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Searing variation, but insufficient funds - 68%

autothrall, August 28th, 2011

The shift from their memorable, crueler looking logo (To Honour Fatherland) to a mere stock font might have signified some sort of musical evolution in Greeks Bannerwar, but I'm sad to report that neither this new 'look' or the newly written material does anything to heavily further the band's position among a wealth of similar, stalking wolves in the immeasurable woodlands of European black metal. There are a few vicious, appreciable pieces here which are well enough written to enforce the band's trademark competence and execution, but despite its excellent title, Centuries of Heathen Might once again fails to truly distinguish itself beyond that expansive field of peers, even if it proves their most consistent effort to date.

The writing here is perhaps the most aggressive of their career, dropping the incessant melodic fabric of their debut To Honour Fatherland for a more ripping and straightforward sound in the vein of Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse. This is inherent in the band's faster fare like "Pagan Bane", "Warspirit" and "Symbols of Solar Might", which make firm use of various ingredients like timid keyboards, howling wolves and airy vocal reverb to manifest a belligerent grandeur. But there is another side to the band here reminiscent of Bathory's epic/Viking works like Twilight of the Gods, Hammerheart, and so forth, and that culminates in the clean guitar passages like the intro to "White Mountains" or the opening of "The Return of the Twelve Gods", or the deep and accented spoken vocals that are cast into the glorious gloom on several occasions here.

Still, when it comes to the actual riffing, there's naught but the typical driving chords and tremolo picking that had already been beaten to death. I mean, for the love of Odin or Zeus whatever deity these pagan/nationalistic bands pray to, could they not look into their own pasts and determine what precisely it was that spurned their love for metal? Fucking guitar riffs. That is the answer. That's why we all crawled out of our basements and dungeons to explore this genre, whether it was with Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Burzum or Enslaved. Like so many other haunts teeming in the underground, Bannerwar simply does not deliver on this aspect. They have technique. They explore tempos. They dial down and up the distortion where necessary. They are not shy on atmosphere. But they just cannot glue a sequence of notes to the listener's memory, and this continuously condemns them to the middle of the pack.

That aside, Centuries of Heathen Might is not really a 'weak' album, merely a solid experience for those seeking out the familiar eaves of the medium. The songs never extend too far beyond their welcome, even those that pass the 7 minute mark, and the lyrics continue to venerate the sacrifices and mysticism of their (now-pagan) forefathers, and the later corrupted symbol of the sunwheel. I certainly enjoyed this album a fraction more than the debut, if only because there is a more predatory strength to the proceedings here than that album's overly mechanical drums and over-saturated melodic sensibility. The cover of Graveland's "Ancient Blood" (off Creed of Iron) is a nice tribute, but tinnier sounding enough that it feels somewhat misplaced among the new originals.