REVIEW: BORKNAGAR – “Winter Thrice”
Twenty years is a long time for any band to keep consistently putting out albums; bands either suffer from a lack of inspiration or break up due to internal tensions. Borknagar is a shining example of a band which belongs to the former small but elite group of artists who have stayed true to their fans and have yet been able to experiment within their own style to produce immaculate pieces of auditory art that (literally) transport you into the wilds of Norway to experience nature’s magnificence and malevolence. Twenty years after their debut album, they are still able to put out the most jaw dropping music. ‘Winter Thrice’ is beautiful; filled with callbacks to the old sounds and adventures in new sonic directions.
From the first track it is clear that this album is meant to take the foundation of ‘Urd’ and build on it. The songs are polished, and there is considerably more clean singing in the songs. But do not fret, Borknagar has not pulled an Opeth on their fans. There are still some harsh vocals, but they are there to add effect and emotion to the music. The music is absolutely amazing, I have no qualms with it at all. Right from the production to the song structures, it is perfect.
The album hits the ground running with ‘Rhymes of the Mountain’. My mind was constantly engaged throughout the album, no song sounds the same as any other and each have their own unique hook with which you can remember them, like the insanely intense opening to ‘Terminus’, the wonderful 70’s inspired keyboard solo in ‘Panorama’ or the amazing vocal harmonies in ‘Dominant Winds’, which is one of the best songs on this album. Borknagar draw from their rich history in experimental and progressive music and also personal influences of the artists involved; ranging from 70’s hard rock and psychedelic music to straight, visceral black metal. Each song is crafted with great thought and care. The lyrics are the Borknagar staple about nature, the universe and philosophy. ‘When Chaos Calls’ is notable for its heavy focus on the issue of global warming.
The production on this album is one of the best I’ve heard this year. All the instruments sound so bright and vibrant, but that doesn’t take away from the lower end. When they go into black metal mode the mix adjusts to accommodate this. There is just so much room in the mix that the band’s dynamic sound fits snugly into it. The vocals sound heavenly, I’ve been a big fan of Vintersorg and ICS Vortex and hearing them sing together on this album was an almost spiritual experience. I usually have to strain to hear the bass on most albums, but in this mix I can hear it loud and clear which is a refreshing change from most albums. Mastermind Øystein Brun and Jens Ryland on guitars kill it on the album. The guitar tone is so smooth I can only describe it as ‘butter sliding on stretched rubber’. Lars Nedland on keyboards gives a wonderful atmosphere to the whole album, filling out the space in the mix with his orchestration. There are quite a few 70’s psychedelic inspired effects that he uses that fit well in the songs. Bars Kolstad plays like a beast, his use of cymbals and toms to meet the mood is on point and that relentless and blisteringly fast double bass is to die for.
Borknagar have outdone themselves on ‘Winter Thrice’. It is a fitting tribute to the twenty years that this band has been putting out quality albums. The fans will love every chord of it and it will surely go down as one of the finest albums of their entire discography. I do not know how they can top this mammoth album, but I can only imagine what will come next. A legendary album from a legendary band.