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A Domain of No Mercy - 94%

Evil_Sock_Puppet, June 13th, 2007

Opener “The Eye of Odin” gets going right away without wasting any time on an introduction, almost sounding like it’s starting up in the middle of an idea (which is why I’m doing the same thing with my review). With these eight tracks (really six, since two of them are short instrumentals), founder/guitarist/main songwriter Oystein Brun (I have no idea if I spelled that correctly) has no trouble consistantly carrying out songs for five, six, or seven minutes (as is the case on the particularly adventurous “Winterway”).

The songs themselves contain plenty of blast beats accented by the usual choppy guitars (Borknagar is, first and foremost, a metal band, after all) interspersed with extensive passages of slow, driving rock. The real draw, though, is not so much the individual sections, but the ease with which one idea transitions into another, and especially the way everything is arranged to create a single, coherent piece, even with the wide variety of different moods that each song goes through. Stylistically, one could make a case for both Wikipedia’s classification of “symphonic/black metal” and Encyclopedia Metallum’s designation of “viking/folk metal.” But while occasionally bearing somewhat of a small resemblance to late-era Emperor, the sound is really much more structured with a focus on creating complex melodies, not to mention lyrics dealing with snow-covered plains and trees, along with plenty of nods to Norse mythology.

The musicianship ranges from “competent” to “impressive,” but still a notch or two below “extraordinary.” Grim, having previous black metal experience in Gorgoroth, does a solid job behind the kit of handling both the fast and the slow sections, as well as the constant switches between double and triple meters. Brun, too, is usually heard playing a decent riff, and even churns out a brief solo once in a while. Really, though, it’s the way the instruments are arranged that makes “Olden Domain” stand out. The keyboards, for one thing, sound great. Restricted to subtle (yet effective) accents most of the time, this only serves to enhance the impact when, once in a while, they come in at full volume and take over the melody.

Garm, meanwhile, once again demonstrates why he’s one of the best vocalists in the genre, trading the usual raw, black metal shrieks (which somehow sound even more demonic than on the more standard self-titled debut) with clean lines delivered in a tremendous, ultra-powerful baritone. Some of the melodies (particularly those on the first two tracks) are perfectly tailored to his unique voice (in fact, as Borknagar continued with their rotating line-up of vocalists, Brun would demonstrate a real knack for writing to their respective strengths), which, among other things, soars during the climax of “Grimland Domain” and becomes a low drone in “A Tale of Pagan Tongue.”

“The Olden Domain” is, in summary, the creative peak of Borknagar’s discography (though “Empiricism” comes close). Pretty much everything the band has done has been pretty good, but none of it, save for a couple of songs, has ever quite lived up to what’s found here.

Originally written for www.epinions.com