Between 1993’s In the Glare of Burning Churches demo to 2002’s Memory and Destiny all of Graveland’s major releases ranged from very good to great. Ten years of stellar material is a really impressive accomplishment that few bands can match; but alas, all streaks come to an end. 2003’s The Fire of Awakening is Graveland’s first truly mediocre release. While it’s stylistically not too far off from the prior three albums, exhibiting the same epic pagan metal style, it lacks the originality, inspiration and quality of its predecessors.
The basic elements that we have all come to expect from Graveland are present here: epic riffs, bellowing synths, militant drumming and Rob’s dry growls. However, nothing is really hitting the spot this time out. The riffs are fairly innocuous and the synths are predictable in their bombast. Rob often goes for overly simplistic and clunky riffs (i.e. the opening riff of “Battle of Wotan's Wolves”) that are well below Graveland’s standard. Other times the music just sounds like an uninspired replication of Creed of Iron.
There is actually a significant addition to The Fire of Awakening. This album marks the introduction of the Atlantean Monumental Choir and Ancient Valkyrian Choir. The introduction of real choirs opens up an entirely new range of possibilities for Graveland. No matter how great Rob’s synth samples are, nothing can replace the power of a group of well-trained human voices. However, here Rob employs the choirs very ineffectively. On albums such as Fire Chariot of Destruction and Will Stronger than Death the choirs make a massive impact; an astute listener will quickly notice that the vocals are far too dynamic to be produced by a synth. In contrast, it would be easy to assume that the vocals on The Fire of Awakening were the product of a keyboard. The vocal lines are monotone and fail to take advantage of the range that is available with a choir.
Most of the songs on The Fire of Awakening fail to distinguish themselves. The songs are somewhat plodding and feel dragged out. “We Shall Prevail,” is the only track that is really captivating. The way in which the opening stretch of choir builds toward the dramatic lead riff is quite chilling. The other tracks lack such standout moments and all sort of meld into one another.
While The Fire of Awakening is not a bad album, it is most definitely a pedestrian album. It’s safe, generic and uninspired—certainly well below Graveland’s high standard. While any musician who keeps at it for long enough will eventually release a few duds, it’s still disappointing when it happens. For that reason, The Fire of Awakening can be described as a big disappointment.