In 1994, Black Metal was already transforming and many bands were going down the wrong path. Tons of clone bands were beginning to appear, often making horrendous music and others were showing up on the scene and adding ridiculously inappropriate elements in an effort to set themselves apart or to seem more sophisticated than the rest. While many great albums were released that year, from the likes of Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Gorgoroth and others, things would soon deteriorate.
Yet among these newer bands, there were some that were keeping the black flame alive and doing somethng worth commending. In the French Black Metal scene, the LLN bands were spawning their own form of hellish chaos, with the likes of Mütiilation and Vlad Tepes at the forefront of this movement. The influence from the Norwegians was quite obvious, from the start, and still these bands managed to add their own character and identity to the music that they created. In the case of Vlad Tepes, there was a certain old school feeling that was present in nearly everything that they did. Wlad and Vorlok had a clear background in traditional Metal, which often influenced the structures and melodies that were used. Even from their earliest demos, such as 1994's War Funeral March, one can hear this.
Vlad Tepes rarely gets the credit that they deserve for being top-notch songwriters and very skilled musicians. They were deceptively smooth in their playing, not nearly as sloppy and primitive as Mütiilation was in those early days. The sound of this demo is quite raw and has a really ugly vibe to it. However, this is mostly due to the primitive production. The vocals are rather high and there are times when it seems as if the vocals were done right next to the tape recorder while the music was being played in another room. Regardless, the sound is not bad at all. It never reaches the point of being unlistenable, by any means. The guitars possess a decent amount of fuzz and the drums are audible, though nicely in the background.
As for the music itself, these songs are light-years ahead of what a lot of other Black Metal bands were doing around the same time and Vlad Tepes would be more highly regarded had they been able to record a proper full-length album. As one might imagine, the majority of the demo is dominated by high-tempo drumming and fast-picked tremolo riffs. Still, this is not quite as minimalist as you would likely expect. There is a good amount of variation in the riffs, often with a somewhat epic feeling being conveyed by the way the different guitar melodies are arranged. There is even a dynamic sense to the percussion, keeping things basic and yet not becoming too lazy. There are even lead guitar solos, here and there, which add a lot to the compositions. They not only suit the songs perfectly, but they serve as another reminder of the band's old school roots. At times, there is a detectable Rock vibe, but this is not as present on War Funeral March as on some other recordings. Despite creating a rather gloomy atmosphere at various points, especially some of the riffs in "Returning to My Old Battlegrounds" and "Frozen Dead Kingdom", Vlad Tepes displays a great deal of energy in most of these songs, which is something that a lot of bands completely lack. The riffs are never flat or boring, at any time throughout this demo.
War Funeral March may be one of the easier Vlad Tepes recordings to get into, as it possesses a fairly good overall sound and is bereft of the type of hissing and distortion that may make some of the other demos difficult to listen to. It really is a shame that they kept to making demo tapes and split albums, rather than going into a proper studio and banging out a couple full-lengths, at some point. These guys were easily more talented than a great deal of the bands that were getting much more attention back then, and the same holds true even compared to most of today's Black Metal bands. This demo has the grimness of an old Darkthrone album with the musicianship of early Gorgoroth. The only real difference is the low quality production. Either way, that somewhat adds to the atmosphere and in no way detracts from what is going on. At the time, there was a total rejection of the modern garbage that was being vomited forth by so many bands. Things have only gotten worse since then, but at least these old recordings still exist. There are no samples of church choirs or clips from movies, no weird effects on the vocals or stupid gimmicks in the lyrics or overall presentation. This is how underground Black Metal should sound. If you haven't heard this yet, seek it out.