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.