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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.