Album: Dawn of the Iron Blades
Label: No Colours Records
This is the tenth full-length album from Poland's Graveland. On this release, the style is Hammerheart-style pagan black metal.
The rhythm guitars here move in stately progression, with occasional stirring lead passages. The vocals are Rob Darken's usual croak, and are mixed lower than is usual for Graveland, making them even more difficult to decipher. As usual, Graveland has the best drum machine programming one could hope for. The drums have a very organic and convincing sound, and though I still miss Capricornus' classic drumming, the machine is more than good enough. The synth work on this album is equally good, and lends some extra impact to the album's more introspective moments.
The riffing on "Dawn of the Iron Blades" is a lot more active than on Graveland's other albums of late. "Memory and Destiny" and "The Fire of Awakening" seemed tired and worn, but some of the melodies on this album bring to mind the fierce atmosphere of "Thousand Swords" and "Following the Voice of Blood". This one doesn't live up to the standard of those two classics, but it's definitely a move in that direction. I'll review this one track-by-track.
The beginning of "Iron in the Fog" sounds somewhat typical for recent Graveland, but the middle section shows off some extremely vigorous songwriting. The ending is unnaturally abrupt, though.
"Semper Fidelix" delivers some quick, nimble riffing, along with some breaks that remind me of the best moments from "Following the Voice of Blood". The synth is kept to a bare minimum on this track, a nice change after the two-minute synth snoozefests on the last couple of albums.
"Immortal Bloodline" starts out with a slow synth intro, but the main song is as aggressive as anything else on the album. The snarling, churning main theme makes this one a highlight of "Dawn of the Iron Blades".
"To the North of Rubicon" is a stirring number that starts out in a triumphant mode and then builds to an almost frantic pace. It closes with a synth section and a short reprise.
"Crown Heroic My Departure" begins at a thoughtful pace, and switches to a faster clip at around the halfway mark. There's an interesting vocal effect near the end, which sounds like it might be Darken double-tracked with some guttural shouts and battle sounds.
"While I Ride With the Valkyries" is the epic of the album, at just over eleven minutes long. The cymbal and synth get a huge workout during the opening and closing sections. The quiet part about halfway in is quite evocative, and the ending is just as powerful.
"Dawn of the Iron Blades" has about the ugliest album cover possible, but the music inside is a far sight better than anything Graveland has released since "Immortal Pride". If you've enjoyed any of their pagan metal work, this one is a must-buy! Highly recommended.
Standout Tracks: "Semper Fidelix", "Immortal Bloodline", "To the North of Rubicon"