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It seems that the more music I listen to, the more I value surprises. Although Galar is often labelled 'viking metal'- a term that's lost much of its magic in recent years- their second album 'Til Alle Heimsens Endar' represents a more multi-faceted musical experience than I would have expected. Heard here is an interesting collision of melodic black metal (in the style of early Enslaved or Vintersorg) and- wait for it- classical chamber music. On 'Til Alle Heimsens Endar', the band strikes a keen balance between the two styles, merging the two in a memorable and dare I say 'epic' fashion.
As the plain, yet proud clean vocals tend to indicate, Galar is aligning themselves without the realm of viking metal, a style where I've often found musicians and bands using their heritage as an excuse to party and drink. As is done commonly enough, Galar incorporates some of the raspy harshness and timbre of black metal. Musically, Galar's sound is not far removed from the more progressive side of the Viking style, but the melancholic edge of the music never feels like this duo is trying to get a mead kegger fired up. Instead, there is a cinematic edge to the music that I much prefer over the alternative, made all the more vibrant by the lush chamber music orchestrations. Although many listeners will have a good idea of what to expect even if a simple 'viking metal' or 'melodic black metal' label is dropped on it, I was quickly taken by surprise by the other side of this band. Essentially, Galar toss out the guitars and blastbeats for extended passages on 'Til Alle Heimsens Endar', and resort to pianos, violins, and even a bassoon. This is what takes 'Til Alle Heimsens Endar' and pushes it up into the echelon of excellence. Their mellow edge is not folky or even symphonic- both of those would have been easy to predict. The sound here is the sort of music that's most heard in dramatic film scores, and the quality of the chamber arrangements here do not deny the possibility that the music here could indeed beautifully run alongside some tragic film sequence. The surprising excellence of the chamber half is something of a double-edged sword however; while that aspect of their sound is masterful, Galar's black metal side is not nearly as remarkable. Their tasteful balance of cleans and screams is enough for me to set them apart from many black metal acts, but on the second listen and onwards, I often found myself looking forward to the mellow passages more.
A little inconsistent in regards to the way I'm impressed perhaps, but 'Til Alle Heimsens Endar' makes for an intense and dramatic experience. If I were to give Galar any advice for future work, it would be incredible to see them incorporate the chamber style even more into their music, and mesh it in with the metal instead of leaving the two approaches separate. All in all, an excellent and- above all- surprising album from this talented Norwegian duo.
I have been quietly anticipating the release of Galar’s sophomore, entitled ‘Til Alle Heimsens Endar’ ever since I heard of its existence. Although Norway will probably always be remembered for their embrace of black metal, there is a small contingent which continues to play the Viking style despite the increased popularity and presence of the former genre within the country. Ever since bands like Enslaved began spreading their message across Scandinavia, and then the world, I have been intrigued with this unusual blend of music, particularly in Galar’s take on it with their expressive bass, infectious melodies and wonderful juxtaposed vocals themes (clean and harsh styles were used frequently throughout the debut). I didn’t consider the debut to be perfection as the production could have used some work and the style needed to be drawn together more tightly within the occasionally sloppy feel of the production which resonated a lukewarm feeling in me. Although there were a few areas that needed improvement, I could surmise that the debut was, in general, a successful and experimental number which would lead excitingly onto the sophomore.
The debut exhibited an odd mixture of material with songs like the all instrumental affair ‘Skumring’, which consisted of folksy instrumentation to songs like the title track, ‘Skogskvad’, a song which really hit home with the infectious and melodious feel of the content, particularly shown well in the guitars. The introductory instrumental to the sophomore starts off in a manner similar to ‘Skumring’, so not much can be assessed in regards to the development of the bands sound. A clean, soothing instrumental with a soft string section proceeds and as it closes, Galar waste no time in drawing out a feeling of familiarity in the listener, along with a hint of nostalgia as ‘Ván’ gatecrashes the timid beginning to this story. Although the initial feeling is one of familiarity, since not much seems to have changed and enough time hasn’t passed for the listener to gauge whether there are any notable differences between this record and the debut, there are indeed a few noteworthy changes from the debut which have overseen a slight improvement, in general, of the sound of Galar, though there are also a number of aspects which have remained exactly the same as previous.
The best bits of the debut have been included here, once again, and are greeted without much fuss, or surprise as I generally expected Galar to implement the strong points on this sophomore, whilst working at the few minor problems they ran into on the debut. As one can tell even after the first full song, the production has altered. It isn’t as sloppy, or amateurish as it previously was, when analysed in hindsight. There was a restrictive quality to the production before which couldn’t appear to be able to handle the extreme nature of Galar’s sound. The Norwegian duo like to express a heavily melodic feel throughout the duration of both of their records and the production needs to be able to handle the mounting pressure of the mellifluous sections, as shown wonderfully on songs like ‘Paa Frossen Mark’, which highlights all the best qualities of Galar in a short period of time, perhaps rather overwhelming so. However, with this sophomore being better produced and the running of a tighter ship in general, Galar have a much healthier basis to work their material from.
The record drifts from a heavier to lighter sound often, with songs like ‘Grámr’ showcasing this well with tremolo bass lines and fast, repetitious drumming. The airer passages generally contain more inventive instruments, like the keyboards, or the bassoon. With this is mine, one can constantly hear the flowing bass, which has a meaningful part to play within both the debut and the sophomore, though with the slightly improved production, the bass tends to sound more professional in this case, again with ‘Paa Frossen Mark’ indicating this generously. As I stated earlier, there haven’t been too many changes to speak of and areas like the vocals factor into this as the harsh vocals sound exactly the same, with a screamed edge to them and the clean vocals are as splendid as ever, especially when applied directly before or after the harsh vocals, offering a different, more flavoursome texture to the atmosphere. A new addition which didn’t feature prominently on the debut is a beautiful section of strings accompanied by the elegant piano and bassoon.
The multi-layered approach offers Galar more in the way of accessible material to a larger audience and is definitely an improvement upon the approach of the debut, which mostly relied on the vocals to input a sense of creativity. Generally speaking, this is an improved offering and certainly feels more mature than the debut which had a rough feel to it. Everything, as well as sounding smoother and more textured, is far more accustomed to the build of structures which includes emotive acoustics on the likes of ‘Grámr’, as well as delightful strings and clean vocals (including the unexpected dual performance with a female vocalist on the aforementioned song - something I wouldn‘t mind hearing more of in the future if Galar decide that is an avenue they wish to explore). My impression is that there has been more emphasis on song writing and musicianship this time round than previous and it has most certainly paid off.
It's hard not to think of Viking metal as being beaten to a pulp these past two decades, what with a great many subpar acts springing up in the genre and diluting its novelty. I'm sure many have the purest of intentions, and should in no way be faulted for celebrating the subject (especially if its a point of their personal ancestry), but tossing in a few folk instruments and playing forgettable, mead drunken melodies to offset a few substandard black metal charging rhythms is simply not going to cut it. What does this have to do with Norway's Galar? Well, they are one of the few acts to happen along, and not only cut it, but cut the entire forest down to its roots with a sharply hewn axe. Til Alle Heimsens Endar is the band's sophomore album, following up solid debut Skogsvad from 2006, and the band manages to sum up exactly what's been so great about their forebears like Enslaved, Týr, early Borknagar, and Viking-era Bathory without crossing streams too closely with any of them.
How Galar manage to manifest themselves is through a high end, crisp production and a mixture of haunting, traditional clean vocals ala Heri Joensen or I.C.S. Vortex, a more savage snarl which recalls Quorthon, and a slew of bottom heavy churning riffs of black and death metal accompanied by oft thrilling, hammering melodies. This band knows how to craft a sorrow-stuffed guitar line that can dominate the fast and thundering drums of session member Phobos (also of Aeternus). But where they really excel is in the layering of the vocals; often Fornjot will multi-layer himself and then have Slagmark's vocals also crashing through. And yes, these are the same two gentlemen who play the rest of the instruments. It's normally a two-man show, and that serves to make Til Alle Heimsens Endar all the more impressive.
The classical piece "Forspill" that opens the album is beautiful, a valley of strings and bassoon and a stark, dreary piano that slowly drops us into the embrace of the underworld, the dark corners and caverns from which the elder evils plot and stir. Before very long, an air of desperate melody arrives that soon transforms into the central, thrusting guitar rhythm of "Van", which burns above the blast beat like a funeral pyre upon the river as new battle is beset upon the shores, new blood is spilled into the life giving and taking water. The vocals truly soar throughout the piece, and the band seems to have no end to their stream of elegaic melody, even as the next track, "Paa Frossen Mark" arrives bearing a more swerved, groovy course. "Grámr" is the album's longest piece, breaking for an extended acoustic segment before the charges at the rear of the track crush you beneath a wall of spears. The title track itself is one of the more relentless assaults upon the senses, but even here there are scads of vibrant melodic tones that wash themselves across your skin like desperate, cold rains. There are also two other classical/folk instrumental pieces here which showcase the band's skill outside the core metal instrumentation: "Det Graa Riket" and "Etterspill", both of which are beyond competent and rather thrilling.
Galar feel like a band far beyond their years in compositional maturity, and Til Alle Heimsens Endar is a bright improvement upon its predecessor. If you're a fan of accessible Viking/black that does not entirely ignore its vicious roots, or even a fan of symphonic work entwined with metal, I don't think you'll want to be missing it. There is no eye-rolling, mug-swilling LARP soundtrack to be found here...just a focused, professional, effort that puts many of the band's peers to shame. Exceptional, and highly recommended to fans of Enslaved, Einherjer, Týr, Borknagar, Vintersorg and perhaps even Klabautamann.
Highlights: Paa Frossen Mark, Til Alle Heimsens Endar, and all of the instrumental pieces.