Possibly the first true example of what is commonly called Viking metal, 1988’s Blood Fire Death inaugurated an incredibly prolific period in Bathory’s history — so prolific and creative, in fact, that an entire album’s worth of material recorded at this time would be shelved for years before eventually finding room for release as 1996’s Blood on Ice. Featuring dramatic orchestral arrangements backing horrific banshee cries and galloping battalions of doom and destruction, “Oden’s Ride Over Nordland” was as powerful an instrumental mood setter as has ever introduced a heavy metal album. It also boasted something never before heard on a Bathory LP: high audio fidelity, for Blood Fire Death was indeed the group’s first to qualify as a professional-sounding recording. The second shock arrived when Quorthon employed a clean singing style (as opposed to his previously preeminent death croak) on the remarkable epic “A Fine Day to Die,” whose complex arrangements and wide-ranging use of melody are also far more daring and adventurous than all his previous works. And what may have seemed accidental with the previous year’s exceptional Under the Sign of the Black Mark was unquestionably confirmed here: This was the sound of modern black metal taking shape before fans’ very eyes. Unfortunately, the album’s jaw-dropping initial offensive isn’t always maintained throughout, with simplistic thrashers like “For All Those Who Died” and “Holocaust” harking back to the band’s crude early days, but failing to deliver with quite as much power and conviction. On the other hand, outstanding songs like the aforementioned “Fine Day to Die,” the deliriously heavy “The Golden Walls of Heaven,” the multi-paced “Dies Irae,” and, most notably, the lengthy title track (containing acoustic guitars and the whole kitchen sink) certainly qualify among the best things Bathory had ever recorded thus far. Simply put, Blood Fire Death’s lasting legacy of influence cannot be underestimated, and its courageous experiments set the stage for what many consider Bathory’s finest hour, the magnificent Hammerheart.