Review Summary: Borknagar has stuck to the Borknagar formula on [I]Urd[/I]. It’s not a bad formula per se, but one that could use some freshening up with a more collective approach to songwriting.
Seventeen years is a long time. You could probably count the number of bands that have managed to maintain their freshness over such an extended period on two hands. Despite the official return of ICS Vortex into the fold, Borknagar, like so many other bands at this point in their career, seems to be short on new ideas. Their ninth full-length, Urd
, is a decent enough effort, but there is little on the album that truly gets the blood racing or the head banging.
Borknagar exists in my portable music player as one of the foremost examples of a genre called “Norwegian Prog.” These are groups that have emerged out of Norway’s excellent black metal scene, adding an emphasis on melody, technicality, Viking metal grooves, and a characteristic mix of grim and operatic vocals with that ever so slight Norwegian accent. Over the lifespan of Borknagar, the band’s founder and main songwriter Øystein G. Brun has managed to gradually collect like-minded musicians who are major creative forces in bands that also fall into the “Norwegian Prog” category. With the addition of ICS Vortex (Arcturus, ex-Dimmu Borgir), who joins Vintersorg (Vintersorg) and Lars Nedland (Solefald), there is plenty of songwriting talent in the Borknagar stable.
And yet, I think this is exactly where Urd
falls short. There are very few passages that stand out—the album just kind of floats along unnoticed until the horribly inane chorus at the end “The Earthling” and then the amazingly kickass “Frostrite” (which, significantly, was composed by ICS Vortex). Seven of the nine songs on the album were written by Brun (the other exception is the Nedland-penned “The Beauty of Dead Cities”), and even the most careful listener would be hard pressed to locate a musical idea that hasn’t previously been utilized on another album during Vintersorg-era Borknagar. What’s worse, though, is that the material here compares unfavorably to these prior albums. Take the lead track, “Epochalypse,” which is meant to fulfill the same role as “Havoc” on their previous release. “Havoc” far surpasses “Epochalypse” in terms of brutality, vocal performance, memorability of riff, and atmospheric use of keyboards. Similarly, Urd
falls well short of the first of the Vintersorg-fronted albums, Empiricism
—the freshness of the songwriting and the extra jolt of drive provided by its technically outstanding rhythm section (Asgeir Mickelson and Tyr) puts it a good step or two above every Borknagar release that has come out since.
So, to sum up, Borknagar has stuck to the Borknagar formula on Urd
. It’s not a bad formula per se, but one that could use some freshening up with a more collective approach to songwriting. It is also disappointing due to the underutilization of returning band member ICS Vortex’s trademark majestic, soaring vocals.