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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.