Borknagar
True North

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been waiting for ICS Vortex to be the full time singer again in Borknagar for a while now. No disrespect to Andreas Hedlund (Vintersorg) and his contributions on the last few albums, or even Garm’s superb early efforts, but I think most would agree the ICS Vortex albums (Quintessence, The Archaic Course) stand as what most truly define as Borknagar , and maybe the best version of Borknagar.

S0, after sharing duties with Hedlund for a couple for albums, ICS is the lone vocalist again and boy has it energized the band, and absolutely recalls the quintessential Borknagar sound (pun fully intended. Main riff monger and founder Øystein G. Brun, who has always delivered the goods no matter who the vocalist is, seems reinvigorated, plying his unmistakable folk tinged, black prog melodies, that just seem to have more hook laden vitality. Keyboardist Lars Nedlund has more spring in his keys delivering more 70s flocked proggy swathes of piano keys and of course ICS voice is, as it has always been one of the best, most engaging clean croons in all of metal, heck even his bass seems to have a little more Steve Harris-like bounce to it. It does not hurt that 2 new members from Profane Burial in drummer Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow, and guitarist Jostein Thomassen join the core, veteran trio, adding even more new blood energy.

Of course with ICS fully back in the fray, the album imbues his prior contributions, and yes, that does include his harsh black metal rasps about half the time, but it’s not just his presence, the music itself glows with the same blackish prog aura and perfect mix of clean 70 hues and frosty Norwegian black metal.  Eight and a half minute Opener “Thunderous” is a perfect example, and will please fans of older Borknagar like me with its soaring choral blast beats and classic Brun riffage.  It’s a rip roaring opener and return to form. Then thing do get more 70s with more of a focus on clean vocals and hues for the next couple of tracks in the bouncy “Up North” and rangy “The Fire That Burns”, the first 2 singles released from the album.

“Lights” is the only track on the album, that I would consider a little bit of ‘filler’, more in line with the last couple of albums’ quality, and then “Wild Father’s Heart” delivers an epic, lighter waving, string glossed, ballad that highlights ICS and is just utterly hypnotic. The pace picks back up with “Mount Rapture” and an opening riff that could have come from the band’s self titled debut with stern, marching riffs and then “Into the White” and its big, burly blackened stomp.

The almost 10 minute “Tidal” is a vast, sprawling number that has little of everything within its patient, glimmering hues, then “Voices” close the album, and highlights ICS’s crystalline voice, with a patient, slow burning riff and haunting , triumphant ending to the album, that sees ICS Vortex fully back in the fray with an emphatic exclamation point.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
September 23rd, 2019

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