The mighty Bathory, one of the most important bands to emerge out of what came to be known as the first wave of black metal, was spearheaded by Quorthon – a character with a voice like the devil himself.
Back in 1987, he paid a flying visit to the UK to discuss Bathory's third album, Under The Sign Of The Black Mark. He also talked about his intention to slaughter a lamb onstage, and how it'd take some convincing for him to buy one of his own albums!
The character of Quorthon is very mysterious, or so he would like to think. Clad from head to toe in black leather, with eyes hidden behind an impenetrable pair of shades, the Swede talks slowly and at length, with great sincerity. He’s of indeterminate age [well, he was actually 21 at the time if this interview, and was 38 when he died] and seems amiable, but continues to contradict himself throughout our conversation.
Interviews, it seems, aren’t commonplace form him, and I get the impression that he finds them to be a bit of a trial. Nevertheless he acquits himself admirably in a foreign tongue.
“I’m over here for a second lot of press interviews”, he says as we attract glances in a posh Lancaster Gate hotel. “Now we have to release a bit of the image and the reputation, show our faces and what we look like. For the first couple of years we didn’t put out any pictures or do any interviews. We like to keep our distance.”
“The image is as important as the music I think. But you can’t play the image on the radio, so the image is for magazines.”
For those unaware of Bathory’s reputation, let me explain. They were formed in 1983, when they had two tracks included on a Swedish compilation album. Motorhead influences abounded, and the band played loud and fast, with more than a passing nod to Venom and other black metal luminaries.
These two tracks led in 1984 to a debut album (called just Bathory), and a disappointing second a year later (The Return……), with mass underground appeal.
“What we do onstage corresponds with the visual thing” Quorthon explains. “In our biography you might have read that we intended to slay a lamb onstage. It was an idea I had a few years ago, but now I realise that you can’t do that.”
In Britain the RSPCA would have gone bananas if they got wind of such a plan. I wonder if Bathory could get away with it back home? There is no doubting the fact that such blatant opportunism would secure him a reputation in the mainstream. And it would certainly tie in with the Satanic theme.
“We are not Satanists”, says Quorthon somewhat surprisingly. “I was into all that two or three years ago, but then you grow away from it. All that religious stuff is just bullshit. You’ve got to know both sides. Once you get to know one side - whether it’s the dark side or the light side - you realise that our music doesn’t have anything to do with religion at all.
"This is just metal. I make fiction stories with my mind and it turns out to be Bathory. Nowadays I have nothing to do with that at all. But I don’t make any apologies for having been a part of it in the past.
“Even so there is a very dark and ominous feel to the third album. “I think I only mention Satan once on it. That’s on 13 Candles which is a very old song”, he says. “Satan hasn’t got anything to do with Bathory. We’re just kids from Stockholm, and we don’t have anything to do with religion or politics.
"But we have a very close relationship with our fans, the people that buy the records. They have a very clear perspective of what they want from us. If they tell us to go faster or slower, or touch certain topics, we do.”
Quorthon goes on to explain that Bathory don’t consider themselves speed metal, death metal or black metal. Instead he insists that most of his inspiration is derived from the radio, and time changes are altered to make them more acceptable. He’s hardly a fan of your stereotyped European metal band either.
“I don’t listen to speed metal or death metal because most of it’s just crap. What we play is just metal. The German invasion of speed metal is crap. Bleeeuurrgghh”, he says with a look as though he’s swallowed a bar of soap. Does Quorthon take himself any more seriously three albums into his career?
“I don’t even take the band seriously”, he says. “Onstage I’m Quorthon the almighty, the Evil One. On the streets of Stockholm I’m just anybody. You have to draw a very thick line between what you do onstage and privately“