Graveland - _Fire Chariot of Destruction_
(No Colours, 2005)
by: T. DePalma (7.5 out of 10)
Is Rob Darken black metal's last great songwriter? Certainly he is the last of his era to still warrant that fawning praise. Like many of his contemporaries, his ancestral flagship Graveland has survived not necessarily on the strength of each new album, but on the totality of the work under its banner. Even still, the music of Graveland persists with subtle triumphs and with far less commercialization and media attention than ever before. Of course, by now most are aware of the impetus behind the music, which is why its popularity remains un-glamorized. Averaging one full-length per year, Graveland's post-Nineties output has been as consistent as it is indifferent. Slight variations across hour's worth of music that have garnered mixed receptions of interest, anticipation and boredom to the moderate and quite lengthy songs exhibited. Perhaps it's over-saturation, a too intimate glimpse into the gradual transitions of the sound itself that leads to such cynicism and perhaps too, that the responsibility of becoming an icon for a movement can lead to a less judicious amount of presentations. However, this is the album that, for better or for worse, alters the trend.

Featuring the largest sound to date behind this solitary orchestra, these eight tracks reflect the desire to make Graveland a more easily digestible trademark. By reducing its goals to the consecutive epic, simplifying each song (remaining an average six to ten minutes in length) as repeated halves, _Fire Chariot of Destruction_ unfolds with a strange clarity pursued with violent down-stroke rhythms, so idiosyncratic to each album, with a massive increase in percussion and volume. Unlike the confusion involved in the album's cover art and title scheme (a Viking ship is never a chariot, enflamed or no), the actual music involves no such contradictions. That is the ironic divide. It's easy to dismiss this unbroken throttling from track to track as aesthetic distraction, a way to disguise lack of solid writing. Amplification is but a symptom, the larger problem being a void of dynamics and the lazy reconstitution of the verse-chorus-verse format to pad an entire hour's worth of music.

Indeed, the steps taken here to emphasize drum patterns are generally to be praised. The ferocious war blasts that accompany the opening track "War Wolf" resonate with flare and violent color; and then again, in "River of Tears" with keys thoroughly blending into and enhancing every chord. One has to be willing to accept these changes, in terms of execution and atmosphere, as vivid and evocative of what it attempts to communicate, though at the same time, purely adrenal; in some ways comparable to Immortal's turn into a heavy metal band toward the end of the last decade.

There is material here among the best ever composed by Darken, and somehow, those ideas feel abandoned. This is no more frustrating than in the album's coda, "Motherland" (6:48). Developing with the thematic gallop of double-tracked guitars, chopping through a verse overlaid with twinkling lead and miserable vocals; the prime melody alternates speed in a tense build-up that, rather than climax at, continues through the mystical, prerequisite choral passage onto a cacophonous modification of itself that becomes ultimately obliterated by a vibrant surge of melody catching one off-guard. In a former incarnation of Graveland (as well as in any authentic classical piece), this might be considered the beginning (lasting nearly four minutes); from here on after, the track is basically looped once more to the same conclusion.

Almost despite itself, _Fire Chariot of Destruction_ stands as some of Darken's strongest work since continuing as sole contributor to Graveland's musical idiom. Though for its breadth and sudden release, is lacking in aspects now pursued by outfits like Nokturnal Mortum and Averse Sefira; metering the neo-classical or folk aspects into more holistic narratives. Despite its new tone, the new Graveland appears similar to the last four records in this regard. Possibly somewhere between them is the true masterpiece concealed.


(article published 29/1/2006)

7/27/2007 J Montague 7.5 Graveland - Will Stronger Than Death
5/9/2005 J Montague 8.5 Graveland - Dawn of Iron Blades
12/5/2003 J Montague 7 Graveland - Blood of Heroes
11/23/2003 J Montague 9 Graveland - The Fire of Awakening
4/11/2003 M Noll 8 Graveland - Memory and Destiny
3/13/2001 A Wee 7 Graveland - Creed of Iron
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