Friday, January 4, 2013


Graveland - Memory and Destiny
No Colours Records, 2002
Genre: Black Metal

1. Fate of Warrior
2. Jewel of Atlanteans
3. Memory and Destiny
4. Legion of Giants
5. Runes of Rise

Well, ever since “Creed of Iron” was released I started paying a little bit more attention to Graveland because it seemed that Rob Darken has started to change his approach musically a little bit.  Some things have had a marked change while other things have stayed the same or returned to “normal” I should say.  Rob is now featured in his full armor as he was before, however the image is an artist’s conception.  Red Stream has colorfully referred to him as “Alien-Helmet.”  I believe this is a perfect title for the kind of helmet he wears in these scenarios even though I’m sure it’s quite historically accurate.

One of the things that has certainly staid the same is the location of the imagery, outside in a woods or something.  The image of him behind the disc itself seems to be cut out and is basically pasted over a mountainous scene, so this one doesn’t count for my picture analysis of Rob Darken.  The Artist’s picture of him places him in front of a river, with a forest looming behind it. 

Anyway, “Blood of Heroes” returned to a more traditional sounding Graveland, whereas “Raise Your Sword!” seemed to further the progression he was going for on “Creed of Iron.”  So by the time “Memory and Destiny” hit my desk, I had no idea what was coming next.  Thankfully Rob favored a much more creative side and decided to add to the essence of his music a little more.

“Memory and Destiny” starts off with the customary keyboard lead in; however, it’s different this time in that it’s not a heavy choir setting or a stringed arrangement.  Instead it uses something that sounds more like an ethnic instrument, which is what I think Rob was truly shooting for.  The first thing you notice is that the songwriting is more involved and layered than before.  One of the standout points for me is that his drumming has gotten a lot better and this is much more interesting to listen to.  However, the downside is that for some reason the drums were better produced on “Raise Your Sword!” and this is the newer release!  I can barely hear the bass drums.  He still falls into the old trappings here and there, but it’s not as overly stagnant as when he reproduced “Thousand Swords” over and over again for a little while.  I’m honestly surprised Rob took Graveland out of that slump.  The music is finally beginning to reach what I think his initial vision was, which is something both majestic and powerful at the same time.  “Memory and Destiny” truly reaches that level because the album is both ear catching and mesmerizing, whereas it fluidly pulls the listener into the somber passages and then wakes you up when the more war like and powerful aspects hit their mark!

I hope this is a noble turning point for Rob, because I would love to hear more of this over the years and I hope he keeps progressing into bigger and better albums that are just more awe inspiring with every release.  I’ve always liked Graveland’s approach musically, just I think he bled the initial approach for far too long and finally he’s moving out of it quite a bit, adding more prominent lead guitar sections and adding more keyboard instrument settings (rather than just the two he preferred).  I don’t think I would mind him being stuck in this rut for a while, but I also hope he doesn’t at the same time, because even after a while I too would get bored with this being re-released every year.  I will say this before ending the review, this is an excellent piece of Rob’s work to own and I definitely recommend hearing it.

Graveland - Creed of Iron
No Colours Records, 2000
Genre: Black Metal

1. Blood and Ash
2. Tyrants of Cruelty
3. No Mercy in My Heart
4. Ancient Blood
5. White Beasts of Wotan

Something has changed with Graveland, maybe it’s because Rob Darken does all the music himself these days, even the drum aspects, but this album is a great release.  I believe this is the first album that is a full concept release influenced by the book Wotansvolk by Ron McVan, I’ve never read the book personally, but it’s interesting to see Rob produce a whole full length inspired by a literary work.

I was looking through all of my Graveland booklets recently and in every release Rob seems to upgrade his armor.  On “Carpathian Wolves” he looked more like the atypical Black Metaller in leather and spikes (no corpse paint or anything though).  Then in “Thousand Swords” he’s still got the leather, but now he’s got a shield and a helmet to go with his sword.  It’s like watching a Dungeons & Dragon’s role playing game unfold before our very eyes as he gets more experience and gets better armor!  Then he doesn’t get enough experience to level on “Following the Voice of Blood” because he’s still got similar armor, but he must’ve slain quite a few Christians before “Immortal Pride” was released because he’s got full chain mail armor and a steel helmet and he’s sporting not one, but two swords!  A truly formidable player character if I ever saw one!  Anyway, we get to “Creed of Iron” and he’s got a steel helm with face shield and everything.  Anyway, I’m waiting to see him with plate mail next, then he’ll be unstoppable, because after that we start moving into enchanted weapons, so his sword needs to glow on the following albums.

Anyway, now for a real musical assessment, this is probably by far my favorite Graveland done in this style.  Each album improves a little here and there, but “Creed of Iron” is the true sound that really embraced what I think Rob Darken was trying to do over the years.  I even favor this over “Thousand Swords” most of the time.  “Creed of Iron” just has this certain majestic approach behind the compositions that you cant’ help but feel empowered when you hear this album.  The songs are typically more mid-paced, just as prior Graveland releases have been, but this one’s structure is just presented perfectly so it’s not boring and keeps you enthralled with the composition.  In songs like “Ancient Blood” you hear more variation in Rob’s repertoire of guitar playing, and the choir based keyboards and thunderous drums just give you the extensive imagery of a looming army marching to battle.  This whole effect is maintained from track one to the end.  Rob’s vocal work is as standard as ever, and I think it would be interesting to hear Rob hire a different vocalist to see what it would be like, such as a real hellish screamer in the Black Metal genre.  I think that would give the quality of his music a strange variation, but in a good way.  Ask the guy from Behexen to do some session vocals, for example, just over some verses or something like that, not the whole album.  I think it’s good to have Rob’s voice as is still included in the mix and Graveland wouldn't be the same if it wasn't there at all.

This is by far the most mature Graveland release up to this point, and Rob will hopefully only go up from here.  This is usually my Graveland album of choice if I want to hear something in the vein he was trying to accomplish over the early years.  Either way, something has changed in the Graveland we knew, and that empowering majestic presence that has us all interested in Graveland from the beginning is just at a far more heightened level at this point.  This is by far a very worthwhile Graveland album to own in any collection, no one can do this better than Rob Darken.

Graveland - Necromanteion
1992/2009, Forever Plagued Records
Genre: Doom/Industrial???

1. Intro/Necromanteion
2. Immortalem
3. The Quest
4. Outro
5. Opus Mysteries Nocturni
6. Intro
7. Storm of Souls
8. Celts Ride Over Graveland
9. Sword and Blood
10. Who Dies First?

I am reviewing the 2009 re-release of this demo, which has an added four tracks encompassing the "Promo '92" release. However, I will review "Promo '92" as a separate entity, since they were released separately I am not interested in tracking down an original version of this demo, so I will just stick with the represses. There isn't much to the booklet, but it does feature pictures of the original tape booklets and liner notes. Unfortunately this is all in Polish so I don't know what it says. I am definitely glad they included this aspect in the booklet.

"Necromanteion" is the beginning of what would turn into a long running and well respect Black Metal career, but Graveland didn't start out with Black Metal. This is fairly common for Black Metal bands, most of the bands at these early stages started off within the realms of Death Metal and then quickly switched over to performing Black Metal. Graveland had a much stranger start in my opinion.

I don't know much about Rob Darken's early history, but I put him in his early 20's when he recorded this. It makes me wonder when he started playing music. The overly simple guitar lines lead me to believe he was fairly new to playing guitar, but if he wasn't I wonder what he was playing before this? Most people pick up musical instruments in their teenage years, so I find it interesting that he would put this out a little later. One thing that hasn't changed in Graveland, from even this early inception, is the keyboard introductions. Rob has always tried to set some kind of atmospheric tone with keyboards. This is a fine thing, but the keyboard's sound like they're straight out of the 80's. This isn't too unlikely for an amateur musician. They have that terrible 80's video game feel. For musicians starting out sometimes you're stuck and you have to work with what you got! Despite the limitation in tone, I think Rob Darken sort of achieved his goal with the keyboards, they do add a bit more atmosphere. However, later on the metal and the orchestral pieces would get blended together much more seamlessly. "Necromanteion" has everything separated except in a few songs.

After the intro we start off with the first song "Immortalem" and this chugs and plods at a dauntingly slow pace. The guitars aren't varied enough to really tell the difference between sections of the songs. Unfortunately just about all the songs are like this except "Celts Ride Over Graveland", which is actually a little faster. However, the pacing is reminiscent of Doom Metal to a degree, so that's why I've "guessed" at that type of genre for this. Under all this are programmed drums and since the keyboards sound 80's the drums give the music this sort of "Industrial" feel. He's not laying down "techno" beats or anything, but it does sound like something you'd hear on early works by Ministry for a drum tone choice.

The vocals are really strange on this release. I don't even really know what to say about them. They're not quite Death Metal level of growling, but they're very low. It sounds more like Rob is talking into the microphone in a really raspy way. I guess it kind of works with this music, because it doesn't sound any more ridiculous than the rest of the album.

In the end, this sort of thing is really for die hard Graveland fans and collectors like myself. The music is, honestly, just too much of the same thing with no variation in any of the instruments. So forty minutes of the same chugging type of riff gets a little old after a while. It's definitely a strange start for what Graveland would turn into and on that note I do recommend hearing this for the historical perspective!

I'll post "Celts Ride Over Graveland" because it certainly had the best guitar riff on the album.

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