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Graveland's second full-length album, Thousand Swords, was released by Lethal Records in late 1995. The band's sophomore effort follows down the same path begun by Carpathian Wolves, which is not meant as a compliment. Rob Darken was in a position to ensure that Polish black metal was taken seriously, yet through various Graveland releases and other bands that he had taken part in, he seemed only to do a lot of damage to the scene.
The first thing that must be addressed here is the horrific production. There is no way that anyone with a fully functioning brain could possibly have thought that this sounded good enough to be released to the public, and yet it was. This is not bad in an under-produced, necro demo sort of way; it is just weak as hell, in every imaginable way. From the opening moments of "Blood of Christians on my Sword", one is appalled by the weak and ineffectual tone of the guitar. It is so thin and harmless that one is sickened by the choice that was made here. Black Metal was never defined by its heaviness and a thin, sharp guitar tone is to be expected in many cases, but this is taking it to a new extreme. The guitars sound about as menacing as the fluttering of a butterfly's wings. Compared to Carpathian Wolves, even the drums sound softer and more tame. black metal is supposed to sound dark, evil and threatening; instead, this comes off as rather timid and frightened of its own shadow.
As for the compositions, themselves, Thousand Swords offers more of the same mediocre songwriting as was heard on the previous album. Somehow, whatever spark of brilliance that illuminated Darken's mind as he was creating The Celtic Winter never returned and he found himself struggling to put together even the most basic black metal songs. For the most part, this sounds like rehash of past glories, only done in less convincing fashion. Many of the tracks sound as if they were cut and pasted together from random riffs, with odd transitions that make little sense to the overall flow of the songs. The utter inconsistency of the songwriting is most clear on "Born for War", which randomly shifts from fast tremolo melodies to slower sections and then back to mid-paced riffs that don't quite fit with the rest. It jumps around, from one to the other, with a total absence of logic. The fast-paced sections seem to be tossed in there in an obligatory manner, serving no real purpose to the overall structure of the song. For the most part, the faster melodies are totally devoid of any real atmosphere. The few times that one does get a sense of the epic atmosphere that Graveland is going for here, it results from the overbearing keyboards rather than the actual instruments, which is another problem that this band always seemed to suffer from. Even at times when the guitar riffs seem to build a little momentum, the synth and percussion work together to crush them back into the dirt and they are rendered useless.
The most unfortunate part of Thousand Swords is that is had potential. It didn't have to end as the weak, shoddy disappointment that it is. Graveland was a decent band that should have done so much more. With a recording like The Celtic Winter to their credit, it is an utter shame that they were never able to follow up and fulfill the promise that it showed. While Thousand Swords is not the most horrid piece of trash ever recorded and might actually be palatable to those less-critical listeners, it is a complete mess when compared to the aforementioned demo. Listen at your own risk.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Graveland's Thousand Swords is definitely the most difficult album in the band's discography to evaluate. On one hand, it is Graveland’s most innovative and ground breaking recording. It is here that Rob Darken invents a whole new style of playing black metal by integrating folk stylings into the guitar playing. Other bands had integrated folk melodies, acoustic guitar and folk percussion, but as far as I know, Rob is the first to actually strum the guitar in a folk style while keeping the distortion on and the pitch razor sharp. Thousand Swords is also the coming out party for many of the epic themes that were hinted at on the prior songs like “Return of the Funeral Winds” and “Witches Holocaust.” However, the album suffers from very poor production, as well as a few questionable decisions on Rob’s part.
Let's get the real bad news over with. The mix is awful; the guitars are too far in the background and the percussion is a little too loud. The guitars lack force, crippling the metallic dimension of the sound. The keys also lack power. Rob has shifted away from the massive organ sounds of prior albums and toward lusher, choir and symphony sounds. However, without some sonic muscle, the synths fail to get their profound point across; you can see what Rob is trying to do and often it’s quite amazing, but it just isn’t quite clear enough.
On the positive side, the musicianship is brilliant and at times the composition is on par. The guitar playing is really something else. There aren’t really riffs on this album, but rather a series of roughly strummed folk melodies, making for an unusually boisterous aesthetic. Capricornus compliments the guitars with wild, uninhibited percussion that constantly pushes the band toward more and more frenzied paces. The synths are more diverse than previous albums, ranging from choirs to strings to some sort of primitive oboe. Some of the compositions are out of this world. The title track is one of the highlights of Graveland’s catalog. Polka melodies bounce about to lively percussion, creating a raucous atmosphere—it’s like pump-up music for a band of rowdy pagan soldiers prepping for battle. Then near the end of the song, the composition opens up to a series of infectious clean passages that dance about, seething with joy. For a band whose prior album was as evil as it gets, it’s amazing that Graveland were about to pull a complete 180 and compose such uplifting music! Another highlight is “Born for War,” which is just gorgeous. The melodies are so glorious and that one feels like they are flying through the Olympian heavens.
Despite the sometimes excellent songwriting, the poor production hangs over this album like a black cloud. Every guitar and keyboard passage feels like a solid, but overused blade: it can still make a nice cut, but it lacks some of the luster you would like it to have. Also, the album also contains a few lame ducks. In contrast to the excellent intros and outros on most Graveland albums, Thousand Swords has fairly dull bookends. These short, slightly atmospheric folk snippets just don’t set the stage or wrap up the story in the same way most of Rob’s ambient pieces do. Furthermore, there is the goofy ditty “Black Metal War.” It’s totally out of place on an album full of longer, more complex arrangements—not to mention it’s not a very well thought out song.
There are a small number of albums in each genre that are essential even though they are not great. These are albums that managed to have a big impact on the development of the genre and contain elements of brilliance, but nonetheless are not consistent enough to be considered true masterpieces. Thousand Swords is one such album. The innovations in guitar playing and composition make this album essential listening for anyone interested in the folksier side of black metal. However, in itself, this album definitely shows Graveland trying out a style that is still a work in progress. Fortunately, all these issues would be remedied on the phenomenal follow-up, Following the Voice of Blood.
(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com)
Out of all of Graveland's releases, this is always the one that gets picked first when throwing some on my stereo. Rob Darken's highly productive musical vehicle has spawned well over 20 different releases over the last 15 years or so, and although I personally still have more of an affinity for his earlier morbid black metal sound, their take on Pagan metal isn't to be sniffed at either.
'Thousand Swords' saw Graveland take the first step towards their more pagan approach to songwriting of their later releases, moving away from their early Emperor/Bathory sound of their demos and debut album around 1995 (not counting 1996's re-release of their 'In the Glare of Burning Churches' demo, which originally was released in 1993). Even though there's quite a few black metal riffs thrown into the mix, Capricornus's drumwork gives a galloping feel to the album as a whole, which alongside the occasional usage of tambourine and Viking horn, adds a different dimension to the average black metal sound. With the anthemic opening intro, it immediately gave birth to a new era in the Graveland ranks with a medieval, war-mongering feel which only grows stronger as the album progresses. A lot of the riffs have a very folksy feel to them, sweeping and echoing with a gleeful uplifting tunefulness, and although there's not much power in the guitar sound, it simply adds to the primitive feeling of the release. Vocally, Darken uses a throaty croak which reverberates over the peaking riffs like fleeting snowdrifts flowing their icy powder over mountainsides, which when coupled with his lyrical topics (based strictly around the destruction of Christians and all that they stand for) only adds to the sub-zero feeling of the album.
Whilst Graveland were to go on to become a more professional unit than they are here, you can really feel the Pagan spirit in this release. Even with all its little idiosyncrasies (and at times clumsy sound) it contains that extra je ne sais quoi that a lot of later Graveland hasn't quite managed to replicate as yet. A fantastic release from a top quality band.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
First off, the production on this album is not great. But it's not bad in the way a lot of black metal is. The guitars sound thin and toothless from over-polishing rather than just from being recorded in some guy's bedroom on a karaoke machine. While this brings out the melody, it just sounds unbelievably weak. On some songs the keyboard is awkwardly high in the mix and drowns out the guitars, and in others, it's barely there, which is usually preferable, because the bulk of the interesting melody is carried by the guitars.
But the songs here are mostly good enough to make up for it. There's more melody in one Graveland song than a lot of black metal bands manage in their entire discographies. The guitar riffs, in particular, carry a lot of the best melodies here (Born For War, in particular, stands out). Because of that, these songs manage to stand on their own despite being so polished. The album is essentially a astory following the traditional style of epic hero poems set to a soundtrack that strikes a really nice balance between Viking metal and black metal. The best comparison I could make would be Bathory's Blood Fire Death meets Beowulf.
One song that sort of sticks out is Black Metal War. I wouldn't say it's a bad song, but it doesn't really fit. I'm not sure whether it's an original or not, but it sort of sounds like a cover or something held over from a previous "era" of the band awkwardly shoved into the middle of an otherwise cohesive album.
But if you're into black or Viking metal at all, you'll probably like this album. It plays out like a traditional hero saga right down to the tragic ending and the achievement of immortality by the protagonist, as he dies on the battlefield. Almost everything is done well enough to make up for any shortcomings. This is definitely a hell of a metal album.
Well,well. What do we have here? Could this be the best black metal album ever made outside of Scandinavia? It could very well be next to a few others. That is strictly my opinion. Before I rave about this album, I must say that when I read a lot of reviews for bands like this on the internet or in a zine, they only seem to be spouting about how awesome the album or band is without really saying anything or supplying any new insight on what to expect save for what great true black metal it is. I will praise this album and be as objective and informative as possible because I know I have encountered many black metal listeners who want to know exactly what Graveland is like and why Thousand Swords is so good. I myself have fallen for the word of elitist recommendations when checking out bands like Satanic Warmaster without digging deeper on why it was so awesome only to find out it was nothing special.
With that, I will not guarantee you will embrace this album or even like it. Nor will I promise that this is a purely different kind of black metal than what you have heard in the past-though I think Darken adds a certain pre-Judeo-Christianity Silesian feel to it. I will just tell you right now that these songs are crude, muddy and sloppily played. The cheap production quality might make you unhappy at first. Many of the lyrics are written in grammatically incorrect English if you should so choose to look at them. There is probably nothing on here musically that can be said to be aesthetically pleasing on a playing level. Just so you know all that beforehand even if you are already used to that. If you want complexly arranged metal about traditional satanic themes with melodies, stop reading, stand up and go grab the latest Dimmu Borgir or something. If you want to know what raw, orthodox epic primitivism sounds like, stay seated.
This is pagan black metal. It’s quite different than the epic/Viking albums that Rob Darken would produce with recent Graveland albums or Lord Wind in that this is black metal that takes influence from Burzum and perhaps Dark Medieval Times by Satyricon. Other than that, Thousand Swords features heavy Celt particulars in the composition. The whole album is a rousing, epic expression of pagan war. You can tell Rob Darken donned the chain mail to record this one. Heorot may be closed right now but grab a trinkhorn, pour yourself some mead and follow me anyway.
The war drum beats with forbidden cadence. It’s morning and the mist has barely cleared. What’s behind that treeline down yonder? That’s what the Intro track sounds like. It’s an awesome beginning to introduce Blood of Christians on My Sword. With a song like this, you know Darken means business. Rob’s vocals are low and gritty scowls. He sounds like a madman warrior of the woods who will slaughter scum of the cross. Dour melodies run amok. This is a hearty battle song with mid paced tremolo-ing and violent beats. I want to say that this is the best song. It was the first to capture my attention the most being it an opener but this album is so coherent with all its song’s that it is tough to decide. The opening riff is pure glorious black metal from Scandia done awesomely. The song climaxes in grand fashion though I will admit that you might have to strain to hear the backing wall of synth due to the sound quality.
The title track begins with a slow epic beginning. Rob Darken’s ambient key work is done magnificently on this album and you will hear it put to great example on this song and others on the album. He creates dark and warring atmosphere with it. It’s the driving force most through this whole song. He keeps his beat patterns very consolidated. His drumming is delightfully chaotic. He bathes the song with a steady diet of snare strikes that was probably performed with a fluid crane motion. The guitars almost act as a bass line here which is an interesting choice. Open chord passage trait that ties in with the epic folk sound comes on perfectly. The Dark Battlefield uses the same epic metal weaponry but with a slightly simpler focus giving the song a very military rhythm. This is a brilliant design because it conveys the album depicting a battle as it progresses epically and bloodily. The Time of Revenge sounds like the theme to a brutal siege of a stronghold. It reminded me of the climactic scene in the film Ran where the king’s castle was being burned and pillaged. It has wicked breaks of beat and symphonic enhancement with the keyboard addition. This song takes a cue from Blood Fire Death.
The casualties are piling up now during this bleak assault. The horrors of war are all too apparent but fighters of Wotan forge on. Born for War is the song that scores this type of episode. It’s more melancholy but still tugs that fast black metal hostility from the overall album. Oh, and if you are a fan of Judas Iscariot, then you might want check all this out too especially if you liked Heaven In Flames. I’m near certain that Akhenaten even took some of this song and incorporated it very closely to that album.
Black Metal War is the most straightforward Norwegian black metal sounding track on Thousand Swords. You want to hear dark minimalist grimness? This song is for you. It’s very short but brutal and cold. I think this song also purposes itself to represent the reckless insanity from the battle. We’re at the final assault and counterattack with To Die in Fight. Darken flanks you all around with sharp tribal beats and acute tremoloing touched off by obtuse chords.
Outro is the best outro I ever heard on a black metal record. I can’t think of too many other ways to close out this album out more perfectly. It’s the most grisly and primitive ending to an album like this. This sounds like utter barbaric anarchy. The first song portrayed a dreadful, misty morning before the initial assault and now Outro concludes the long blood soaked battle with dark tribalism and violence underneath the pitch black night. What surviving combatants have remained are left to their own devices to hunt down enemy Christians still scattered in the woods with torches. Subhuman conduct is all that is left to fight another day. All is fair in love and war and the former was left back at the Vatican.
So there you have it. Pagan black metal that cannot be improved upon (except for the sound quality) that is recorded by Rob Darken who knows and plays it with historical accuracy. Not everyone will love this album but I sure did. Every riff and beat is authentic and grim. Every error is honest. Every conviction is true. Thousand Swords is a journey through the dogged dissidence of Christian resistance. You might find your fill of filleting Christians with more proficient black metal bands but I really don't think so. There is such a thing as valor in bringing a sword to a gunfight.
The production is awful. Not good awful, like raw black metal is supposed to be, just crap. The guitars sound pathetic, absolutely no bite at all. There might be some bass somewhere; I couldn't tell you. The keys are alright, but have a weird habit of being loud in parts and barely present in others. The drums are ok though. The production is so lousy it makes me literally fall asleep.
The music...well, I'm gonna have to file this one in the 'overrated' category. Not that it's terrible, it isn't, and for the most part is quite good, but there's just too much hype on this one. Hype sucks, and I should really stop listening to it. But even so, Blood of Christians on my Sword is a great song, as is The Time of Revenge. Born for War actually makes me want to kill Christians, it kicks so much ass. To Die in Fight is similarly awesome. Even the title track has its moments.
The Dark Battlefield is totally forgettable, literally. I've listened to this album numerous times and I can't remember a single note of it. Then you have Black Metal War, a completely stupid and pointless (and blessedly short) song. Why does this song exist? It doesn't fit the theme or mood of this album at all. It's between the twin greatnesses of Born for War and To Die in Fight, and totally jars you out of your good black metal stupor.
Anyways, once you get past the worthless production and couple of dud songs, you've got some good stuff here. Worth anyone's time, I say.
Production: Gloriously wretched; but not done "on purpose" to make it sound "more black metal" than more commercial acts. It seems that production on albums such as these is done from some sort of inherit intuition; subconscious knowledge of how to capture epic atmospheres and ancient textures. Some will hate this kind of production because it can be a challenge to listen to at first; there is no flash what so ever and the degraded overall tone is quite rough. If given a chance though, it soon becomes obvious that this production works well.
What this album lacks in technical skill the artists make up for in an understanding of how to make a composition full and complete. Epic themes are introduced, explored, expanded upon, and reintroduced; concluding a journey where the listener feels that nothing has been left out; the statement has been completed.
Themes of antiquity work almost like an incantation; awakening something buried deep in the listener's soul that one may not even be aware is present until experiences like these bring them to life.
The "evolution" of western culture has forced many Indo-Europeans and those of Indo-European descent to suppress natural parts of their psyche; Graveland's goal, to this reviewer, is to awaken these repressed souls and let them know that there is honor in being who they are meant to be, and that shame/guilt of such heritage is to be erased and put in the past.
Much of the Graveland aesthetic is based on honor and heroism; those who's intuition grasps this will most likely praise these type of albums as more than just listening experiences, but as cornerstones to life-changing growth.
As stated above, the melodies are epic and ancient in mood, and it is melody that dominates the focus of this release. I've heard detractors say that the drums are "pure shit" on this album; I beg to differ. The melodic themes are so pronounced here that even the drumming style introduces an unusual way of keeping that focus on said melodies.
Same goes for the guitar; some say the tone is "too thin", but an over distorted, obnoxious guitar, would distract the listener from the overall adventure.
I am in awe of this album; the atmosphere present on "Thousand Swords" is rarely duplicated, and Graveland should be given credit for contributing an astonishing piece of artwork to the world.
Black metal is, of course, supposed to be a very ugly form of music. And this really does exemplify a particular school of black metal, in its raw, heathen sound. But that doesn't excuse the fact that it's really physically painful to hear it. Rob Darken's voice is incredibly, incredibly grating, and the guitar lines are played as if by someone who has just purchased the instrument and is playing through an amp that is likely to stop working before the song is over.
Of course, some times raw ugliness works in a band, especially a black metal band. But Graveland is decidedly not Mayhem. They completely lack any of the energy with which a good band like Mayhem is able to make this sort of sound work. They instead plod painfully through a series of pretentious 8 minute dirges, each of which plow into one's head and threaten to rip out the victim's ears. And the victim would likely be glad for this.
The 45 points given are sheerly for the band's ability to put across an atmospheric theme, ie one of being eaten by wolves in a blizard.
Epic. Glorious. Proud. Rousing.
These are all words that can be used to describe this piece of music conjured forth in the days of December 1994 by three dark souls. Yet they all fail to do it any justice, for this was and still is the finest expression of the pagan spirit in the realm of black metal. It is a musical monument to ancient heathen pride, Europe’s lost heritage and a beacon pointing the way to reclaiming it.
The three people responsible for this journey to the past are Karcharoth on bass, Capricornus on drums and musical visionary Rob Darken provides the rest. And what they created here transcends mere music.
From the opening intro written by Karcharoth one is instantly transported to the mystical past as toms beat a steady rhythm, a distorted guitar plays a wistful melody, soon to be joined by a clean acoustic guitar, giving way to the opening notes of starting song Blood of Christians on my sword and the epic pagan spirit is unleashed. Traces of Burzum and Bathory can be detected in the distorted guitarwork, but these are only secondary to the genuine folk melodies employed for the majority of this album’s duration. It’s this quality, the near continuus use of folk melody in lieu of standard metal riffing which gives this album its tremendous power. The bass provides a warbling ambient backdrop to the inspiring riffing, allowing the listener to sink in even deeper into the atmosphere which is further enhanced by sporadic, half-buried keyboard accentuations and the clean chanting of the album opener. The production, which sounds odd at first, greatly enhances this aspect, as it accentuates the very thin sounding lead guitars and drums while the bass, keyboards and supporting rhythm guitar melt together into a nebulous ambiental backdrop. Giving a grim commentary are Darken’s rasped croaks making great use of inflection and pace, thus providing an extra layer of melody. Finishing the whole off is Capricornus’ tremendous drumwork, which really comes into its own here. Gone are any pretensions of drumming in a metal way, instead employing pure paganistic percussion, martial pounding and rythms that literally sound like the galloping of horses.
Structurally, this is closer to Wagner than anything metal, making full use of repeating leitmotifs, narrative musical arcs and dramatic progressions making sure you’re not just listening to a song, but sheer musical storytelling. Listening to the title track or The Dark Battlefield you are almost bodily aware of being on said battlefield, the galloping drums becoming horse’s hoofs, cymbal clashes the striking of sword upon sword, the bass and rhythmguitar background the din of the battlefield, the rising and falling progressions the shifting tides of conflict. The music slows down, presenting a lull in the fighting until a lone distorted guitar plays a riff equally thrashy as it is folky to inspire the men back into battle as the drums come crashing back in again and Darken’s hoarse voice commands the warriors to fight on for blood and honour!
The first three songs, as well as the short Black Metal War, present this frenzied warlike atmosphere until The Time of Revenge changes things around with more severe, morose sections followed by frantic fastpicked riffs and drumwork while Karcharoth unleashes several banshee-like shrieks reminding me of a nazgul. This entire track comes across as a wild chase on horses with several sword exchanges made, to exact a terrible vengeance against some supernatural foe.
Born for War has a more sweeping nature, suggesting not a particular scene as the previous songs did but a story detailing a warrior’s entire life. Keyboards are far more present here in the form of a choir to enforce this while high trebly riffing dances around it in a majestic fashion. This song is more midpaced than the previous ones and has a few very contemplative moments as a lone guitar plays a highly nostalgic sounding riff, speeding up occasionally into fast galloping parts possibly describing the wars the protagonist fought in.
The cd finishes off with To Die in Fight, probably the most experimental and conceptual song on an already highly experimental and conceptual album. The music perfectly represents the dying protagonist’s losing battle and subsequent death, with the instruments slowing down and actually stumbling at one point until another rousing single melody of the type heard earlier during the warlike songs is played and the speed picks up one final time only to become grim and morose again until it finally dies off completely. Then an almost anthemic outro closes the album on a high note with heavy drums, horns, chanting and mystic guitarwork, leaving the listener with a last glimps into a forgotten era of valour and pride.
This album is groundbreaking in many ways as it almost completely discards traditional black metal riffing, drumming, songbuilding and production. This work of art is engineered to be like a soundtrack to the ancient past, all the elements becoming a gestalt that is greater than its individual parts, a unification of a single vision, staggering in its clarity. If there is one album that proves that vision can be transferred from artist to listener it’s this one, for it is practically impossible not to imagine ancient Europe and the warrior spirit when one hears this. For the duration of this album, you almost become someone else, a paganistic warrior in an uncompromising warlike age fighting for what you believe in! It’s that powerful.
I personally consider this the greatest pagan black metal album, perhaps even the greatest black metal album period, of all time. I would be very surprised if something came along to top this. Thousand Swords represents everything vital to black metal; conflict against modern Christian values, grimness, ancestral pride, romantic vision, epic grandeur, themes of life and death and the worship of nature and the old ways. If the entire metal scene were to vanish with the exception of this album I wouldn’t mind a bit, since everything I could possibly want from this style of music is present here in near perfection with a sincerity that is almost never seen.