Thursday, April 5, 2012

Graveland- Following the Voice of Blood (1997)


Over the years, Graveland has explored a number of distinct styles. There is the ultra-dark black metal of the early years, the blackened folk of Thousand Swords and the symphonic pagan metal of the past decade. Each era is something special in its own right, but there is only one time in Graveland’s discography that all the elements come together to create an album that is truly extraordinary: that would be Following the Voice of Blood. The album marks the perfect middle point in Graveland’s development; the folk metal is still in full force but at the same time the symphonic dimension has truly blossomed. The result is a true classic of extreme metal. 

On the previous album, Thousand Swords, Rob Darken began playing guitar in a new and innovative way that involved strumming jangly folk tunes while maintaining the buzzing distortion of black metal. While the melodies were for the most part superb, weak production blunted the power of the composition and performance. Fortunately, on Following the Voice of Blood, Graveland tweaked both the production and arrangements, allowing this excellent style of guitar playing to show off its fangs. The production is crisp yet raw, allowing the strummed melodies to strike the inner ear like a whip. On the other end of the sound spectrum lie thick synths, which emit glorious, heroic melodies. It feels like traveling on an 11th century Viking ship, sailing off on some epic and dangerous journey. The drums sound large and sweeping, like waves splashing back and forth, beating against the bow of the ship. 

Compositionally, this is most intelligent Graveland recording. The metal tracks are long, ranging from 9-12 minutes and the songwriting is quite elaborate. Most of the tracks are epics that travel through numerous tempos, melodies and emotions. Yet, the songs never meander; the various passages weave in and out of one another with focus and vision. In the same way that a great story-teller knows how to keep the audience clinging to his every word, Rob makes the listener hold on for every dramatic twist and turn. Even when Rob goes for a simpler composition the outcome is impressive. “Thurisaz” consists of just two deep, mournful melodies that repeat like ancient mantras, creating an enrapturing mystique.
The synth pieces are also stellar. The neoclassical melodies are big, glorious and full. Their most innovative employment is on “And the Horn was Sounding Far Away,” which travels through five minutes of slowly developing strings, horns and ambient sounds before breaking out into a swirling frenzy of vicious black metal. One can already see some of the massive, bombastic tenancies that will dominate Graveland’s next album, Immortal Pride, but yet we are still close enough to Carpathian Wolves that Rob can still whip out some annihilating moments of raw, hateful black metal. 

This is the final Graveland album that can qualify as black metal and Rob certainly saved the best for last. The brilliant compositions, the breadth of emotions, phenomenal atmosphere and the imaginative musicianship come together to create a truly top tier black metal album. While Norwegian acts such as Ulver and Emperor had already integrated folk and neoclassical into black metal, Graveland did so in a distinctly Eastern European manner. In turn, that approach has had a massive impact on the continued development of the genre—especially in Eastern Europe, but elsewhere as well. On Following the Voice of Blood all the aspects that make Graveland such a quintessential black metal band are at play with one another. The outcome is the epoch of Graveland’s discography and an album that belongs in the top tier of the black metal pantheon. 

Overall: 10/10

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