Infamous for their eventual descent into the depths of the maligned Symphonic Black metal movement, Old Man’s Child like fellow latecomers Dimmu Borgir once produced respectful records that while ultimately derivative of the greater works of the genre and inherently flawed, were still worthy listens. On their first record, Old Man’s Child create Black metal influenced by Bathory, Emperor and Judas Priest by utilizing Black metal techniques to expand on previous Heavy metal ideas. While this does not stand with the classics of the genre in any shape of form, this album combines great riff craftsmanship with sub-par contextualization in the scope of each composition.
The production immediately brings Iron Maiden to mind as the bass is constantly present and requires no effort in distinguishing it in the mix while the guitars happily occupy the mid range. Drums sound flat and dry and stick to supplementing the guitars or taking a few liberties during the more explosive passages with some short fills. The synths rarely lead but perform backing duties and tend to play the underlying chord progression an octave lower of the lead guitar but at other times will introduce a motif for the guitars to develop. The lead/rhythm dichotomy is present more than usual on a Black metal record as the band don’t tend to use layers as seen in most Norwegian bands of the time. The vocals are the standard dry rasp with short decay never extending vowels and are supported by a mid-pitched growl and some picch-shifted deep spoken work parts to create a dual vocal attack. The tonal vocal passages are amateurish at best but do enable the band to emphasize the melodies of the guitar as they stick very close to them. The record remains very listenable due to the presence of the bass and the withdrawn drums that really put the riffs in the forefront.
Old Man’s Child avoid chromaticism like the plague and instead focus on establishing melodies that begin within the first three degrees of the natural minor scale and play upon these notes for an extended period of time before then diverging towards the upper triad or diving in briefly into the harmonic minor scale. Rather than use chromatic notes to create tension the band will stick to the natural minor scale but play with chords a semitone above which allows them to retain their sense of melody and not create stark contrasts while still proposing a struggle between two ideas. “King of the Dark Age” presents this perfectly as the tremolo picked central idea is met with resistance by the syncopated power chord section and due to the shift in tonal centers the impact is exaggerated. The band have a very advanced ear for harmonization as they are able to utilize a half cadence with the root notes being tremolo picked on the rhythm guitar to create a lack of resolution that allows the lead guitar freedom in resolving the melody. A half cadence as discussed here is a sequence of usually three chords that is stripped of its resolution. On “Funerals,Swords and Souls” the band perfectly demonstrate this during the main melody as the lead guitar resolves on the minor third which adds emotional weight to this melody yet the rhythm guitar ends on a minor sixth which is completely unresolved. In the realm of melody creation, Born of the Flickering shows a very large set of tools from other bands but appropriated to their style such as adding and removing the octave note from power chords and the bass following the lead guitar or synths instead of the rhythm guitar at certain moments.
The arrangements are very bizarre and though the band keeps their set of melodies relatively small and the ideas within a concise musical language there is a complete lack of coherence of how each piece fits within the structure of the song. Most ideas come and go within the song while the main melody will appear as the introduction of the song with all else being random in the middle or on other pieces like “The Last Chapter” the band work within an intro verse,verse variation,verse,break,verse arrangement that completely fails as it does not possess the memorability of the pop format nor does it provide a satisfying “journey” as each part is forced in mechanically and not based on mood. This completely fails the album as it becomes a collection of ideas in meaningless songs. Only the sandwich of the main melody gives these songs any form of identity whatsoever.
Old Man’s Child possess a simple palette of notes and a large variety of strokes of incredible precision to convey whatever they want but end up painting nothing of value as none of their thoughts are focused and they end up either with something overly abstract or just plain dull. There is much to learn from the music on offer here and while it may be breathtaking in short bursts, in the end this is a fun curiosity that provides the perfect counter-argument to the “riffs over all” mentality.