It has happened to everyone; one minute your friend or loved one is there, going about the business of life in their own way, neither of you thinking that tomorrow might bring the final separation. Then suddenly, silence. Things left undone, unsaid – and for those left behind, all of it utterly unreal. The email Quorthon sent just a week or so ago that I was starting to answer now sits in my Inbox like a ghostly figure… the playful subject line, from one of our favorite topics, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It reads; “Moon, Floyd, Heywood R.” Utterly unreal to me now.

My friendship with Q dates back seventeen years. During this time we got to know one another rather well. Perhaps I was privileged to know Q on a level deeper than how many fans knew him – or in some cases might have wanted to know him – lest it ruin a perception or assignation. But for me where Q was concerned there was no disappointment whatsoever in getting to know the real man – in fact it was quite the contrary.

But it can be disappointing to get to know people you look up to or admire very closely. People expect you to be or act certain ways, think certain things, etc., and everyone has felt the disappointment that comes from learning ‘too much’ about their heroes. Too often we forget that people are people, and we are all, everyone one of us, only human.

Q ran into this problematic aspect of cult fame throughout his career. Some “hardcore” fans were disappointed to learn that his guitar solos were not recorded standing on a cliff’s edge, under a full moon, encircled by a halo of bats as the wind of mayhem swept his meter-and-a-half of hair back towards the rising stars. Some assigned vampirism to the die-hard hockey fan, others wanted to believe the Harley devotee lived in a cave and drank the blood of infants. And there were even more outlandish aspects to being the personality known as Quorthon… Just dealing with this aspect of cult fame was a full time job in itself.

I am still awed by his patience in answering the mountains of fan mail he received, giving all Bathory fans who wrote a thoughtful and appreciative response. He realized this was the best way of establishing a meaningful and lasting connection with his Hordes outside of touring.

For a man who was often misrepresented by the media, Q remained as good-natured and pragmatic as he ever was, right to the end. He never held any illusion that his creations in Bathory and Quorthon were an ultimate anything, though many fans – myself included, often times begged to differ.

Some artists become jaded after years in the business – especially those that experience any sort of success – or become hopelessly self-absorbed and selfish in their approach to their art. Q was different. His concern was for his fans and what they wanted. Of course an artist has to feel what they’re doing on a visceral level or risk having their creation be transparent and uninspiring. But pleasing Bathory fans was Q’s greatest concern and motivation. He wasn’t trying to be all things to everyone; he simply did what he did best – and to the best of his ability.

After establishing Bathory’s thrashing Death Metal roots through three still revered albums, Q circumspectly weaved his way along the snow covered path of the North Star, a journey that culminated with the Viking themed masterpiece “Hammerheart” and the utterly sublime “Twilight Of The Gods”. “Blood On Ice” and “Nordland” would later carry the theme even further.

I joined the Hordes during the height of Bathory’s hellpaced era of darkness and evil – when Bathory and Sodom were the ultimate names in the Death Metal scene. Both bands had an almost mystical aura exuding from their obscure and painful sounds that made them so attractive to an eighteen-year-old thrasher. Yet through the years Bathory remained the most mysterious and mythical of all.

Though I had been a Bathory fan for almost a year, I’ll never forget when first heard “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark”. It was a Friday evening in late May 1987. I was the Metal and Punk records buyer at a local record shop of some repute. We had closed the shop for the night, and while the cashiers were counting their drawers downstairs, I stayed on the sales floor to listen to the new Bathory album that had come in just a little too late in the day to be tagged in for sale that night. With only the shop’s dim night lights I pulled out the record, placed it on the demonstration turntable – which had just minutes before been pumping out the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn and 2 Live Crew – and put down the needle. In the shop’s after-hours darkness I had accidentally put on side B and so heard ‘Enter The Eternal Fire’ first. It was the last sort of song I expected to hear from Bathory, but instantly one I wanted to hear more like in the future. In the few minutes I had to listen before the other employees were screaming at me from the front door to leave, I heard enough to realize something big was on the horizon for Bathory and Death Metal in general. I returned as the store opened the next morning to finish the check in and buy the album then and there.

No doubt every Bathory fan has a similar tale they will remember for the rest of their days.

Q’s passing marks the end an era for me, and undoubtedly for many others as well. The North Star shone upon his path for thirty-nine short years. How fortunate for all of us it shone so brightly. Quorthon and Bathory now belong to the ages, but his music will remain a glorious reminder and celebration of a life well spent.

I have lost my brother ‘by blood through thunder,’ but I know our bond of blood is eternal.

Adjö, min broder! Take your song to hall up high.

O, all small creatures, it is the Twilight of the Gods.

Hail the Hordes!

Chuck Keller

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