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Borknagar combine the styles of raw black metal and folk metal into one hence the 'avant-garde' label. Although this style is very widespread, overdone, and flat out cheesy now, it was new and interesting at the time. As Borknagar have advanced through their career, they've shifted the mix from raw black metal with hints of folk metal over to folk metal with hints of raw black metal. Each of their albums introduce something new and usually original to their style. This first album, the self-titled, is raw black metal with little glimmers of folk metal sprinkled all throughout. The folk metal usually shows itself in the form of clean vocals arising from the harsh black metal melodies. The production is good for a 1996 black metal album not so much as some of their later releases, there is still some feedback left over and the mixing isn't annoyingly crystal clear. It's the sort of production I prefer for a black metal album.
The riffing is more melodic, which I think is another aspect of folk metal melded into this album. The riffing is somewhat similar to that of Emperor on their first album but less aggressive. There is some high thrash influence here in the fact that the riffs are played very fast for black metal. The keyboards, when present take a back seat to the other instruments unlike their later albums when the synthesizers are much too high in the mix and take more of a leading role, surpassing even the guitars. Keyboards usually come into play when the music slows down a tad. Essentially this album is a combination of thrash and atmosphere. The perfect mix between these two aspects of music is very hard to find but they've come VERY close with this album. My favorite tracks would have to be the first, third, and sixth songs. I just wish I knew how to pronounce the titles.
It is hard to find something wrong with this album. There are only two things I can bring myself to complain about: Out of all of these songs, half of them are ambient rinky-dink songs saturated in sound effects and only a handful of riffs (not to say they aren't entertaining); The album would have been more enjoyable if more of the songs were more developed. The other thing is related to the previous statement but not precisely the same... It's not long enough! This is an astounding album of blasting yet atmospheric black metal. If you are reading this, get this album!
(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/)
As much as I would rather shop at CD stores besides FYE, I must give FYE a chance to surprise me with its used CD selection. Why? Because FYE HAS surprised me in the past with some of the used CDs I've found there. I've found some great albums at cheap prices such as Storm of the Light's Bane by Dissection, Unification by Iron Savior, three Primordial albums, Therion's Lemuria and Sirius B on 2 CD, and three of Borknagar's best albums. Of these, Borknagar is probably the most rewarding luck I've had with my browsing there. Since it's been forever since my initial immersion into Borknagar, I thought it would be nice to write a review or two or three to celebrate my reintroduction into the band now having three of their albums on CD. The first of these is the self titled debut by the band, one of the three I picked up at FYE.
Borknagar is the brainchild of Øystein G. Brun. With him on Borknagar's self titled is a lineup of well known Norwegian black metal musicians: Garm from Ulver, Infernus from Gorgoroth, Ivar Bjørnson from Enslaved, and Grim who played on Gorgoroth's Under the Sign of Hell (though that would be released later). Everyone on the roster plays their respective instruments exceptionally well, but Brun does more so than anyone else. He's an exceptional music writer and guitarist. He states on the album's insert that Borknagar contains Brun's feelings of nostalgia for a better, ancient past put to modern metal music; and I can actually take his word for it since the general tone here can easily reflect those primordial times. Borknagar is raw, but not too raw; has keys, but does not overuse them.
The actual brand of black metal played here consists of fast-paced tremolo/blast beat along with a good amount of variation with more mid-tempoed sections gaining an atmospheric tinge brought about by Øystein's lead guitar and/or the keys. These atmospheric sections possess an epic quality that ties back into Øystein's original intended message with the album; and I just can't get my favorite of these sections, the parts at the 1:59 and 3:28 areas of "Vintervredets Sjelesagn", out of my head.
Garm sings mostly harsh vocals on this album save for a few clean "aws" and actual lyrical passages of "Dauden". His clean parts also tie in well with Brun's message; but if you know Garm, this should not be a surprise. All the parts together create an experience similar to Enslaved's Vikingligr Veldi (released two years prior) mixed with Satyricon's Dark Medieval Times (three years prior) with some bits of Bergatt by Ulver (one year prior) also present.
Even though I can definitely call the listening experience amazing, I can't call it perfect. If you don't pay enough attention to the music, most of it will go in one ear and out the other. Having all Norwegian song titles and lyrics doesn't help either. Borknagar unfortunately also suffers from having too many interludes, 5 out of 10 songs, but I do like a few of their attributes that tie in with Brun's message such as acoustic guitar and Garm's clean "aw"s, so I'm willing to overlook that problem a bit since all the real songs are all very good; though Ivar's "Tanker mot Tind" pieces are the low point of the album. I'm not giving Borknagar a top tier score, but it's still an excellent addition to the black metaller's collection.
Norway is the most mono-cultural country in Western Europe. That's why I admire it so. Plain and simple, them Norwegians just don't like other countries or cultures telling them what to do or influencing them. Join the European Union? No, thanks. Even during World War II, when The Third Reich rolled in-if only for tactical reasons-expecting cooperation and promoting kinship and preservation of Nordic culture, a vast majority of its citizens still supported a stubborn resistance movement that rivaled France's. Flash forward to more recent times; such steadfastness within the culture itself in some circles was even demonstrated internally with the ardent and aggressive opposition to Christianity. I think you know which "circles" I am referring to here.
It makes perfect sense that black metal (as most of us know it today) arose out of this great nation in western Scandinavia. It's a contribution to a genre that sounds unmistakably characteristic of isolation, Vikings, snowy climates and narrow mindedness. Norway is as identifiable with black metal as Spain is to flamenco music; regardless if it was invented there or not. Seriously, how many of you off hand can name any death metal bands from Norway? I myself only knew of one and that band later went on to play black metal. As a matter of fact, they went on to be probably the most influential band in the latter genre today. When Deicide played their first show in Norway, they were threatened by black metal hordes. What does that tell you?
Still not convinced? I don't speak a word of either Norwegian or Swedish. I do know that the two are basically a variation of a common tongue and hence mutually intelligible. Yet even to my untutored ear, Norwegian sounds very distinct from Swedish. It has a more nasal and dancing quality to it. Ok, so what does all this have to with Borknagar? I'm glad you ask...
This self titled debut album doesn't tow the line with conventions of the thrashier sounding Norwegian black metal like Mayhem and Darkthrone. This band goes all progressive and it almost sounds like Swedish metal at times but at the same time it is very Norwegian sounding in spirit too. The intent is on having it both ways. They want it to sound progressive, without a care in the world if in some structural instances there may be a smidgen of resemblance to early Opeth. Still, a great and true black metal essence sweeps all through everything else in the album. A Norwegian black metal of course. However, I wouldn’t call the black metal parts heard on here raw black in the strictest sense but it is the closest sounding to that description that Borknagar has ever recorded.
This album(along with the band Enslaved) still doesn’t get enough credit for influencing some newer and highly acclaimed progressive/atmospheric black metal. The signature sound of Drudkh and Negura Bunget are clearly inspired by this record. With that, Borknagar is just one more example of an “I tell you, you don’t tell me” Norwegian black metal album. The credibility of this lineup is evidence of that. The main songwriter Brun is the least known guy in Borknagar but you would be remiss if you didn’t at least check this out for everyone else who plays on it. Garm from Ulver contributes intense high screams and a few choral chants. This is not a particularly vocal driven outing and as such, the shrieking performance for augmentation in this atmospheric black metal is exactly how you would find it done in a similar band like for example Hate Forest.
One of my favorite things on the album is Grim’s drums. There’s no mistaking his attacks when Vintervredets Sjelesagn kicks off the record. If he wasn’t on this recording, I wouldn’t have too much more interest. This first track sounds like it is all based around his insane pummeling. And that pummeling is a reach out. I know because I turned up the volume as far as it could go and it seemed to shake and vibrate my whole room. I could almost feel his whole kit vibrating intensely too. I would also like to add that the drumming on this album is also very Norwegian sounding if that’s possible. What I mean is, I have rarely heard much of this style of time pattern outside of the Norway scene. Hellhammer drums this similar foggy set of beats on Mayhem’s albums especially their first LP. And when the he does some slow hitting, they sound heavier than thou. That’s the kind of variation in Erik’s skill set. It’s aesthetically pleasing to say the least. Tanker Mot Tind is another display of astounding beating from the late great Grim. The whole song is detailed with an epic Viking spirit and resounds with clean and concise war cadence.
My one misgiving about Borknagar is that it’s an album that has too many progressive interludes. Those interludes being the instrumental tracks. Half of the album is dedicated to them. Don’t get me wrong, they are enjoyable but I think I am just not used to a black metal record like this being so progressively inclined. Of course, Brun makes it work all so very coherently but the amount of those songs respite does tend to stall the marked vehemence of the aggressive tracks. Grimskalle Trelle is the cutting furiousness of all the straight black/Viking songs. Garm pulls out all stops with the screaming and the storming intensity of those distorted guitars upon Grim’s drumming are dark and inimical but then there is a draining of all the built up energy when Nord Naagauk comes next. Even if that next song is eerie. That example is just fine in of itself but I found that it was done a song or two too much. Fabdens Allheim is the final black metal sounding song that I didn’t quite take to as the others and it precedes the limp keyboarded cut Tanker Mot Tind (gryning). To me, all that straddling between harsh and musically enlightening became a little exhausting.
The essence of a Scandinavian sound bleeding in and out of Borknagar is unmistakable. It’s motivating virtue of this album. The Swedish influence of Vintersorg is drawn from here and Born creates an album that reverberates like a metal travelogue of Norway. The fog of Norwegian black metal is accented. The isolation sets in all around the peninsula. Borknagar is an album that tells me everything is just the way it has been and should be from Norwegian metal.
Borknagars epic debut is, to me, one of the truly greatest black metal albums of all time. Here they play a much more aggressive form of metal than on their later, more progressive works. This is pure late-nineties black metal, but it doesn’t really sound like anything else. There is both folk and Viking influences with acoustic guitars, deep choirs and clean singing from almighty Garm (whose performance on here is beyond that of the Ulver records) on “Dauden”; one of the best tracks of of the album and in metal in general actually).
The songs follow no standard song pattern and all of them contain a handful of killer riffs and this is the strongest attribute to this record. All of the riffs on here have so many layers it’s almost insane, they shift and turn and the two guitars never seem to play the exact same thing. The sound created out of this was, to my knowledge, not very heard of when this album was released. Taake is the only band that I can come to think of that uses this kind of musicianship and they didn’t really arrive at the scene until many years later.
The production to is really awesome and does nothing but well for the songs on here. The acoustic elements are perfectly balanced to fit into the blasting black metal parts (very much unlike on many Opeth records) and the bass is actually audible all the way through and doesn’t follow the guitars all the time (how’s that for Norwegian black metal?) which again, layers the riffs into the “super-awesome” category!
The guitar tone is quite cold and “spacey” in a way that really makes you picture the fjords and forests that must’ve surely been an inspiration to these guys. This is supreme black metal all the way through, but at the same time it is quite daring, incorporating many elements and some almost groovy riffs.
This album is highly recommended for anyone that likes black metal, folk metal or really metal in general; and isn’t afraid of the screams (wouldn’t really call them growls) typical for black metal bands.
I would recommend anybody to listen to “Vintervredets Sjelesagn”, “Dauden” & “Grimskalle Trell” and I’m sure you will like it.
Download those songs and then go out and buy this record, pay whatever is necessary! This is one of the best albums ever, and definitively the best Borknagar album.
Borknagar’s first album, “Borknagar” is very different from every other Borknagar release. All albums that come after this one have song structures, like verses and choruses. This album is pure raw black metal. And it is done very well.
The vocals on this album are provided by Garm (Ulver, Arcturus). He is usually known for his singing, but here he screams throughout 95% of it. Although I do love Garm’s passionate screams, he really shines when he sings on this album. “Dauden” is the only one where he sings lyrics. It is my favorite song off this album, and one of my favorites all time. It starts with Garm singing beautifully, in a low baritone head voice this time (Garm usually uses his chest voice) and gets into raw black metal. Towards the end Garm sings again and closes the song perfectly.
The bass is performed by Infernus (Gorgoroth) and the guitars are performed by Oystein G. Brun. Both are tremendous at what they do in this album. Infernus is usually a guitarist but he can definitely play bass as well. Oystein G. Brun is very special on this release. He plays the distorted raw black metal guitar like a pro, and he also provides acoustic guitar parts when necessary. The use of acoustic guitars is very effective here.
The drums are recorded by Grim (Immortal, Gorgoroth). He is amazing on this release. The man just knew how to blastbeat. He relentlessly smashes those poor drums in this album, and rarely lets up. When he does let up, it is for atmospheric purposes only.
Despite being a kick ass album, there are a few problems with it. The first major problem is the instrumentals. There are ten tracks here, and five of them are instrumentals. That’s half the album! There are also two instrumentals in a row which is always a track listing mistake. It shows that the band ran out of ideas or something. The second problem that I have with this album is Garm’s lack of singing. Yes, he has a great black metal voice, but he is really special when he sings. It is disappointing to me that he only sings in one song here, because fans of Garm’s old singing voice like me need as much as we can get considering he is not producing the same quality of singing with Ulver today. But besides these two issues, this is an awesome album.
As mentioned before, “Dauden” is my favorite track. However, another special track is “Vintervredets sjelesagn.” This is an epic masterpiece as well. I have also noticed that they use the same riff from this song in “The Winterway” from “The Olden Domain.” It is more primitive, but you can tell they drew that riff from this song.
This album is perfect for fans of black and folk metal. I would recommend that fans of Garm’s work should pick this up as well. It contains one of his best singing performances in “Dauden.” So, go buy “Borknagar” because it is absolutely worth your money.
This album, to me, is really... bland. Apart from the odd acoustic folky moments, there is absolutely nothing to distinguish this band from the rest of the black metal crop, and, therefore, no real reason to listen to this above any other album.
Granted, there is absolutely nothing BAD about the album at all. It is perfectly passable black metal. The production is suitably raw enough, the guitars chainsaw-esque, the drums blast/double bass filled. The one criticism I'd have is of the clean vocals. When they are implemented to actually sing lyrics, they are fantastic, adding a good layer of atmosphere to the music. All too often, however, they merely make use of a gregorian chant style thing, which just sounds like bad keyboards. Hell, maybe it is.
Borknagar are, of course, more famous for their clean-vocalled folk metal approach which they have nowadays. I'd have to say that I am glad, because this release is significantly underwhelming. One can see the roots of the unique sound that the band has these days, but that alone is no real reason to buy, or even necessarily listen to, this album