Whatever was written way back in 2002 is long since forgotten and indeed lost but I distinctly remember the impact behind Armagedda’s debut album of Swedish black metal that was ‘The Final War Approaching.’ It was a hefty album of true might and dedication to the old ways from musicians A. Petterson and Stefan Sandstrom aka Graav. Inadvertently the paths of both these Swedes is one that I have followed through the years through various incarnations and bands such as De Arma, Stilla, Lönndom and Lik but today it is a new entity that we explore and one from solo innovator Graav now going by the moniker that is Graavehlder. It seems that Lönndom who I described as atmospheric and charming at the time has now been laid to rest allowing a rebirth of sorts for Ehlder and for those that found the traditional and somewhat whimsical approach of the previous band a little lacking be prepared for much more stormy drama this time around.
Here we centre on “the fire, animals, spirits, brothers and sisters, pride, family, and heritage” portrayed over 7 tracks whose Swedish titles translate to such things as ‘Battle Shell,’ ‘Death In A Dying Body’ ‘Pagan Killing’ and ‘Old Fashioned’ to give us an idea of what is going on beneath the surface. We are ushered very much into the Scandinavian forests dominated by the mighty spruce and no we are not going into Monty Python type mirth here as this is very serious stuff.
Play is pressed and we are thrust straight into the midst of stuff with a bouncing spring like drum bombast and furious cleaving guitar sound. Dynamic, forceful and repetitive in all the right ways this is repeated as a central motif throughout the album but with different melodic surges through each of the tracks. Vocals at first are clear and austere, commanding and telling a tale that is beyond my translation but compelling enough so that this does not overtly bother me. The infectious music is all-consuming and suddenly bursts and bristles in a gnarly way the vocals gravid and rasping. There is absolutely no problem that the musical layers continue with bouncing beat over lengthy running times of anything up to 9 minutes of length, they are so determined and harmonic you could honestly be more than happy for them to go on for double that length. We are in the same domain as artists like Arckanum here but there is also a touch of weirdness about it all as guitars take on an occasional avant-flair amidst their mesmerising peel. There is a vibe of aforementioned bands like Whirling despite that being Petterson’s gig and not Graav’s, as well as Begraven whose drummer J.Markland’s contribution to many of the aforementioned acts. It’s impressive that here Graavehlder is behind everything we hear and this is certainly not lacking of a full-bodied sound in every respect.
This is not an album for track by track dissection it was one to ride the waves of the ever-present riffs and coast along on them as they dash away through the trees summoning spirits as they atmospherically impale the listener on spiky branches leaving them way off the trail and deliriously lost. Any trail of breadcrumbs has well and truly run out over this 50 plus minutes of pagan bravado but you won’t care in the slightest as this is an entirely jaunty album that never ceases to flourish up and down and round and round its circular paths and trails. From mid to fast paced, at times it is simply furiously feudal and you will find yourself banging head and slamming fist along to the violent coursing passages of a song such as ‘Döden I En Döende Kropp’ completely charged by the spirit and heathen cleave of it all. Occasional wild yells and clean harmonic sections are vocally left to accompany the wild hunt going on here and give this plenty of depth and emotion.
Loving the album within just a few minutes of playing it the first time this is definitely a keeper and an album that should compel you to come back time and time again for repeated listens. A fine rebirth and Graavehlder comes across as exactly that, a true “fire” statesman of the pagan Swedish black metal scene.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)