Under The Sign Of The Black Mark
After the completion of THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL, it would take more than a year and a half before BATHORY was ready to record a third album. This can not be credited to lack of material or support. BATHORYmania had just begun to take off big time during spring and summer of 1985. Both the debut album and its' successor would sell in comparatively huge numbers for an act like BATHORY. And Quorthon was writing plentiful of new material for a third album in a frantic pace.
Instead, the reason for the relatively long period of inactivity on the record front, must be credited the ever ongoing hunt for suitable musicians. Sweden, and Stockholm, in 1985, was really not a place where young metal musicians would simply grow on trees. And not only was it necessary that a person be suitable for the task on a purely musical level and perfect in style, a prospect would also have to be highly interested in actualy joining a rattling noise house like BATHORY. And the rattling noise, of the primitive and highly suspicious sort that BATHORY could only be regarded as producing in those days, and with lyrics that were a far cry from the party-all-night stuff regarded as obligatory would you ever get a gig or a deal, wasn't exactly a helping factor in the search.
Once the date for recording UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK came closer, it was clear that Stefan would not play drums on the album. UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK would be recorded on week days and during day time. And since Stefan had a full time job, that dictated him having to be elsewhere, namely on his job, he was out of the picture as far as drumming on UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was concerned. In his place 18 year old Paul Pålle Lundberg would take care of the drum sticks for the recording.
Being a collector of the great symphonies, and educating himself to one day become a classical percussionist, Pålle was heavily responsible for bringing classical music into Quorthon's life on a more serious level, the result of which can clearly be heard in BATHORY compositions on a string of albums written in the years to follow. Despite of the obvious interest in classical music, Pålle had been playing in a couple of small unknown Stockholm based rock and punk oriented bands such as Destitude and Salamander, and was evidently good enough a drummer for the vacant spot. Even though he was suspicious of the more speedier material.
- That's the funny bit about him. He may sound like a brute force on record, but he was anything but raw Metal. He did have the records of The New York Dolls and KISS in his collection, the latter a fact that brought us together in the first place. But other than that, the only other things that I know he'd listen to besides the great symphonies, was spaced out David Bowie or sophisticated and rather mellow obscure British punk rock like The Damned and stuff that few outside the London club scene or intellectual circles knew anything about. Though not particularly metal, for some reason he would pick a Manowar album up somewhere at some point, and really dug that a lot. An incident that would have repercussions on BATHORY about a year later.
- And initially he was really not too keen about helping me out once he heard some of the guitar demos I had made. The pace of some of that material was relentless for those days, and he said he'd never be able to play that fast. But we soon realized that this was a recording, and there were enough natural stops here and there in the tracks for us to take a break, and then start recording again after a few minutes of rest. So that's how a lot of those tracks were recorded...in sections. And when he didn't like the sound of the snare or crash in one section, or thought that he had not been tight enough in some spots, he had great fun in trying to manually overdub bits here and there with a cheap drum machine. So though in doubt at first, I know that was a memorable and enjoyable experience for him. Which meant a lot when I would call him up for later albums.
The bass player recruited for the recording, on a short term basis during the Autumn of 1986, was 19 year old Christer Sandström. But once he insisted on including several not too BATHORY like bass figures, and had requests for some changes as far as the material was concerned, he would soon be out of the picture already at a pretty early stage.
- Stefan and I had still kept in touch during all of 1985 and 1986, but slipped more and more apart about what was interesting about new and extreme metal. After all, his roots were cemented in original punk rock, and though mine was too, with BATHORY I took a turn to where he didn't want to go. So when I met Pålle, and recruited him when plans for a third album got more substantial, my focus was on locating a suitable bass player.
- I had been in contact with several bass players between summer of 1985 and summer of 1986. Most of them quite simply turned their backs on me when I offered them to join for the up and coming recording, simply because they couldn't cope with my demos and the lyrical themes. Extreme metal of the sort BATHORY was all about back in the early and mid 80's, was still unheard of in Sweden at that time. The style and sound of hair band Europe was considered the only way back then, and BATHORY was anything but party and love lyrics or poodle hair and spandex. So why should these guys' spend a split second of their lives to even think about joining my little pathetic noise act, when the prospect of getting laid, getting a international deal and sell out the Budokan, was much more likely in a Europe copy-cat band than in something like BATHORY?! I really felt out of place back then. But I don't blame the guys' who turned down my offer to join. I would too had I been in their position I guess.
- I even had guy's traveling to Stockholm from Göteborg and Malmö to audition for the vacant spot as bass player. I don't even remember how many and what their names were. But there were several of them. I paid for the fare, food and all, hired a studio, packed that with equipment and had them all come up to Stockholm for a couple of days. But nothing ever went beyond a couple a jamming sessions. Nothing felt right.
- I had said in several interviews during 1985, how sad Sweden was in terms of finding extreme metal musicians, and how I wasn't a total stranger to the idea of picking a bass player from abroad. This had even lead to a contact being established with a bass player in New Jersey and one more in, I believe it was, Richmond. We talked on the phone and wrote letters for a while, talking about maybe setting something up. But nothing ever came out of that. I guess going across half the globe for an album, let alone for an audition, was a little bit too much. After all we were pretty young still, and all that paper stuff, work permits and practical details etcetera, may have seemed too daunting to deal with when push came to show.
- In a desperate move, during the days when I was auditioning bassplayers on a regular basis, I wrote drummer Carsten Nielsen of Danish band Artillery a letter, asking him to contemplate moving to Stockholm and join BATHORY. (read more on that story in the NO SHOW CONTROVERSY chapter/Webmaster) I even had Sodom drummer Witchhunter come to Stockholm for a week, to see if we could work something out. The background to that was the prospect of a joining a bill of two or three European extreme metal band to tour the US in six to eight months time. (read more on that story in the NO SHOW CONTROVERSY chapter/Webmaster) And so when both the Carsten Nielsen and Witchhunter deal fell through, and when nothing ever came out of all the contacts I'd had in the past year, I felt I didn't have too many choises, and that I had to be content with whatever sort of dudes I'd run into between then and September when we had said I should have material ready for a third album.
- So that's what the situation was like when I bumped into Pålle. And in a last minute twitch realy, one evening in August, I ran into Crille at a club in Stockholm that we'd all frequent occasionally. He wore a KISS "Destroyer" T-shirt, and so we started off by talking about KISS. So once again KISS was the common nominator. And when it turned out he was a bass player and lived only five stops away from me, for practical reasons more than anything else, I decided I should give him a try. And so I went on to tell him about this band I had...
- He was more into if not glam rock so at least American styled stadium rock á la KISS and Van Halen. And once in the studio, he began to add stuff that sounded like Dokken or Mötley Crüe pieces, and went on to talk about how this or that change to this or that song would do a lot of good. I told him then how that was out of the question. The material had been written that way and I wasn't going to tamper with any of it. There was a plan, a sound and a style that I wanted, and I wasn't going to allow anybody to change anything. And so when he mumbled something along the lines me being "...daft..." and how I "...just didn't get it...", he was of course out.
- So I resumed the roll of bass player for the rest of the recording, and I play 75-80% of the bass on UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK. He was endorsed for the two or three tracks he played on, though. When I think back, I realize we could have recorded UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK a whole lot earlier than September/October 1986, had we only figured I could have played the bass just as well.
Quorthon in a picture from early November '86 when
UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was nearing completion.
Some of the titles demo 'ed shortly before entering the studio, but never properly recorded for UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, were "Orgy in Blood and Torture", "Death Awaits You", "I slit You up", "Insane" and "Cry of an Angel". Only rough cassette pre-production demos of these tracks remain to this day.
- I also remember another title from these days; "Descend into Hell". But we never recorded that one for UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK. Instead that track was worked on further and sort-of recorded later during any one of the many sessions we were working on between 1987 and 1989. I still have most of the demo's from those days but misplaced the lyrics a long time ago. To me all that material sounds like a hotchpotch of the UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK material at large. Which of course essentially is exactly what it is. I was writing such a huge amount of material on a weekly basis in those days, I could easily have filled a cassette up with demo's every day.
Originally the title of this third album was supposed to be NOCTURNAL OBEISANCE, but this title would soon be discarded simply because it didn't look right. Instead, once again, the working title for an album would be given to its intro.
- The whole idea with the cover was a story I had read somewhere, possibly a Christian theme or some ancient play, with the devil as the main figure in this nightly ceremonial scene, and with either corrupt members of the upper class or assorted creatures of the night surrounding the horned one, doing the deeds of darkness and evil.
- I seem to remember another similar story containing the daughters of the four winds being seduced by the beast and kneeling around him under the full moon. Not that I ever figured out what that might do to the world or the universal balance or anything, should the daughters of the four winds succumb to his charm and some time later bear him four fire eyed little things. But once we began to think about the cover shot, this story lead me to the conclusion that we were in need of four naked girls seated right next to the devil and.... well, the whole idea for a cover shot just sort of grew from there...
- And in addition to all this; in a book I saw this painting by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya. This classic painting essentially visualized the whole nocturnal ceremony of The Beast-theme. And I realized how a shot based on that theme would look so good on the cover...
This classic painting from 1797, referred to as either The Great He-Goat or Witches Sabbath,
by renowned Spanish artist Francisco de Goya 1746-1828, inspired to both an idea later used
for the album cover shot and a working title for the new album. This working title, Nocturnal
Obeisance, would however soon be changed to UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK. In the
last few minutes of recording the new album, the Nocturnal Obeisance working title would be
adopted by the intro of the album. A story frequently repeated in BATHORY history oddly enough.
- But we soon realized, after calling around and hunting like lunatics for props, how it would be almost impossible to collect all the things we wanted in the shot, for we didn't want to use a painting. We knew of no artist in those days who could have painted that scene exactly the way we wanted it. There were tons of Swedish metal or hardrock albums popping up around this time, all featuring these painted comics looking goofy kind of covers that looked absolutely awful. We knew we'd kill the whole atmosphere by featuring one of those covers. So it had to be a shot, not a painting.
While the material for the album was being completed, Quorthon began to look around for all the props he wanted in the shot. A nocturnal scene not only meant that a lot of playing with lights was in good order, but a lot of not too convincing details could be shrouded in shadows. Hence it didn't seem like they would have to look for, and hire, very professional or expensive props in order to make a good shot, any kind of cheap school play type of props weren't totally out of the picture. But the hunt for props, was tiring and frustrating enough nevertheless.
- I called theaters, small local movie companies and commercial film producers, any place that had anything to do with either props, movies or stage acting. And yet, wherever I called and asked around for the correct props, i.e. rocks and bushes and stuff, things with which we could build ourselves a nocturnal nature scene, most of the people I talked to simply referred me to SVT, the Swedish Television.
- And once I called there, and although they did have the possibility to produce any kind of props I wanted, it was a quick light remark made by one of the SVT prop-masters that caught my attention. He had just visited the Royal Swedish Opera House the previous weekend to see a performance of "Carmen" playing at the Royal Swedish Opera House just then. He described the scene in Act II as a Disneyland of rocks and cliffs etcetera, and just sort of laughed lightly saying "-...sounds like you guys' could really use the set in Act II...". And although he might have thought he was just making a light joke, I was dead serious.
- So I bought a ticket and went to the Royal Swedish Opera House the following Saturday evening to have a look for myself. And when that curtain was divided for the second Act, and I see the whole stage filled with you know what from one end of that stage to the other, I just freaked out. I knew I had to have all of that on the cover of our new album.
- I called the Royal Swedish Opera House the next day. Got myself in touch with the stage chief and explained the situation to him. And when he didn't reply in a flash, but rather seemed to actually ponder about how to solve this, I knew I had him. Although I had said I wanted to hire the entire set for Act II, and he had replied how that was out of the question, he said he'd work something out.
- Most of that stuff was reportedly hand made in France and originated from the 1920's or something like that. And although I've learned since how that might not have been entirely true, it was nevertheless a very expensive set of props, and it would take a day for a number of experienced stage men just to carefully pack, transport, unpack, erect, strike and then repack the whole thing. And besides, the insurance cost was astronomical. I realized it really was out of the question that we'd be allowed to hire all of that for our cover shot. So the way things turned out, I couldn't have been more happy...and still to this day I can not believe how we actually managed to get that photo taken...
- And since I am a huge fan of Wagner, and thus have had reasons to visit the Royal Swedish Opera House in Stockholm on several occasions since, the memory of snapping the cover shot for UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is still my most vivid memory of that place.
Quorthon in May 1987 posing for Kerrang! photographer Ray Palmer while in London
during a promotion trip for the new album UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK.
While some people will bring with them mosquito spray and a parlor when traveling abroad,
Quorthon frequently brought with him - among others things - a 10 pound ox-bone with
rotten flesh still dangling from it. Actually this very bone is the one seen on the
UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK cover. This procedure would sometimes
cause Quorthon some delicate problems. Particularly when going through customs.
And when traveling to the US West coast to promote UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK
over there, the narc dogs at LAX airport got a sniff and went berserk. You can probably imagine
yourselves the scene that followed. Apparently you are not allowed to bring food across some borders...
The way the shot would be arranged is a classic story in the history of BATHORY. And a story seldom believed when told. Not only because it all sounds too hard to believe, but because it has been believed for a decade and a half that the cover is a painting. But the whole story is actually true from beginning to end. And the cover is not a painting.
There was a brief moment when the stage was set, before the actors took to the stage, and before the curtain was pulled aside for the second Act, when the whole BATHORY entourage would be allowed on stage for a few seconds to get their shot. There was only time for a handful of shots at the most, so this would have to be a commando raid type of a snap-and-run thing.
- Not having to spent any more time chasing props, I was left with the somewhat easier task of finding somebody who could portray The Beast, and the daughters of the four winds. So I got in touch with four girls, two of them girlfriends of buddies of mine by the way, and asked them if they'd be interested. Once I had promised them that not only would their faces never show, but we would not put their names on the album, I actually did manage to talk them into exposing their breasts while kneeling halfnaked around The Beast. They were given wigs to disguise themselves, though.
- But the way things turned out, it wouldn't be possible to have the girls in the shot seated quite around The Beast anyway. Once Gunnar, the photographer, also the engineer for THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL, got to actually see the stage, about five seconds before we had to start snapping away, he realized there was not enough room for all five of them up there, and there was no time to rehearse an alternative set up. So the girls would quite simply be instructed to kneel down on stage in front of all that painted-fabric-on-frames and papier-manché mountain stuff. Leffe The Beast would be standing way up there posing and swinging that bone, and the girls would be huddling up, shy and bare-breasted in wigs, ten meter in front and away from him. From a esthetic point of view, it was a disaster. Gunnar simply couldn't get all of that into any one shot. So he focused on The Beast and the center section of the set.
- This of course produced not as good a shot as we had hoped for. The center of attention was of course The Beast, and he looked kind of small already in the midst of all that painted-fabric-on-frames and papier-manché mountain stuff. So in order to make him more noticeable, and for the shot to fit the 10 by 10 inches, or 30 by 30 centimeters, format of the LP cover, without The Beast being scaled down to ant size, we had to blow the center of the picture up and leave a vast portion of the stage out of the cover. And the girls never did end up on the cover anyway. We never did get their tits on the cover, just a portion of their wigs. But at least I got to gloat at them during that snap-and-run session...
- Thinking back, perhaps fate played a part in how the whole things turned out. It would actually have looked really horrible with those teenage girls, static as trash bins, in poor wigs, kneeling in front of a wall of Opera props, and somebody wearing a goat mask hardly visual way up there. It could have been a disaster, but it actualy turned out rather well. Having to leave out of the picture about 15%-20% of the mountains and rocks to the extreme left and right, was rather sad though.
Once the girls had been persuaded to do the job, next up was finding somebody who could portray The Beast.
Published for the first time anywhere, this is an unused shot from the run-and-snap photo session for
the album cover. This is the last shot of only four shots taken in total, snapped only a second after the
moment when the daughters of the four winds ran off stage, and only a few seconds before the entire
ensemble of the Royal Swedish Opera house took to the stage for Act II of "Carmen". In order to make
The Beast more noticeable on the album cover, the center piece of the shot had to be enlarged to quite
such an extent vast parts of the set had to be left out of the album cover. But born was a classic story
of how to create yourself a classic album cover.
A Swedish bodybuilder, Leif Ehrnborg, was asked to do the job. And apart from being asked to dress up in nothing more than a black leather loin piece, and to swing a gigantic ox-bone with decaying meat still on it, and shaking a rag of cats' fur though it can barely be made out on the actual album cover, Leif would also be asked to wear a goat mask made from papier-manché, rubber and leather. And all this while standing center stage at the Royal Swedish Opera House only seconds before Act II of "Carmen" commenced. Somehow Leif actually said "-Ok!".
The idea was for Leif to be standing in the center section of the stage set, and to swing that decaying meat around, looking like a force of nature. All while Gunnar would snap as many shots as he could before the whole entourage was all called off stage. Leif managed to keep himself aloft, balancing on what was essentially a very frail and narrow scaffolding hidden behind a painted fabric-on-frame mountain section.
- He was a trouper. It takes a lot of guts just to wear the things we asked him to wear, and then to walk onto the stage of the Royal Swedish Opera House, all oiled up and swinging that ox-bone. I can not remember how much we paid him for the job, but I think he must have enjoyed it. That and being more or less sexually harassed in the wings by Sweden's most famous female opera singer of all time being very interested in feeling all that oiled and naked chunks of muscles up... I believe he was even given her phone number before we left...
Now BATHORY had their much sought after shot for the album cover. It had all been very quick, not at all expensive, rather easy and great fun. And a legendary and absolutely true story was born.
Leffe - sans the Goat head mask and other paraphernalia - being cleaned from all that oil
by a handy just after the snap-and-run photo session at the Royal Swedish Opera House.
The sort of hidden scaffolding where Leffe would stand posing as The Beast, was intended
to carry the weight of only a female opera singer and not no 250 pound bodybuilder, thus
the posing for the cover shot was not only very brief but also very wobbly indeed.
All these years later, it is apparent how the material on, and sound of, BATHORY's third album, is noticeably different from the murky and dark heaviness of it's predecessor. Perhaps one could credit this to the one and a half years that had passed between THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL and UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK.
As a duo, Quorthon and Stefan would spend an ample amount of time during 1985, trying out plenty of ideas that were later incorporated into many songs recorded for UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK. It was an easy task for Pålle to just pick the sticks up and play as instructed, the material had been cemented way before his arrival for any tedious rearranegments to happen. As a trio, with Crille joining in at a very late stage, this short lived line-up would go through only two weeks of basic and superficial rehearsing the material before entering Heavenshore in early September.
The energy and form of the material had been set already before this tentative trio had come together. And the plan was to make this third effort noticeably different from it's predecessor. It was felt within BATHORY camp that in order to profile BATHORY even more in an expanding scene of emerging constellations of similar style, this new album would need to show obvious signs of improvement, evolution and offer something fresh.
- Unfortunately, I really don't remember much from this recording either. It's a shame really. Especially when considering the very high respect that people have for this particular album. I seem to remember it was a very early autumn that year, and working at Heavenshore recording UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was freezing agony because it wasn't heated.
- One vivid memory I still do have of recording UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, was how very early I had to get up every morning to be in the studio on time. We would try to be there around 9 o'clock every morning. Heavenshore was in Huddinge, and back then I was living an hour and a half the opposite side of Stockholm. During the first two weeks of recording, having no car or motorcycle in those days, I had to first ride the subway for forty five minutes in order to reach down town where I'd take a intercity train. So I would arrange with Crille, who lived only a few stops away from me, which subway car I'd be in so that we could chat along the way the things we were going to do that day. But once he was out of the picture, and I'd ride all the way alone, I'd frequently fall asleep from boredom and fatigue. And so not only would I'd miss my stop countless mornings and wake up at the end station, I had to jump a train that went in the opposite direction to go ten or twelve stops back before I could even take that intercity train. So I would frequently miss the first hour or so most days during that Autumn...
- Another memory I have of recording UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, is how we recorded the tracks in sections primarily. There's an awful lot of down-mixing blocks of recorded instruments, and then adding one more guitar or that primitive synthesizer that just sat there in a corner. That gave us few alternatives when it came to final mix at a later stage. The bass, for instance, disappeared almost entirely towards the end. I kept adding one too many of those Rockman guitars and a few chords of synthesizer to give depth to what was an awful lot of energy and utter noise. And that meant the bass, already recorded and mixed-down at that stage, got almost lost in the cacophony.
- The drums too turned out strange, with a lot of short delay and strange EQ setting, the finished end result is somewhat cardboard and fragile. But for 1986, that stuff was still unique energy wise, even by international standards. There might have been other bands delivering technically better played metal, and sonically much more enjoyable albums, perhaps even more fun street-like Thrashing stuff. But I understand UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is regarded as the first of a kind, a true pioneer when it comes to that type of Black Metal.
- We weren't aware of history being made. Had somebody told me back then, that I would still be sent emails eighteen years later, from fans hardly even born in 1986/87, claiming UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK to still be a one of a kind Black Metal album, then I'd say "-Get outta here!!". A lot of people insist that this is when Black Metal, as we know it today, was born. Though Venom might have been slightly ahead of the rest of us in time, even lending the genre its' name, frequently people will bare witness that the real deciding moment was the release of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK.
- I've since understood Venom's music is regarded as more Black 'n Roll rather than actual Black Metal, and that UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is considered as the first true Black Metal album. There's no limit to how honored and flattered I'd be if that is also the generally accepted notion out there.
- The stupid thing is it seems people got the impression that I am ashamed of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, either on a whole or in one way or the other. This is of course not at all the case. I am equally proud of all the albums. UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK included. What I have said in interviews, and when communicating with fans when asked about the album, is that I sometimes feel we played some of that material way too fast. It was almost speed for the sake of speed. The weight and quality of some of the material was sacrificed for speed. When I listen back to UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK these days, I miss some of the heaviness and weight of THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL. Don't get me wrong. I love speed and thrashing energy. But we were neither good enough musicians or seasoned as studio gnoms to be able to do a good enough job with all that speed.
- There are things on UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK that I am not too happy about. Just as there are things on other albums I am not too happy about. There will always be things on every album you'll ever make, that you will be not too happy about. Nobody is perfect. That's all part of evolution, creativity, musicianship and whathaveyou.
- I guess with some albums I am allowed to shed a bit more self criticism than with other releases. UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is very sensitive matter to a lot of people. Not the least for sentimental reasons. It may very well have been one of the very first extreme metal albums they ever bought. And for those times it certainly must have been a revelation. Certainly in this country as far as power, speed, brutality and utter noise is concerned, nothing in Sweden even came close for about a decade.
- And perhaps that is why it has been granted this very special place in the hearts of a lot of people, people who were young back then when it was first released, people who have since grown up to become editors for magazines and web sites, or members of prolific bands themselves. And thus when they praise UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK as perfection and even call it the first true Black Metal album, they are listened to by a great number of people. But sentimental values prevent them from remembering or accepting the fact that UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is full of the same flaws you'll find on any of the other albums. To me, it is not holy or impeccable. It's one of many BATHORY albums.
- UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is far from perfect. The album is rather brittle, sometimes flat, has this overdrive sound all over it, has way too much wrong set delays at times, and has not enough depth sound wise. It's hardly a sibling to THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL nor a cousin to BLOOD FIRE DEATH. But I guess that's what BATHORY is all about; evolving and taking a step in a new direction all the time, yet moving about within the typical BATHORY domains while maintaining the unique BATHORY underground feel.
Quorthon in May 1987, posing for British photographer Tony Mottram
late one night under a railway bridge outside London. This particular
photograph was evidently taken prior to the very hazardous - but highly
requested - fire breathing paraphernalia was brought onto the scene.
The things people will wear to make it to the pages of the magazines...
The house to which Heavenshore Studio belonged, would not be empty all the time when UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was recorded, so when overdubbing the basic guitar tracks, the band had to keep the volume down, i.e. using no amplifiers. This wasn't seen as too much of an obstacle, as Quorthon duly resorted to the services of a tiny Rockman guitar box, through which the overdub guitars were recorded.
- This Rockman guitar box system used when recording most of the guitars for this album, is another issue. I sometimes feel the guitars on UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK sound too boxed, fragile and eerie. It may work for others, but when listening back to UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK today, I miss the classic tube distortion. At the time, that didn't matter much to me though, I was very much into the guitar sound of The Who, Sex Pistols and The Stooges back then, all with a slightly more brittle guitar sound than your average 90's Black Metal high tech guitar pod band. Which is perhaps why in the US, at the time, we were called the Black or Death Metal version of The Stooges or MC5.
- Contrary to what a lot of selfmade experts and wonderful fans have had to say about UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, I think the overall production and sound is sometimes too weak and too much erie razorblade stuff. I thought a lot of THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL had come out blurry and murky, and so for UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK I wanted a lot more erie razor blade sound. And man, did it get razor blade or what?!
- Another thing was speed. I remember listening back to THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL shortly after it had been released, and thought it lacked at least some of the speed of the debut. Or maybe it was just that I had grown to want more speed than we were capable of producing in mid '84 or early '85?! But that would backfire when we did UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, too much of that material was speed for the sake of speed, and the material suffered from that.
- Also, I know the circumstances during which the album was recorded, the limitations of Heavenshore, and the conditions we had to cope with, plus how still young, innocent and inexperienced we were. And it amazes me that we could create an album like UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK in that environment using virtually no equipment whatsoever.
- When we recorded the first album, we were dead fresh and Heavenshore completely new ground to all of us. We just went off and did the debut, like a slightly more refined version of a basic rehearsal. When we did the later albums, BLOOD FIRE DEATH and HAMMERHEART, we had learned a lot more about recording, and had developed quite a bit both as musicians, studio gnomes, and myself as a songwriter. UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK represents a moment in the history of BATHORY, when we first began to take control of the situation and cope with both the limitations of Heavenshore and ourselves, yet were still merely trying our downy wings out.
- The tolerance of the board we were using at Heavenshore limited the quality severely. It was intended for vocals and acoustic guitar type music, some pop demos and maybe simpler rock. But when we arrived and cranked our gear up, all indicators went red and all needles would slam shut at top value. The production style, the whole sound and feel of this particular album is a result of us trying to get around the tape distortion, the limits of that 8-track board, the indicators going red and the needles jammed at maximum tolerance.
And here we have the old and tried ox-bone once more. A favorite not only with Quorthon it seems,
for it was apparently requested for at more photosessions than one during the promotion trip for
UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK in May 1987. And you know what they say; if that stench of
rotten flesh is getting to ya'... just drench the sucker with the content of a bottle of the ol' Jack.
Seriously, no wasting a legendary brew that way. Hate to give any secrets away, but Ray Palmer
was kind enough to supply Quorthon with a bottle of... you got it... tea. Ahh...those Englishmen....
UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is by many regarded as the very first true Black Metal album. With "true" in this case perhaps meaning it is, more than any other album released in the early and mid 80's, regarded as being closer to what is referred to as Black Metal these days. It certainly acted as the foundation on which virtually all of the revival of Black Metal of the 90’s would be based. And frequently, when you listen to the average modern Black Metal act of today, bits of arrangements and various parts are easily recognizable as being of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK origin.
- There is this one funny story from around this time. I was in the United States promoting the album some five months after it had first been released, and I did an in-store at a record shop in LA one Sunday afternoon. Realizing last night had been Saturday night, my immediate reaction was "-...gee... a Sunday... everybody will still be sleeping off all that partying and drinking from the night before". So I wondered "-...will anybody show up at all?!". But sure enough, when we arrived the queue stretched for two blocks.
Quorthon during an in-store in Los Angeles on the 11th of October 1987.
- As I was shaking hands with fans, chatting a bit, answering their questions and signing all their albums and what have you, this person looks straight at me and begin to push this small note across the desk. I take a peak at the note and it reads out only one word; "JESUS!". I then remembered having read something about this vocalist or guitarist in a Californian glam rock band or something being gunned down by this Christian fanatic just a while back.
- So within a fraction of a second, my life sort of past revue before my eyes, as they say it does in moments like that. And there I was; cornered with my back against the wall literally, in a packed record shop full of chaotic fans, and with this somebody looking me straight in the eyes after having pushed a note across the desk that just read out the word "JESUS!". So I'm thinking "-...ok... this is it... he's gonna gun me down and holler "DIE YOU SINNER" and "BURN IN HELL" or something like that".
Another shot of Quorthon during that Los Angeles in-store.
- But as I'm waiting for him to pull that .38 up, I realize all of a sudden; this is LA, this guy probably can't speak English, and so might just have written a note with his name on it. Could it be that he wants me to sign his BATHORY albums with a dedication along the lines "From Quorthon to Jésus"? The story ends with a very happy Hispanic guy, who's name indeed turned out to be Jésus, walking off clutching tight a pack of freshly autographed BATHORY albums in his arms...
Flyers announcing a BATHORY in-store Los Angeles Sunday October 11th 1987.
The UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK album begins with a eerie intro, recorded using a Roland synthesizer, a couple of guitars, a bass drum and a cymbal recorded at three times normal speed. The intro, given the initial working title of the whole album, "Nocturnal Obeisance", was inspired by some opera piece and recorded in a hurry at a very late stage.
- We should have done a better job with that one. But it was recorded at a very late stage, we were dead tired, out of inspiration and time, and were never able to find the sound we really wanted anyway. So we said we ought to be content with what we had, and basically didn't do anything more on it. Actually, we had just plugged that synthesizer in first time that very morning, we weren't even sure it worked. I had never played keyboard for a record before, and so would just try a few things out. I found a reasonably nice sound and we decided to record that quickly. It was a very non-prestigious affair. But while looking for sounds, we found some interesting sounds for other tracks, and so made a note should we find the time to add some bars played on that thing.
As the intro quickly dies out, the opening track "Massacre" attacks you like a werewolf in heat. "Massacre", though a favorite with some older fans, actually only made it to something like Top 31 on the list of favorite tracks of the fans when the tracking list for the first two JUBILEUM volumes were compiled. And hence, it would not be "Massacre" but three other tracks that got to represent UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK on JUBILEUM VOLUME I and JUBILEUM VOLUME II.
- That one was actually inspired by reading a book on the battle at Little Big Horn. When I tell people that, they'll usually freak out and go "-No fucking way!". So I guess that track must have been coming across as something completely different. Hate to ruin somebodies idea about the lyrics. But that's how that one came about.
- One of the possible reasons as to why a track like "Massacre" did not make it onto the JUBLIEUM I and JUBLIEUM II releases, despite the fact I know it is a favorite among older fans, may be how BATHORY was perceived at the time. When we were compiling the tracking list for the JUBILEUM release in late 1992, BATHORY had attracted a very large crowd of Epic and Nordic Metal fans. And due to the style and theme of HAMMERHEART in particular but also TWILIGHT OF THE GODS, and in some respect BLOOD FIRE DEATH as well, we were regarded as mainly a Nordic or Viking Metal act. So when we asked our fans to send us a list of their Top 10 favorite BATHORY tracks for a tracking list for JUBILEUM, the emphasis was on the more epic, longer and heavier material of the last three releases, than on the more primitive and brutal Satanic stuff found on the first three releases.
With "Woman of Dark Desires", Mrs. Bathory got her first track on a BATHORY album.
Next up is another favorite of BATHORY's old time fans; "Woman of Dark Desires". For the first time on a BATHORY record, and recorded just a few minutes before mix-down, was a few bars played on that synthesizer, the same machine used for the intro, this time with a brass setting to mimic doomsday bassoons. A sort-of harpsichord sound was then added to a middle eight just before the solo.
- There was an awful lot of questions in the fan mail in those days, regarding the name BATHORY. Apparently, very very few knew about Elizabeth Bathory, and the ones who did were fewer than those who thought we had named the band after a Venom track. So I felt it was quite necessary to write a track in her honor. And which act other than an act named after the ol' bloodcountes herself, could be more suitable to write a track on the life and death of dizzy Miss Lizzy?!
- I remember virtually stealing the entire base for that track from Saxon's "Machine Gun". Their "Wheels of Steel" and "Denim and Leather" albums are highly underrated I think. But when I listen back to "Woman of Dark Desires" today, all I hear is how unbelievably over-the-tolerance those guitars were recorded. That needle must have been jammed shut at the top constantly. And when we recorded that solo; in order to make the lead guitar penetrate that wall of distortion at all, a EQ-setting was required that would allow for ample penetration rather than a great sound. But we had no references in those days. There were no such albums to go home and listen back to.
Another favorite of the old timers, is "Call From The Grave". Perhaps a first glance at things to come, "Call From The Grave" not only incorporates the funeral march by Frederic Chopin, but a three guitars harmony solo.
- I actually produced a heavy doomsday-like demo of Frederic Chopin's funeral march first. Only a couple of weeks later did it occur to me that it really should be turned into a full blown track, incorporating the funeral march and with a buried alive theme. One funny thing that comes to my mind when I think of that particular track, is what one major British metal publication had to say about it back then. Whereas the rest of the world clearly took it for what it was, a horror story about being buried alive, this British metal publication interpreted that particular track as a newly risen interest in Christian values and newly born faith in God on my behalf... those media guys' have just never been too right on the spot about anything have they?! Not even back then...
The Side A label for the vinyl version of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK produced
in 2003 for BATHORY's 20th anniversary. Feeling that it would perhaps be to intrude on
classic ground - or to commit an act that bordered pure sacriledge - to name the A and B
sides Side Darkness and Side Evil, BATHORY and Black Mark agreed to simply use a more
common Side A and Side B. But the classic material is just the same as the 1987 original.
A riddle for over a decade and a half is the meaning behind the title of the next track; "Equimanthorn". Not only a cut-throat track with almost unbelievably fast vocals, but also lyrics that first time on a BATHORY album incorporates a spiritual, mythological and/or cult theme other than the purely Satanic one. And once more, here is a favorite of the old guard.
- I basically ripped the opening passages from the soundtrack to the "Jaws" movie writing that one. We forgot to overdub a guitar for the intro, and so really the first six bars or so are actually remnants of a demo track onto which we'd lay down the various overdubs. I can't remember why we never did take care of that.
- The title itself has been somewhat of a mystery it seems, judging from all the letters and emails received over the past decade and a half, asking me what kind of a God Equimanthorn really is, and where to turn to in order to find out more. It seems people were checking guides to various mythologies, looking for Equimanthorn to no avail, and then resorted to write me for an answer. I have also had fans spot me from across the street, screaming "-...Eeee-quiii-maaan-thooorrnnn!!!.." at the top of their lungs to make themselves noted, frightening the living daylight out of my uninitiated date for the evening...
- The answer is that the word Equimanthorn is actually made up from Equi as in equal or the center or pinnacle of something, man as in human, and thorn as is a thorn of something stuck into something or someone, the thorn representing the vengeance theme found in the lyrics. If I remember correctly, what I was aiming for was a nature God of early mankind, not above man but equal to him, though a deity in every other way. In other words; a primitive God for a primitive mankind. I guess it's true here for the first time I am trying out what singing about deities or spiritual values other than the purely Satanic one, might turn out like. Once again a track with this insane guitar sound, the indicator must have shown red from beginning to end.
Unfortunately a rather poor copy of a shot photographed and sent in by a Swedish
BATHORY fan years ago, showing Quorthon while signing autographs during an in-store
at Heavy Sound Records in down town Stockholm City on May 29th 1987.
Opening Side Evil of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, is a BATHORY classic; "Enter the Eternal Fire". Considering the fact it is still talked about a decade and a half later, it is easy to imagine the effect that the slightly different rhythm and composition of "Enter the Eternal Fire" had on what was essentially a very thrashy early 1987.
- If I remember correctly, even when we played it through first time in the studio, we realized we would perhaps have to approach this one slightly different than we had the other basic thrashy bits. It wasn't as much me insisting the mix at a later stage would have to be careful, or anybody saying anything straight out, it must have been felt rather than said, for I remember we even played slightly different when recording that one.
- This track seem to bring a tear to some peoples' eyes. There's something special about this track that transcends to today. When at times the catalogue of BATHORY is analyzed, it is said this track ushered in the sort of material that would later be nominated as the moment true Nordic or Viking Metal was born. And that might be correct, despite the fact "Enter the Eternal Fire" is all and all out a Satanic story.
- The response we received in the form of fan mail singling that particular track out as the best and most interesting piece on the album, as a fantastic composition, and as a track the like of which people wanted to hear more of on a future album, says a lot. It has been covered by both Nordic and Black/Death Metal acts a number of times, and I swear I hear bits of it when hearing something produced by primarily Scandinavian Black and/or Nordic Metal bands these days.
- The very positive response to this track particularly, was a surprise, and encouraged me to write more in that style. The rhythm and composition felt fresh. By that time, we wanted to say more, spread out and expand not only musically, but lyrically as well. The somewhat slower pace and different composition style of material like "Enter the Eternal Fire" and "Call From The Grave", so much better suited storytelling of a style other than screams of "SATAAAAAN" at 365mph. And so "A Fine Day To Die" and "Blood Fire Death" on the next album, was probably tailored from scratch to conform with this new rewarding rhythm and interesting composition style.
- Had our fan base in a firm way given "Enter the Eternal Fire" the thumbs down, then stuff like "A Fine Day To Die", "Blood Fire Death", and virtually everything from "Shores In Flames" to "Bond Of Blood", not to mention whole albums like HAMMERHEART and TWILIGHT OF THE GODS, would never have happened at all.
- "Enter the Eternal Fire" is truly a corner stone in the history of BATHORY for more reasons than one. And when compiling the tracking list for JUBILEUM, asking the fans to send us a list of their favorite BATHORY tracks, it was a clean sweep. Rivaled by only two or three other tracks, "Enter the Eternal Fire" sat right at the top of 90% of the lists received.
- Some people have asked me if a Manowar track, "Bridge of Death" with a story similar to "Enter The Eternal Fire", had anything to do with the lyrics. But honestly, I wasn't the one owning a Manowar album. The only Manowarish bit of influence to happen at that stage, was when I told Pålle about how I was looking for new rhytms to base some different material on, and he began to play on the drums what I would learn later was a typical Manowar beat. And I quickly wrote "Enter The Eternal Fire" only two weeks prior to entering the studio. And the theme, crossing the river of death and meeting up with the horned one, is as old as religion and mans' perception of death itself.
Following this classic BATHORY composition, are two less talked about tracks; "Chariots of Fire" and "13 Candles". Sometimes referred to by Quorthon as throw-away tracks, or fillers.
- They are both typical of the sort of dozen material I would write so much of in late '85 and most of '86. Since I'll listen to any of the old albums at about the rate once every five years or so, there are of course some tracks I hardly remember at all. With these two, I remember the titles and I know which album they're on, but I need to actually listen to them to recognize them.
- "13 Candles" is a classic Satanic story, with a thumping rhythm and sweeping winding chords, telling the story of the child of Satan being conceived by the eternal virgin, but overall quite forgettable really.
A pait of Soviet ICBM's manouvering somewhere along the border to Northeastern Europe.
The cold war arms race and the nuclear war scenario, would inspire a couple of tracks on a
number of BATHORY albums in the 80's. On the UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK album,
the cold war arms race theme and nuclear war scenario is represented by "Chariots of Fire".
- "Chariots of Fire" is one of few attempts on UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK to touch topics other than the purely Satanic or Demonic ones. It might be difficult to remember these days, it might even be hard to imagine citizens of a neutral nation even bothering, but though the wall would come down only a few years later, back in the mid 80's the cold war atmosphere was still very potent.
- Throughout the years I wrote quite a lot of material on the nuclear war subject. But only very few things were ever recorded. "Chariots of Fire" was one, "Total Destruction on THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL was another. And I'd visit the topic once more on BLOOD FIRE DEATH with "Holocaust". Already on THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL did we try out slightly different topics, so perhaps on a subconscious level were we trying to move around a bit and expand by trying stuff like the groupie and blow job theme in "Bestial Lust" or "Massacre" which was actually inspired by the battle at Little Big Horn.
Rather cautious attempts in the mid 80's at trying to write about things other
than the purely satanic topics, resulted in a lot of material written on - among other
things - the nuclear war subject. But in the end, very few tracks dedicated to these
other subjects were actually recorded. Representing these cautious few attempts on
UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is "Massacre" - which was actually inspired
by the battle at Little Big Horn - and the nuclear war theme track "Chariots of Fire".
Ending this classic BATHORY release is "Of Doom". This was the bands track of glory dedicated to the ever increasing number of BATHORY fans around the world.
- I dearly wanted to write a track dedicated to our fan base. We had been flooded with such a huge amount of fan mail from early 1985, and the supporting letters just kept on coming by the dozen every week. People would send us photo's of themselves wearing BATHORY shirts, either homemade ones or the few we had produced ourselves in 1985 and promoted by sliding small merchandise flyers into the album sleeves. And they'd all let us know how they would party like animals, headbanging all night to our albums, draw our logo and the goat all over the place, and how they couldn't wait for a third album. We were still amazed by all this admiration, flattered by all the support and immensely proud of every little sign of attention or letter from outback wherever. "Of Doom" was our way of letting all of them know how grateful and humble we felt.
- The increasing eerie sound at the beginning of that track, is actually a piano chord played back backwards. One of the quarter inch tapes we were using was a second hand tape, and it contained some light muzzak before we recorded one half of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK over it. We must have been putting that tape on backwards right from start, for all of a sudden, when going from record mode to play-back mode playing back something we had just recorded, we heard this surging sound coming out of the speakers. It took a while before we realized it was a piano chord belonging to something already on the tape. But we liked that so much, we decided to copy that and make one track begin that way. I still wonder what that muzzak was. If that pianist only knew he or she is on a BATHORY album...
In 2003, gifted Scandinavian metal publication Monster Magazine published a four page "Top 20
best Black Metal albums of all time" article. UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was dubbed the best,
most influential and important Black Metal album of all time. And BATHORY was represented with one more album,
the only act to get a second entry. On position 8, BATHORY's fourth album - BLOOD FIRE DEATH - was included on this
Top Black Metal albums of all time list, mainly for the impact the BLOOD FIRE DEATH album would have on Black
Metal of the 90's as far as elaborate composition, instrumentation and complex arrangements is concerned.
The limitations of Heavenshore as a studio had not presented too much of a problem when the debut album had been recorded a little more than two years before. But the limitations and the cramped space would become an obstacle when the band recorded UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK. And this mainly due to the fact two stacks of Marshall amplifiers had been brought to the studio, resulting in even less space than usual to house both musicians, drums and equipment.
- I had listened back to THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL after it had just been released and, like I've said previously, thought it came out rather blurry and murky. We'd been downing way too much Swedish vodka when recording that second album, and it turned out probably just as blurry and murky as our collective hangover.
- So I anticipated for BATHORY to record a much more intense album this third time around, and during late '85 and early '86 I wrote material that was a lot more frantic. This brought about a crave for sheer volume and high voltage which we thought could only be stilled by bringing tons of amps down to Heavenshore.
- When recording THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL, bringing in tons of amps was never a problem at all. The much more professional Elektra Studio was such a big place compared to the cramped and limited Heavenshore. The huge interior measurements of Elektra had no problems swallowing an unlimited number of Marshall amplifiers for both guitar and bass, and a huge drum kit. I think the Elektra Studio easily could have swallowed the whole of Heavenshore and half of the house to which heavenshore belonged.
- This was of course a tremendous luxury compared to when we recorded the debut at Heavenshore back in June '84. Back then, we brought with us only one tiny little shity 20W Yamaha amp and a small makeshift drum kit. So coming back to Heavenshore in September '86 to record UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, bringing with us two stacks of rented Marshall amplifiers, and with the much more professional and voluminous Elektra Studio in rather fresh memory, it was if not a big shock so at least an obstacle we had to deal with confronting the limitations and cramped space of Heavenshore with a new set of eyes.
While BATHORY was still in the studio recording the UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK album,
a KERRANG! poll summoned 1986 up by dubbing BATHORY eighth worst rock group in the world.
For some reason, England have always proven to be BATHORY turf NOT. Though originally a rather
poor quality photocopy, the is text still quite readable. BATHORY didn't know whether to laugh
for being regarded a rock group, or feeling like shit for not beating Stryper as worst rock group.
- But due to the sheer volume beefed up by the much more powerful amplifiers, there was of course a huge amount of leakage. So much noise found its way onto the drum tracks through the drum microphones. And since there really was no way to isolate the three basic instruments from one another in that small room, apart from the carpets hanging from the ceiling, we had to resort to condensation microphones taped to the drums and record the drums that way, picking up only a very tight signal with a huge amount of limiter. The signals were then fed through an early Roland drum module. This enabled us to control the drum signals, but resulted in a very artificial and plastic sound. We tried to compensate for that by using a rather hefty amount of reverb and delay, although it is difficult to hear much of that in the blizzard of razorblade guitars.
- The funny bit in that whole story is how very little of the pure Marshall sound there actually is to be heard on the final album. Once the basic tracks was down the can and we began to add things, the house owner and the neighbors asked me to turn the volume down. So I brought with me this portable Rockman guitar box system kind of thing that I had borrowed from a guitarist I knew back then. And as I began to add a riff here and overdub something else there, I realized with this tiny little guitar box I had more effect options and compression etcetera, than what the whole of Heavenshore could offer. So before I knew it, I had more or less replaced half of the basic rhythm guitars with a guitar played through that Rockman thing.
- It was a very popular little guitar box back then, sort of like a predecessor of today's pods, and it had a lot to offer in the field of playing at home or elsewhere when there's usually no mountain of amplifiers at hand. The problem is of course it doesn't sound too much like extreme metal, but rather like ZZ Top, which incidentally is a band that surely must have used the Rockman on their albums back in the early 80's. You bet I am having more than just slight regrets about re-recording so much guitar for UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK as I did using that Rockman box.
Vvornth and Quorthon photographed in a bar in down town Stockholm City on May 29th 1987, celebrating
the release of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK with a glass of Swedish Vodka or two... or three.
A few minutes later, the two of them - allegedly drunk as skunks - walked off to do an in-store signing
hundreds of albums and posters, as well as shaking the hands of a couple of hundred fans creating
havoc in down town Stockholm. A truly classic moment in the history of Swedish extreme metal.
On May the 8th 1987 UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was officially released to the world. And for the first time, promotion trips would be made to tie closer contacts abroad, and to conduct face-to-face interviews with as many of Europe's metal publications as possible. UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was also the first BATHORY album to be officially distributed anywhere outside of Scandinavia on a licensy basis, and the two previous releases would follow. Previously, BATHORY albums had been exported and sold as imports in Europe and overseas. A three year distribution deal, valid for the UK and western Europe, had just then been signed between Tyfon and Music For Nations. Simultaneously a similar deal had been signed with Relative Records Inc in New York and their Combat Records division, valid for the US territory.
- But this other licensy partner in Canada just never succeeded in delivering one single correct sales statement. There were more BATHORY records handed out as promotion to Canadian fanzines, magazines, radio stations and record stores, than were evidently sold, that is if one chooses to believe the sales statements they would send us. And while they insisted BATHORY was a difficult act to sell in Canada, we received as many fan letters posted in Canada, and requests from Canadian fanzines and magazines for interviews, as there were American letters and requests for interviews coming in from the US. It just didn't add up. But we never raised too much hell about that back then. Had that happened today, it would have been a completely different story altogether.
Quorthon, accompanied by Vvornth, signing albums, photos and posters
during an in-store in down town Stockholm on May the 29th 1987.
One famous event was an in-store in Stockholm at the, if not sole so at least premium, Hard Rock and Metal record shop in all of Eastern Sweden, Heavy Sound.
- This is a legendary story and a classic moment in the history of Swedish extreme metal, for reportedly three quarters of the members in the Swedish extreme metal bands that began to make a name for themselves half a decade later, were apparently there to get their BATHORY albums autographed.
- Though UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK had been released officialy on May the 8, we had a private release party all day on the 29th, actually right up to actually going over there. And even as we were on our way to Heavy Sound, we stopped by a bar for a few more glasses of Vodka. So by the time we arrived, we were pretty drunk. If I didn't have the pictures to prove that I was there and that in-store actually happened, I wouldn't remember ever going there doing that in-store.
Quorthon signing a THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL cover
during an in-store in down town Stockholm on May the 29th 1987.
- One of many funny details about that day; while we were standing there, signing album covers and posters and what have you, Pålle spotted a poster for a Manowar show in Stockholm. And for a split second, he sobered up enough to realize the show was that very evening. And since he had become a bit of a Manowar fan by then, he persuaded me to come along. So when that in-store thing is ebbing out in the early evening, we got a hold of two tickets from the store owner to round a very good day off, then got ourselves down to the concert hall and sneaked up the closed-off balcony area to see the show from up there.
- Halfway through the Manowar show, some BATHORY fans from the in-store would spot us up there in the shadows, and started screaming "-BATHORY... BATHORY... BATHORY..." in between Manowar's numbers. Joey & Co. must have been wondering what the hell that was all about, so I took the opportunity to ask Joey when it turned out we were staying at the same London hotel three years later. But he claimed he didn't remember anything unusual about that Stockholm show at all.
BATHORY fans awaiting for their album covers and posters to be
signed during an in-store in down town Stockholm on May the 29th 1987.
- I don't remember if we ever said or felt anything special about the album once we had recorded and mixed it all. Recording UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was a fairly easy and uneventful session. But, like I said before, a session I have very few memories of.
- Yet, I'm sure we knew it was very a different album when compared to THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL. I think we might even have said that on one level it was closer to the debut than to the second album. And yet, it not only showed a vast improvement from THE RETURN OF THE DARKNESS AND EVIL, it was an album on it's own and very brutal for those days.
- For crying out loud; if people to this day talk about it as either the true birth of Black Metal, or as one of the Top 5 Black or Death Metal albums of all time, we ought to have felt or said something to ourselves once the material and artwork was sent off for manufacturing. But truth is, I can not remember any such thoughts or talks at all. You're not exactly in a position to say anything objective about an album when it hasn't even been exposed to the ears and hearts of your own fan base.
Fans gathering up to have their album covers signed by Quorthon
and Vvornth during an in-store in Stockholm on May 29 1987.
When the reviews and sales figures for UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK started to pour in during the summer of 1987, it was clear to all that UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was an album that not only pleased the critics, but also the eagerly awaiting army of BATHORY fans around the world.
In those days, whether it was referred to as Black, Thrash, Speed or Death, the various sorts of extreme metal was still all rather similar in style and sound, and fans were able to loyally follow a plethora of bands with ease. Yet, enough of a variety had begun to develop, and there was a need for different subcategories to be branded and to be used more seriously. Soon, as the scene in general would split up into these various subcategories, not only would the fans begin to finely tune their taste and loyalty, everybody was looking for the new sound, the new style or a new direction, that would take the lead in what was otherwise a rather young scene.
With UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, BATHORY was labeled as alternately either Black, Thrash, Speed or Death by the media. Regardless of how BATHORY was labeled in print, as far as the audience was concerned, BATHORY was right up there at Top 5 together with Venom, Slayer, Metallica and Celtic Frost.
And while on the subject of Black Metal. Though BATHORY would accept people calling them Black Metal, the term itself was felt too synonymous with Venom, and thus too much of a shackle for a young band trying to profile itself. When conducting interviews in late 1984 and early 1985, BATHORY had begun to label their music Death Metal, and this before the phrase as such had become a commonly used denominator for a brand of more technical metal. When some of the material on UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK turned out more complex in arrangements and instrumentation when compared to its' two predecessors', the Death Metal label would actualy be used all the more frequently by the media when categorizing BATHORY. But by that time, it didn't matter much to BATHORY. With UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK out, BATHORY was already looking towards a new horizon and had more elaborate things planned.
UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK actually getting a five star
review in silver back publication Sounds on May the 9th 1987.
- When I read back all the reviews from those days, I am surprised by the usually friendly and rather respectful tone used back then. That stuff you hardly see anymore these days. Back then, it was an understanding among critics, that we all belonged to the same scene and industry; bands, labels, media and fans alike, no matter what the sound or style. Metal was the law. There was no cutting an unsigned street or club band by the ankles for a cheap production or cheesy demo artwork. There was no slicing an act simply because you didn't like the music or didn't understand the lyrics. There was no give-your-bands'-top-reviews-for-a-few-full-page-ad's policy in those days. Fashion certainly did not dictate what went down in reviews or articles in those days, it was a thumbs up, good work, keep it up and good luck mentality all in the name of metal. We were all metal and all of us did our thing for metal in all our various ways. There was no animosity and no polemic or fuck you tendencies back then as far as I can remember anyway.
A May 1987 review for UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK in KERRANG!,
the most vital of the worlds metal publications back in the early and mid 80's.
- Nowadays, it's a completely different situation. The media of today seem so spoiled and full of itself, as if they themselves want to be the story. An obvious sign of that today is all the "big" magazines featuring as many photo's of their staff signing autographs (!) at festivals, as pictures of musicians in bands. Heading most of today's media is a bunch of jealous and musically frustrated wannabe's who made themselves experts on what is good and bad from the basket this month. And this despite the fact we never get to hear what they sound like when they play or sing something they've written, recorded and produced themselves. And when you stand up against them for acting like they hate metal and the scene in general, they do their best to take the piss out of you on a public relations level. They can criticize you, but you are not allowed to even dare questioning them, their expertness or their authority.
Another spring 1987 review for the UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK album.
This one from Metal Forces, the other prime British metal publication back in the mid 80's.
- One shouldn't care about reviews, really. It doesn't matter whether a review is good or bad, whether it's cutting your new album into dices with indented acidity, or elevating you to absurd levels of admiration and praise. A review is just one persons idea about something. I feel sorry for anybody who allow for the taste of one critic to dictate musical horizon or choice of albums purchased.
- The reviews featured in the BATHORY HISTORY ARCHIVE are here to give historical perspective, to show what things were like fifteen or twenty years back in time; when the scene was very different and the mere word BATHORY did not call for neither special treatment nor malevolent abuse; a time when BATHORY was just one of many other similar acts and not yet made godfathers of Black Metal or Nordic Metal kings.
- The only thing that matters is the quality of communication between a band and it's audience through letters, emails, the lyrics, music, artwork and atmosphere. The effect your material has had on other bands, the scene in all it's variety and the industry in general, will be noticeable only five, ten, fifteen, or indeed twenty years down the road. You can't determine the weight of an album in the few minutes between hearing it first time and the deadline for turning your review in for printing. If your art has had a noticeable influencial and inspiring effect on the entire scene and industry on a whole, if for instance even your most Epic and Nordic material have influenced the production and arrangement style of even the most uncompromising Satanic groups, that will show in due time and be more than enough to demolish the whim of the pathetic taste mob.
One popular gimmick frequently requested for by photographers abroad, was Quorthon's fire breathing routine.
Here Quorthon is pictured breathing fire late one night in May 1987, standing by an old railway bridge somewhere in
the UK. In order to supply his spotlights with electricity, photographer Tony Mottram drove up and parked his car right
next to the camera tripod, connected the spotlights to the car battery and went on to click away. The result was liberal
amounts of Quorthon's fire breathing mixture being sprayed not only all over the bonnet, but all over the motor
compartment as well. A potentially lethal situation. More than once a volatile white mist, ready to ignite any second,
filled the motor compartment, resulting in the photo session being abruptly halted a number of times.
But the shots turned out great...
UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is without a doubt one of the most influential and important releases in the BATHORY catalogue, and in the history of extreme metal. While the debut was merely saying hello, a first attempt to bring to the world the noise that a young Swedish trio had been developing in a variety of rehearsal places for a year; and while the follow-up release was hardly more than an attempt to create a profile in an environment of budding extreme metal acts that had just gone from an underground stage to create a new and interesting scene; the third album by BATHORY made more than a dent in extreme metal history.
It's been said and written about UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK for over a decade and a half that this was the album that gave birth to true Black Metal as we know it today. It might not have been the very first album to be branded as Black Metal, but it surely must be credited as one of only two of three albums in the history of extreme metal, to have played quite such an important role in shaping things to come.
Throughout the years, thousands of people have written or emailed BATHORY, claiming UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK to have been the very first extreme metal album they ever bought. Members of many prolific bands of today, have again and again attested in interviews and biographies how very much an influence to them UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was in younger years and how much it would shape their musical base.
Though Quorthon may find plenty of things on it to complain about with a smile, others will claim that UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK indeed stood the test of time. And this despite the fact it was recorded by first three and then two Swedish teenagers, in a garage, using 8-track equipment and a homemade soundboard. And all this almost two whole decades ago...
And the fire breathing routine worked just fine in-doors as well. Here a scan showing Quorthon in a 1987 spread from
KERRANG!. Though the ceiling was way too low for big time fire breathing, other than a rather great shot the flames
came to good use. A forth night prior to Quorthon entering Ray Palmers' London photo studio, Wendy O. Williams had
been photographed with a tub filled with spaghetti and...maggots. Over night, the warm photo studio had transformed
a million maggots to a million flies. And so between shots, Ray duly asked Quorthon to start killing off them flies with fire.
And understandably, and justifiably, UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK is among the top trio of best selling BATHORY albums of all time. To this day, it will ship in large numbers and at a steady rate. Noticeable once more just how much UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK means to more than two generations of extreme metal fans and bands alike, was when BATHORY celebrated 20 years in 2003 and released the entire catalogue on digitally re-mastered Lp's and CD's. One of the top selling numbers in the Anniversary digitally re-mastered Lp catalogue, was UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK.
Being the sole representative for Northern Europe on the extreme metal scene back then,
to further emphasize BATHORY's origin, a Swedish flag was requested for at more photo sessions than one.
This shot, by Ray Palmer, was actually selected to act as a official press photo the world over for 1987.
The success of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK was felt rather imminently in BATHORY camp. The steady flow of requests for interviews from around the world, the bags of fan mail collected down the post office every Monday morning, the sales reports showing four figure numbers in more than a handful of territories, and even five figure numbers in a couple of territories, were all signs of BATHORY having made the journey.
And all this not through tons of spectacular shows, not because of no series of hot band photo sessions or intriguing bio's sent out, not because of a myriad of publicity stunts or memorable videos had those been available for the young BATHORY project. It was through the music alone, acommpanied with a handful of shots and interviews with primarily fanzines, and perhaps thanks to some of the budding suspense and mystery always beyond BATHORY's control, that cemented the name BATHORY in the minds and hearts of hundreds of thousands. The release, and success, of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK, quickly made the sales figures for the two previous releases shoot off the scale as well. And create a huge interest for a fourth release.
BATHORY was ready to move on, to expand, and to take the next step on the evolutionary route. For the remainder of 1987, besides taking care of the strictly promotional and communicating chores, and trying to secure a staple line-up, BATHORY was looking forward to write for and to record the next album.
And yet despite the fact the success of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK should have made BATHORY feel safe about their place, sound and style, a desire for other topics and other styles and sounds emerged.
For a great number of years, UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK would mark the beginning to the end of the period when BATHORY was writing the deeds of darkness and evil...