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Over the years, Graveland has explored a number of distinct styles. There is the ultra-dark black metal of the early years, the blackened folk of Thousand Swords and the symphonic pagan metal of the past decade. Each era is something special in its own right, but there is only one time in Graveland’s discography that all the elements come together to create an album that is truly extraordinary: that would be Following the Voice of Blood. The album marks the perfect middle point in Graveland’s development; the folk metal is still in full force but at the same time the symphonic dimension has truly blossomed. The result is a true classic of extreme metal.
On the previous album, Thousand Swords, Rob Darken began playing guitar in a new and innovative way that involved strumming jangly folk tunes while maintaining the buzzing distortion of black metal. While the melodies were for the most part superb, weak production blunted the power of the composition and performance. Fortunately, on Following the Voice of Blood, Graveland tweaked both the production and arrangements, allowing this excellent style of guitar playing to show off its fangs. The production is crisp yet raw, allowing the strummed melodies to strike the inner ear like a whip. On the other end of the sound spectrum lie thick synths, which emit glorious, heroic melodies. It feels like traveling on an 11th century Viking ship, sailing off on some epic and dangerous journey. The drums sound large and sweeping, like waves splashing back and forth, beating against the bow of the ship.
The compositions are some of Graveland's most intricate and involved. The metal tracks are long, ranging from 9-12 minutes and the songwriting is quite elaborate. Most of the tracks are epics that travel through numerous tempos, melodies and emotions. Yet, the songs never meander; the various passages weave in and out of one another with focus and vision. In the same way that a great story-teller knows how to keep the audience clinging to his every word, Rob makes the listener hold on for every dramatic twist and turn in the composition. Even when Rob goes for a simpler composition the outcome is impressive. “Thurisaz” consists of just two deep, mournful melodies that repeat like ancient mantras, creating an enrapturing mystique.
The synth pieces are also stellar. The neoclassical melodies are big, glorious and full. Their most innovative employment is on “And the Horn was Sounding Far Away,” which travels through five minutes of slowly developing strings, horns and ambient sounds before breaking out into a swirling frenzy of vicious black metal. One can already see some of the massive, bombastic tenancies that will dominate Graveland’s next album, Immortal Pride, but yet we are still close enough to Carpathian Wolves that Rob can still whip out some annihilating moments of raw, hateful black metal.
This is the final Graveland album that can qualify as black metal and Rob certainly saved the best for last. The brilliant compositions, the breadth of emotions, phenomenal atmosphere and the imaginative musicianship come together to create a truly top tier black metal album. While Norwegian acts such as Ulver and Emperor had already integrated folk and neoclassical into black metal, Graveland did so in a distinctly Eastern European manner. In turn, that approach has had a massive impact on the continued development of the genre—especially in Eastern Europe, but elsewhere as well. On Following the Voice of Blood all the aspects that make Graveland such a quintessential black metal band are at play with one another. The outcome is the epoch of Graveland’s discography and an album that belongs in the top tier of the black metal pantheon.
(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com/)
In 1995, Graveland put out a black metal album called Thousand Swords. It was a masterpiece and magnum opus (and still is) that virtually no band from this genre has outdone since. It put many Norwegian black metal albums to shame with its incensed pagan aggression and no holds barred fury for war. What a tough act to follow! How could Graveland possibly meet expectations for the next album? Following The Voice Of Blood is yet another wide turn just as much as Thousand Swords was from Carpathian Wolves. That's how they did it. And yet it can be seen as a very close sequel to the predecessor at the same time. This album is far and away the band's most unique album. They went the minimalist route here to say the least but in a different way than Darkthrone with Transilvanian Hunger. There is more Burzum appeal on here than anything else but make no mistake, Darken produced his calling card with the material on this release. I sometimes wonder if he regards this record as highly as everyone else because never again would this band take such a leap into the ambitious realm of black metal. I very much enjoy the epic Viking metal that he produces of recent years but most will agree it's nowhere near as innovative as Following.
It might take you a couple listens all the way through to properly digest Following The Voice Of Blood just because of how different it is from Graveland's other works. There is no question the album is his most folk sounding of all the black metal in the band's discography. The guitar sound is very twangy and the tone is even thinner than Thousand Swords. I shit you not. Some people won't like that because it might sound like it lacks bite. I say they are just too used to other less epic bands and need to adjust. Another reason this is so innovative is because it's a whole other type of epic: it's raw, dirty and Old World sounding. The tremolo picking and full frontal distortion for the riffs are what make it so uniquely epic and breathtakingly melodic at the same time. And you know what this style of soaring riff twang sounds like? Some of Ennio Morricone's guitar work from the Dollars trilogy. I fell in love with those epic distorted Spanish licks. I'm glad metal musicians like Rob Darken discovered how awesome that sounded and incorporated it into black metal.
It's true that Capricornus won't garner any acclaim for pure drumming skill but he is perfect for Graveland and more so for this classic album. Ahh, the days when Darken had him on drums. Sure, the programmed stuff he mixes in now is really good but when Capricornus was in the band, Graveland hit their stride and made this era quite distinctive. If you didn't realize it before then on Following The Voice Of Blood, you will appreciate that fact for certain. His drum kit is aggressively thrown into the mixing. Every sloppy beat and rickety hit of it. It's almost like a parody of his unorthodox style from Carpathian Wolves.
It says Darken also did the bass on the album but I really doubt there is any. Or at least from a guitar. I heard some backing rhythms on a couple of the tracks but that was most certainly the key work. This record is designed to be completely driven by epic black/folk harmonies in the utmost direct manner and so it shouldn't surprise you that picking of riffs must dominate. Rob's vocals are even croakier than on the previous album. I've been listening to alot of Graveland's recent albums and it was again refreshing to hear the old black metal sound of those vocals.
It is tantamount that you pick this album up if you are getting into Graveland. On some parts it didn't sound right and there were tiny flaws but I realized they are all happy mistakes that are truly a part of why Following The Voice Of Blood is such a classic black metal album. And I remind you to at least start with Thousand Swords before you go to this release because the career progression is so much more rewarding this way. I step back and now look at how brilliant a black metal recording I have here with this album. Try to take in as much of this band's body of work and with time, it will emerge as one of the all-time greats sooner rather than later. Beware of The Black Spell of Destruction but fear The White Hand's Power! For Graveland put Norwegian black metal on notice with this record.
In a career of strong albums (Celtic Winter, Thousand Swords, Memory and Destiny), this is Graveland's strongest; it also has the dubious distinction of being their worst-recorded. As each subsequent album has been less adventurous than the last, Following the Voice of Blood stands as a peak in weirdness and is distinctive within their catalog.
To begin with, the guitar tone is an unprecedented (in metal!) combination of an over-the-top flange effect with jangly light distortion. There is no "crunch" to the sound, and (I can't speak very technically about this) the strings can all be heard individually during the fast strumming. Suffice to say, this produces a weird "underwater" sound which does not at all cohere during the fast parts, and is off-putting to most metal ears. Combined with drummer Capricornus' unique sense of timing, the execution of these songs is a real disaster: they won't be winning over casual listeners with this one.
As a student of Graveland, I can say that their albums are always sequenced impeccably. This is true here. The album opens with the obligatory synth intro, and "White Hand's Power" is the shortest full song on the album, at 8:33. It holds your attention, but things really get going with the incoherent blasting of "Thurisaz," which is the next logical step in minimalism from Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger release: the only thing similar that comes to mind is Veles' Black Hateful Metal, which takes this minimalism to its high concept extreme (with similarly flanged-out weird production).
Now, normally, the fast parts are not a Graveland strength--and after this album, they basically give up on blast-beats in drumming, to concentrate on a more "epic" Bathory style; which is why you *cannot* miss out on this album: the fast riffs played here match anything on Pure Holocaust or Transilvanian Hunger. I'm thinking especially of "Thurisaz," "And the Horn was Sounding Far Away," and "Fed by Beasts." Of course, all the other trappings of a Graveland album are here, too, but what makes Following the Voice of Blood the best Graveland album is the slurred, clumsy melodies cited above.
It's easy to see why this bizarre, horrible-sounding, folky, inept, jangly, non-Satanic-themed release did not become the future of metal. Not that it is so brainy or avant-garde, but the extremely enjoyable melodies and songs here are buried underneath every contingent "turn-off," and is completely lacking in those qualities which make extreme metal appealing to teenage boys.
Production: Odd combination of each part being recorded poorly, but the mix as a whole being done perfectly.
Guitars are bold in their unconventional use of an almost twangy tone with less use of distortion than what is expected with black metal. Focus is taken away from distortion driven sound and put on the folk style strummed chords that lay the foundation of this release. With folky acoustic pieces being an overused trend in many lesser valued black metal albums, "Following..." takes the approach of actually using electric guitar to announce a better understood use of folk influenced songwriting. It is both a refreshing and inspirational approach.
Drumming is done in a style that Capricornus has intuitively perfected; a 6/8 timed "backwards" form. Backwards meant not in a literal sense, but in an abstract one. There is a deeper understanding of rhythm here, often misunderstood as being the opposite. Many believe the style of Capricornus is done the way it is because he doesn't know what he's doing; in reality the truth is that he knows exactly what he's doing. This reviewer believes the drum patterns on this album add a depth that is crucial to the overall feel of these songs; songs that with their epic style awaken the European mind to the aura of the ancients.
Although raw in sound, this album moves more intellectually into the realm of political thought, using fascist viewpoints to either awaken or alarm the listener. This stance offends many, which is humorous considering that black metal was never meant to be inoffensive.
This may very well be Graveland's answer to Bathory's Blood, Fire, Death; less from a strictly musical viewpoint than as an artistic transition point. Both albums see their respective composers moving from playing fast, chaotic black metal into the realm of slowe, more epic and more melodic Viking metal. While Bathory's album had the tracks split more or less evenly between those two modes of expression, Graveland's fifth opus finds Darken effectively blending the two approaches throughout each of the album's tracks, brewing a unique - though very, very recognizably Polish - kind of sound.
Capricornus is listed as a session member here; just one of the factors making it clear that this is becoming more and more Bobby's baby. The latter's famous keyboard interludes are as abundant as ever, but it's when the keyboards make their appearance over the rest of the music which marks the album's most typical moments. Capricornus' ubiquitous triumphant, warlike 6/8 drum beat; Darken's melodic, epic, folk-based 2-note open riffing; it's all here - envisioning a Graveland album without these? Might as well expect a shot of Herr Darken proudly waving the Israeli flag on the back cover...
One cannot help but wonder if the lads haven't been listening to some old Manowar during the writing process for this album. For, indeed, ye olde warrior cheese makes a cameo appearance during some of the slower grand majestic riffs with that sort of bombastic drumming - Into Glory Ride might not be such an out-of-place reference point. I imagine that the sort of warrior ethos which Graveland are targeting in their listeners is supposed to reside deep in the meta-genetic ancestral European memory, rather than in More Adventures For Dragon-Slayers (The Dungeon Master's Edition), but the atmosphere isn't that far. Plus, quite eerily, there's a remarkable resemblance in the production department as well, other than the lack of an ego-boosted bass guitar. The same thin-but-organic '80s-style guitar distortion is there, along with the reverb on the drums.
Why the not-very-high rating? Songwriting-wise, one might notice a certain lack of variety here, coupled with an overuse of the same compositional elements. Repetitiveness does not go down well with Graveland's specific style of music (after all, it's neither Burzum nor Ildjarn), and as a result the songs tend to blend together sometimes. Though at the end of the day it's all a function of how focused or distracted the listener is.
And the artwork? As is the case with a lot of Graveland's later releases (especially the re-releases, which seem to be cropping up at an alarming rate lately), you will enjoy it, if you don't mind shots of Rob in full medieval battle regalia, and a few things which look suspiciously similar to exercise screenshots from a Photoshop manual.