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Rob Darken is nothing if not staunchly individual. In 20 years, Graveland has morphed from nihilistic, second-wave black metal to majestic, volkisch metal that is still unique. (Peordh and Woodtemple are the only bands who've come close to evoking Graveland's style). On Cold Winter Blades, Darken's sound remains as iconoclastic as ever. From the opening Basil Poledouris-like chorus and snare-heavy gallop of "In the Morning Mist" to the mid-paced rumble of "Dance of Axes and Swords", Graveland still sounds like Graveland, a true sign of idiosyncrasy. Perhaps this is due to the monolithic nature of Darken's songs: the thundering melodies bring to mind an assembly of gods chanting praises of valor. Darken does not make his art easy. To aspire to his level, one must be a true ubermensch.

That monolith on the cover ain't for show. It is a perfect metaphor for the force of will Darken puts into his music. "Morning Mist" contains rarely-heard blastbeats, and the drums are real-sounding (which, as most Graveland fans will attest, is quite the leap forward). But by and large, the style is relatively unchanged from 2002's Memory and Destiny. Is it more politically correct than the rest of his output? Doubtful: titles like "White Winged Hussary" and "Spear of Wotan" suggest that Darken is still as ethnocentrist as always. Is it still an inspiring album? Emphatically so.

To listen to "In the Morning Mist", with its faux-Wagnerian vocals, razor-sharp guitars, and pummeling blasts, is to feel glory, as if one were riding forth with Rob Darken to lay waste for the honor of Crom. This is arguably equivalent to the uneasy inspiration many feel watching Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, and should come as no surprise. Cold Winter Blades is the sound of Rob Darken's triumphant will, with the perturbing beauty that phrase implies.

— Rhys Williams

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HEAR COLD WINTER BLADES

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"In the Morning Mist"

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"Dance of Axes and Swords"

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BUY COLD WINTER BLADES

W.T.C. (CD)
No Colours (CD, tape, 2LP)

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