Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Galar - Skogsvad (2006)

With no shortage of folk, Viking and pagan metal bands coming out of Northern Europe in these years, it becomes even more difficult to spot one that can truly stand out among the hordes and strive for something beyond just an acceptable fusion of folklore and historical themes with semi-sensible charging melodies, acoustic segments and the predicted mix of black metal jeering vox and soothing, clean throat tones. Though they incorporate a few added, unusual elements to their sound, like the bassoon and grand piano, Galar actually do not stray far from the formula, but they perform it well enough that they can at least edge out a great number of peers to warrant the consideration of your coin and time.

The band will most obviously draw comparisons to Enslaved, Borknagar, Ulver, Windir and perhaps Immortal, in particular the less progressive works by these bands, when the guitars were thundering black melodies, the drums straightforward blasting, and the vocals angry, but like most of them, Galar escapes this pattern fairly often, with some solid effort put into the arrangements of layered clean vocals that will remind one of ICS Vortex, Trickster or Vintersorg, although lacking some of the character there. The folk sections are quite well performed on this debut, though they rarely feel like excellent transitions from the metal segments, and ultimately this process becomes a little transparent as with most bands of the folk category. Some credit is accrued also for the balanced mix of the record, in which you can clearly here fore and backing vocals and bass alongside the central guitars and drums.

"Dødsmyr" is one of the superior tracks here, with some expectant but quality charging rhythms that cede for some flurries of muted thrashing over double bass, and a few of the chords throw the listener for a twist rather than just mete out predictable, empty patterns. "Slagmarkens falne sjeler" provides enough bombast for the mead swilling, mud swinging of this genre's listenership, while "Kronet til Konge" batters you enough with its melodic surging that you'll forgive the more average bounce to the verse. Other than these, I was not finding myself drawn much to the material. A small melody here or there, a well deserved atmosphere, and a taut performance with some possibly soaring clean vocals ("Ragnarok") are all that really stand out among the remaining populace of compositions.

Skogsvad just barely passes muster, but not with impressive, flying colors. The songs, even the best of them, tend to dull the listener despite their controlled durations (only one of a considerable length at 6 minutes, "Jotneraid"). The band doesn't offer as much immersion as Windir, who they fairly closely resemble, and though there are songs here that can be proper to listen to when you're in the mood for visions of cold landscapes thawing to the spring sun, this is just not one for the memory. The band's sophomore album is more emotionally riveting and musically powerful than this, but you'll at least be able to discover how they came to that transition, without failing to enjoy yourself completely on the listen back to Skogsvad.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

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