Borknagar
True North


4.6
superb

Review

by Willie STAFF
September 14th, 2019 | 57 replies


Release Date: 09/27/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: True North will be defined by stellar vocal melodies and classy progressive metal that only borrows from black metal without being dominated by it.

I’ve never considered myself a huge Borknagar fan. I tried to like them when Garm was their vocalist, but the music never held my attention. When Simen "ICS Vortex" Hestnæs joined, the music had become much more enjoyable and diverse, but I couldn’t get into his vocals. It would take the addition of Vintersorg for me to finally enjoy Borknagar’s music and vocals at the same time. Vintersorg’s addition was also the point where they finally transitioned from black metal with occasional prog tendencies to fully-fledged progressive black metal. Each subsequent release found them fiddling with their prog/black formula with varied results. It wasn’t until Winter Thrice, though, that it started to feel like they were finally perfecting their sound – but then Vintersorg left, and Simen assumed lead vocal duties again.

I’ve never appreciated Simen’s vocals beyond the token clean singing with Dimmu Borgir and his limited contributions to Winter Thrice, but I was hopeful True North’s music would be good enough to make up for the vocal change. It turns out I had nothing to worry about. True North contains a career-defining vocal performance from Simen, ample vocal contributions from Lars Nedland, and a brand-new take on Borknagar’s signature sound. With the exception of their acoustic release, Borknagar have always remained staunchly black metal with progressive influences integrated within that framework, but that all changes on True North. This time it feels like Borknagar are a progressive metal band with a prominent black metal influence. This is nowhere as apparent as on the vocals. It feels like clean singing makes up at least 80% of the overall vocals on the album, and it instantly elevates True North to another level.

As stated earlier, Simen’s singing has improved significantly since Quintessence; but even if you thought his voice was always fine, you might still notice a positive change. My main issue with Simen’s vocals has always been the nasally delivery of his clean singing. It was never a deal breaker, but it was never something I appreciated either. On True North he sings with a powerful and clear delivery that has caused his vocals to sound much more melodic and accessible. A song such as the ballad “Wild Father’s Heart” would have absolutely failed for me if they had tried it on Quintessence, because I don’t believe Simen would have been capable of carrying it vocally, but on True North it is one of the stand-out tracks. Of course, it goes without saying that his black metal rasp is still as powerful as ever, it’s just not used as often as one might assume based on previous Borknagar releases.

Despite Simen’s improved clean singing, he isn’t expected to carry the album alone. For those that don’t know, Borknagar’s keyboardist, Lars Nedland, is an accomplished vocalist in his own band Solefald, and Borknagar are finally using him to his potential. Throughout True North, Lars shares just about equal time with Simen when it comes to clean singing, and he brings a different tone and style that compliments Simen and the music seamlessly. In fact, some might not have realized that it was Lars’ clean singing on the first half of the first song released from the album, “The Fire That Burns.” He’s also responsible for my personal favorite, the melodic prog-leaning track, “Lights.” Really, though, the coolest thing about having two competent vocalists is the amount of harmonized melodies found throughout the album. When Simen and Lars sing together, that’s when the songs really start to gel and it’s those portions that really push the songs to another level…

… but what about the actual music? Has it improved too? The answer to that question will depend on what you’re looking for from Borknagar, because the black metal influences have been toned down quite a bit compared to previous releases. It’s not as though Borknagar have suddenly dumped black metal entirely, as songs such as “Thunderous” and “The Fire That Burns” prove, but they’re also about as black metal as True North gets – and even they are dominated by clean singing and a more diverse musical undercurrent. Instead, True North is better represented by songs such as “Up North” and “Mount Rapture.” In these songs, the black metal influence is much more integrated into other styles without being overtly obvious – such as the percussion in most of “Up North” played underneath an energetic prog metal style and an entirely ‘clean’ vocal delivery. No matter what angle Borknagar are approaching the music from, you can expect just about every song to be driven by clean singing and a musical foundation that flirts with energetic melodic prog while hiding its black metal influences just under the surface. Of course, these black metal influences do occasionally rise to the top, but their time as the prominent sound is usually pretty short-lived.

It was a risky proposition for Borknagar to reduce the black metal that has been their bread-and-butter for nine albums down to a bit player on True North, but they have pulled it off. The vocal melodies are catchy and so well written, and the same could be said about the music. Each song is full of dynamic shifts that hit the aggressive parts often enough to keep the old fans interested while maintaining an array of catchy, classy, prog-lite melodies at all other times. Borknagar’s True North will be defined by stellar vocal melodies courtesy of Simen Hestnæs and Lars Nedland, as well as classy progressive metal that only borrows from black metal without being dominated by it.



Recent reviews by this author
Sacred Reich AwakeningAt the Gates To Drink from the Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir EonianSamael Hegemony
Cradle of Filth Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of DecayNeurosis The Word As Law (Remastered)
user ratings (5)
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Willie
Moderator
September 14th 2019


17722 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

I was going to hold this until closer to the release date, but it kept getting longer every time I would come back to update it.



The Fire That Burns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMQyeyW2ZhI

Up North: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAKWe0DkBsE

Digging: Ray Alder - What The Water Wants

Eakflanderyof
September 14th 2019


2626 Comments


Cant fucking wait to hear this. Most excited I've been for an album in a while

Nocte
Contributing Reviewer
September 14th 2019


10194 Comments


look at that hype. gonna have to wait til it's out to check i'm afraid

Willie
Moderator
September 14th 2019


17722 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

This is one of those albums that only took a few listens to really click, and now I listen to it pretty constantly.



--look at that hype.--

Ha ha. I found two more reviews for this album. One gives it a 9.5 out of 10, and the other gives it a 3.3 out of 5 while mostly complaining about how they're not black metal anymore, and how it doesn't sound like the debut.

Nocte
Contributing Reviewer
September 14th 2019


10194 Comments


Well you're not too far off that 95th percentile there T.

Willie
Moderator
September 14th 2019


17722 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

The only reason I'm scared to hype it too much is to raise expectations to unattainable levels... but it really is a 4.6 to me.

Nocte
Contributing Reviewer
September 14th 2019


10194 Comments


Of course, it goes without saying that his black metal rasp is still as powerful as ever, it’s just not used as often as one might assume based on previous Borknagar releases.


Wonder how much 'less' it's used. Guy's got such an impact when he goes harsh.

Pikazilla
September 14th 2019


3464 Comments


Willie, you sure talk a lot about vocals in your review, to the point where I start to believe that they are the quality-carrying element here - and that ain't a good sign for a prog album in my books.

I wasn't sold on the title track - listened to it three times and it didn't grab my attention whatsoever. The Fire, on the other hand, was great! So... I'm just going to hope that the rest of Up North is not like the t/t... which is kind of funny.



Willie
Moderator
September 14th 2019


17722 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

--Wonder how much 'less' it's used. Guy's got such an impact when he goes harsh. --

Much less. The song "The Fire That Burns" probably has the second most black metal vocals of any song on the album (just pointing that out since it is already released). "Tidal" is probably the one with the most black metal vocals, but it's also 9-minutes long.



--Willie, you sure talk a lot about vocals in your review, to the point where I start to believe that they are the quality-carrying element here - and that ain't a good sign for a prog album in my books.

I wasn't sold on the title track - listened to it three times and it didn't grab my attention whatsoever. The Fire, on the other hand, was great! So... I'm just going to hope that the rest of Up North is not like the t/t... which is kind of funny.--

The music is really good, but the vocals are the quality-carrying element, in my opinion. I wouldn't call this straight-up prog. It's prog like most Enslaved songs are kind of prog, except this is much more melodic overall. Unfortunately for you, the album is way more like the title track than "The Fire..."

TheNotrap
September 14th 2019


11815 Comments


Hype reviews are my favorite reviews, they celebrate music and our own soul. Good reading, as always. Judging by the times you mention Simen and his singing, it sounds like he's the core of the album.

Up North rocks hard, I'm looking forward to jam the album

Digging: Vitriol (USA) - To Bathe From the Throat of Cowardice

Beardog
September 14th 2019


3038 Comments


Even more hyped about this now, Up North is a standout track

Thalassic
September 14th 2019


3366 Comments


Looking forward to give this a shot. Been a while since I truly loved a Borknagar album, even though I think most of their albums are solid.

"Up North" grew on me a lot. Some great vocal work there.

necropig
September 14th 2019


5668 Comments


4.6 o.O

Digging: Antichrist Siege Machine - Schism Perpetration

Ocean of Noise
September 14th 2019


10676 Comments


Didn't know these guys had a new album on the way! Looking forward to it.

Digging: After Forever - Exordium

Willie
Moderator
September 14th 2019


17722 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

--Judging by the times you mention Simen and his singing, it sounds like he's the core of the album.--

Simen and Lars. I don't think the album would be nearly as good without both of them sharing vocals. The music is definitely really well done or this couldn't be rated so high, but this is definitely a vocal-centric album. Just listen to "Up North". The music is definitely cool, but it's those vocals and the harmonies and even the cool pacing on the delivery (like the 'Oceans Will Rise' line near the end) that will keep people coming back.

DungeonBoy
September 14th 2019


6615 Comments


Good read dude, thanks for sharing!

"True North is better represented by songs such as “Up North”"

this is what I was hoping for, one of my most anticipated releases at the moment.

Digging: Solstice (USA-FL) - Solstice

Crysis
Emeritus
September 14th 2019


17402 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Well i guess i gotta hear this then

Willie
Moderator
September 14th 2019


17722 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

I agree because we tend to come at the same album from different angles for some reason (look at our Insomnium opinions).

Eakflanderyof
September 14th 2019


2626 Comments


I'm perfectly fine with this being far more melodic and prog than black metal. I think they're generally at their best these days when they're prog focused whereas they were better in their early days when they were more black metal driven. Garm's harsh vocals helped a lot because he was a fucking beast back then

Observer
Staff Reviewer
September 14th 2019


7033 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

I'll give this a shot. Never heard a borknagar album before.

Digging: Reuben - In Nothing We Trust



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2019 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy