Saturday, June 13, 2009

Graveland- Following the Voice of Blood

In a career of strong albums (Celtic Winter, Thousand Swords, Memory and Destiny), this is Graveland's strongest; it also has the dubious distinction of being their worst-recorded. As each subsequent album has been less adventurous than the last, Following the Voice of Blood stands as a peak in weirdness and is distinctive within their catalog.

To begin with, the guitar tone is an unprecedented (in metal!) combination of an over-the-top flange effect with jangly light distortion. There is no "crunch" to the sound, and (I can't speak very technically about this) the strings can all be heard individually during the fast strumming. Suffice to say, this produces a weird "underwater" sound which does not at all cohere during the fast parts, and is off-putting to most metal ears. Combined with drummer Capricornus' unique sense of timing, the execution of these songs is a real disaster: they won't be winning over casual listeners with this one.

As a student of Graveland, I can say that their albums are always sequenced impeccably. This is true here. The album opens with the obligatory synth intro, and "White Hand's Power" is the shortest full song on the album, at 8:33. It holds your attention, but things really get going with the incoherent blasting of "Thurisaz," which is the next logical step in minimalism from Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger release: the only thing similar that comes to mind is Veles' Black Hateful Metal, which takes this minimalism to its high concept extreme (with similarly flanged-out weird production).

Now, normally, the fast parts are not a Graveland strength--and after this album, they basically give up on blast-beats in drumming, to concentrate on a more "epic" Bathory style; which is why you *cannot* miss out on this album: the fast riffs played here match anything on Pure Holocaust or Transilvanian Hunger. I'm thinking especially of "Thurisaz," "And the Horn was Sounding Far Away," and "Fed by Beasts." Of course, all the other trappings of a Graveland album are here, too, but what makes Following the Voice of Blood the best Graveland album is the slurred, clumsy melodies cited above.

It's easy to see why this bizarre, horrible-sounding, folky, inept, jangly, non-Satanic-themed release did not become the future of metal. Not that it is so brainy or avant-garde, but the extremely enjoyable melodies and songs here are buried underneath every contingent "turn-off," and is completely lacking in those qualities which make extreme metal appealing to teenage boys.

Score: 5/5 stars (*****)
Best songs: "Thurisaz," "And the Horn was Sounding Far Away," "Fed by Beasts"

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