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From ultra-limited vinyl and hand-numbered CD-Rs to impossible-to-find cassette demos, the black-metal canon is packed with rarities. But perhaps none is more iconic than Bathory's self-titled "yellow goat" album — the collector's handle for the first pressing of the band's 1984 debut. This legendary edition was limited to a thousand copies, and it's believed that far fewer survived the anti-vinyl 'Nineties, when LP production dropped off and many people exchanged (or simply dumped) their well-worn vinyl — which generally wasn't worth much at the time — for shiny new CDs.
Bathory's first full-length is emblazoned with a drawing of a goat by Joseph A. Smith, an image nicked from feminist icon Erica Jong's 1981 book Witches. Bathory vocalist, guitarist and all-round mastermind Thomas "Quorthon" Forsberg originally wanted the goat to appear in gold ink, but — as the story goes — the cost of said ink was too high. So he requested that it be printed in a color as close to gold as possible — which ended up being an almost neon yellow. Quorthon hated the result, and thus all subsequent pressings of this first-wave classic appeared with a black-and-white goat.
Meanwhile, the music on Bathory's debut would inspire almost all of the original Norwegian black-metal heavyweights, including Mayhem, Immortal and Darkthrone. As such, the yellow goat is exalted amongst collectors and fans for its OG status. (Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust even released a Bathory-inspired 2013 solo record entitled The Yellowgoat Sessions.) Though Quorthon, who passed away in 2004, repeatedly claimed to have never heard Venom when he wrote Bathory's debut, original Bathory drummer Jonas Åkerlund — who went on to direct the black metal biopic Lords of Chaos — later told Swedish Death Metal author Daniel Ekeroth that Bathory were "exclusively" influenced by Venom in those early days.
The yellow goat — or "Gula Geten" as it's known in Bathory's native Sweden — doesn't appear for sale very often. But if you're looking for a copy, expect to pay about $1,500 for one that isn't beaten to hell. As of this writing, there's only one for sale on Discogs: Someone in Ireland is flogging what they claim is a mint copy for over $4,100.
For more insight on the hallowed goat, we turned to diehard collector and Repulsion vocalist-bassist Scott Carlson, who purchased a yellow goat in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, when it was originally released.
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT BATHORY BACK IN THE EARLY 80S?
SCOTT CARLSON I can't remember exactly where, but it was probably Metal Forces magazine. But the first time I heard them was through the Scandinavian Metal Attack compilation, where they reproduced their two-song demo. Being a huge Venom fanatic, I was really into those tracks and I was looking forward to the album, which came out several months later. There was a lot of anticipation amongst my group of friends for the Bathory album.
WHERE DID YOU BUY YOUR COPY?
I bought it at Wyatt Earp's Record store in Flint, where I eventually worked for a while. Doug Earp, the guy that owned the store, funded the recording of [Repulsion's] Horrified. But that Bathory album was, like, $6.99 when it came out. I remember it being a not-very-high-quality pressing. It was brand new vinyl, but it already looked old.
WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU TOOK IT HOME AND LISTENED TO IT?
I loved it. It didn't blow me away or anything, but I did love it. We always joked that Quorthon sounded like a drunk, angry Popeye — like Popeye when he gets home from the bar at night and his wife is like, "Where have you been?" Abbath is totally channeling that. But it was just sort of cartoonishly over the top Venom worship. I believe Quorthon said that he'd never heard Venom when they made that record, but that's obviously complete horse shit because it sounds like a Venom record. It was Venom distilled down to the most ridiculous parts. Even though it was derivative, it was exactly what you wanted to hear.
ACCORDING TO JONAS ÅKERLUND, BATHORY WERE EXCLUSIVELY INFLUENCED BY VENOM AT THAT POINT.
[Laughs] Yeah. At that point, Venom had already started to cheese out, so it was cool that someone was bringing back the aesthetic that Venom had initially, even though at the time I don't think anyone had seen any photos of Quorthon. It was pretty mysterious. So they had that going for them, too — there were no photos of the band at that time. And the lyrics ... Even as a youngster, I thought some of them were a bit questionable — the rape and stuff like that. It was like, "Wow — he went there!"
THE RECORD YOU BOUGHT WAS AN ORIGINAL YELLOW GOAT. WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT IT WAS EXCLUSIVE TO THAT FIRST PRESSING AND HAD BECOME A RARITY?
I knew that the subsequent pressings didn't have the tint on the goat, but I didn't really think anything of it. No one cared that much about those records, so it wasn't until nearly two decades later that I found out it was a rarity. When CDs came out, the value of records was in the toilet. No one gave a shit about any records — besides, like Beatles "butcher" covers and stuff like that. Records were not a big deal — people were buying CDs. Bathory was still going, I guess, when I sold my copy, but no one really cared about that music.
DID YOU MAKE A FEW BUCKS WHEN YOU SOLD YOUR COPY?
No, I sold mine for, like, two dollars. It was part of a purge of records because I needed money to move from Chicago to L.A. I had a little S-10 pickup truck, and I filled the bed with records two times and took 'em to Reckless Records in Chicago. My friend Henry Polk, who now runs the record counter at the Last Book Store [in Los Angeles] worked at Reckless at the time, and he tried to talk me out of selling them. He was like, "Are you sure you wanna sell these, man? You've got some great shit here." But if I didn't sell them, I wouldn't have had the money to move.
WHAT YEAR WAS THAT?
It was like '97, so it was right before eBay. There was no real way to know what they were worth. There wasn't a price guide on death-metal records back then, so I sold it for, like, two bucks in a pile with an actual truckload other stuff, like original Celtic Frost pressings with the posters and the order forms — tons of stuff like that, which I just wasn't listening to at the time. But I still don't listen to that stuff on vinyl. When I'm listening to Celtic Frost or Bathory, it's usually on 11 in my car and I'm pounding the steering wheel.
TWO BUCKS, THOUGH — THAT'S GOTTA HURT, GIVEN ITS CURRENT VALUE.
It sounds like a big kick in the balls, but if you sold yours for $500, it's still a kick in the balls because now it's worth $1,500. My friend sold his for $500 on eBay a little while later and was laughing at me, but he wishes he had it back now because it's worth so much more. But I'm not in search of a yellow goat. Obviously if I saw one in a bargain bin, I'd snatch it — but I'd re-sell it. I don't think I'd keep it.
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT THE YELLOW GOAT HAD BECOME KIND OF A LEGEND IN METAL CIRCLES?
My friend who sold his copy for $500 was Sean MacDonald, who was the onetime bass player in Genocide [which later became Repulsion]. We shared a locker in ninth grade, and we've been friends ever since. But he was the only one of my friends who was also into buying records. When he sold his, I was like, "What the fuck? That record is worth that much?" And then I read something about how the yellow ones were the rare ones. And I was like, "Mine was fucking yellow!"