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In the Glare of Burning Churches

Graveland - In the Glare of Burning Churches ©1993 No Colours
1. Intro
2. In the Glare of Burning Churches
3. The Night of the Fullmoon
4. The Dark Dusk Abyss
5. Through the Occult Veil
6. For Pagan and Heretic's Blood
7. Instrumental
8. Hordes of Empire
9. The Gates to the Kingdom of Darkness / Outro

After a series of demos of questionable listening quality, Poland's Graveland emerged with their most famous demo In the Glare of Burning Churches, which possibly was a wink and a nod to the various firebug activites going on in Scandanavia around the same time period. Reissued in 1996 by No Colours, this EP length demo usually seems to be one of the more discussed releases when scowling, surly black metal purists bring up important releases. It certainly has noteriety, but it still finds the young Graveland still trying to work out all the kinks in their music.

What stands out the most about this album is that Rob Darken was fleshing out the usage of ominous, mood setting keyboards. Otherwise, the music found here is clunky, amateurish and often dorky. Perhaps after listening to countless bands inspired by the early days of black metal, my ears simply aren't disturbed by a croaking young Polish man and his visions of evil. Or just maybe the utterly clumsy drumming is too much of a detriment to the overall impact of the music to make this album really stand out. Unlike today's recording climate where anyone with a cheap PC and a little bit of know how can record an album, Graveland can given somewhat of a pass for potentially having little access to a quality recording facility.

In the Glare of Burning Churches at most can be seen as the formitive release that would begin to set their template for future releases. Graveland, at least to me, took a few albums to really figure out their sound and frittered a lot of that away with some of their idiotic press statements. For most listeners, there's really not a burning need (pun intended) to seek this one out, unless you have some overpowering desire to hear a band not yet in command of their instruments.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2011

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Carpathian Wolves

Graveland - Carpathian Wolves ©1994 Eternal Devils
1. Carpathian Wolves (intro)
2. Barbarism Returns
3. In The Northern Carpathians
4. Impaler Of Wallachia
5. Witches Holocaust
6. At The Pagan Samhain Night
7. Unpunished Herd
8. Into The War (outro)

Aside from the fact that Carpathian Wolves starts out like a Moonspell album (and that Moonspell really wasn't around at the time, so please discard this statement) with wolf howls and eerie keyboards building a tense atmosphere, the overall punch of the album is one part raw black metal and one part bemusement. Certainly those who have read Pit Magazine are aware of Rob Darken's downright comical press statements. But when listening to Graveland, one should put aside those conceptions that he's either a monumental dork or has some serious issues to sort out with a a qualified therapist. Nazi Germany swarmed over his native Poland and considered his race a lesser stock of humanity. His endorsements of Nazism suggest he goes home to conquer himself. But that's neither here nor there. Carpathian Wolves shows the more important side of his personality: his ability to write and create pretty credible music. To a degree the album is flawed with some less than stellar drumming, courtesy of the always hilarious Capricornus who just doesn't have tempo and rhythym changes down at all. The shifts in "Barbarism Returns" are downright ugly. And not in the good black metal way either. However, if you give yourself a half dozen listens, you get used to the flaws and enjoy the album for what it is. Darken has the ability to weave good atmospheric qualities both with his guitar playing and very tasteful use of keyboards to underscore and generally uplift the song. His screams are smartly pushed back in the mix to create the mystical echoing voice that at least to me, enhances black metal, not hinders. While Carpathian Wolves isn't the mind-blowing black metal album of all time, it still warrants exploration for those wanting to dig a little deeper into the style.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/1999

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Thousand Swords

Graveland - Thousand Swords ©1995 Isengard Distribution
1. Intro
2. Blood Of Christians On My Sword
3. Thousand Swords
4. The Dark Battlefield
5. The Time Of Revenge
6. Born For War
7. Black Metal War
8. To Die In Fight
9. Outro

Graveland has done nothing but impress me. Though their early works were pretty amateurish, the development of Rob Darken and Co. has been both rapid and completely impressive. Yes, the cover photo will make you laugh (unless you're one of the types who take medieval imagery in black metal completely seriously and in that case, the cover is very evil, man) and you always have to deal with the horrendous vocals of Robbie. But those two things are such minor issues. Compositionally, Graveland is one of the best in truly interesting songwriting. As with the majority of Graveland that I've heard up to this point, Bathory's Hammerheart is the main tether to "known" music. Slow, brooding, and epic, the music actually stirs up the proper imagery of medieval warriors and broadswords and all that. Robbie's ability to properly use keyboards as an underscore and highlight to the music should be noted. The keyboards do not detract from the music, yet if you removed them, the songs would not work. Overall, Thousand Swords is a strong album that must be heard in one sitting without distraction. There are very few current bands who have achieved this level of compositional skill and thus this should be somewhere on your want list.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/1999

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The Celtic Winter

Graveland - The Celtic Winter ©1996 No Colours
1. Intro
2. Call Of The Black Forest
3. Hordes Of Empire
4. The Night Of Fullmoon
5. Prolog
6. The Gates To The Kingdom Of Darkness
7. The Return Of Funeral Winds

Someone once told me that the best thing about Graveland are Rob Darken's atmospheric intros and outros to Graveland albums and sometimes I think he may be right. The Celtic Winter is by no means a weak or bad album but overall it lacks just a tad on the Graveland-o-meter, especially when viewed upon the band's entire recorded output. It is probably no coincidence that the word "Celtic" appears in the title as the guitars tend to have that low, abrasive edge that one hears on Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion. But hey, if you have to pull out an album from your collection for inspiration for your band, To Mega Therion is a pretty darned good one. Rob Darken's voice is reverbed all out to hell and back. I suppose that it is appropriate considering the genre in which Graveland resides. The biggest issue I have with The Celtic Winter is knowing where Graveland went on later albums, namely their more epic, Hammerheart-esque material. The Celtic Winter serves as a decent journey and even a epilogue to Celtic Frost's Morbid Tales, but it is not the first Graveland album I will reach for when I'm in the mood for Rob Darken's wacky hijinks.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 11/1999

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Following The Voice Of Blood

Graveland - Following The Voice Of Blood ©1997 No Colours
1. Intro
2. White Hand's Power
3. Thurisaz
4. Following The Voice Of Blood
5. Forge Of Souls
6. Raise The Swords
7. And The Horn Was Sounding Far Away
8. Fed By The Beasts
9. Outro

Graveland presents a test of patience with Following the Voice of Blood. Filled with a drawn out rattling sound, this long album tends to travel miles while seemingly staying in one place. Rob Darken does sound a bit formulatic here: his usual keyboard "majestic" intro and outro bookending a handful of soundalike tracks. Unlike other Graveland releases, much of the material here does not benefit from a forward moving sense of song progression. The music remains stationary, as if on a treadmill. Confined as such, the songs are simply long and not "epic" by any means. The production of the album is actually a bit more open than earlier Graveland records and the rattling, jangling guitar is somewhat unique. But as before, the arrangements just stagnate. I am aware many do consider this to be the band's supreme release. And I will admit that the record does have potential to be someone's favorite. Unfortunately for me, it has just not blossomed into that potential for me personally.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/1999

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Immortal Pride

Graveland - Immortal Pride ©1998 No Colours
1. Intro (Day Of Fury)
2. Songs Of Fire And Steel/Outro (Servants Of War)
3. Sacrifice For Honour
4. Outro (To Die In Glory)

"You've come a long way, baby!"

That certainly applies in the case of Poland's Graveland. Miles and miles beyond their early works and demo tapes, Immortal Pride is very realized and ambitious effort that deserves much more attention than it seems to be getting. It's plausible that their very comical and kneeslapping National Socialist stance is keeping possible fans away (for chuckles, read any PIT Magazine interview with Rob Darken or even drummer Capricornus in his side band, Thor's Hammer). But these tighty-whitey types are unaware that they are missing out on something very good.

The intro track is simply another Darken dirge of ominous folk and mood setting music. It is the epic second track, "Songs of Fire and Steel", that shows the excellence of Graveland. Taking the mood and general sound of Bathory's Twilight of the Gods, this long and involved piece is fraught with emotional atmospheric music matched with the isolated cold sound of Bathory. Admittedly Darken sells this song short by including vocals that sound as if they were recorded over a Donald Duck walkie-talkie. With music that is obviously this highly conceived, these sort of weak vocals are truly a letdown. The music demands something more than weak, uninspired stereotypical black metal vocals. But hey, at least Capricornus is slightly improved. "Sacrifice for Honour" is another Bathory-esque track that uses quite a bit of that stark distortion on guitar. Regardless of the weaker elements, Immortal Pride stands tall as a grand effort that proves Graveland has the goods to deliver very bleak but excellent music.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/1999

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Epilogue/In The Glare Of Burning Churches

Graveland - Epilogue/In The Glare Of Burning Churches ©1999 No Colours
1. Intro
2. The Eyes Of Balor
3. Shadow Of Doom
4. The Forest Nemeton (part Two)
5. Children Of The Moon
6. Outro
7. Intro/In The Glare Of Burning Churches
8. The Night Of Fullmoon
9. The Dark Dusk Abyss
10. Through The Occult Veil
11. For Pagan And Heretic's Blood/outro

This limited edition CD compiles work from two of Graveland's earliest promo tapes: Epilogue and In the Glare of Burning Churches. Naturally the production and sound quality, particularly on the Epilogue tracks, is lacking greatly and becomes glaringly stark on the compact disc format. But regardless of that, this CD does show the formative moments of Poland's most outspoken black metal band.

Epilogue is a dual entity. The tracks alternate between some very ominous and foreboding soundtrack-ish keyboard compositions and drum-machined propelled The Return-era Bathory inspired songs. While there is nothing special about the more standard songs, the keyboard bits are very impressive and quite capable of conveying the disturbing nature of the music. "Children of the Moon" is possibly the strongest track on the album. Mixing a chugging simple guitar riff with Rob Darken's snarled vocals and the barbarian-esque keyboards, the result is a chilling score that nearly transports one into medieval battle.

In the Glare of Burning Churches contains material that is different from previously released versions. This promo tape has on board the ever lovable Capricornus on drums. His style is unfortunately more humorous than Graveland probably ever intended. Though on later works he fits in better, on this promo tape he comes across as a beginning drummer simply pasting whatever beat onto the riffing. The title track is a great example of his inability to really be in sync with the music. Meanwhile, Rob Darken screams out some of the most painful sounding vocals I can recall hearing in quite some time. Unfortunately, the most notable things about this promo tape are the intro and outro segments and "The dark dusk abyss", which is another excellent medieval sounding keyboard composition. In the Glare... basically shows more weaknesses of the band at the time of recording than strengths, whereas Epilogue, though apparently a one man project, showed more strengths for the young Graveland. Needless to say, the Graveland fanatics will be clamoring for one of the 1000 copies of this edition. Newcomers probably best research and ask around to find a better introduction to the band.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/1999

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Impaler's Wolves

Graveland - Impaler's Wolves ©1999 No Colours
1. Impaler of Wallachia
2. In the Northern Carpathians

Impaler's Wolves is not exactly new material for Graveland. Rather, this EP finds our favorite Polish miscreants reworking two songs from 1994's Carpathian Wolves. As we all know, Graveland was never known for their musical prowess and their earliest material found plenty of gung-ho enthusiasm for epic songs and about as much ability to play their instruments as the Germs circa 1979. Perhaps that's not being fair to the Germs. So one could see the potential in taking a couple of the early tracks and reworking them a few years later with a much improved band. The one hitch is that Graveland never really did achieve anything more than the rudimentary ability to play their instruments.

The two songs are considerably longer than their original versions, which is rather daunting considering Graveland tended to ramble on and on even in their early years. They're sort of like Black Metal Grandpas in that respect. They like to tell epic stories about epic things with little interest in ever quite getting to the point. Perhaps when I was younger and much more easily impressed, I might have found more to digest on this release, but the reality is that neither of these songs were particularly spectacular in the first instance and the retooling didn't exactly make them fantastic on this release. At various points in Graveland's career, Rob Darken and his reprobate pals were able to hit the nail on the proverbial head with their lengthy compositions, but not in this instance. This is not epic. Rather, Impaler's Wolves is banality set to marginally passable musicianship. They simply lack the ability to make a humdrum pair of songs become anything but undistinguished, overarching tedium. No doubt import retailers put a hefty pricetag on this EP. I just can't imagine the need for anyone to spend money on it.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2010

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Creed Of Iron

Graveland - Creed Of Iron ©2000 No Colours
1. Blood And Ash
2. Tyrants Of Cruelty
3. No Mercy In My Heart
4. Ancient Blood
5. White Beats Of Wotan

For better or for worse, Rob Darken and his conquesting tribe of musical miscreants are back with yet another release of humorless music, complete now with Manowar album titles and more long songs in the vein of Immortal Pride. I should quantify my statement by saying there is actually quite a bit of humor in Graveland, but that's mostly from outside perspective. Their site refers to them as "Aryan Black Metal" and their songs are mostly drunkenly croaked claims about how Rob has "No Mercy in My Heart". Whether you choose to take their lyrical stance and hilariously misanthropic imagery seriously is entirely up to you. Their music, however, still remains something worth checking out.

Taking cues from the epic era of Bathory as well as some of the heaviness of Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion, Creed of Iron acts as a spiritual follow-up to Immmortal Pride. Darken and his pals seem to have very little interest left in their older, harsher black metal. Rather, their interest seems to firmly dwell in these long, drawn out epic sagas. For possibly the first time ever, the musicians seem to be playing in the same building, if not the same room. The drums aren't as completely out of sync as their previous releases and the band finally senses how to grasp Rob Darken's compositions. As usual, Darken's vocals are croaked out, still sounding as though he was a wino brought in specifically to hiccup out the lyrics. The music seems to demand a bit more dynamic approach than this particular method, but I doubt Poland's finest vocalists are lining up to audition for the spot.

No doubt this release will continue to alienate those who found much interest in Graveland's earlier releases and particularly those who were put off by Immortal Pride's slow tempos and epic, sweeping nature. Granted, the energy level is lower here and perhaps those energy bars just aren't making it to Eastern Europe, but again I find Creed of Iron worthy of being included among some of the better epic metal that includes the likes of Bathory's Twilight of the Gods. Darken certainly won't continue to make any friends with his surly attitude and "shocking" image, but at the same time he still is writing and putting out some quality music.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2000

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Raiders of Revenge

Graveland - Raiders of Revenge ©2000 Resistance Records
1. Antichrist's Hammer
2. Wrath
3. Invaders
4. Thousand Years Bond

5. Blacksmiths of Destiny
6. Source of My Power
7. Into Death's Arms

By the turn of the century, it can be easily argued that Graveland's brief moment of moderate inspiration was over. They croaked and clumsily staggered their way through the 90s and the wave of underground black metal, somehow managing to release a couple records that were actually pretty decent. But as time wore on, Graveland bogged down in writing very long songs that often went nowhere but hey, they have swords on the cover. As a result, although Graveland has been churning out record after record for years, there's been little need to actually keep up with their particular brand of ideologically infused black metal (or give a rat's ass about whatever fool thing enters Rob Darken's mind when he sits down to write lyrics).

But since I'm in the midst of an epic listening project and trying to write as many reviews as possible during it, I find myself looking at the Graveland discography and having to sit through it. This here is a split CD with Polish band Honor on a notorious white power music label, so you already know that a) you should never, ever purchase a new copy of this and b) participants are obvious jackasses for association with this sort of backwater, redneck asshattery.

And as it often turns out with bands so caught up in an ideology that they can't see straight, Honor is laughably bad. Nothing more ever needs to be said about this pathetic act.

Graveland's three tracks are lumbering, plodding numbers where apparently Darken confuses being epic with not really knowing how to be concise with his song arrangements anymore. The last song, "Into Death's Arms", is the closest Graveland comes to coming up with a reasonably decent song, but in general this split CD finds Graveland treading water and associating themselves with halfwits and mouthbreathers.

Even if you're somehow a Graveland fan and have a high tolerance for extremely outdated ideology, Raiders of Revenge has nothing to offer whatsoever. Mostly, it confirms Rob Darken is a twit.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2012

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Blood Of Heroes

Graveland - Blood Of Heroes ©2002 No Colour
1. Blood Of Heroes
2. I Am What They Fear

Over the years, Graveland has evolved from a rickety, clickety-clackity raw black metal band to one that took on the overall mood of Bathory's Twilight of the Gods to build a foundation of triumphantly epic music. Band leader (and apparently sole member these days) Rob Darken has made a career of conforming to the black metal requirements of taking on a questionable political stance and making outrageous statements to the underground music press. Just like everyone else. But despite his cartoonish public image, Rob Darken nailed down some pretty good music in the 90s, particularly Immortal Pride.

Blood of Heroes is a fifteen minute, two song EP that continues along the path of long songs. Expediency is apparently not in this guy's vocabularly. The lumbering music features the usual Graveland suspects: croaked vocals, splashes of triumphant keyboards, minor key changes. Unfortunately, Rob Darken has lost sight of one thing: a long song is not automatically epic. The title track, even with that sound of cold winter wind, just plods along and never actually invites the listener to bother joining in on the plundering and pillaging. Moreover, both songs still retain that clumsy feeling which suggests the musical ideas Graveland has within aren't quite able to be translated through their remedial technical skills. Unless the songwriting is spectacular, this can really fall flat. Blood of Heroes is not spectacular.

Graveland has had their moments of intrigue in the past, but this EP will never be one of those moments. I kept getting the feeling of "been here, heard that" and failing to keep my rapt attention. There are definitely much more worthwhile Graveland releases as well as truly epic black metal albums out there.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/2006

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