Borknagar
Urd

I’ve always had a soft spot for Borknagar‘s brand of melodic, blackened, folky, progressive, epic metal. That’s not a genre, just a lot of well-deserved adjectives. Their self-titled debut set a blueprint for what was to come, and though they’ve improved their production quality and changed members over time, main man Øystein G. Brun has always kept his baby on the right course, creating stunning albums like The Olden Domain, The Archaic Course, and Empiricism.

Yet 2010’s Universal didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t a bad album but it felt like the ideas were just rehashed from Empiricism and Epic. Furthermore, lead vocalist Andreas “Vintersorg” Hedlund sounded like he just didn’t give a crap. And who could blame him, being given only reruns with which to work? Then came the news that former vocalist and bassist Simen “ICS Vortex” Hestnæs would be returning, though Vintersorg would not be stepping aside. The two of them, along with keyboardist Lars “Lazare” Nedland would be contributing to a new, three vocalist approach that would change Borknagar‘s sound.

Has it succeeded? Yes it absolutely has, introducing tons of new dynamics and shifts. Speaking only of the clean vocals, going from the very earthy and almost heroic voice of Vintersorg to the liquid, alien tones of Vortex’s higher pitched melodies and then to the airy, unaffected approach of Lazare just creates mood changes in and of itself. They don’t just all have different voices but different approaches to crafting melodies. It seems like every other section of almost every song provides a catharsis of some kind. I’m not sure if it’s Vortex’s return or the improved songwriting, but Vintersorg has his shit together in a huge way. He’s honestly never sounded better.

The harsh vocals are only performed by Vintersorg, and they are a bit more visceral than they have been the last couple of albums. Nobody likes to admit it, but the role harsh vocals too often play in music like this is that of space-filler where nobody could think of a good melody, and occasionally this has been true for Borknagar. But here they have a raw, angry, and somewhat garbled sound that seethes with intensity.

But of course even great vocals can’t save a mediocre album, and I’m ecstatic to say the songwriting has improved by leaps and bounds since Universal. The riffs are truly captivating again and explore a few new vibes. From the Gabriel-era Genesis feel of sections of “The Beauty of Dead Cities” and “The Winter Eclipse” to the descending/ ascending post rock riff of “Frostrite,” Borknagar constantly add new textures to their established, use-every-guitar-string-all-the-time approach. There’s a good mix of fast, mid-tempo, and slow material across the album, often with several changes in one song.

The keyboards are a tad minimalistic compared to previous albums, providing support to the huge guitars, but when they come forward they just drip with emotion and drama, such as the piano outro to instrumental “The Plains of Memories.” And speaking of tastefulness, the guitar solos are always more atmospheric than showy, raising the music to new heights instead of exploding into pyrotechnics.

I also greatly appreciate David Kinkade’s drumming, which was one of the better features of Universal. His approach is similar in many ways to former drummer Asgeir Mickelson , but it’s a tad more restrained, with bursts here and there of technicality instead of hitting the listener over the head with it. He knows when to dial it back and then the perfect moments to go nuts.

I have to say I’m utterly blown away. I was afraid Borknagar were beginning to run out of ideas but Urd not only lays those fears to rest, it simply obliterates them. I have a feeling this won’t leave my CD rotation for a long time.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Andrew Young
April 2nd, 2012

Comments

  1. Commented by: Stiffy

    Very nice write up. An amazing album that will surely be atop of many year end lists.


  2. Commented by: gabaghoul

    fantastic review; somehow I have missed most of this band’s discography (after the first two), now I will have to go back and check them all out, starting with this one


  3. Commented by: legumbrera

    This album is my first candidate for album of the year, I think it’s one of Borknagar’s greatest records! Great Review


  4. Commented by: LongDeadGod

    Excellent album, this seems to be what these guys have been working toward for years.


  5. Commented by: gordeth

    I was never a fan of these guys before, but I love this album. I guess I need to revisit their early albums now.


  6. Commented by: E. Thomas

    Finally got this- love it. def return to Quintessence/the archaic course


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