Review Summary: Borknagar have finally become too self-indulgent.
Borknagar started life as a standard black metal band with an above-average vocalist, but they almost immediately started pushing for something more. The band’s early evolution seemed to suggest that they were looking for a bigger, more progressive sound and that it was only a matter of finding the perfect formula. Their fourth album, Quintessence
, seemed to solidify the musical part of that equation, but something was still missing. The missing piece of the puzzle turned out to be vocalist Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund. With him as their singer they released their most progressive album yet, Empiricism
. While that album did start to hint at a more sterile and restrained sound, it made up for it with its great songwriting and the novelty of a new vocalist. Unfortunately, Universal
doesn’t have any of that going for it and it shows.
The first thing that most people will notice is that the sound established on Empiricism
is still firmly in tact, but with a few adjustments. The main modification being that the progressive tendencies now firmly dominate the songs at nearly all times. The instant result is songs that lack a lot of the energy and aggression of their predecessors. The secondary result is melodies that aren’t as instant and memorable. These two changes mean that two prominent reasons that a lot of people listened to this band have now been relegated to supporting rolls. Despite this, the album could still have worked if the band were capable of stepping up the elements that they chose to showcase, but they aren’t.
’s proggy melodies just aren’t all that well crafted. They often come off as directionless and meandering, and bog down the songs in the process. This leaves the band’s riffs and vocals to pick up the large amount of slack, but neither is able. In the band’s defense, they’ve never really been known as writers of great riffs but other elements have always negated the problem; not this time. On the other hand, they have been known as a band that seemed to always have a talented vocalist fronting them, but even he falls short. His growls are much more limited than in the past, but are still effective when utilized. The problem lies in his clean vocals which seem to have become much more nasally, and thin. This is in addition to the fact that his clean vocal melodies have become just as bland as every other aspect of the album.
There was a time when Borknagar were delivering exciting and innovative albums. They blended visceral black metal with an ever-increasing progressive influence, and it worked. Around the time of Epic
, though, they seemed to be diluting their formula a little too much and this is the result. Universal
is an album that sacrifices energy and passion for a sterile, often plodding and directionless, collection of songs that put too much stock into their progressive influence. Sure, the black metal influence is still there but it doesn’t have the ability to breathe life into this collection of songs that sacrificed just a bit too much in the name of a more progressive sound.