Metal is very unique as a genre in that the creative prime comes very early in one’s career and often for some bands that means that the first demo in a long career will be their crowning achievement. For Rob Darken this would come much later as there were many missteps on the road to Thousand Swords.
Each song revolves around a singular drum beat made on a cheap drum machine that played on a loop throughout the whole song. Highly syncopated and somewhat flamboyant beats bring this closer to Rammstein than later Graveland at times. Guitars consist of Bathory like riffs broken down into short repetitive three note sequences that are repeated far too many times. Eventually the riffs slow down and just repeat the power chords before ending a few minutes later. “Sword and Blood” makes this formula even more painful with an industrial loop that covers everything else for more than five minutes.
The issue with such active drums is that it requires precise timekeeping from the guitars otherwise everything sounds like a muddled mess and on the tenth or so repetition of each riff, Darken makes a glaring mistake and can’t seem to catch up to the slow drums making everything a muddied mess of clashing drums and guitars. The synths are relegated to occasional four note melodies mainly used on the intro and outros that are juvenile and don’t add anything to the music. Last but not least are the whispered deep gargled vocals that sound more at home on a bedroom Slam record then on a Black metal project.
Listening to five minutes of this record is hilarious as it is possibly the worst Black metal album in existence made by a reputable artist. Experiencing the whole thing is however a true test of endurance. While the first demos of many legendary bands do not quite hint at what comes after, they always show potential. It is a miracle that despite this record showing the complete opposite, Graveland somehow matured into grandiose Black metal and this should be no more than a lesson on never giving up.