Review Summary: "Cold runs the river, warm runs my blood"
An album with the diversity and multitude of talented musicians that Winter Thrice
features certainly has its work cut out for it. Not only are Borknagar respected pioneers of the second-wave black metal sound, but additionally we have the staggering track record of every member to consider, with pedigrees stretching from the likes of Dimmu Borgir to Vintersorg. Sweetening the deal even further, former vocalist and Ulver mastermind Kristoffer ‘Garm' Rygg has returned to contribute a spot of vocals, sending expectations for this latest offering sky-high. Fortunately for everyone, Borknagar has delivered, with Winter Thrice
providing a thoroughly satisfying slab of music. There's simply no capacity in which this album is a let down. Need to quench your thirst for progressive songwriting alongside suitably blackened riffage? Borknagar have catered to that in spades. Are subtle choirs and grandiosity more your thing? Such techniques are peppered throughout, adorning the swells of exciting cadences and somber passages alike. Even with everything that's going on, the atmosphere remains open and inviting, lacking the suffocating quality that often plagues similar acts.
Granted, the songwriting is a tad unbalanced. Given the slew of talented vocalist at their disposal, there's certainly an emphasis placed on clean singing. With Vintersorg, ICS Vortex and Lars Nedland regularly sharing microphone duties, coupled with intermittent lines courtesy of Garm, there are four distinct styles at play here. This might seem like too many voices for one album, indeed the prominence and saturation of vocals may prove to be overkill for some, but the restrained beauty of every member's performance is an absolute highlight regardless. Each track is a showcase of variety, with lilting melodies and soaring choruses giving way to background choirs and breathtaking harmonisation. The 5 minute mark of ‘Erodent' is a perfect example of the latter working to great effect. Borknagar's dirty black metal roots poke through in the vocal department too, with Vintersorg's growls punctuating the album's grittier occasions. Unfortunately the mixing on his harsh vocals buries them much deeper than is suitable, causing a lack of power and subduing what should otherwise be an aggressive display. The same problem can be generalised to the entirety of the album's heavier sections, as the blast beat laden, distortion filled segments share the same dynamic space as the rest of the songs. The result is a slightly disappointing yearning for a violent climax that never seems to arrive. Alternatively, the homogenised volume fits the progressive direction the band seem to be leaning towards, and certainly makes the transitions that much smoother; only speculation can wonder if it was a questionable but conscious decision, or a production flaw.
While the production may snub the guttural vocals, it certainly flatters the superb bass work by Vortex. As a black metal heavyweight it's pleasing to see his work utilised so well, and his bass lines remain a constant, throbbing presence on Winter Thrice
. In fact every member is in top form here. Øystein and Jens breathe life into the album, featuring a collection of trebly, arpeggiated guitar chords on the flowing parts of the album, and reviving black metal's affectionate use of tremolo picked riffs for a more biting result in others. Baard Kolstad may be the bands newest member, but based off his performance on opener 'The Rhymes of the Mountain' alone, it's enough to convince anyone of his prowess behind the kit. With all the tracks besides the penultimate sitting around the 6-7 minute mark, there's ample opportunities throughout for every member to shine, and yet the whole unit feels very cohesive. Every piece is unique and distinct, however the recurring vocal motifs and songwriting similarities lead to an exceptional flow between songs. In the end, Borknagar must be praised for how well they've pulled the separate components of Winter Thrice
together, and besides some sparse and minor gripes, exceeded expectations on every facet.