The achingly simple Enter The Eternal Fire is Bathory‘s greatest moment in a career replete with seminal offerings. On their first two albums, Bathory had already released music that would be regarded as the go-to blueprint for the uglier, lo-fi tendencies espoused by black metal bands for the next twenty years, or at least until the petal metal bands started asserting themselves. Influenced in equal parts by Motorhead, Venom, and Sodom, Quorthon ratcheted up the bile in the music to unprecedented levels but essentially maintained the music as a faster, sloppier, and naughtier version of his musical forebears.
Genres lurch forward and evolve as a cumulative effect of various forces combining over a concentrated period of time, and rarely as the fruit of a single entity, much less one song. Pivotal songs abound, no doubt, but it took Judas Priest a good four years to convert the foundation laid by Black Sabbath into a resplendent heavy metal monument, while a far more musically competitive generation forced Slayer to up the ante, as initially set by the likes of Discharge and Metallica, in relatively quicker time.
Quorthon seemed to be following in these hallowed footsteps, adding his own vitriolic but, all things considered, not-so-remarkable twist to the progression of extreme metal.
Until Enter The Eternal Fire comes around in the middle on Under The Sign Of The Black Mark.
An opening three-note herald, separated by whole and more intervals, is the call to arms by Bathory, a dramatization set on lush fields as yet unstrewn with the blood of battle. This simple progression turns out to be in the relative minor key (D flat minor) of the classic four-note riff that follows, thus acting as the primary mover behind the entire song. Spanning the second and third modes of the major scale (E, C# tuning), this riff is the very epitome of stripped-down minimalism, but within its spare aesthetic lies a world of possibilities hitherto unexplored by black metal. With one deft stroke, Quorthon eschewed and relegated speed in metal as happenstance and not obligation; songs could now be written far sparser than before, with far less demanded of technique or stamina (in hindsight, a curse as much as a blessing), but could still travel unchartered spaces when aided by a soaring imagination.
Hypnotically repetitive but always melodic, at least until it builds up to the grinding finale, Enter The Eternal Fire tells the story of a fallen hedonist who eventually discovers that the hellfires which are the wages of his sins aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. One hopes till the end that Quorthon would presage Glenn Benton in shouting the Scandinavian equivalent of “I’ll find peace when I’m God!” but he wimps out like Ozzy Ozbourne instead, crying out for mercy as flames lick the flesh clean off his bones.
All goofing aside and despite Quorthon’s English-as-work-in-progress, it is certainly evocative imagery. Enter The Eternal Fire, just as a song, contains a wealth of ideas that have influenced all of black metal. As a triumph of heavy metal’s desperate will to be, it is near unrivaled.