It’s a given that fans of Norwegian black metal powerhouse Dimmu Borgir – or just Norwegian metal in general – have at least a passing familiarity with Old Man’s Child, the potent cocktail of thrash, symphonic black metal and death metal overseen by Dimmu’s current lead guitarist Galder (aka Thomas Rune Andersen), who formed his band back in 1993, around eight years prior to joining Norway’s better-known metal powerhouse. The two bands even produced a double EP together, bearing the truly awesome title Sons of Satan Gather for Attack… man, I wish I could find that on a t-shirt.
Galder’s commitments to Dimmu may have forced him to briefly back-burner his own project from time to time, but he’s never put it down for good – in fact, he’s now up to his seventh full-length album with this week’s release Slaves of the World, and he’s gone on record to say he’s devoted more hard work to this album than any of its predecessors. The proof’s in the plastic, as they say, and if this CD is any indication of his progress, I’d say he was smart to stick with it, because Slaves is a technically tight, musically massive piece of work. Read on and prepare to be enslaved!
Today, Galder’s project is virtually a one-man show, with the multi-talented artist taking on all guitar, bass and keyboard duties himself, only turning to session musicians to round out the rhythms (the many participants in this area have included legendary drummers Gene Hoglan & Nicholas Barker). On Slaves of the World, skin skills are deftly handled by Peter Wildoer – already well-known for his work with metal icons Darkane, Arch Enemy and Pestilence. Wildoer’s thrash-based technique is an ideal match for Galder’s technical complexity – just listen to the tightly-locked riff/drum patterns of tracks like “Ferden Mot Fienden's Land” for some sterling examples of this interlocking mastery – providing the band’s most brutal and musically muscular instrumental foundation since their “crossover” release, 1997’s The Pagan Prosperity (their first album on the Century Media label), which in many ways became the yardstick against which the band’s follow-up releases have been measured.
Slaves also gets a boost from rich, multi-layered production from Fredrik Nordström, whose expansive sound design on many Dimmu Borgir albums spills mightily into his work with Galder’s project. But to my ears this is a good thing, because unlike the haters who blast Dimmu’s over-produced sound, I revel in that particular group’s sense of cinematic scope, which virtually transforms their music into the soundtrack to the most expensive horror-fantasy bloodbath epic never made. On Slaves, tracks like “Unholy Foreign Crusade,” “Path of Destruction” and “The Crimson Meadows” clearly illustrate the creative influences that have likely spilled over as a result of Galder’s long association with Norway’s veritable institution of symphonic black metal.
Despite the presence of those orchestral keyboard passages, creepy (but brief) ambient soundscapes – used to superb effect in the title track and “On the Devil's Throne” – and broad, multi-layered instrumentation, Old Man’s Child isn’t merely “Dimmu Junior.” As in albums past, Galder wisely chooses to focus on his intricate guitar technique, and any high-concept bombast that may serve as a backdrop won’t distract you from being blown away by blistering leads and gut-blasting riffs – with pure thrash stylings at the forefront. Doubters should direct themselves to “Saviours of Doom,” which is impressive enough to serve as Galder’s calling card.
Despite the impressive speed-picking, fret-mangling wizardry and some of Galder’s throatiest death-metal vocals ever, there’s also a lot of refined musical structure at work here, demonstrating a real knack for songwriting and memorable melody – something quite consciously (and sometimes proudly) overlooked by purely technical metallers – and the lush tapestry of acoustic guitar tones that come into play on songs like “Servants Of Satan’s Monastery,” though rare, demonstrate that technique isn’t always a game to see who can rip the paint off your walls first.
Slaves of the World is an impressive move forward for the band after 2005’s solid but less memorable Vermin, and demonstrates that Galder’s own project is neither a one-trick pony nor a Dimmu Borgir knock-off, but a one-man tour de force with its own unique voice in the world of extreme metal – a voice that has becomes clearer and more distinct with this release. It’s obviously going to be very attractive to Dimmu completists, but I think it also has the potential to draw in thrash aficionados who lean toward decidedly Satanic themes (Galder’s pretty up-front about that particular aspect), but who may find Dimmu a bit too grandiose and commercial for their tastes. Me, I feast happily on all of the above, so I'd declare this one a keeper.
Slaves of the World hits US shores Tuesday from Century Media... but in the meantime, check out the album trailer below!