Review Summary: With music of a more ambitious and bombastic quality, Borknagar show on their fourth album that they can progress further and further without making a mess of their core sound. It may have flaws, but Quintessence is a vital part of the band's career.
If you've listened to Borknagar's first three albums, you should know what to expect from Quintessence
. Epic, bombastic music fused delicately with raw, black metal-inspired musicianship and a tendency to attempt a different sound with each and every song. Whilst Borknagar's fourth album doesn't differ all that much from the likes of The archaic course
, it still has plenty of memorable moments. Quintessence
is notable in Borknagar's history as the last album to feature ICS Vortex on vocals before rejoining the band in 2010, and also marks the departure of key musicians Ivar Bjørnson and drummer Grim, who committed suicide a few months before the album's release. Yet somehow this unfortunate series of events didn't seem to affect Quintessence
in a bad way at all, given that the album comes across as a very confident and ambitious work.
Although the band had hinted at a much more straightforward sound inspired largely by traditional black metal in interviews prior to Quintessence
's release, the end result is in fact very different. No two songs on this album actually sound the same, though some do appear to be weaker in quality than others. Opener “Rivalry of phantoms” and its successor “The presence is ominous” are both flooded with prog-tinged keyboard effects and raw instrumentation, though the latter serves as a generally more bombastic sound than the former. One thing that can naturally be felt throughout Quintessence
is the varied vocal range of ICS Vortex, who screams, harmonizes and soars his way through every song. Although some songs are notably more extreme and aggressive than others, specifically “Ruins of the future” and “Invincible”, Vortex still manages to incorporate lusciously clean vocals into the mix almost effortlessly, without taking away from the musicianship itself. Although Vortex's harsher vocals come across as one-dimensional at times, as on the seemingly incomplete “Icon dreams”, he can really control his voice with ease.
, the band set out to do exactly the same thing as on their two preceding albums, which is simply progress. It isn't progressive in the way that Enslaved or, say Opeth had done since forming, but is still very much a more forward-thinking attitude towards song-writing. Both “Colossus” and the beautiful, grandiose instrumental “Inner landscape” are both prime examples. The former serves as a culmination of everything Borknagar had done well up until the recording of Quintessence
, incorporating soulful folk melodies with a sometimes raw, black metal-inspired atmosphere and a steady progression through to the end. Vortex uses his varied vocal talent to startling effect throughout, and at some points even harmonizes with other band members to make for a consistent effect. The latter is an instrumental which is so magical and enchanting that it wouldn't sound out of place on any LOTR soundtrack. Whilst that may be a slight exaggeration, the usage of keyboard effects here is really perfected, and thus "Inner landscape" serves its purpose as one of Borknagar's best non-metal songs.
is not necessarily different to The archaic course
in terms of style or musicianship, but certainly marks the next step towards perfect progression for Borknagar. Listening to Quintessence
will make you think firstly of a band that are aspiring far beyond their capabilities, but the ambition found on Borknagar's fourth album simply means that they have done the job well enough. Quintessence
should as a result please both fans of the band and newcomers to the genre in general.