Broken Sword kicks your butt into gear with a fast paced driving beat and anthemic singing, sandwhiched with the contrast of relaxing acoustics. Great Hall Awaits A Fallen Brother features, surprisingly, a near Black Metal sounding guitar, giving us an epic track with brilliant vocal delivery, taking you off into a strange world. Mother Earth Father Thunder is a powerful, noisy and strong finale to the album's sung tracks, yielding to the outro that is the wonderfully stirring Heimfard.
Whilst there's not much here to remind one of the first four Bathory albums, this one was a real return to form (though I don't particularly favour adopting that over-used term) and remains a great listen nearly ten years later. Some of this success was repeated with Nordland 2, but this album remains the last great Bathory album and an important part of any metal fan's collection (well at least those who love Bathory and/or Viking/Epic/Power Metal anyway).