If Rob Darken continues releasing records at this pace, what once was distinctly mid-period Graveland will become lumped together as "early" with some very dissimilar records. Meaning, the first four albums (1994-1997) used to be a canon, and as long as the later Viking period (starting with Immortal Pride) remained decent, it was harmless enough. But now, there are SEVEN viking metal albums, which are largely interchangeable with each other, and no sign of letting up--soon the excellent early material will be only a footnote!
Which leaves me with the onerous and pedantic duty to make distinctions within the Viking-style Graveland albums. I should note, Viking Metal is an embarrassment that only came into being through the fluke of Bathory's development, and even Bathory couldn't make it interesting for more than one record. Why one needs seven (!) Graveland records in the style of "A Fine Day to Die" is a question for only the darkest wizard to conjure an answer.
Anyways, as far as the Graveland viking stuff goes, there seems to be a steady decline, and at the same time, each record is more similar to the last one. So, they get worse, but also more alike. Immortal Pride is an interesting and raw first foray into the style, while Creed of Iron could be the definitive statement of Graveland's capacities in this realm. Since mid-tempo pagan expeditions, unpunctuated by guitar solos, and cluttered with pretentious "folk" elements--Viking Metal, in short--is not my thing, and gets old fast, I would have been happy if Graveland had stopped with only these two Bathory-ish albums.
It's undeniable that the Graveland or Bathory fan will find something in all of these releases to enjoy, and I have certainly gotten a lot of play out of these mediocre albums, but from Memory and Destiny onward, they are essentially genre exercises, and not worth serious consideration. As Dawn of Iron Blades dates from 2004, it is worse than The Fire of Awakening, but better than Fire Chariots of Destruction. The melodies are too simple, the music is too repetitive, and the production has been leveled down to a muted roar. Graveland will always be worthy and capable of interesting moments, but this style (unpromising from the outset) has been tapped dry.
Score: 2 stars/5 (**)
Best songs: "Iron in the Fog," "While I Ride with the Valkyrie"