Carpathian Wolves is the third and final pure black metal release from Graveland. The album centers on the theme of wolves and sheep. The sheep are the Christianized Poles who have forgotten their pagan roots. The wolves are the pagan warriors, who are raiding the Christian villages and tearing the sheep to shreds. This theme is captured in the album art, which depicts a pagan warrior praying to the ancient gods, side by side with a wolf. OK, there is no denying that this is all a little cheesy, but Graveland make it work. While this anthropomorphic theme might sound better suited for a young adult novel than for a serious work of art, Graveland make it effective through an absolutely terrifying performance.
Carpathian Wolves is one of the few black metal albums that is legitimately scary sounding. The music captures the spirit of the predator on the prowl and manifests it through the visceral sounds of Rob’s vicious snarls and Stygian riffs. Capricornus’s uninhibited, primitive drumming relentlessly batters the listener and provides the exclamation point.
The songs typically consist of two parts. First, there are the more thrashing passages, which are fast and violent as all hell. Then, there are the mid-paced passages, which tend to center around massive synths that bellow like the beasts of Hades. “Barbarism Returns” has the best balance of the two, seamlessly shifting from madding spirals of tremolo and blast bears to slow, doomy riffs and monolithic organs. “In the Northern Carpathians” exemplifies the more fast-paced style through five minutes of relentless, lambasting black metal. “Witches’ Holocaust” is the outlier and has a more epic sound. Patrician melodies dance about to a trotting rhythm as Rob vacillates between growls and clean chanting. This track is the best indicator where Graveland’s sound heads on subsequent releases.
The ambient pieces on Carpathian Wolves are world class. The intro is hands down the greatest moment of black ambient ever recorded. Gusting winds gently sway by while a pack of wolves bark, snarl and howl (both of which sound extremely authentic). Then there is the sound of a slowly palpitating war drum, which is soon accompanied by one of the darkest, most harrowing synth lines ever released on planet earth. You can envision the pack of wolves hungrily looking down from a vista onto the valley full of sheep below. The other ambient piece (the untitled third track) plays off the same theme. The synth hums a low, nightmarish tune while Rob howls like a wolf. Then there are the panicked cries of sheep, which sound like lost children crying for their mommies. Honestly, these ambient pieces are even more evil sounding than the metal tracks, which is no small feat!
While Carpathian Wolves lacks some of the dynamism of its predecessor, The Celtic Winter, it is still essential listening for fans of raw black metal. There are few albums that can touch this recording with regard to creating a truly dark atmosphere. If at times the compositions are a little predictable, that is well worth overlooking so as to experience the dark landscape Graveland express with this recording.