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Martin Eric Ain had once said that “there are more feelings to express than just aggression and destruction”. This statement best describes the reasons behind Øystein G. Brun’s decision to leave his former group, Molested, in order to form his own band, Borknagar. It seemed that Brun was fed up with the “traditional” black / death approach that Molested endorsed, so he sought a new environment, with an aim to explore alternative realms of musical expression.
Borknagar released their first, self - titled album in 1996. The main feature of the band’s debut, with its melodic parts and occasional Norwegian lyrics, was an evident attempt to create something different than typical aggressive black / death. Even though “Borknagar” was a rather decent effort, it was not until the band’s highly acclaimed second album, “The Olden Domain”, that Brun’s group reached the peak of its popularity and became widely known to the metal world.
“The Olden Domain”, which is considered by many to be Borknagar’s finest moment to date, included some important innovations, as far as black metal music is considered. To begin with, Borknagar are expected to play extreme metal, and they honour this expectation: “The Olden Domain” has many raw moments, with fast and cruel guitars, as well as brutal vocals. However, this particular album is not just a manifestation of aggressiveness, but also tries to express sorrow, melancholy and hope, so, next to its raw moments, one can also enjoy more melodic or gentle parts, with classic or acoustic guitars, “clean” vocals and an eerie, unique atmosphere . In this sense, Øystein G. Brun and his group enrich and expand the approach that Quorthon developed in albums like “Hammerheart” and especially “Twilight Of The Gods”. Furthermore, most of the songs in “The Olden Domain” do not follow the common verse - refrain pattern, but instead include a multitude of different riffs, as well as a wide range of structural and tempo changes. This approach, frequently used by progressive metal bands, adds a progressive touch to Borknagar’s music. All these elements account for the composition of excellent songs, like “The Winterway”, “To Mount And Rove”, or “A Tale Of Pagan Tongue”, just to name a few.
The lyrics constitute another field where Borknagar choose to differentiate themselves from the majority of black metal bands. Rather than the usual occult and wicked references, “The Olden Domain” focuses mainly on the change of seasons and specifically the feelings of solitude and despair created by the harshness and magnificence of winter landscapes. In addition, there are some lyrics inspired by Scandinavian Mythology (“The Eye Of Oden”), which make the connection with Bathory seem even more obvious.
Of course, one could argue that a black metal band employing classic or acoustic guitars and writing lyrics about Vikings isn’t something original - we take these things more or less for granted nowadays. Nevertheless, back in 1997, when “The Olden Domain” came out, these innovations must have been regarded as a small breakthrough.
Overall, apart from being a brilliant album, “The Olden Domain” is also responsible for totally changing my point of view on black metal. Until recently, I thought that black metal bands consisted mainly of youngsters, who just tried to sound as evil and sacrilegious as possible, with no respect for music whatsoever. Nevertheless, after listening to Borknagar’s second album, I realised that black metal musicians are capable of delivering excellent, melodic and graceful music.