Borknagar

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Borknagar

Borknagar - Borknagar ©1996 Century Black
1. Vintervredets Sjelesagn
2. Tanker Mot Tind (Kvelding)
3. Svartskogs Gilde
4. Ved Steingard
5. Krigsstev
6. Dauden
7. Grimskalle Trell
8. Nord Naagauk
9. Fandens Allheim
10. Tanker Mot Tind (Gryning)

The first album by the somewhat transitional "supergroup" (ha!) of Norway's Borknagar has recently been reissued in the States by Century Black, giving us a chance to see their original sound after already hearing where they've taken the thing up to this point. On the very first second of "Vintervredets Sjelesagn" the band blasts into life with a raging beat and screams courtesy of Garm. It doesn't take long for them to settle into the part black metal/part epic sound that has become the band's trademark, regardless of lineup. Dramatic "Awww's" (or is he saying "Ah!" as in "Ah! I've got it!") are sprinkled throughout the music. The album on a whole contains much continuity and flows fairly well when you consider this is a side band for most of the members. Quieter moments do occur within the harshness as in the acoustic guitar intro of "Fandens Allheim" (hey, acoustic intros are a requirement for thrash metal and beyond--don't you forget that, young grasshoppers) or the beautiful instrumental close "Tanker mot Tin (Gryning)". Borknagar, even in its first incarnation, was quite capable and this debut album shows a lot of excellent music. Required for anyone who liked the following two albums and recommended for anyone intrigued by the slightly more epic or atmospheric black metal legions.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/1999


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The Olden Domain

Borknagar - The Olden Domain ©1997 Century Black
1. The Age Of Oden
2. The Winterday
3. Om Hundredeaareralting Glemt
4. A Tale Of Pagan Tongue
5. The Mountains Rove
6. Grimland Domain
7. Ascension Of Our Fathers
8. The Dawn Of The End

Borknagar is yet another one of those bands playing an epic sort of metal influenced by black metal and whatever it was that got into Opeth's drinking water. While striving to reach an epic nature, Borknagar occasionally gets lost along it's little path in the songs. This of course can make for an aggravating listen overall. Guitarists Ųystein G. Brun and Jens F. Ryland play riffs that echo Opeth and Katatonia's style of drawn-out patterns, though they somewhat fail to weave the majesty of the former two bands. Which is not to say there are no good riffs because there are plenty. They just don't tend to meld as strongly as they should for this sort of music. Meanwhile Garm's vocals range from his typical black metal screaming to a somewhat unhaltered clean vocal that just has a tendency to sound goofy. But don't get me wrong...Borknagar has enough good moments to sustain the interest of most dark metal fans, particularly those who rush into their CD store screaming, "Give one of everything! I don't care what it is as long as it's metal!"

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 11/1998

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The Archaic Course

Borknagar - The Archaic Course ©1998 Century Media
1. Oceans Rise
2. Universal
3. The Witching Hour
4. The Black Token
5. Nocturnal Vision
6. Ad Noctum
7. Winter Millenium
8. Fields Of Long Gone Presence

Despite a tendency to sound like a Muppet fronting a metal band, Borknagar has shown dramatic improvement from The Olden Domain. Now that Garm is focusing on other projects, the rest of the band has brought in a singer who actually is a huge improvement from Garm. I mean, aside from those Kermit moments. Songs are honed in a bit from their pseudo-epic feel of the previous album and somewhat more melodic overall, sometimes even rock n rolly. "Ad Noctum" is postively upbeat, while "The Witching Hour" and "Winter Millenium" has all the melodramatic effects that this sort of thing brings out. Simon, the new singer in question, sings cleanly through much of the record. Though he is not technically the greatest singer, his choruses and high notes generally sound more confident and comfortable than Garm's. It's just that occasional comical feel (such as the opening section of "Nocturnal Vision") that make me giggle. And I know giggling is not the suggested response to the album. Regardless, The Archaic Course finds the band sharpening their edge and finally becoming interesting enough to recommend.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 11/1998

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Quintessence

Borknagar - Quintessence ©2000 Century Media
1. The Rivalery Of Phantoms
2. The Presence Is Ominous
3. The Ruin Of Future
4. Colossus
5. Inner Landscape
6. Invincible
7. Icon Dreams
8. Genesis Torn
9. Embers
10. Revolt

Borknagar is one of the few current metal bands that has still retained my attention with their music. Their last album, The Archaic Course, had the lasting ability and tended to become more interesting with each listen over the course of time. And considering the unique vocals of Simen "IC Vortex" Simen Hestnęs, my interest in this group has only grown in the past year and a half since hearing them. Quintessence is the long awaited album from the somewhat revamped lineup and naturally the question is if the result is worth the wait and anticipation.

Well of course! Quintessence takes the flavor and feel of their last two albums and blends them together into an improved brew. Keyboards actually take on a more classic 70s Hammond Organ sound (well, peripherally) but the guitars have a lot more bite to them. Moreover, the band's sense of melody throughout is impeccable. And finally, Simen's vocals are used in a variety of intriguing and unusual ways. On "The Presence is Ominous", which happens easily be the best song here and one that will stick to your memory cells like a fifteen year old boy to his first girlfriend, the vocals are multitracked at least three times, if not more, to create an unusual eerie, nearly robotic sound. On headphones, this song is intensely powerful. And if the vocals aren't enough, the guitars use a second melody that will raise the property value even more. There are a couple songs where Simen sings cleanly in his famous "Kermit Voice", such as "Colossus" or the somber album closer "Revolt". Musically the band covers a lot of territory from faster, aggressive songs like "The Ruin of the Future" to the aforementioned "Revolt". The album flows very well from beginning to end and demands a lot of repeat playing time on your part.

The one thing I did notice, especially in consideration to a magnificent track like "The Presence is Ominous". As good as this album is - and it will be one of the best of the year 2000 - I still believe this band's best days are still ahead of them. Intense ideas and creativity are hinted at more than displayed here. Luckily, the hints are strong and very enjoyable. Quintessence has done nothing but whet my appetite for what is to come from this band in the future.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2000

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Empiricism

Borknagar - Empiricism ©2002 Century Media
1. The Genuine Pulse
2. Gods Of My World
3. The Black Canvas
4. Matter & Motion
5. Soul Sphere
6. Inherit The Earth
7. The Stellar Dome
8. Four Element Synchronicity
9. Liberated
10. The View Of Everlast

Only five albums into their career, Borknagar is now on their third singer to date. Apparently there is some sort of clause in the contract Borknagar signed with the devil that they are only given two releases per singer. The vocalist for the previous two Borknagar releases, defected for career stability as the bassist for Dimmu Borgir, which thus opened the door for Sweden's Vintersorg (known for his bands Otyg and, well, Vintersorg) to step in to take over on vocals. Borknagar also recruited Norway's favorite touring bassist Tyr to become a fulltime member. To trace Borknagar's family tree now would require a whole lot of butcher paper considering how many lineup changes have gone on since the band's inception in 1995. But with so many changes that have constantly plagued Borknagar's existence, would it be only a matter of time before it affected the musical quality?

The band's fifth album, Empiricism, has been in my stereo for quite a bit of playtime since receiving it in the mail. Borknagar has historically given me aural grenades with previous releases. 1998's The Archaic Course didn't initially impress me a whole lot but really caught my ear months later. Last year's Quintessence was immediately impressive but lost a lot of luster as time went on. Given those two delayed responses, I've tried to approach Empiricism with the idea that I'd give it a little time to gauge my reaction properly. The conclusions I've drawn is that the lineup shifting certainly hasn't hurt the band's songwriting ambition and the new members are almost entirely a shift upwards in terms of talent. I did have some reservations about Vintersorg being chosen as the band's new vocalist as Simen Hestnęs had such a unique tone to his singing voice that truly set this band apart on The Archaic Course and, to a lesser degree, Quintessence. However, aside from a good sense of metal riffs on his own work, Vintersorg's music was often plagued with forced dramaticism and a lot of cringe inducing singing that bordered on complete parody. The good news is that his singing with Borknagar has discarded a considerable amount of his annoying tendencies and fits the music at hand very well. The bad news is that it still lacks the character that Simen, when he chose to throw himself entirely into his vocal melodies, gave the band.

Musically, Borknagar has relented slightly on the frantic layering of Quintessence to create a more dynamic and dreamy sound. While there are moments that capture the band's older, black metal tinged roots, the pervading feel of the album is more introspective and somber. The ambitious songs contain a whole boatload of information as keyboardist Lars Nedland (from Solefald) adds a wonderful depth to the music. Morever, not enough good things can be said about the rhythm section of Tyr (touring bassist for Satyricon and Emperor, to name a couple) and Spiral Architect drummer Asgeir Mickelson as their focused playing adds another dimension to the music. The epic approach of Borknagar's music is simply taken further on Empiricism with more emphasis on expanding the old ideas.

Having given this album many listens, I can honestly say it still suggests that this band is still hovering around a brilliant, timeless and classic release, but perhaps only if they can retain the same recording lineup for more than an album or two. Empiricism lacks the truly captivating songs of The Archaic Course, but it actually seems like an improvement in many regards over Quintessence. Needless to say, there is much to recommend to both fans of Borknagar and curious types who want to hear a black metal tinged, but slightly progressive record.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 11/2001

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Origin

Borknagar - Origin ©2006 Century Media
1. Earth Imagery
2. Grains
3. Oceans Rise
4. Signs
5. White
6. Cynosure
7. The Human Nature
8. Acclimation
9. The Spirit of Nature

After Borknagar's many lineup changes resulted in the presence of one Vintersorg as vocalist, I have to admit that my interest in the band evaporated over time and I haven't particularly paid attention to any release after 2001. So when it came time in my music listening project (which I shall not detail here because it's entirely too nerdy to be documented) to play catch up with Borknagar, I had my reservations regarding their more recent output. As it turns out, these concerns were well founded once I discovered their 2006 effort, Origin, was an all acoustic affair.

I get that bands grow up and want to explore a variety of musical endeavors as they progress in their musical careers. But the acoustic album for most once-extreme metal bands is often a sign that pretention might be lurking nearby, especially when a band employs "folkish" stylings. The resulting sound often may have more appeal to metalheads who grew up to be tax accountants for H&R Block rather than retaining their assistant manager position at 7-11. Origin, while technically executed and aptly recording, unfortunately is not a very captivating record that shows little inspirational spark. Part of that, at least to me because I became greatly prejudiced against Vintersorg's vocals a very long time ago, is due to the lackluster and unconvincing singing. But beyond that, very little of Origin conveys a sense of passion behind the music. It's adept playing that doesn't ever engage the listener beyond that level.

Unless you're one of those aforementioned tax accountants, it's hard to recommend this album to anyone. While it can't be faulted for musicianship, it absolutely lacks anything within that might demand attention. Much like, say, Green Carnation, Borknagar is just not at their best playing acoustic based music.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2012

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