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Graveland's shift in sound didn't take place posthaste, there was a period where of gradual change. This change begun on Following the Voice of Blood. The rough, folky ambience of Thousand Swords was still very much there, but was presented in a much more grandiose fashion. The song lengths grew, as did the atmosphere contained within. This was no longer some silly basement black metal band; the melodies Darken created elevated the project to new heights. It was here on Immortal Pride where the music further shifted towards a Hammerheart-esque sound (compete with Darken's signature croaks). The true genesis of "the new Graveland" wouldn't take place until Creed of Iron.
Where as Following the Voice of Blood was a very sloppy affair, Immortal Pride is a bit more orderly. Capricornus traded his unique style of folky warlike drumming for what I can only assume is a drum machine. Rather than a barrage of aggressive blast beats, the drum work here rarely exits the realm of "mid-paced marching beat." In fact, there are only one or two moments where you'll hear blast beats and they only last a few seconds each. Immortal Pride favors steady, monolithic rhythm over breakneck assault which ultimately results in a heavier atmosphere. The guitars retain their cold edge and still have that European tinge, but are much cleaner with less distortion. The bottom end is still lacking here, but the record feels a lot "fuller" than the previous release. Overall what really gives the album it's depth is the synth work. While Graveland has featured keyboards since the demo days, it was on Immortal Pride that Darken truly realized the types of soundscapes he was capable of (about 10 minutes of this album is dedicated to instrumental synthcraft). No longer are they keys merely a backing element; I'd go as far as to say they're just as important as the guitars in this instance.
Furthering the trend of increasingly protracted song lengths, we essentially have two metal songs here; one 23 minutes and the other 16 respectively. This is where the album's biggest flaw lies; the songs are simply too long for what they are. That's not to say they're like Dopesmoker (don't crucify me for that joke) but they definitely don't warrant the run-times that they hold. Day of Fury and To Die in Glory are executed better than the bulk of the album because they feel "excessive."
Intro (Day of Fury) I would go as far as to consider a legitimate song. Most intros are simply unnecessary and are meant to delay the real attraction under the guise of "buildup." These introduction tracks are the ones that receive the skip button. If it's short enough I might spare it but clocking in at 3 minutes, I expect Day of Fury to deliver, and deliver it does. All in all it's still an intro and there's not a lot to say about it, but it really sets an example of what intros should aspire to be. Much of what I've said here also applies to the album's closer, To Die in Glory. Good instrumental music reminiscent of dungeon synth.
What follows Day of Fury is the longer of the two metal tracks, Sons of Fire and Steel. The songs opens promisingly enough with the gritty strumming that'll make any connoisseur of Polish black metal say, "Yep, this is Graveland," (with some bird calls for dramatic effect). Within the first minute it becomes blatantly clear that the keyboards are gonna play a huge roll in making Immortal Pride what it is. Toss in some vocal melodies and you've got a very heavy atmosphere established 5 minutes into the album. But as I already stated above, the songs are too long for what they are. Sons of Fire and Steel is a great song, but in it's 23 minutes, it's main purpose is to serve as buildup for Sacrifice for Honour. Don't believe me? The last 4 minutes is (I kid you not) an intro to the next track. I've sat 27 minutes to get to the main event, will it be worth it?
The preceding tracks serve to paint vivid images of the dawn of a great war. Rays of sun illuminating the battlefield, the clang of chainmail and gauntlets, and the sharpening of spears are all mental envisionings of the grand oeuvre I picture whenever Immortal Pride resonates through my speakers. Sacrifice for Honor makes Sons of Fire and Steel look like child's play. The track starts with a very "Graveland" sounding riff, but the drums suffice as a lively call to arms. Immortal Pride is done beating around the bush, the listener is thrown right into the action from the very start. But a minute and a half in, the song takes a different turn. The guitar takes a leave of absence and leaves only a militant drum beat, foreboding keyboard ambiance, and some surprisingly disturbing cries from Darken himself. It's not until this track where the listener finally gets a taste of blast beats. Being absent up to this point, the 8 seconds of barbarism is absolutely effective. Take my word for it, Sacrifice for Honour makes much better use of 16 minutes than the foregoing track did with 23.
Out of all of the Graveland records I've listened to up to this point, this one took the longest to grow on me. Perhaps it's the endless Bathory comparisons that made the initial listen a bit more jarring than it should have been. Yes, Immortal Pride shares elements with early-90's Bathory, but don't go in to it expecting Shores in Flames and To Enter Your Mountain. Immortal Pride is it's own beast, it's own separate entity that should be treated as such. If the album doesn't stick with you upon first listen, give it a couple more tries. You'll begin to appreciate how well the album flows as a cohesive piece.
At the latest since the releases of albums such as "Hvis lyset tar oss" or "Storm of the Light´s Bane", we all know that also more or less confused minds can create great music. Of course, some scatterbrains will never write a good song. I do not want to mention names in this context. This would be unfair against Joey DeMaio. However, Rob Darken has talked a lot of nonsense, but his musical competencies remained unaffected. "Immortal Pride" supports this conclusion. It is a coherent album that conveys a medieval, ritualistic and sublime atmosphere. You are listening to a full-length which is characterised by symphonic parts. But due to their dark and almost religious aura, Darken´s effort has nothing in common with the outputs of other groups that have an affinity for orchestral sounds. Dimmu Borgir has to stay out.
Seagulls squawk and majestic, slow melodies set in. "Immortal Pride" opens up the possibility of diving into a long forgotten time. The songs seem to be forged in fire. By the sweat of his brow, an old man has apparently produced them. Although the keyboards are of major importance, the compositions do not include any kind of easiness. The guttural voice of Darken as well as the primitive yet effective background chorals reflect the cold-hearted mindset of a resolute warrior. The epic "Sons of Fire and Steel" is the first of two monumental pieces. It reveals an exciting sequence of different melodies that flow seamlessly into each other. Its grandeur mixes with the feelings that are evoked by an approaching armed conflict. The battle begins with the outro - yes, the track has its own outro - after 19 well-designed minutes of pagan metal. The Valkyries come in and lead the fallen heroes to Valhalla.
Although the keyboards sound a little bit synthetic, the well balanced mix can largely be regarded as successful. In accordance with the musical approach, the production does not focus on an overdose of harshness. It possesses this certain archaic touch that fits the requirements of the artistic intention.
Compared with "Sons of Fire and Steel", the subsequent "Sacrifice for Honour" is a miniature track with a playtime of "only" 16 minutes. Due to its higher percentage of more aggressive parts, the black metal past of Graveland shimmers through the compositional approach. Both short drum attacks and clumsy guitars leave their scent. Intensity is not missing and Darken´s song-writing skills are demonstrated once again.
The final number offers mysterious keyboards lines. When they come to an end, fanfares herald the victory of the pagan warriors. The length of the outro - extensive seven minutes - seems to be too opulent, but we must view this piece in the full context of the full-length. I agree with the colleague who wrote that the album is more than the sum of its parts. Its concept works. So take the time to explore the fascination of "Immortal Pride". You will not regret it.
From the knee-buckling organs on Carpathian Wolves to the regal interludes on Following the Voice of Blood, Rob Darken’s synth-work has always been one of the highlights of Graveland’s sound. While many black metal acts whip out some solid horror show melodies, very few have the symphonic sensibility of Darken. Rob’s synth-work has a big, full orchestral sound that is full of texture and depth.
With that in mind it might have just been a matter of time until the synths took center stage in Graveland’s sound. Immortal Pride is the first time in Graveland’s discography where that really occurs. While this album has massive riffs, they play second fiddle to the bombastic synths. The final result is one of the best symphonic extreme metal albums of all time.
Immortal Pride takes inspiration from Bathory’s Viking metal releases Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods. Like those albums, Immortal Pride is meshes epic heavy metal riffs with orchestral layering. Naturally, Rob infuses the style with a distinctly Eastern European flavoring. Unlike Bathory, Rob opts to maintain his dry black metal croak, limiting the singing and chanting to the background. Another major influence is Basil Poledouris’s grandiose soundtrack to the Conan the Barbarian film. That soundtrack infused symphonic arrangements with a distinctly tribal flair that fits right into the Graveland sound.
While its easy to point to Bathory and Poledouris, Immortal Pride is truly its own work of art. The sound is fresh and vivid. The production is excellent: All the instruments are sharp but have lots of depth. The primitive drumming hits deep and the synths have abundant texture, sounding more like the product of a real orchestra than a keyboard. The vitalism created by the production allows the cinematic tenancies of the music to flourish. This is music of battle, and the way the music surrounds the listener puts you right in the midst of the fight. Rob switches between more attacking, guitar driven passages and overwhelmingly emotional symphonic passages, creating tension between feelings of power, fury, pride and horror.
The songs here are massive. There are only four tracks, including an intro and outro, yet the album is fifty minutes long. The 24 minute “Sons of Fire and Steel” is a little more glorious and epic, while the 16 minute “Sacrifice for Honor” is a bit darker and more aggressive. All the synth and ambient passages are excellent. At the end of “Sons of Fire and Steel” there is a poetic epitaph (read a woman with a thick Polish accent) for fallen warriors, which is quite moving. The outro is another highlight. It is a symphonic rendition of one of Graveland’s greatest pieces, “Thurisaz” from the Following the Voice of Blood album. What was previously a deep and solemn piece is here transformed into a light, playful and glorious tune that dances about with triumphant glee.
Immortal Pride is one of Graveland’s greatest accomplishments. Rob takes the format laid down by Quorthon and ups the ante by pushing the symphonic dimensions to the next level. The result is a beautiful and inspired album that is without peer in the realm of extreme symphonic metal.
(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com)
Production wise this is the fattest album yet from Rob Darken. Guitars retain their cold edge that characterizes earlier works by Graveland and most black metal acts at the time, but they are fattened out by bass heavy drums and keyboards that are more than just adding atmosphere but often take centre stage over the guitars, so the whole thing sounds like one huge orchestra working in perfect harmony. The choral pieces and sound effects have also come a long way since the days of Carpathian Wolves, which adds much more depth to the sound and atmosphere.
In terms of Graveland’s own history, Immortal Pride is an interesting album because it represents the transition from the earlier black metal phase which vaguely leaned towards the Emperor school, and the later Viking metal efforts of post 2000 Graveland. A cold guitar sound is accompanied by massive keyboards and more mid paced tempos; the Immortal Pride mostly adopts marching rhythms akin to Bathory’s Hammerheart more than blast beats and the like. With the opener “Sons of Fire and Steel”, one can tell that Darken has grown far more ambitious even when compared to his former effort “Following the Voice of Blood”. The shear breadth and scale of this composition is unmatched by similar acts. This also has one important element that later Graveland releases are seriously lacking in, and that is variation.
By variation, I do not mean chucking in a token interlude here and there, and if you grow tired of the guitars just throwing some keyboard licks in. I mean variation through the music he has composed. Take the opening number again. A sense of purpose and compositional oneness is retained so the whole thing still sounds like one unified piece of music despite it being over twenty minutes long. This is something that many other metal acts attempting similarly epic and lengthy pieces fail to realize as they have a tendency to simply chuck a collection of riffs together and force them to fit, essentially cutting and pasting the song together from a series of disconnected elements. Because the shear battery of heavy Bathory inspired Viking metal can and does grow tiresome even to an enthusiastic listener like myself this kind of engaging composition is important. Graveland’s music has grown from energetic but epic black metal to music that takes its time reaching a climax with many layers of composition and complexity. Not that that is a slant on Darken’s earlier now seminal black metal efforts.
Another important reason to get hold of this album is the fact that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Immortal Pride is the label, and that is what you get. The male choral passages, the epic film soundtrack style keyboards, even the mid paced tempo give a sense of a proud army marching into battle. This is an ancient yet immortal pride in the warlike spirit of man. This is delivered with so much more passion and conviction than what later Graveland became, which are by no means poor albums, (Darken has yet to release a poor album) but they are token efforts in comparison to Immortal Pride. There are elements of Wagner, there are elements of folk and there are elements of epic soundtrack music. No doubt you have heard that combination used to describe music of this ilk in the past, but on here all these familiar elements combine to create something truly magical. After “Sons of Fire and Steel” there is a moment of hesitation as to where Darken could possibly take the album next, but after a short outro/interlude to wind down from the first piece we are treated to “Sacrifice for Honour” which combines the very same elements to create something that perfectly complements what comes before it. Not so different as to wonder what it is doing on the same album, but not so similar as to make it as tiresome as some later Graveland works. The album closes with a seven minute keyboard piece, which put at the end of another black metal album may seem like over doing it, but on here it simply reaffirms just how grandiose and epic the guitar pieces are by letting the listener wind down with music that is not quite so overpowering but still retains the same spirit and sense of pride in what it is trying to get across.
In short this album is more than just a missing link connecting two periods of Graveland’s career, it is where those two periods combine, taking the best elements from each to create something truly magical and Graveland’s crowning moment. Given how good the rest of Graveland’s discography is considered to be by this reviewer that is high praise indeed.
If Dauði Baldrs was recorded with proper instruments and facility, it would probably sound similar to Immortal Pride. This is Graveland’s fourth album. This feels much, much more like an EP though. Its length runs about fifty and half minutes but we all know the difference between a full album and an EP has sometimes less to do with the length than it does the content. Often times, the purpose of an extended play is to introduce something that is a little different or to point to a new direction in sound. The case here being that this record serves as a middle ground between Rob Darken’s older material and his more epic pagan/Viking excursions.
Immortal Pride has two terrific melodic black metal songs wrapped around by two symphonic epic pieces that are good if not entirely spectacular. Truth be told, this album lacks a bit of the vigor and vitriol of Thousand Swords. But Darken’s ambition of venomous grandeur is very apparent here. All this of course will remind you of Bathory. It’s surprising that Immortal Pride goes somewhat overlooked among the Graveland discography(though that might have much ado about the limited copies as there is no re-issue of the album that I am aware of). It’s one of the richest sounding releases that Rob Darken has put forth. Wagnerian pathos and heroic remembrance for heathen sacrifice is what the music here embodies. Long ago, those lands belonged to them and Graveland is here to commemorate that fact with sterling conviction.
I’ve always liked the drumming done on (most) Graveland records. They’re played and presented on Immortal Pride with heave and might giving it period detail. The beats rightfully dominate Sons of Fire/Servants of War. I can’t think of another black metal album where the drums so enriched the atmosphere of layered songs. I will go as so far to say that in this department, Graveland does it better than Emperor. I also notice that transitions are more fluid this way when the complexity is rolled back. I like how the guitar riffs are given more of a voice in running the song even if a couple mistakes are more exposed.
You should have no worries about the production sound this time around. Immortal Pride sounds great. The band had a few more bucks available to sink into this record. I can’t imagine it sounding any better or any worse. This album is a welcome addition to what Darken accomplished before and I consider myself one of the privileged few to own a copy of this very hard to get Graveland release. If you are looking for Immortal Pride, I suggest you grab it and keep it among your best black/Viking metal albums.