Review Summary: Feel the funeral windsThe Celtic Winter
was released by the Polish Black Metal project Graveland in 1994, a year in which many of the genres most cherished albums were released by the seminal Norwegian bands Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor and Enslaved. Although, it was released as an EP, this record is essentially a full-fledged album by any standard of length, composition or recording quality that remains somewhat overlooked even despite the notoriety of the band's central member, Rob Darken.
Building on the foundations of Bathory, Graveland turn sequences of simple phrases into gradually expanding sound scapes of wintery battles. The mid-tempo riffs, which often dance around power chord shapes on top of simple drum beats in a typical Black Metal manner are rife with tension and augmented by an occasional use of key boards that appears to be informed by early Emperor, although the approach here is more restrictive, as the key boards usually either just double the guitar melody or provide an harmonic extension to the underlying riffs. In spite of this fairly straightforward use, the key board lines intensify the music considerably whenever they make an appearance, floating above the rest of the music like cold winds on a battlefield.
Here, the Bathory influence becomes evident once again. While Blood, Fire, Death
explored the nature of battle through a historical or perhaps mythological lens, Graveland add to this a sense of dread caused by the malicous forces of a cold winter. In fact, The Celtic Winter
even begins with an almost identical intro, comprised of the sounds of a battle scenery with key boards on top. Another instrumental interlude about halfway through the album serves as a contemplative pause before the dramatic key board opening to 'The Gates to the Kingdom of Darkness' transports the listiner right back into the inevitable conflict. Inherent to the instumental passages is a strong folk influence that is also transparent on the last song, 'The Return of Funeral Winds', the albums standout track. This folk influence would become more apparent on subsequent releases such as 'Thousand Swords' and find its purest manifestation in Lord Wind - Darken's ambient project - on albums like Atlantean Monument
While this is not a very flashy release and does not quite aspire to the heights of the most prominent Norwegian classics, The Celtic Winter
should not be ovelooked, as it offers an interpetation of Black Metal that stands on very firm ground, with strong song writing throughout, fraught with tension and bone-jarring coldness