Back when I was a strapping young lad of 14, I played bass in a rap-rock band – think terrible Rage Against The Machine rip-offs with a posh English kid rhyming about drug busts in Mexico and a guitarist who believed he was the reincarnation of Hendrix (he was not). Once we’d stolen enough riffs to cobble together a few songs, we recorded a demo at a budget studio run by an American dude who called us all “bro” and chain-smoked menthols. He was the coolest person we had ever met. When he complimented our music, we near shat ourselves with glee. “You guys got dynamics!” It was the only possible positive anyone could have found in our songs, but menthol man made it sound like the most important thing in the world.
Much like rap-rock legends 8ball, Galar got dynamics. A lazy person might describe Galar’s music as “what Windir would sound like if they were a bit sadder, less widdly, and exchanged the cheesy synths for real instruments.” To be fair though, there’s more to them than that. They are fantastic melody writers, and their string arrangements and song structures are perfectly crafted – I broadly agree with AMG’s assessment of their previous record, though I’d have marked it more generously as the quality of the compositions more than makes up for their lack of originality. They expertly manage those crucial dynamics that would have delighted menthol guy, from blasting Taake-like black metal to contemplative acoustic sections and string/bassoon movements.
De gjenlevende is no different in this respect, though for a while there I thought someone had destroyed the album with the kind of mastering job that would make Apostate’s recent record sound positively beautiful. Fortunately this turned out to be a clerical error, and the true master mostly gives Galar’s dynamic sound the space it deserves. Starting with a beautiful acoustic guitar pattern, it’s not long before opener and title track “De gjenlevende” turns heavy, kicking in with distorted guitars, frantic drums, strings, and screamed vocals. This opening showcases Galar’s songwriting talent: the underlying chord sequence remains unchanged and at the same tempo for almost four minutes, but they keep this interesting by varying the chord voicings, using clean and harsh vocals, and changing up the drum patterns. The repetition subtly builds tension, and only when the new chord sequence finally appears do you feel a release that you weren’t even aware was necessary.
The album is full of such craft – and it’s just as well, as Galar deal in songs pushing the 10-minute mark. After the pathos of the opener, “Natt … og taust et forglemt liv” and “Bøkens hymne” provide a more triumphant outlook. “Bøkens hymne” in particular has a wonderful quiet piano and string opening that suddenly charges headlong into a frantic metal version of the same theme, even adding a horn accompaniment for extra pomp. The album is broken up mid-way through by short neoclassical piece “Ljós,” which features multi-instrumentalist Fornjot’s bassoon with piano accompaniment and provides an example to all wannabe neoclassical outfits of how to write subtle, cheese-free compositions. “Gjeternes tunge steg” sees the return of the horns, this time in a more subdued role, while “Tusen kall til solsang ny” provides a suitably epic ending, though gets a little too mawkish for my tastes.
The album’s production allows the musical intricacies to shine through for the most part, though the mix is very dense. Busier arrangements with horns, strings, harmony vocals, guitars, bass and blastbeats all together can get mushy, while the kick drum is overpowering during faster sections (guest drummer Phobos can really rip it up). The compression on the acoustic “Ljós” also feels a little heavy handed – the piano and bassoon sound a touch harsh, and more of a drop in volume would have provided a welcome contrast to the surrounding dense arrangements.
Overall though, this is a cracking record. The writing feels more consistent in quality than on previous album Til Alle Heimsens Endar, though perhaps with fewer stand-out moments, while the string, piano and wind arrangements are expertly composed, adding a sort of Grieg-gone-folk element that works very well with the Taake/Windir/Enslaved base. While Galar’s influences are clear, their compositional talent and neoclassical elements elevate them well above the status of mere imitators. And they got dynamics. Menthol dude would be proud.