Graveland – Fire Chariot of Destruction (2005)
I always seem to convince myself that Graveland is from Germany, as opposed to Poland. To be fair, the city Rob Darken comes from (Wrocław) is in a part of the country that historically had a major German presence before a few historical events intervened… but it’s probably because of the Germanic/Norse pagan themes Darken uses in much of his lyrics. I’m not very familiar with this band’s work, but Fire Chariot of Destruction showcases a sound apparently indebted to Bathory’s “viking metal” period. I’m willing to believe that, but even here Graveland pulls on about fifteen years of black metal to further shape its sound. Bathory has been this vicious in their day, and arguably that band’s frontman pushed towards epic songwriting in the peak of his powers, but this album has one major advantage over Bathory, and that is the wall of sound.
“Oh golly gee willikers! Another one of those albums. Haven’t we talked about the wall of sound enough?” you say in an alternate universe where you’re a total wuss, but in the answer in both that universe and our own is still no. One thing I don’t think I’ve explicitly mentioned about this approach is that it tends to favor ambiance and atmosphere over dynamic range, and Fire Chariot of Destruction is no exception. It relies primarily on riff changes and occasional bursts of choir to create variety within its songs, and the instances of such that are there are enough to give these songs a sense of motion, but intricacy of narrative doesn’t seem to be the intent here. Then again, it rarely is in the black parts of the metal spectrum.
Some of the ideas on this album remind me of bands like Summoning. Admittedly, Rob Darken’s compositions here don’t push as far into the drones as that band on that album, but in 2005 he had access to better recording and mixing techniques (although, to be fair, Summoning in the same era did as well) and intent to use them, if the cruder production on his formative early ’90s work is to be believed. Either way, the end result is that the strengths and weaknesses of these bands are generally similar. I find myself pretty well attuned to Fire Chariot of Destruction‘s overall aesthetic for reasons that I’ve explained on multiple occasions, and I like the formulas used to construct these songs in general. However, Darken rarely deviates from these formulas, which means that some of this album ends up kind of disposable. More instrumental variety might’ve been helpful, even in its most subtle forms, and more varied vocals beyond a simple growl/choir dichotomy could also do the trick, although vocals play more of a background role here. Still, those are minor piddles for something that fits my stylistic preferences.
Highlights: “War Wolf”, “Fire Chariot of Destruction”, “Prayer for my Ancestors”