It’s not often that you find an artist so completely and transparently indebted to a single older act as Italy’s Bloodshed Walhalla, but let there be no mistake about it; Drakhen, Bloodshed Walhalla’s sole member, is perhaps the biggest Bathory fan currently alive. Having started out in 2006 as a tribute act to the Swedish pioneers’ Viking era, covering tracks from Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, Drakhen later set his sights on writing his own hymnal compositions which would nevertheless be unmistakably meant as love letters to the fallen giant of the metal scene. The Battle Will Never End is his second full length recording, and so far his blatant hero worship remains undiminished. There are several moments on this album which are not merely imitations but outright, barely-concealed copies of Bathory riffs (the opening of “Blood and Fire” is exactly the same as that of “Twilight of the Gods,” to spot you an easy one).
I don’t mean this at all as a condemnation; there’s an important distinction to be made between plagiarism and paying tribute, and Bloodshed Walhalla fall squarely in the latter category. If anything, in a time when so much metal consists of an anonymous grey mulch blending influences from everyone and everywhere, it’s refreshing to find an artist so enthusiastically specific about his influences. Drakhen’s work has a spirited wholesomeness to it, and if it comes at the expense of originality, then it’s a fair price to pay. After all, I’ve made it clear in the past how strongly I feel about Quorthon and his work, and any effort to keep his legacy alive is a worthy endeavour by my reckoning. Bloodshed Walhalla’s cause, then, is noble; whether it is successful is rather more debatable.
Bloodshed Walhalla’s debut The Legend of a Viking was reviewed on Heathen Harvest earlier this year by Navdi, and while I too find Drakhen’s honesty and joie de vivre infectious, I’m not quite as wholeheartedly sold on this album as she was on that one. Certainly its level of quality throughout is greatly variable, and its first impression is not good. The opening track “Heimdallr” functions as a slow-burning intro, based on a handful of repetitious riffs and no vocals, but it is ill-advisedly dragged out to almost seven minutes long. Bathory were prone to similarly languid openings, but where those functioned to build tension appropriate to the album’s beginning proper, “Heimdallr” stops building tension at about the halfway point and becomes simply a test of patience. Following it is “Blood and Fire,” which doesn’t fare much better. Certainly it brings to bear the appropriate thick, crashing down-tempo chords and chanted chorus hooks, but does not achieve the otherworldly mystique of Hammerheart’s narrative epics, settling instead for the repetitious grooves of the lesser tracks from the Nordland duology. Part of the issue is that, despite his good intentions, Drakhen doesn’t have much of a vocal presence. Quorthon wasn’t the most technically skilled singer, but his booming clean vocals achieved a certain fragile imperiousness, something Drakhen’s croaks simply don’t.
At the other end of the spectrum, the title track is nine-and-a-half minutes of heaven, building deftly up to a spine-tingling mixture of acoustic and electric chords, creating a resonant and sweeping epic that briefly manages to equal Bathory at the height of their powers. While the album’s other successes are more modest, successes there definitely are. “The Storm” finds Drakhen in an elegiac mode, featuring a grimly lovely chorus and a fantastic, luxurious solo. “At the End of the World” is the album’s only song to clock in at less than five minutes, a tight little number with a supremely rousing choral section. I also can’t stress enough how much I enjoy the production on The Battle Will Never End; it sounds exactly as Bathory-of-the-2010’s ought to, heavy and deep while remaining coarse and weathered, thrumming and rumbling rather than cutting its way through its riffs.
All in all, I’d call Drakhen’s second outing a modest success, a respectable imitation of prior masterpieces without ever becoming anything more. Bathory wrote simplistic and primitive epics which, at the height of their career, transcended their ability to be merely rousing and effusive and achieved a mythic quality, created a spiritual geography in which the listener could lose themselves. Bloodshed Walhalla have replicated that dramatic primitivism with commendable authenticity, but, save for a couple of glimpses, never quite reach the point where “dramatic” transmutes into “poignant” the way it does in “One Rode To Asa Bay” or “Through Blood By Thunder.” Drakhen isn’t the second coming of Quorthon. He is, however, a more than capable guardian of his legacy, and that’s enough to be grateful for.
02 Blood and Fire
03 At the End of the World
04 The Battle Will Never End
05 The Storm
06 Land of Fire
07 My Sword Again for You