Review Summary: Borknagar's self-titled debut is a work of folk-tinged black metal art.
Kristoffer Rygg, or Garm, or “Trickster G” as he is referred to now, is without a doubt one of the, if not the, single biggest names when you talk about the rise of folk black metal. Basically, he created it. Most who are akin to the likes of black metal know and appreciate the name Ulver, and rightly so. What Garm did for the genre could not be put into words, because it simply showed that beauty can indeed lie within the confines of a genre so dark and ugly that most who are not used to it find it repulsive. Garm produced three literally groundbreaking albums with Ulver; the stunning debut Bergtatt
, their acoustic masterpiece Kveldssanger
, and their deeply intense Nattens Madrigal
. Around the time of the latter, Nattens Magdrigal
, Garm was busy releasing an album from a side project which held the folk aspects of Ulver’s music in a higher regard, a project called Borknagar. With Rygg now on to (perhaps) bigger and better things, now going by the absurd alias of Trickster G, one has to wonder what exactly went through his mind as he left the genre which he created behind, off to the world of dark ambient and electronica, probably never to return. In short, the Garm which every metal fan knows and loves is virtually dead.
However, Garm left in his wake some marvels of what a band can do with folk inspired melodies and black metal. The similarities between Borknagar and Ulver are astounding, especially with their self-titled first release Borknagar
. The album was released in 1996, the same year in which Ulver’s final black metal piece Nattens Madrigal
was being unleashed. Their music sounds nearly identical, with drastically under-produced, treble-laden guitars grinding away through a vast array of melodies coupled with Garm’s biting, but amazing, screams. However, Garm is the only member of Ulver present in Borknagar’s lineup, but was obviously a huge influence in the sound the band portrayed. Along with Garm, we have the likes of Infernus on bass (from Gorgoroth), Erik Brodreskift (a.k.a. Grim) on drums (from Immortal), Ivar Bjornson behind the keyboard (from Enslaved), and the lesser known founding member of Borknagar, Oystein G. Brun, on guitar. So, in a sense, Borknagar is a black metal supergroup, featuring names of musicians from other highly regarded black metal bands of the time.
However, unlike most supergroups, the music which Borknagar puts up here on their debut album is absolutely awesome. It’s a very melodic take on folk black metal, with really intense moments of black metal broken by melodic riffs, acoustic guitar breaks, or fabulous instrumentals. Some who are not akin to the works of Ulver may not catch a vast majority of these melodic riffs, since the production engulfs them most of the time, but those who have the ear for it will most likely be thoroughly impressed by the amount of variation to the melodies here, whether it be the straightforward, well produced ones in the downright epic song “Dauden”, or the sleeker, more hidden ones of the ferocious opener “Vintervredets Sjelesagn”. Some of the time the music goes abruptly from a wall of (surprisingly complex) drum fills and guitar crunching to a sweeping acoustic guitar melody behind Garm’s unique chanting vocals. It’s something which you won’t get used to even after repeated listens to the album, because it is so well placed that each time you listen to a certain song you’ll never guess where exactly, say, the melody is hidden or when the vocals change styles.
The layout itself is long as hell, or at least seems like when all is said and done. The total running time is just under 45 minutes, but seems like it is upwards of an hour. The songs are very long, with the typical non-instrumental track clocking in at around six minutes. It’s a seriously tiring affair, but a rewarding one. These long tracks are broken by impressive and sometimes downright ingenious songwriting. The instrumentals are calm, very refreshing and merciful, and always melodic. Take, for example, the track “Ved Steingard”, which manages to pack into its 2:14 one of the single best riffs I’ve heard out of a black metal album. It’s a duo of electric and acoustic guitars which works in ways I’ve never seen before. I guess that’s the kind of quality you get when you bring together some of black metal’s best minds. You know the instrumentals are good when they rival some of the best folk black metal songs I’ve ever heard.
Sometimes, you don’t have to understand the story in order to follow along and enjoy it. So, as the members of Borknagar play their hearts out before you, on their debut
album, mind you, there is simply nothing you can do but lean back, smile and shake your head in approval and disbelief that a record so impressive as this gets so little recognition and appreciation. Easily one of the best work’s by any member of the band (including their respective bands such as Ulver, Immortal, Enslaved, and Gorgoroth), and easily one of the biggest surprises I have had in a while. A black metal album which can take my breath away with it’s originality; that is something which is hard to get in my book. Borknagar
is an awesome, perhaps brilliant folk black metal recording which is vastly underrated and criminally overlooked. Check this one out ASAP.