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Graveland is the one-man project of one Rob Darken. He is well known in metal circles for espousing a racist, pagan weltanschauung, and to make sure everyone takes him and his ideas seriously, taking pictures of himself in the woods wearing medieval armor and wielding swords. I've mentioned many times that I don't care about the political/religious persuasion of an artist, and that to me personally a racist worldview is somewhat less reprehensible than an anti-Christian worldview. So, let's get to the music.
Viking metal is not one of my primary listening foci, so I'm not really qualified to compare it to any other music in the genre. What I will say is that there is some excellent songwriting here, especially on closer "Dance of Axes and Swords". It's grandiose and aggressive, something like an ideal soundtrack to the battle scenes of The Lord of the Rings.
The drumming is the star of the show. It's relentless but varied, blasting throughout the album. The guitars have some good black metal riffage, the vocals are a standard black metal rasp similar to 90's Satyricon, and there are synths. Lots of synths. Of course, they are the defining feature of Viking metal, and what they add is capital E Epic drama. They are a double-edged broadsword, though, because when they emulate symphonic sounds they sound good enough, but when they emulate choirs it ends up on the cheesy side.
Production-wise, well, it has cheesy synths and low-budget CG cover art, so how well do you think it's produced? It's too quiet; it's flat, the guitars are buried, the drums are muffled, the synths are too prominent, and I'm not even confident there's any bass played on the record. Lo-fi doesn't have to be crappy, but music this epic shouldn't be lo-fi in the first place. The music would be great if it was the kind of thing with a cheap hand-drawn cover and a good lo-fi production, or incredible if given the Dimmu Borgir treatment.
The Verdict: Very good music, especially the drums, is the highlight of Graveland's Cold Winter Blades, but it suffers from excess cheese and terrible production.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/