Much has been made of the woefully varying results of long-running metal bands deciding to re-record their classic material; let’s be honest, ninety-nine times out of one hundred the results are nothing short of disastrous. Typically, they fail to capture the same magic that made the original recordings such classics to begin with. Rarely do they bring anything new to the table and seem to exist largely to fulfill the artists’ contractual obligations to whatever label happens to be screwing them over at the time.
Thankfully, this is not the case with Graveland’s 1050 Years of Pagan Cult. For this special release, Rob Darken has culled some of the Polish band’s best-known songs from their demos and early albums and re-envisioned them with assistance from members of the current Graveland line-up, and the results are nothing short of fantastic. Of course, there are no doubt some basement-dwellers out there that will no doubt see new versions of legendary tracks like “At the Pagan Samhain Night” and “Thousand Swords” as heresy, but they couldn’t possibly be more wrong given the high degree of quality and obvious effort that has gone into this release.
Dynamic song-craft has always been one of Darken’s strengths, and these early tracks benefit from the more intricate, layered arrangements and orchestrations that the advanced recording technology allows; this might be the best sounding Graveland release ever. The songs are completely transformed to the point where it’s almost like hearing them again for the first time; of course they might lack the ugly viciousness and amateurish charm of the original versions, but they are now imbued with the grandiosity of modern Graveland, along with a newfound level of clarity and heaviness.
The CD version of the album is presented in a large hardcover digibook crammed with twenty-two pages of photos from the band’s recent live shows. Some more extensive liner notes or perhaps an interview with Darken would have been a nice addition, but it can’t be denied that the packaging is well executed and the photos will make one long for the rare opportunity to see Graveland live. It’s not often that an album, especially a CD, looks almost as good as it sounds, but Heritage Recordings has done excellent work on all fronts.
1050 Years of Pagan Cult is a stellar release from Graveland and serves as a great way to revisit the past while at the same time beginning a new chapter in the band’s long and storied history. Darken hasn’t released a full album of original material since 2013’s Thunderbolts of the Gods, so it will be interesting to see what affect if any this return to his black metal roots has on his music going forward.