Saturday, March 17, 2012

Graveland- The Celtic Winter (1994)

The Celtic Winter is the second of Graveland's trilogy of pure black metal releases. It is also the apex of the early Graveland sound—an evil, epic and menacing record. Like its predecessor, In the Glare of Burning Churches, the production is raw, but balanced. The guitars, vocals and drums are all audible. Even the bass has presence. While newcomer Karcharoth is not an exceptional bassist, using an actual bass player does give a little more body to Graveland's sound. Percussionist Capricornus is a little more reserved than he was on the prior release, but does contribute some interesting primitive percussion techniques throughout. As usual, Rob’s vocals are sharp, snarling and full of hate. The riffs match the vocals' venom pound for pound.

Then there are the keys, which just keep improving with each recording. The sweeping synths on In the Glare of Burning Churches were a quantum leap forward from the corny four note melodies used on the prior demos. By The Celtic Winter Rob has reached a level of eloquence on the keys that is only matched by Ihsahn of Emperor. At times, the keys add a majestic element of nobility and power, while at other times they push the evil vigor over the top, dousing the listener in hellish sounds of Abandon.

While the album is sustained through the intense atmosphere, each song has a number of memorable riffs and synth lines. "The Gates to the Kingdom of Darkness" sounds like entering the bowls hell as massive organ pair with the vilest of growls. "Return of the Funeral Winds” is Graveland’s first foray into more glorious territory, consisting of some powerful pairings victorious riffs and keys. Both tracks qualify as highlights, but really every track on this album holds its own.

The two instrumental tracks are both stellar. The intro is an eerie and epic neoclassical piece that foreshadows the cinematic sounds of later works, such as Immortal Pride. The outro is absolutely exquisite. A hypnotic, folky guitar line dances about over tribal percussion in one of the most addictive and enrapturing passages in all of Graveland's cannon.

While Carpathian Wolves is the most recognizable name amongst the early Graveland albums, The Celtic Winter is really the apex of early Graveland. Though the former album is a classic in its own right, The Celtic Winter is the more consistent and dynamic recording, exploring a greater range of sounds while nonetheless staying true to the vicious core that constituted Graveland’s early identity. Though not quite on par with the classics of Burzum, Darkthrone and Emperor, The Celtic Winter is still essential listening for any true black metal fan.

Overall: 9.5/10 

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