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(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/)
The second of the three Borknagar albums to review in light of my lucky find I mentioned in my review of Borknagar's self-titled is The Olden Domain. During my initial immersion into the band, I recall 'The Olden Domain' being one of the band's best. Now that I have the CD and have been able to give it more listens to strengthen my opinion in preparation for this review, The Olden Domain actually extends further than being my favorite Borknagar album, but I'll get back to that later. What I will say now is that while it is nice to have the three Borknagar albums I got that day at FYE, I would be fine with just The Olden Domain. In fact, The Olden Domain was the first Borknagar album I saw on that shelf that day.
From the self-titled, Øystein Brun carries Garm, Grim, and Ivar over to continue his supergroup lineup. Infernus was dropped, and in his place is Kai K. Lie. The Olden Domain is Lie's first big album he would perform on, but it's definitely a nice album to have on his resume. The production on The Olden Domain allows the bass to be fairly audible and reveals that Lie is definitely capable of playing his part. As for the other musicians, Brun's writing style change toward Borknagar's modern progressive metal sound first shows itself on this album. A large amount of the music here is slower paced akin to the slower parts on the self-titled, but there's still a good amount of fast paced sections on The Olden Domain, especially on "Grimland Domain". He also throws in acoustic guitar pieces along the rest of the music in "The Winterway", "To Mount and Rove", and "The Dawn of the End". Meanwhile, Grim plays slower, but at a more controlled pace to match the new song writing, but he still manages the rolling kick drums and blast beats when they are appropriate. Garm really shines on this album. Compared to the self-titled where he sang 90% in harsh vocals, it's more like 45% on The Olden Domain. His mixture of clean and harsh vocals flows excellently throughout, and I always find myself singing or humming along to the "ah" parts of "The Eye of Oden" and "The Winterway" as well as verses or pieces of verses, particularly the final verse of "Dawn of the End", though having all songs entirely in English makes The Olden Domain easier to go along with than the self-titled which was in Norwegian/Swedish/whatever. Ivar and the keys play both more and less of a notable role on this album in comparison to the self-titled. They are a little more prevalent here with piano pieces and other sections bringing the keys out of the back, but they aren't overused. They play less of a role in that there's a lot less interludes on The Olden Domain. There's only one folksy ambient keyboard interlude, and thankfully it's not as dull as the "Tanker Mot Tind" pieces on the self-titled.
I feel like Brun's intended message of nostalgia for a better time in the ancient past is actually portrayed even better in The Olden Domain. Attributes like acoustic guitar, piano, and large amounts of clean vocals help this; but the biggest influence is the generally slower tempo on the album. I've pointed out the atmospheric tendencies in the more mid-paced sections of songs in the self-titled. In The Olden Domain, the tempos are slower and stay slow longer, thus giving much more room for the atmosphere to paint its pictures. All the songs are arranged in the most ideal order with "Dawn of the End" being hands down the best way to end this album. I can't bring myself to skip any of these tracks, even the piano ambient interlude "Om hundrede aar er alting glemt" or the instrumental metal piece "Ascension of Our Fathers".
The Olden Domain has very excellent features, talented musicians playing their parts right, one of Garm's best vocal performances ever, and that special charm that puts me in a good mood every time I listen to it. Thus, I am comfortable with not only giving this album a top tier ranking, but also a perfect 100/100 score. And though I have given other albums the 100/100 that I may hold in higher regard than this one, I will give The Olden Domain the distinct title of being the best Norwegian metal album, which is a damn impressive feat by itself having to compete against all the other big black metal acts and coming out on top.