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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.