Sunday, September 2, 2012

Graveland - Thousand Swords (1995)

Graveland's second full-length album, Thousand Swords, was released by Lethal Records in late 1995. The band's sophomore effort follows down the same path begun by Carpathian Wolves, which is not meant as a compliment. Rob Darken was in a position to ensure that Polish Black Metal was taken seriously, yet through various Graveland releases and other bands that he had taken part in, he seemed only to do a lot of damage to the scene.

The first thing that must be addressed here is the horrific production. There is no way that anyone with a fully functioning brain could possibly have thought that this sounded good enough to be released to the public, and yet it was. This is not bad in an under-produced, necro demo sort of way; it is just weak as hell, in every imaginable way. From the opening moments of "Blood of Christians on my Sword", one is appalled by the weak and ineffectual tone of the guitar. It is so thin and harmless that one is sickened by the choice that was made here. Black Metal was never defined by its heaviness and a thin, sharp guitar tone is to be expected in many cases, but this is taking it to a new extreme. The guitars sound about as menacing as the fluttering of a butterfly's wings. Compared to Carpathian Wolves, even the drums sound softer and more tame. Black Metal is supposed to sound dark, evil and threatening; instead, this comes off as rather timid and frightened of its own shadow.

As for the compositions, themselves, Thousand Swords offers more of the same mediocre songwriting as was heard on the previous album. Somehow, whatever spark of brilliance that illuminated Darken's mind as he was creating The Celtic Winter never returned and he found himself struggling to put together even the most basic Black Metal songs. For the most part, this sounds like rehash of past glories, only done in less convincing fashion. Many of the tracks sound as if they were cut and pasted together from random riffs, with odd transitions that make little sense to the overall flow of the songs. The utter inconsistency of the songwriting is most clear on "Born for War", which randomly shifts from fast tremolo melodies to slower sections and then back to mid-paced riffs that don't quite fit with the rest. It jumps around, from one to the other, with a total absence of logic. The fast-paced sections seem to be tossed in there in an obligatory manner, serving no real purpose to the overall structure of the song. For the most part, the faster melodies are totally devoid of any real atmosphere. The few times that one does get a sense of the epic atmosphere that Graveland is going for here, it results from the overbearing keyboards rather than the actual instruments, which is another problem that this band always seemed to suffer from. Even at times when the guitar riffs seem to build a little momentum, the synth and percussion work together to crush them back into the dirt and they are rendered useless.

The most unfortunate part of Thousand Swords is that is had potential. It didn't have to end as the weak, shoddy disappointment that it is. Graveland was a decent band that should have done so much more. With a recording like The Celtic Winter to their credit, it is an utter shame that they were never able to follow up and fulfill the promise that it showed. While Thousand Swords is not the most horrid piece of trash ever recorded and might actually be palatable to those less-critical listeners, it is a complete mess when compared to the aforementioned demo. Listen at your own risk.