by Cain USER (26 Reviews)
November 13th, 2005 | 20 replies

Release Date: 2004 | Tracklist

Are Borknagar talented or what" I don't suppose that it's a little amusing that I give nearly every band I write for a favorable review, but then what would be the point" The reviewer's job is to recommend. Plus, I make a point not to own any music that's bad. ; ) In all seriousness, though, I am really not trying to be hyperbolic in the case of this group. Defined (as these types of ensembles often are) as both a side project and a super-group, Borknagar is the brainchild of the guitarist, Oystein Brun, formerly of the group Molested. He proceeded in short order to surround himself with musicians of impeccable pedigree within the black metal community, enlisting Ivar Bjornsen on keyboards (of the group Enslaved), Infernus on bass, Grim on drums, and Garm (of Ulver and Arcturus) on vocals. Line-up changes quickly ensued, with I.C.S. Vortex and Kai K. Lie moving through the lineup. By 2004's "Epic," Vintersorg, one of the premier vocalists in the metal community, joined up, and Asgeir Mickelson had replaced both Grim on drums (who died of a sleeping pill overdose) and Vortex on bass (who had left to work with Dimmu Borgir). The results are as fantastic as one could hope for. The production, done by America's own Century Media label, is extremely high-quality and so will not please the truest of the true, but even for them it should stand as a further development in the battle to push metal beyond its image-rooted limits and into a realm of higher seriousness and sophistication.

Borknagar (as of this album) is:
Oystein G. Brun - Acoustic Guitars, Electric Guitars, Hi-String
Lars A. Nedland - Synthesizers, Hammond Organ, Background Vocals, Grand Piano
Asgeir Mickelson - Guitars, Drums, Fretless Bass Guitar, 5-String Bass
Vintersorg - Guitars, Vocals, Chorus

Here's the album track-by-track:

1.) Future Reminiscence
The band doesn't pull any punches with their opener. 5 and a half minutes of very complex music blows by the listener in a fantastic stream of fast-paced fury. The song actually seems longer than it is, blowing by as it does at the pace it's at and with such complex music under it. This quality is a testament to the amount of different sections the song manages to cram in. There is a crazy fast drum pattern, and a heavy guitar mix with a cool classical-style interlude. The vocals by Vintersorg are top-notch.

2.) Traveller
Once again, the fury of this music is unleashed on us. Vintersorg's harsh vocals and his clean vocals are in top form. The neat thing about this band is that they tend to eschew typical black metal song structures in favor of a more accessible style that retains the tenets of black metal's sound but which is still very much based in a more standard rock song structure. There is a fantastic interlude here with great tremolo picking, followed by a strangely virtuosic piano-guitar section. The level of layering in this music is really sophisticated, and it never sounds hackneyed or ill-flowing. There is a heavy section that flows perfectly into an acoustic passage, which itself gives way to an interlude that is much more sophisticated than is at first apparent, especially with regard to the bass. These band members make it clear right away that they are fantastic musicians, and it definitely shows.

3.) Origin
This song is a bit different, more slower-paced, and reliant on the same kind of power-crushing dynamics of death and related metal styles. There's even a sustained chord over strummed acoustics and a pounding drum pattern near the beginning. Vintersorg's "choir" vocals are very cool here, providing a very nice ambience. Personally, at this stage in the album, I am a little overwhelmed by just how sophisticated this music is. There is so much orchestration going on beneath the surface, that when one pays attention one can find an incredible array of instruments and parts all combining to make a very complex whole. This is an album where the obvious chops of the musicians involved gel in such a way as to render it unnoticable but nevertheless influential. Highlights here are the acoustic interlude, which is slightly reminiscient of Opeth, but only slightly.

4.) Sealed Chambers of Electricity
Great drumming here. Another slowly paced effort, the symphonic textures lurking in the background move this piece along. Vintersorg churns out many a catchy clean vocal, showcasing his perfect comfort with both "grim" vocals and clean styles, and his equal skill with both. Once again, I continue to be astounded at the deceptive complexity that is littered throughout this song, as I notice that in the background of many sections a Hammond organ is playing along with the very distorted metal guitars. The classical-style interlude here is very melodic and pretty, and so utterly different from what came before it that we wonder just how they managed to get us from there to here without making us cry foul. It's almost as if they're cheating, but they're not. They're really that good.

5.) The Weight of Wind
The symphonic touches opening this song are fantastic, as are the piano lines that follow. This is truly a genre-bending track, being as it is an instrumental with equal parts symphonic touches and distorted guitars and the like. Equally stellar stuff.

6.) Resonance
Great tremolo picking lines inform this. A very fast-paced and nimble black-metal-type song, the harmonic content is provided by excessively layered guitars, and the results are effective, if the song is a bit reminiscient of "Future Reminiscience" (lol see what I did there") There is a really nice tapping solo in the middle, although it's mixed a bit low and it moves in conjunction with that awesome Hammond organ.

7.) Relate
A generally cleaner tune, Vintersorg takes a few different vocal tacks here, grunting in a lower register for the heavy parts of the opening, while singing out at his finest in the middle. The drumming continues to stand out for its speed. Even during the ballad-type parts of this song, Vintersorg makes the black metal yelps work in an odd way. The outro is informed by deeper clear singing and slower acoustics, in an epic, dramatic style reminiscient of a heavier power metal style. It feels somehow folkier than the rest of the album. Must be the band members' inner Vikings.

8.) Cyclus
Vintersorg continues to churn out ever-impressive vocal styles, but I admit that this song isn't much different from the few that came before it. There's no real differentiation in tempo, and the drums especially are distressingly similar in the last triumvirate of songs. By this point in the album, I'm having a little trouble staying focused, despite the fact that the quality hasn't really decreased noticably.

9.) Circled
I like this one a lot, as it opens with a melodic passage with a lot of grandeur. The verse passages are honestly shining moments as the symphonic elements continue to be played up. It's a shame that the heavy sections continue to suffer from the sameness that has permeated the songs to now: as I said, the quality level is still VERY high, but for some listeners would get tiresome.

10.) The Inner Ocean Hypothesis
Well, now, this is a good deal different. Opening up with great piano figures, there is a stellar symphonic element here. Vintersorg's clean vocals have dominated the album, mostly, in this spot, and in a few spots I detect a death element in the double-bass drum patterns and the grooving mid-tempo beats. But the black metal style comes back as the tempo is double timed and that great, great Hammond organ continues coming back. The muted string sounds are also very cool. Nice change of pace, and right when one was needed.

11.) Quintessence
Borknagar gets it. The symphonic element is one of the most interesting elements of their sound, and the fact that they so seamlessly weave it in is one of their greatest strengths. This is no exception: perhaps inspired by the previous tune, this song is rife with strings, organ, symphonic horns and synthesizer leads supporting the very metallic guitars and drums. Vintersorg never ceases to impress. This song takes the name of one of Borknagar's albums: I'm unsure if it shares any themes, but it's very good besides.

12.) The Wonder
Once again, we get medieval-like, folk-type intro with great flute, acoustic guitar, and an awesome ride pattern. As a closer, I'd say that this is adequete. There's a great double-bass pattern in the bridge with fantastic screech and yelled vocals from Vintersorg, and the clean guitar and acoustic work is stellar. The instrumental layering is very ambitious, and the song, while not the strongest of closers--it probably would have been better served in the middle of the album--it certainly is a good definition of the album title.

Basically, the only problem with this album, as with many consistent ones, is the lack of discernable highs and lows the deeper one gets into a album length. With twelve songs all at 4-5 minutes each at typically speedy black metal paces, the lengths can seem much longer and more tiresome: some of the guitar parts and drumbeats seem to run into each other. As far as what Borknagar accomplishes with this, they certainly succeed in continuing to bend the typical definitions of metal, and the lavish production can make this particular style of black metal accessible to people less inclined to deal with low values. I highly recommend this.


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user ratings (135)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
November 13th 2005


Ripper22, your name isn't Robert Bonefas, is it? You emulate some guy I used to know in middle school in every way.

November 13th 2005


Good review. This is the essential Borknagar album.

November 13th 2005


Borknagar is awesome music
although I haven't heard this cd.
I prefer Grim's drumming to Asgeir's though.
too bad Grim is no longer with us.

I must pick up this album sometime,
how does it compare to earlier Borknagar?

November 13th 2005


Ripper22, your name isn't Robert Bonefas, is it? You emulate some guy I used to know in middle school in every way.


I'm not sure how to take that either. :-/

November 13th 2005


I heard some stuff off this album recently. I was very much impressed.

November 24th 2005


Vintersorg = God.

April 16th 2006


I'll report later when I've heard the rest of the album, but I must say two things that are on my mind now;

1) The resemblance between this and Arcturus' Sideshow Symphonies is too big to ignore!
2) Vintersorg is average. I like the jolly nature of his vocals but his style is better suited to some viking band, not the spacey, proggy Borknagar. And his obsession with overdubs detracts attention from the band and is rather self-absorbed.

April 23rd 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

i think this is their best album

April 23rd 2006


'Resonance' is sweet.

May 10th 2006


I got the whole album. It's worse than I thought it would be. The repetition really gets on my nerves. And Vintersorg, apparently a "god" of vocals, never ceases to annoy the hell out of me.

July 16th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

This album is really good. It always seems to get lost in the mix behind The Olden Domain and Empiricism, but when I actually listen to it I really enjoy it.

Digging: Pale - EP

August 6th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

This album is amazing. Vintersorg is probably tied for my favorite metal vocalist (up there with Vladimir Cochet and Jari from Ensiferum and Wintersun). Of the four Borkngaar albums that I have it seems like this one's lineup is the strongest.

August 6th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

No the first album and The Olden Domain have the strongest lineups. There are about 3 or 4 black metal legends on those albums.

October 14th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

I think Tyr, Vintersorg, and the drummer whose name I forget, are by far better than the older lineup. I still havent heard their self-titled though.

May 16th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0

This album is so good it hurts a little.

February 11th 2010


Album Rating: 4.0

Just thought I would share that Sealed Chambers of Electricity is one of the best songs ever made.

November 24th 2012


3:20 - 3:29 on Circled is whoaaaaaa

Contributing Reviewer
November 16th 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

Excellent album, and another one to add to the collection for me. Although it doesn't quite reach those lofty heights that "Empiricism" achieved (for me personally anyway), there is still plenty to enjoy here. There seems to be an even more progressive style in some songs, such as the keyboard-led 'Quintessence', 'Traveller' and 'The weight of mind'. I personally thought the clean vocals were weak on some tracks, but they do the job just fine elsewhere, and the more extreme side of the band is still there for those who crave the band's earlier material.

Digging: Bongripper - Terminal

Contributing Reviewer
June 16th 2015


Album Rating: 3.5

Origin is still such a sick song. The vocals are so unbelievably good.

Digging: Burial Invocation - Abiogenesis

Contributing Reviewer
June 8th 2017


Album Rating: 3.5

Almost two years later comment

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