Regularly cited as the archetypical Viking metal album, Bathory's Hammerheart remains an unqualified triumph for the pioneering Swedish act. Merging audacious lyrical ambitions with a sense of musical grandeur akin to the greatest epic works in metal history -- among which it is frequently numbered -- Hammerheart is a fully fleshed concept album, and a literate one at that. Chronicling with great detail and drama the Christian invasion of Scandinavia during medieval times, and his pagan ancestors' forceful conversion to the cross, Seth Quorthon became a standard-bearer for an entire generation of disenfranchised Norse-descended teens. In fact, Hammerheart's remarkably well-thought-out words and overall scope and vision engendered a deep-seated anti-Christian sentiment within the region's extreme metal scene, sentiments that were eventually brought to their most violent conclusion with the hate crimes perpetrated by members of the Norwegian black metal community in the early '90s. Turning to the music itself, the clean vocals which had made their first appearance on Bathory's previous outing, Blood Fire Death, become the norm throughout Hammerheart, further clarifying the resentful expos of Quorthon's lyrics. Frankly, his singing voice still needed work, sounding a little out of tune here and there (see monstrous opener "Shores in Flames" and, more disturbingly, the brief "Song to Hall up High"), but this does little to detract from the astounding depth of musical diversity and inspiration contained here. Majestic overtures like "Valhalla," "Father to Son," "Home of Once Brave," and the career highlight "One Rode to Asa Bay" rarely fly with the hyper-speed of Bathory's thrashing past, but rather march inexorably out of your stereo speakers, their ghostly, layered vocal chorales bestowing each and every song with even greater pomp and ceremony. As if you hadn't already realized this, taken in its entirety, Hammerheart paved the roads upon which countless pilgrims would later travel -- bands like Mayhem and Emperor, who later possessed legends in their own. Their studious worship of Bathory's teachings are the ultimate proof.