Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Graveland - Creed of Iron

Graveland - Creed of Iron
2000, No Colours Records

Now I come to this, the newest record by one of the most influential and revered black metal bands ever, a band that still continues to excite controversy and approbation with each release, and a band that has been alternately misunderstood, vilified, apotheosized, and then ignored by an entire generation of musicians who owe these Polish stalwarts a large debt of inspiration. What is there to say at this late date about Graveland? Who has not heard of this band, and who has actually listened, with interest and a critical ear, to the music - outside of all the rumors, innuendos, slanders, and critical hits and misses? Who can ignore all of the dross swirling about this band's name and/or notorious reputation and just concentrate on what they put forth through their music?

Graveland, for me, has almost always been about the pursuit of a single object: group leader and main composer Darken's obsession with bringing forth a new vision of apocalyptic fury, an external sound and spirit that matched his internal condition. This is not an 'original' goal: most musicians, if they were honest and true to their own pursuits, outside of the 'smaller' ambitions of fame, power, or sexual prowess, would claim in their quieter moments that what had always moved them was the matching of the external - the created art - with the internal: their emotions. But where Graveland exceeds all expectations in this respect is in the marking down, quantification, and mapping of a stunning originality - a personal voice that is so inspirational and influential precisely because it inculcates and/or seeks to spread a vision of the world that is persuasively (self-sustainingly) creative and subjective. Graveland convince because they just seem to tell the truth in their music - an internal truth, being true to their own vision, aspirations, and motives - and an external truth: an evocation of the spiritual condition in which they find themselves.

Over the years, through this band's tumultuous career, their elliptical rise into the limelight and the notice of enthusiasts all over the world - outside of the NS minority and inside that clan as well - Darken has steadily, slowly but surely, been expanding the range of his music. Listening to this new record, that becomes immediately clear - here he has opted to progress even farther than the leap from 'Following the Voice of Blood' to 'Immortal Pride', and all of his obsessions become manifest in the actual sound of this album: the way it was recorded, the instrumentation used, the forms and functions of the song structures, and the concentration of the ideas put forth on the most immediate surfaces of the music. There are three words I can use to describe this present concentration, this new outpouring and evolution of a spirit that has been steadily growing over the last decade: epic, nationalistic, and fatalistic. These idealistic characteristics are the tenebrous center and nexus, the gyre, around which Darken's art revolves...in a fashion that is more powerful, direct, and eloquent with this release than ever before. Once again Graveland has simply evolved.

Epic? Yes, in the stirring, highly dramatic use of dynamics in the music: choral additions, waves of symphonic allusions and overtones in the keyboards, the marching, clashing rhythms of martial beats (indicative of striding boots, the jingling of weaponry, the clanking and crashing of spurs, helmets, medals, all the accoutrements of soldiery), the conversion of folk melodies to overt, bombastic themes that float over and through the simpler (and more 'traditional') black metal instrumentation, the mesmerizing, repetitive constant calling in the music for something higher, for a goal, the establishment of a zeitgeist that is both inspired by the past (the iconography of, and aural/sonic allusions to, medieval or freely 'pagan' times) and eager to embrace the future...most of all by the feeling, in the music, of a mass movement, an unconscious bleeding of larger-than-life motives and aspirations: a Wagnerian bathos/pathos and use of, again, of high drama, in the tones put forth...a certain theatricality, a certain anthemic quality...

Nationalistic? Again, in the concentration on using melodies that are particular to Darken's own environment and heritage, or at the very least a series of musical themes that are constantly trying to rouse, within the body of the listener, the dormant spirit of Poland's past: a time free from outside oppression, a time that didn't know religious persecution or the 'invasion' of elements that contribute to the decay and dissolution of an integral cultural identity. Darken seems, once again, to be trying to collect, center, and coalesce the particulars of Poland's originality in an attempt to create a national theater, a national forum and voice for that culture's future violent dissemination. Graveland, more than ever before, calls on the dark because the darkness is where the ones who feel the outrage of cultural abrogation must dwell: hidden, away from the 'light' of current national trends, away from the East's open-arms acceptance of Western decadence and spiritual profligacy. But here, hidden in the shadows, a potential new nation of kindred spirits is slowly rising...this is not what I know of Poland's present situation (it is very difficult to find unbiased or 'neutral' accounts of the Eastern European environment in the media), this is what the music tells me directly. Where the earlier Graveland work was intensely personal - the illustration of one soul's hatred - this band has opened like a black lotus to embrace the nihilism, anger, righteousness, and self-destructiveness of those around them. Instead of seeking to turn Darken's soul inside out and display the wounds of the world, this music now draws inspiration from the souls of a generation, a movement, like a web of ebony strings rising from the dreams of the disaffected...

Fatalistic? Yes, using and overlaying the patterns of dark fate - the symptoms of political and spiritual conviction and/or a quite obvious deathwish - that Graveland has always embraced and put forth through their art. It is not a new 'utopia' that this band calls for, but rather...war, an unending decimation, a self-destruction that may lead - somewhere in the future - to a new dawn, but this is a light that can not be seen now. Graveland has never called forth images of pacified cultural ascendency - it has always been plague, fire, murder, an indiscriminate violence. Listen to the resignation within Darken's voice, the grim tones which have not changed through the years. All that spreads underneath the eyes of a sleeping Poland - the dark that they will not claim - is a vision of chaos and bloodshed, a war that must be fought not only because circumstances now call for it, but because the soul of the volk has slept, like many others, through all other alternatives. War, and death, must come...

This is the world Graveland's music builds...

Ultimately, one must just choose whether or not this band will have a place in one's heart...but for me...I have always felt a certain empathy with this group's direction and the messages they leave for the wary in their music. That is to say: I have always felt connected to what Darken what trying to say in his compositions, and they continue to affect me emotionally - in ways that no other band can manage. This record is just another eloquent and quite excellent movement in the march towards Graveland's self-realization and their pursuit of both nationalistic and musical goals...do you want to hear what is transpiring within the souls of this group of people? Then listen to this opus and their other works, all of which are excellent. If you are not motivated by what I have just described to you...it would be best to stay out of their way...