Monday, April 22, 2013

Graveland- Fire Chariot of Destruction (2005)

By the mid-2000s, it appeared Graveland had run out of steam. 2003’s The Fire of Awakening lacked originality and inspiration and though 2004’s Dawn of Iron Blades offered some new ideas, it suffered from poor production and a dearth of quality riffs. 2005’s Fire Chariot of Destruction is by no means a return to Graveland’s glory days, but it is a major step in the right direction.

The first thing that stands out about Fire Chariot of Destruction is the high quality of the production. Traditionally, Graveland records have been lo-fi affairs. While Darken has often made the most of sub-par production, the previous two records were notably flat and lifeless. In contrast, Fire Chariot of Destruction is a big, full-bodied album. The bass and drums are strong and heavy (especially those thunderous war drums) and the shrill guitars have some real bite. This creates quite the groundwork for the record’s highlight—the stellar choir performances from The Atlantean Monumental Choir and Ancient Valkyrian Choir. These excellent choir performances give Fire Chariot of Destruction (and the records that follow it) a majestic quality.

At its best, the contrast between the harsh viking black metal and the divine choirs creates a brilliant duality of brutality and elegance. The album’s opener, “War Wolf” is the best example of this, ebbing between gnarly riffs that swerve and slash and divine moments of heavenly vocals. Other times, the two dimensions come together to offer hard-hitting choruses that strongly recall Bathory’s Hammerheart. Track two, “River of Tears” epitomizes this sound with a solemn set of vocal lines accompanied by massive heavy metal riffs.

While the overall sound quality is vastly improved, the songwriting on Fire Chariot of Destruction is highly inconsistent. Though “War Wolf” and “River of Tears” are nothing short of excellent, the rest of the songs bleed into one another, offering a series of decent but indistinct riffs and hooks. The remainder of the album does create an effective atmosphere, but there is a scarcity of bright ideas.

Fire Chariot of Destruction is definitely an upgrade over the previous two Graveland records. The sound quality is excellent and the atmosphere is potent. However, the album is ultimately a tease. After the imperious quality of the first two tracks it’s really disappointing to see that Rob has nothing special to offer the rest of the way out. Fortunately, Graveland’s next release, Will Stronger than Death sticks to the same formula but offers far more quality and variety.   

Overall: 7/10

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ildjarn- Ildjarn (1995)

On the whole, the black metal community—both fans and musicians—have an obsession with the idea of purity. Perhaps nobody actualizes this ideal as extremely as Ildjarn. While there is more diversity within Ildjarn’s discography than detractors would like to admit, he definitely has his own distinct sound. It’s an extremely concise, harsh and direct brand of black metal that either hooks you like lines of coke or leaves you totally cold, unimpressed and irritated.

In a discography loaded with extreme recordings, none is more difficult to endure than Ildjarn’s self-titled full-length debut. Ildjarn is a massive album, containing 27 tracks that span 75 minutes. The basic elements are the same as you will find on every Ildjarn black metal release: repetitive percussion, dense and rough riffs, pounding bass and dry growls. There is actually a good amount of variety, both in tempo and style. There are a few melodic, hypnotic pieces, such as “Som En Ensom Bong” and “Morkeheim” that are actually quite catchy. There are also some slower, doomy pieces like “Krigere” and the bass-driven “Himmelvelv.”  Still, make no doubt about it; the meat of this album is harsh, fast-paced bite-sized pieces of hateful black metal.

Ildjarn is definitely an endurance test; sitting through 75 minutes of music this intense is enough drive most people into temporary madness, which is presumably the purpose of music this vile in the first place. This record is sonically abusive and violating; it’s a form of masochism that some people will become addicted to and others will run away from in horror. While I usually am one to get addicted to Ildjarn’s thrashings, there is one element I find unbearable on Ildjarn: the drumming. There is such a ridiculous amount of hi-hat and the same basic beat is repeated so many fucking times that it feels like the tone is starting to shred apart the central nerves in your brain. To make matters worse, the drums are absurdly high in the mix. Perhaps some fans enjoy this constant rattling sound, but to these ears, the drums overshadow the other elements, resulting in an uneven record.

Of Ildjarn’s three black metal full-lengths, the self-titled is definitely the weakest. It lacks the overall cohesion of Forest Poetry or Strength and Anger and the high pitched drum tone is a sound that even many Ildjarn addicts are likely of tire of before they hit track 13. Still, there are some rather interesting and unusual gems embedded within this record, so it certainly should not be overlooked. 

Overall: 5.5/10