From the knee-buckling organs on Carpathian Wolves to the regal interludes on Following the Voice of Blood, Rob Darken’s synth work has always been one of the highlights of Graveland’s sound. While many black metal acts whip out some solid horror show melodies, very few have the symphonic sensibility of Darken. Rob’s synth work has a big, full orchestral sound that is full of texture and depth.
With that in mind it might have just been a matter of time until the synths took center stage in Graveland’s sound. Immortal Pride is the first time in Graveland’s discography where that really occurs. While this album has massive riffs, they play second fiddle to the bombastic synths. The final result is one of the best symphonic extreme metal albums of all time.
Immortal Pride takes inspiration from Bathory’s Viking metal releases Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods. Like those albums, Immortal Pride is meshes epic heavy metal riffs with orchestral layering. Naturally, Rob infuses the style with a distinctly Eastern European flavoring. Unlike Bathory, Rob opts to maintain his dry black metal croak, limiting the singing and chanting to the background. Another major influence is Basil Poledouris’s grandiose soundtrack to the Conan the Barbarian film. That soundtrack infused symphonic arrangements with a distinctly tribal flair that fits right into the Graveland sound.
While its easy to point to Bathory and Poledouris, Immortal Pride is truly its own work of art. The sound is fresh and vivid. The production is excellent: All the instruments are sharp but have lots of depth. The primitive drumming hits deep and the synths have abundant texture, sounding more like the product of a real orchestra than a keyboard. The vitalism created by the production allows the cinematic tenancies of the music to flourish. This is music of battle, and the way the music surrounds the listener puts you right in the midst of the fight. Rob switches between more attacking, guitar driven passages and overwhelmingly emotional symphonic passages, creating tension between feelings of power, fury, pride and horror.
The songs here are massive. There are only four tracks, including an intro and outro, yet the album is fifty minutes long. The 24 minute “Sons of Fire and Steel” is a little more glorious and epic, while the 16 minute “Sacrifice for Honor” is a bit darker and more aggressive. All the synth and ambient passages are excellent. At the end of “Sons of Fire and Steel” there is a poetic epitaph (read a woman with a thick Polish accent) for fallen warriors, which is quite moving. The outro is another highlight. It is a symphonic rendition of one of Graveland’s greatest pieces, “Thurisaz” from the Following the Voice of Blood album. What was previously a deep and solemn piece is here transformed into a light, playful and glorious tune that dances about with triumphant glee.
Immortal Pride is one of Graveland’s greatest accomplishments. Rob takes the format laid down by Quorthon and ups the ante by pushing the symphonic dimensions to the next level. The result is a beautiful and inspired album that is without peer in the realm of extreme symphonic metal.