The Wooden Cathedral, The Forest: An Interview with Galar

Known for its unparalleled natural beauty, enchanting history and mythology and of course its biggest cultural export, black metal, Norway is a country that features heavily in the extreme metal imagination. Bergen-based duo Galar capture each of these elements in their sound, a blend of black metal’s searing intensity with folk metal’s sense of melody, further accentuated by the band’s skilful yet subtle use of classical instrumentation.

With their recently released third album ‘De gjenlevende’, Galar have honed this formula into a spectacular display of folklore-infused and eloquently grandiose black metal, both bold in its powerful song-writing and passionate in its delivery. Conjuring images of the frigid landscapes of Galar’s northern home while expressing a profound sense of a connection to the past through its evocative compositions, ‘De gjenlevende’ demonstrates the band’s developing skill as songwriters and storytellers, and is and guaranteed to resonate with fans of all sounds heartfelt and epic.

Unholy Noise got in touch with Are B. Lauritzen [clean vocals, piano, keyboards & bassoon (!)] to talk about the challenges and rewards of working as a two-piece, the inspirational power of the natural elements, and how ‘De gjenlevende’ carries the message of ancient European texts through a modern sound.

Find Galar on Facebook here, and purchase here.

Hello and thanks for the interview! To begin with, can you give us a brief introduction to Galar for our readers unfamiliar with the band?

Hi there! Are (B. Lauritzen AKA Fornjot) from Galar, here! Always a pleasure. OK, I’ll give you the short version. Galar is a black/folk metal band hailing from Bergen, Norway. The band was formed in 2004 by Marius and S. B. Johnsen. On the first demo, I played the bassoon and did clean vocals as a session member, but shortly after we decided that I should join the band permanently. S. B. Johnsen wrote the lyrics on our demo and our first full album, ‘Skogskvad’. With the second album, ‘Til alle heimsens endar’, Jorge Blutaar (Drautran) joined the ranks as our lyricist. He also wrote the lyrics on our new album, ‘De gjenlevende’, which was released on March 16th. Elefterios “Phobos” Santorinios (Aeternus) has played the drums on the last two albums. Live, we’ve had various set-ups, but Marius and I have always been the duo behind the music on all three albums.

Being a two-person project must provide interesting challenges and dynamics when writing – you don’t have the complete autonomy that a one-man project would have, but nor do you have the greater input from a larger band. How does this affect your writing process, and the overall functioning of the band?

Yes, you’re absolutely right. It’s interesting, challenging and can be quite fun actually. We’ve developed a way of writing that works surprisingly well, given the fact that we don’t physically live in the same city any more. We always strive for perfection and I think that we have developed a way of working that combines our strengths and builds bridges over our shortcomings at the same time. For example, I will know that Marius has full trust in me when it comes to my contributions, and many times he can see solutions where I can stare myself blind. He would listen to ideas that I send him, and if there’s something that he thinks can be done better or differently, he’ll make suggestions, and vice versa. There is a natural delay in how we communicate in terms of sending ideas back and forth. We always come up with ideas with the premises that they could be changed in the dialogue. Where other bands would benefit from the energy and spark with immediate feedback, our ideas will land, be digested and modified in a game of correspondence chess, so to speak.  About the aspect of having a two-man band, I don’t think any of us would like to share the musical landscape with any more members. We work well because we are different from one another, and have learned to use that to benefit our common goal. A bigger crew of artistic directors would only be confusing and slightly annoying actually. In this landscape we’re more like cats than dogs, guarding our territory but acknowledging the others creative value.

Overall, how do you feel ‘De gjenlevende’ fits into Galar’s discography, and how are you feeling about the record’s recent release?

The album is on the same course as the previous, only better! The tracks are more complex with bolder shifts in tempos, harmonies and colours. Also, our textual realm has expanded. It’s written in the style of our sophomore album, but it dwells more in the realm of natural romanticism than ‘Til alle heimsens endar’. I think that goes well with our musical direction, as I see the album tracks more as musical poems in a conceptual frame, than a linear story as was the case with the previous album.

‘De gjelevende’ combines epic/folk and more traditional black metal influences in a very subtle way, resulting in an album that doesn’t quite lean in one direction more than the other, something that is quite unusual in your genre. How do you go about creating this balance with your music?

That’s quite unintentional, from the beginning at least. I mean, the creative process doesn’t start with us mapping out which direction we want to go, that comes rather naturally along the way as we each contribute with different elements.  Maybe Marius says, “in this part of the song, I hear a brass section taking over from the guitars, adding this colour, or taking the melodic line in this direction.” . It’s a soup were you have no clear idea from the beginning how it’s going to turn out, but along the way it’s obvious which spices you want to add to get the right blend!

PromoImage Galar

Your home region of Bergen seems to feature very heavily in the band’s thematic approach and inspiration. Can you give us some insight how your surroundings have influenced your music, and what your home means to you in a broader sense?

Bergen is a beautiful city, dark and gloomy at winter, and dramatic in spring. The mountains around are steep and makes a picturesque frame. It has certainly helped us finding the right angle or approach in our music. With that being said, our second album, ‘Til alle heimsens endar’, conceptually takes place on the east coast of Norway,  in the landscape where Marius and I grew up, and is telling the stories of the first five kings from the Ynglinger-clan who ruled Vestfold in the 8th and 9th century.

Similarly the new record focuses on themes related to winter and traditional European folklore; can you expand on these concepts, and how you aim to express them in your music?

The winter has historically been a hard and merciless period in this northern region of the world.
Surviving it to see the return of spring, for animals and humans, were not always so certain. Being a
tiny human in the hands of fate, doing everything you can to survive a long and hard winter, still not knowing if food would last, when and how illness would strike, or wild animals  kill your herd,  certainly makes you humble.  We wanted to make our own contribution to this subject of human struggle. It’s just recently we sort of learned to control our surroundings, up to a degree of course. It seems like nature is finally taking its revenge on us for that. But regarding our own contribution, I think it’s interesting to dwell with this feeling of being left over to forces bigger than yourself, to accept the common man’s limitations, and to acknowledge the power of the elements.

Galar incorporate classical influences and instruments into your song-writing, yet do so more proficiently than many other bands with symphonic elements in their sound. Is there a history of musical training within the band? How does this affect your approach to writing metal if so?

Yes there is. I studied classical music, or more specifically, I had emphasis on the bassoon at the music conservatory in Bergen. Furthermore I took my Masters Degree in music at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. That has certainly shaped the direction of my contribution in the band. It certainly expands our musical palette, but I think in general ideas and creativity span from interest and focus, not so much your academic background.

Following on from this, the album was recorded with the presence of both string and horn quartets. In your view how does this add to the recording experience, and the overall atmosphere of the album?

It affects the listening experience by adding depth, colour, light, contours and anything else that could makes the ideas come to life.  Also it helps us in defining our own musical landscape.

Fewer bands are choosing to sing in their native tongue, and it’s always a nice surprise when bands stick to their roots in the way Galar have done. For our readers that don’t speak Norwegian (which is probably all of them!), could you give us some insight into your lyrical content? Also, how important to you is it to sing in Norwegian, and does this affect your approach to writing lyrics? 

To begin with your last questions, singing in Norwegian seemed natural from the beginning. Our lyrics themselves encourage it in a way, with all the references to our history, folklore and nature.  I think singing in English would feel less authentic.  Also, Jorge Blutaar is an expert on Scandinavian history and linguistics, so it would be a waste to not use that knowledge in our texts. This way he has the creative freedom to play with words and form which really adds to the whole conceptual package.

To answer your first question, the album’s title, and also the name of the first track, ‘De gjenlevende’ (English: ‘The Bereaved’), refers to those who survived the dreadfulness of winter to see the reappearance of the sun. To quote Jorge: “There won’t be spring (life) without winter (the season that brings sorrow and death).” ‘Natt … og taust et forglemt liv’, is a line borrowed from the poem “Abend im Lans” by the Austrian poet Georg Trakl. From a lyrical viewpoint, it’s like a natural romantic painting dealing with existential questions. ‘Bøkens hymne’, is a metaphor for an elegy, or mourning song, in the wooden cathedral (the forest). ‘Gjeternes tunge steg’ tells of shepherds following the seasons in their everyday work. They long for spring to come, and their animals too, as finding food in the scarcity of winter is hard. In the folk tales this is often interpret as “The journey of gloom”. The last track, ‘Tusen kall til solsang ny’, is the catharsis of this conceptual cycle, and it refers to the act of invoking, or calling upon, a deity. It’s a salutation to all culture’s most important symbol of life and rebirth, the sun.

Live performance has not been a priority for Galar up until now, yet you have festival appearances booked for this year and have taken on Tomas of Vreid as a live drummer. Do you intend to begin more touring, and how would you approach the challenges of bringing Galar’s epic sound to stage? Do you plan on bringing in additional permanent members?

We have brought in Tomas as our new permanent drummer, but we plan on using session members to handle guitars and bass for our live performances. We haven’t found it necessary to bring in any more creative forces at the moment (we have a hard enough time dealing with ourselves). On stage, we’ll use a combination of samples, some additional instruments for the sake of good craftsmanship (such as the bassoon) and rearrangements to get the full spectrum of colours we accomplished in the studio.

Thank you for your time and the interview! Do you have any closing comments?

Thank you for your questions! If anyone wants to check out Galar you’ll find all the info you need here:

www.galar.no
www.facebook.com/galarofficial
www.soundcloud.com/galarofficial
www.youtube.com/galarofficial

 

 

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