16th March 2015 – Dark Essence Records
01. De Gjenlevende
02. Natt…og taust et forglemt liv
05. Gjeternes tunge steg
06. Tusen kall til solsang ny
Folk metal is quite a mixed bag, don’t you think? Finntroll seemingly created an army of copycat polka metal bands, not really influenced by folk music but other folk metal. Even when you don’t have those odd polka-fetishists, you’re often forced to sit through the same regurgitated melodies you’ve heard countless times before and wonder if it’s too late to travel back in time to stop these folk songs from surviving. It’s not all bad though; there are a few bands that really do make it work, and the latest band to create something great with the combination of folk and black metal is Galar.
Hailing from Norway, their third full-length album De Gjenlevende is a beautiful but intense (and fortunately polka-free) middle ground between the two styles. The folk parts are melodic and beautiful, while the black metal parts are powerful and intense. Both work together to highlight the other‘s effectiveness by not only juxtaposing the beauty of one with the abrasiveness of the other, but also by including folk-inspired clean singing on top of some great black metal riffs, bringing out the best of both worlds.
The album opens, fittingly, with an acoustic guitar calmly plucking away at some minor chords accompanied by some tasty bass playing, until a black metal riff positively explodes into the song, tremolo picking those same minor chords. It’s not only an appropriate opener, but quite an appropriate title track, as it will immediately tell you whether or not the album will appeal to you. That‘s not to say the album is samey; more most of the key elements are present in the track’s nine minutes.
Galar is usually only a two man project, but on De Gjenlevende they are joined not only by a session drummer, but by a horn quintet and a string quintet. They’re used most notably in the quieter sections, which at first I thought was a bit of a shame – I found myself arranging string sections in my head over many of the black metal parts – but they are utilised there at times and they work wonders, so perhaps a more grand approach overall would have lessened the effect.
In some strange way, De Gjenlevende is reminiscent of Ne Obliviscaris if they dropped their progressive and death metal tendencies. I know that’s a fairly large “if”, but if last year‘s Citadel felt too proggy for you, this might be the answer to your pagan prayers. With the added counterpart string arrangements from my head this comparison would have been more apt, so perhaps it‘s a good thing Galar didn‘t go for it and kept their own identity. Either way there‘s no changing it now and honestly why would you want to? After a few listens I found myself just wanting to let the whole thing wash over me in all its glory while I sit there feeling proud of my Nordic heritage.
Lyrically, De Gjenlevende is a concept album, but this might elude many listeners as all the lyrics are in Norwegian. With my understanding of Scandinavian languages, I’ve taken an educated guess that, considering the title, it’s a continuation of their last album. ‘De Gjenlevende’ means ‘the survivors’, and Til Alle Heimsens Endar was about the end of the world(s), so it’s likely that this record deals with the events following Ragnarök, the apocalypse within Nordic mythology. It’s a suitably epic lyrical concept for the music if you ask me.
A lot of people are apprehensive about clean singing in the context of black metal, but if any album this year is going to change peoples’ minds it might be De Gjenlevende. At the same time, it has some real crossover possibility in the opposite direction and could prove to be a stepping stone into the more intense side of black metal for people not used to it. Although they’re not pushing the boundaries of what black metal can be, Galar have succeeded in making a great album where many others have failed. They strike a fantastic balance of black metal and folk aesthetics, and prove that a combination of clean vocals and blast beats is way too sexy to be denied existence by the elitists of the n3kr0 kvlt.