After a quartet of lame industrial metal demos, each of which showed slightly more black metal influence than its predecessor, Rob Darken finally got his act together. What happened to Rob between February 1993 (the release date of Epilogue) and May 1993 (the release date of In the Glare of Burning Churches) is a mystery to me, but damn is the difference significant. In contrast to the plodding, repetitive songwriting of the first four demos, In the Glare of Burning Churches is full of dynamic compositions with interesting tempo shifts, a variety of progressions and intensely dark atmosphere. Perhaps most significant of all is the addition of Copernicus on drums and the abandonment of that god-awful drum machine. Now some metal musicians know how to use a drum machine effectively… Rob Darken is not one of them. The grating, repetitive drum machine used on the prior demos was sheer torture to listen to. Copernicus’s style is extremely rough and primitive, which accentuates the wild spirit of this demo.
In the Glare of Burning Churches is Graveland’s first foray into pure black metal and the outcome is wicked. This demo is extremely dark. The whole atmosphere is captured in the medieval intro: women scream as pops and crackles from a burning church sizzle in the background, all to soundtrack of some good ol’ pagan folk. This album is a declaration of war on Christianity. Graveland are not only going to kill you and burn down your church, but they’re also going to kidnap your children and convert them into pagan warriors! The album, then, is cunning, evil and violent. That spirit is encapsulated in the riffs, which are relentlessly diabolical—violent but also somewhat mysterious. Rob’s vocal are sharp and raspy. There is a lot of reverb on them, which accentuates their haunting tone.
The highlights are the earlier tacks. The title track encapsulates the vicious attitude of this demo, fluctuating between trashing fast passages (where Copernicus beats the shit out of his drum kit) and slower passages where massive, demonic keys take over. “The Night of the Fullmoon” is an excellent mid-paced track that is blanketed in dark, glorious keys. “The Dark Dusk Abyss” is a phenomenal piece of dark ambient. Rob hisses and snarls beneath an overpowering symphony of maleficent synths. The second half of the demo is solid, though not quite as stellar.
On the whole, In the Glare of Burning Churches is a quantum leap forward in Graveland’s development. This demo sets the stage for two classics of black metal The Celtic Winter and Carpathian Wolves. While In the Glare of Burning Churches isn’t quite up to par with those releases, it is still a high caliber demo that fans of raw, dark black metal will absolutely adore.