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If a metal version of trivial pursuit is ever created, an excellent question would be: "what style of music was played on the first four Graveland demos?" Few, if any, would remember that the legendary black/Viking metal act started out as a shoddy industrial one man band. Yet, that is exactly what the first four Graveland demos are—shoddy industrial metal and weak ambient. The debut demo, Necronomicon, is the poorest of the lot. The demo consists of two kinds of songs, ambient and industrial. The ambient pieces are really bad. It’s hard to believe that the same man would compose masterful ambient tracks such as the intro to Carpathian Wolves just three years later. Most of these ambient pieces are awkward four note melodies layered with clichéd sounds of flutes and choirs.
The industrial tracks are a little better, though still sub-par. The riffs are plodding and redundant. The drum machine is repetitive and cheap sounding. It relies almost exclusively on high-hat and cymbal noises, which can be grating. Rob employs a deep, gurgled growl that sounds like it is emerging from the depths of the ocean. It fits the music and is kind of cool, but ultimately doesn’t compensate for the albums other weaknesses.
The whole demo is pretty poor, but “Sword and Blood” shows a tiny bit of Graveland’s potential. The song has a bouncy, folk rhythm to it that foreshadows some of the later Graveland motifs. The percussion sounds are also slightly more dynamic. Overall, Graveland fans should give this a listen or two, if for no other reason than to see where the band's sound originated. However, don’t expect Necronomicon to stay in your permanent rotation.
(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com/)
Almost a historical artefact in itself, this Graveland demo from 1992 at last saw release as an album on Forever Plagued Records in 2009. I''m unfamiliar with Graveland''s recent work but I hear the early material was less melodic and folk-oriented and more influenced by early Norwegian black metal acts like Darktrhone and Emperor. The titles on "Necromanteion" suggest a them of a quest or search that may involve contacts with the spirit world as well as war or invasion which means lots of fighting and brave men dying nobly in battle. There seem to be hints of rituals being performed during some of these activities to ensure their success and the enemy''s failure but it''s hard to tell when the vocals are so gravelly and deep that they sound like something conjured from rocks and boulders. Why would you give such a creature the job of telling the story? But that''s how the record goes.
The black metal tends to be slow-paced and the mostly plodding melodies seem primitive in structure with very long drawn-out guitar notes. The tone of the guitar itself has a raw tinny buzz like a low-pitched chainsaw or electric drill. Drumming is mechanical, basic and repetitive so it''s possible that at the time this was recorded there was just the vocalist / guitarist Rob Darken himself in the band, playing all the instruments and the drum machine as well. But the real glory of the music is in the extra instrumentation, effects, use of found sounds and recordings, and pre-recorded voices that pad out the songs and the way these are arranged though the joins are not always very seamless. Some of the extra frills can be cartoony like the galloping horse intro to "Celts Ride Over Graveland" or the operatic soprano warbling that heralds "Sword and Blood": both of these sound unconvincing and I don''t think they''re necessary as intros, the rhythm of "Celts Ride ..." being gallopy enough and "Sword and Blood" being able to stand on its own but more of that later. On the other hand we get a track like "The Quest" with its synthesiser intro adding an exotic flavour suggesting travel into foreign realms, the use of choral voices lending a sense of holy mission to the topic and the unexpected left-field coda which is a spacey ambient piece of pure tone, percussion and rumble-in-the-dark improv: a spine-chilling other-worldly mini-drama in itself.
The best tracks include "Opus Mysteries Nocturni, a short instrumental made up of mechanical drones, a bit like a clock running down and revealing all its workings as it does so but I think the highlight of the album is "Sword and Blood" for its distinctive clangy if very robotic percussion rhythm which suggests that Darken could have taken Graveland into a lite-industrial direction (though of course this wouldn''t have suited the band''s lyrical interests). True, the guitars and vocals here are not exactly inspiring in comparison but that rhythm completely dominates the track and drives it so it more than compensates for the rest of the music.
Graveland fans will want to check this recording out to see how Darken was writing and recording songs in those early days (nearly 20 years ago - amazing but true) and compare "Necromanteion" with later recordings to see how much the band has progressed or changed. Nearly every track here has an intro that may include a field recording and which is completely different from the rest of the song. The intros don''t always blend smoothly with their songs and the songs themselves are basic and repetitive with near-industrial rhythms that have a fixed and almost robotic speed. But even if you''re not a Graveland fan, you might still like to check out the short recording to see how songs can be constructed and how ingenuity and creative ideas can overcome beginner-level technical skills or poor-quality equipment that doesn''t have all the capabilities needed to achieve your musical vision.
While most black metal fans are intimately familiar with Darken's work after "in the glare..." his first five demo's/promo's remain relatively obscure, which is a shame, since they're some of the most original and downright quircky recordings in the realm of metal.
Necromanteion is the first of Rob Darken's demo's, recorded as early as 1991.
It starts out with the intro, which lasts over two and a half minutes and shows Darken's keyboard-skill was strong even this early in his career. The intro souds like it came from a 16-bit video-game, but this strangely enhances the atmosphere. The composition itself is dreamlike, meandering and epic.
When we arrive at the metalportion of the tape a surprise is waiting, since this barely sounds like graveland. In fact, industrialised doom-death metal would be an appropriate way to describe these strange works of art.
A drum-machine belts out the exact same midpaced industrial-sounding drumloop for the whole of the second, third AND seventh track, the guitarwork consists of slow, doomy, repetitive powerchording and the vocals are a very strange soft, throaty growl!
Deep, bassy oscillations rise and fall in the second track, strange chanting is in the background of the third track and other things go on during the otherwise very basic chordprogressions.
These three metaltracks are very mesmerising despite their extremely simple elements and repetition and each seems to build on the elements of the former, becoming slightly more complex and epic.
Sandwiched between track three and seven are three keyboard-pieces, the first being a black ambient piece not unlike raison d'etre, followed by two strange 'organ'-like tracks which are more in line with later works.
After these first seven songs I was expecting more death-doom metalpieces or keyboard-tracks, but imagine my surprise when a furious pagan drumming rythm heralded 'celts ride over graveland', a thrashing piece of pure black pagan-metal! It finishes up in a midpaced canter with some very onimous keys in the background.
The final track 'who dies first' is an altogether different affair again, with a different drumpattern, slow, sinister riffs and downright threatening bassy keyboardwashes popping up from time to time and these strange metallic sounds that are hard to define.
Hard to define actually sums this entire demo up quite adequately, since this is unique and so very, very eccentric. For die-hard fans of Rob Darken this is mandatory, but those who are just fans of black-doom metal, darkwave or ambient are still advised to hear this, since it stands well enough on its own.