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The Toughest Shells Hold the Sweetest Meat - 99%

HeWhoIsInTheWater, January 25th, 2013

As you can tell from the title, this album requires many listens to gain a full appreciation of. But, this shouldn’t really be news to you, the reader, as this is the case for much of the genre of black metal, but this really goes beyond that amount listening time by also being devoutly progressive. That in and of itself is fantastic. We look at 1997 and think that it was not that long ago, but this album really pioneered progressive black metal. It’s easy to look back and compare, but this was one of the first of its kind, yet it does it so well.

Let’s break this down now. What really makes this album is abrasive but subtle and melodic guitar riffs, shredding and slowed down pained harsh vocals, airy melodic clean vocals, and keyboards akin to a winter breeze. The production is less than perfect, but that also adds significantly to the charm of the album, as it gives the music a really nice cold bite. However, I am vastly understating this album if I describe it as equivalent to the sum of its parts.

The true beauty of this album lies not in the riffs, nor in vocal hooks, or exquisite acoustic guitar and keyboard passages, but in the atmosphere generated by the coalescing of all these ingredients. This process of immersion into their cold world really begins with the packaging. A simple picture of a moss eaten tree emerges from a background of chipped birch bark that covers the entire album and inner jacket. The quiet beauty of nature in a pure form really sets the stage for an album that focuses mostly on winter.

I also love this album for the fact that it is so much more than a collection of songs. When I listen to this piece, I don’t hear individual songs, it is all multiple movements of one large song. It’s difficult to pinpoint certain areas of excellence because the album flows so perfectly and organically that it is best experienced as a whole. I do my best to not listen to this music digitally, as the shuffling of the order detracts from the true enjoyment. It takes a lot longer to fully appreciate The Olden Domain, due to the icy production and slight reverb as well as due to the fact that very little of the material is repeated, and that which is displays deep complexity. It took me four months of listening to this album every other day to finally understand what it all meant. It really was a eureka moment of transcendental winter beauty, and the most rewarding part of the experience, which is why I would recommend it so vehemently.

This is a metal album though, so the riffs are center stage. They are wide and varied, and take traditional black metal riffs and turn them on their heads. Few tremolo riffs can match the atmosphere of the intro of The Winterway, but the same guitar sounds like ice scraping on rock during Grimland Domain. Things are also done with plentiful rhythmic variation, with the almost folky hook of To Mount and Rove and the licks of A Tale of Pagan Tongue. There are also some really cool effects on the intro to The Eye of Oden, and the beginning of Ascension of Our Fathers has the kind of tone that the post-hardcore scene has been having a continuous orgasm over for 15+ years.

While a good portion of the riffs are tremolo, Oystein shows tremendous playing capability with odd chorded riffs that take many listens to understand the subtlety of. Grimland Domain especially comes to mind with this in mind. The track is the most headbang-able on this album, but upon further listens, it reveals beautiful undercurrents of melody. I feel like a crappy record player, repeating the same thing over and over, but that is the strongest aspect of the album. Another track comes to mind with transcendental guitar parts is The Winterway, which is the most effective track on this album to get lost in. At least give that a listen right now.

The rhythm section is about what you would expect for black metal. The bass provides a nice touch of warmth from time to time, and the drums bash skulls left and right. The drumming in general is superb; it’s a shame he died so young with a bright career. The production on the drum set is as desirable as you could want with black metal, with loud, brittle cymbals, subdued but firm snare, and bass drums that drive the undercurrent. The ebb and flow of his play style allows for the guitars to showcase special moments in a song or highlight a nice lead or vocal line. He avoids the pitfall of obscene blast beats, which makes this release melodic in comparison to most black metal. As a whole, he drives the music on this album as the guitars do their own thing and he commands the respect.

The lyrics are somewhat typical of black metal, but they are written by a clearly experienced hand, and they still speak wonders about the natural world. It’s true, I am a sucker for just about any kind of music with this kind of nature lyrical theme, but still, I find it to be quite compelling. For specific reference, the tracks The Eye of Oden and The Dawn of the End are my favorite cuts, as they convey a basic message that most people can agree on, but subtle undertones in the words and music allow many meanings to be conveyed, which gives this album significant replay value.

Vocally, this album is rather diverse and polarizing, like most parts of black metal. The harsh vocals cut the air like spears of ice and the cleans gently flow in and out of the instruments like a calm breeze. Kristoffer Rygg has an impeccable sense of placement, and there is not really a point on the album where it feels like the vocals are being forced down your throat; there are natural pockets in the music for the vocals to fill in. On the other hand, this album also never noodles long enough with the instruments for the listener to ask when the vocals will be returning.

Normally I find black metal vocals to be too far removed from the music to adequately fit the music, but Rygg displays mastery of the technique and manipulates the harsh vocals into very evocative forms. He brings so much more to the style than just pure agony, he injects his voice with frustration, loss, and other melancholic emotions that are just missing in most black metal vocalists, while also maintaining a tight grip on his primary role as narrator. His clean vocals are also nice and deep, which serves as a nice resonant opposite to the high shrieks. Tracks like The Winterway really display this polarization in its purest form.

Instrumental tracks are nothing new to the average black metal listener, and this album satisfies that requirement. In a Hundred Years All Will Be Forgotten noodles around with piano melodies while guitars soar in and out of the atmosphere, making for a very relaxed track that breaks up some of the fast songs. Ascension of our Fathers is a very metal song, but it is interesting in how it experiments with more guitar based melodies due to the absence of vocals.

If you like black metal, you need this album. If you are indifferent to black metal, you need this album. If you like metal, you need this album. It is one of the most coherent albums I have ever heard, functioning more as a single song than a collection of songs. It has brutality, glistening guitars, ripping riffs, terrifying vocals, and more than a few moments of utter beauty. This album will take many listens to fully grasp, but damn if it ain’t worth it in the end. Best tracks: The Winterway, Dawn of the End, and Grimland Domain.

Wind, Water, Earth, Fire - Invincible! - 97%

TowardsMorthond, April 17th, 2012

The Olden Domain is an expansion of defining themes from Borknagar's first album. The characteristic elements are further developed in a widening of the band's sound, which achieves a vast atmosphere and a further reach into the epic and melodic. The enormous production provides this music with a powerful sound presence, as each aspect of the band's instrumentation is emphasized, accomplishing effective balance between the ambient and robust nature of the material. Yet the great triumph of Borknagar's music is the masterful composition. There is a fantastic employment of dynamics of the epic, the bombastic, the ferocious, and the contemplative, reflecting the flow of existence through the medium of directional, purposeful songwriting.

"My heart it beats the pulse of ancient times"

Summoning the ancient spirit of their Norwegian ancestry, Borknagar arouse a spiritual yearning for a purity of understanding and inner truth through a musical mood of heathenish convictions, recalling the barbaric nobility of Viking traditions. The personality of the music is wise, heroic, and incensed, fueled by unyielding passion, strong in spirit towards the countless perils waiting on every course. A greater balance between scathing screams and triumphant singing works towards a wider emotional perspective. Garm's singing voice is heroic, noble, proud, and defiantly confident, reaching, in context with the music, glorious heights of epic beauty in "The Winterway", "A Tale Of Pagan Tongue" and "The Dawn OF The End". The guitar riffs are typically simplistic in design while subtly utilizing harmonic fluctuation which fleshes out the sound in flowing proportions of composite undertones. Melancholic melodies arising from slower passages give the music a nostalgic touch, yet this effect is accented by thunderous rhythm powered by impressively physical drumming. The drummer is an expert pounder in the sense of rhythmical intuition, with incredible energy and force behind beats, forsaking technical detail in favor of sheer power and might, though keenly aware of directional flow.

"When time is ripe to revive the past
Let us see who stands triumphant!"

The folk elements are less obvious compared to the debut, primarily because there are not as many acoustic folk instrumentals and interludes this time around. These elements are instead subtly incorporated within the riffs and melodies of proper songs through keyboards and acoustic guitars which underscore or embellish particular themes with Scandinavian folk melodies, which evoke a mythological atmosphere. There is a thematic concentration on elements of nature and the process of universal forces, along with consistent reference to ancient ways of existence which involved an adaptation to and learning from the natural environment. Bravery in the face of the long and bitter Scandinavian winter during these olden times was essential when the way of life necessarily demanded a physical and spiritual relationship with the earth, and though we live in more materially comfortable times, the winter of life, of the human experience of existence in a world where infinite struggles lie in wait, calls for a certain hardness of heart and wisdom of spirit. The ancient past can never be revived in the literal sense, but these hard, honest, and noble times produced a meaningful substance for life that is now alien to the ordinary way of life in these comparatively easy modern times. The old ways are not fundamentally useless to us now, and indeed can steer us back to a purer way of life than the celebrated technological progression of this time.

"There will forever be this ancient tongue
Primal wisdom from nature's own lung"

The Olden Domain is a triumphant approach to epic black metal. Powerful composition, beautiful atmospheric flow, mighty rhythmical foundations, and vibrant melodies are enjoined to create a memorable and thoroughly engaging work. Life is struggle, and Borkangar's music inspires an embrace of the journey with fierce determination towards a meaningful existence. There is wisdom and faith to be gained by observing the endless victory of the natural cycle, an infinite process that is our clearest representation of reality. This is the well of inspiration pursued by Borknagar, and The Olden Domain stands as the band's greatest expression.

You have to wake, wipe the ice from your eyes. - 100%

Wilytank, March 26th, 2012

(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives:

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.

Borknagar at their best! - 100%

mikeald, September 6th, 2008

Hands down the best Borknagar album! Each song is amazing in its own particular way. There is lots of variation within each song, which makes them much more enjoyable. The lengths of the songs are the longest Borknagar has ever recorded. Songs average from five minutes or longer. Production is a step up from the self-titled, it’s punchy but not over produced.

Guitar, like all Borknagar albums stands out because it’s not your typical tremolo picking but some decent lead work and power chords by Oystein. Songs have your typical spider like leads which scream, “Oystein G. Brun!” If you are new to Borknagar TOD is a great place to get familiar with his guitar work. There are no solos on this album, Oystein is not know for his solos but his simplistic yet very effective guitar work.

Ivan’s syth does not over bear the music but simply complements the music and filling in the gaps when needed, check out the song, Grimland Domain. Drums are typical blast beats but sound fitting and never out of place thanks to the talents of the late Grim. Kai’s bass is audible throughout the album. For most black metal releases there tends to be little to no bass which makes TOD stand out amongst the sea of generic black/Viking metal bands.

Garm’s vocals range from harsh black metal screams, whispers, to clean vocals. Note that this is one of the only releases that he screams in English. His clean vocals are baritone, similar to his performance in the godly “La Masquerade Infernale” by Arcturus. 1997 was an amazing year for Garm. His clean vocals get some getting use to but once you get into them, you’re hooked on the album.

Highlights include The Winterway, To Mount and Rove, and Grimland Doman. If you haven’t picked up this masterpiece yet do it. Highly recommended for fans of: Enslaved, Moonsorrow, Windir, and Bathory or any other type of progressive black metal.

Their Peak Album! - 100%

Jiri777, June 2nd, 2008

This was a time when Borknagar was still good. A time before it was molested by the rock vocals of Vintersorg, pushing Borknagar in a rock direction (with mediocre harsh vocals). This was a time when Borknagar was one of the best progressive Viking black metal bands out there. This album is clearly the best effort from this band (IMO).

“The Olden Domain” has a lot to offer. It is a huge step forward from the debut album, which was typical raw black metal chaos. This album has song structure, amazing vocals, and an excellent drum performance by one of black metal’s best, Grim (R.I.P.).

Grim has brought forth amazing black metal performances before this album. Immortal’s “Pure Holocaust” was outstanding, as well as Gorgoroth’s “Under the Sign of Hell.” Here, his drums are distorted and not as powerful as he is in the above mentioned albums. Not to say they are bad, he still kicks ass with really fast blast beats and such, but they are kind of noisy and strung together, without the force that he usually had with Immortal and Gorgoroth. Overall, a well done drumming performance, but just a little off for what one might expect from the mighty Grim.

Garm is perfect on this album. Especially his clean vocals. His clean vocal delivery on this release is absolutely gorgeous. He does not use that calm, eerie, and weak voice that he is famous for today. Instead he uses a mega-powerful, rich folk baritone voice. This is his second best vocal effort all time in my opinion (Best performance being Arcturus’ “La Masquerade Infernale”). Garm’s harsh vocals are high-pitched and scratchy at times. He sounds a little strained while doing them. His strength is clearly in that deep singing voice of his. However, he uses the harsh vocals a lot more than clean on this release, which sucks.

The best songs on this album are “To Mount and Rove,” “A Tale of Pagan Tongue” and “The Eye of Oden.” All of these songs have beautiful Garm singing passages within them. The other songs are no slouch however. “Grimland Domain” has a cool epic, Moonsorrow sounding riff in it.

The atmosphere and lyrics are all Viking and folk sounding. The album is very effective for what the band was trying to do with it, unlike newer Borknagar albums.

So, if you’re looking for a great Viking black metal album, with an epic sound, and amazing clean vocals, then pick up Borknagar’s peak album, “The Olden Domain.”

A masterpiece of pagan tongue - 93%

Moonglum_Of_Elwher, October 10th, 2007

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.

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

Towers above their other releases - 99%

Aeturnus65, July 9th, 2005

The delicious cacophony that was Borknagar’s self-titled debut could do very little to prepare fans of black/Viking metal for this release. Indeed, who could have guessed that with only their second album Borknagar could have produced what is perhaps one of the absolute finest examples of this sort of music, a sort which is inherently difficult to classify? Is it black metal? Viking? How about folk metal? I’d settle on a classification of “blackened Viking folk metal”, but whatever one decides to call it, the end product is the same: 44 minutes of sonic brilliance which today remains largely unmatched, even by Borknagar themselves.

For his second (and last) performance with the band vocalist Garm (aka “Fiery G. Maelstrom” aka Kristoffer Rygg) manages to steal the show, an impressive feat given the abundant wealth of high points on this disc. The mixing of clean and harsh vocals is certainly nothing new in the metal world, and was hardly any more novel back in 1997. However, few vocalists can deliver such commanding performances in each distinct style as does Garm here. His harsh vocals range from shrieking screams to guttural growls, often mid-verse. Anyone can get a mic and growl into it; not many can infuse passion into such tormented wailings. Ulver had an album that consisted solely of Garm screaming, and it worked quite well, if only because Garm does harsh vocals so well. It must also be mentioned that his work on The Olden Domain is a prime example of growls that are easily deciphered. That is, the heavy metal stereotype of vocals that no one can understand is quickly dispelled here.

No less worthy of veneration are Garm’s clean vocals. If you’ve heard any of his older work with Arcturus, Ulver, or even his few cleanly sung parts on the Borknagar debut, then you have an idea of what he sounds like with his trademark croon. Sure, his range is limited and his accent is a bit noticeable. That might ruin some singers, but for Garm these aren’t issues. At times sounding almost chantingly monkish, his deep voice is absolutely perfect for the music contained on these eight tracks (well, really six since there are two instrumentals). I don’t know, maybe his voice really is a love-it-or-hate-it type of thing, as I do know of a few (for shame!) fans who don’t care for him. If this really is the case then put me squarely into the former category. Ok, enough Garm fellating for now – just listen to the man and you’ll be spellbound. Let me just say that it’s a real tragedy he decided to focus on Ulver and the weirded-out electronic techno style they have evolved to, something which is just not my cup of tea at all.

Alas, vocals alone cannot save a metal album from mediocrity without some serious tunes backing them up. Well, the music here is, dare I say, nigh perfect. Each song seems to be the exact length it needs to be. Some people say this is progressively-tinged black/Viking metal, a point I can’t argue. However, by no means does this signify long-winded “wank” sessions that seem out of place. No, nothing here seems extra, forced, incomplete, yadda yadda yadda. Trust me – it’s the complete package. Norwegian metal never had a finer three quarters of an hour. Hell, I could also argue that neither did Swedish, Finnish, Russian, American, nor German metal, but that’s another discussion.

Everything is done so well here – the guitars, the keys, bass, and drums. The guitarwork is largely centered around the creation of swirling melodies that evoke certain images. There is a bit of solid chugging, but mostly we get something more akin to Bathory’s “One Rode to Asa Bay”. In short, tremendous guitar work that, together with the keyboards, almost soothe rather than beat you over the head mercilessly. Actually, to do that we have the drumming of Erik Brodreskit (aka Grim). I know very little about the man, but apparently he was a miserable wretch prone to terrible depression and other nasty things. That’s unfortunate because I really like his playing here. He’s obviously talented but he doesn’t have to flash it with endless blastbeats and such. Perhaps this was guitarist and principle songwriter Øystein G. Brun’s influence, but regardless, Grim does very well here, playing in a much more direct and forceful manner than seen on later releases like Epic with its meandering, almost jazzy drumming. Heck, even the keyboard work sounds terrific. Most often relegated to a layered background role, they only add to the majestic Viking feel of the album. Keyboards don’t really work when they are relied on for providing melody to contrast with harshness (kind of like Dimmu Borgir, but let’s leave that one alone as well). In other words, a song structured something like: “click-click-click-click-click-click-{insert keyboards here}-click-click-click…” very likely will suck. When keys are used to enhance a sound, perhaps even mirror the underlying guitar melodies, then we’re getting somewhere. Actually, in case you can’t tell I’m lousy at effectively describing keyboard work in a metal album, so how about you just listen to the album to hear what I’m talking about?

As for the tracks themselves, a song-by-song analysis would be awfully redundant since each song is superb in its own right. However, a couple of them are worth noting, due mainly to their sheer power and beauty. Song number two, titled “The Winterway”, is a perfect study in the contrast between brutality and melody, speed and tranquility. With liberal use of acoustic guitars, keyboards, and even what sound like violins, the song is barely even classifiable as any sort of black metal. That’s irrelevant, however, because people (hopefully) aren’t listening to this looking for hellacious black metal. “Grimland Domain” (I love that title), on the other hand, begins with something probably most similar to traditional black metal, accented by Garm’s excellent work. His clean passage in this song (“See the plains so eternally white…”) is something special. Most any listener can tell upon hearing this that Garm may not be exceptionally talented from a technical standpoint. True, he’s definitely improved over the years, but his later work with Arcturus and Ulver is “enhanced” by studio effects, so for purity his work here wins hands-down. Sometimes it almost seems like he’s forcing his clean voice to be so low, and in this sense he sounds a bit stretched. However, give me a vocalist with passion over one with worlds of ability but lacking real passion any day. Fans of Viking metal are likely well acquainted with the supreme example of this mantra – Quorthon. Thus, Garm’s vocals work so well partially because of the passion he so very clearly has. Viking metal, almost as a rule, demands passionate vocals (be they clean or harsh). You’re not belting out catchy choruses, but instead are telling tales of, well, pagan tongues (sorry, couldn’t resist). If you’re serious about Viking metal you better not limp through your songs vocally, as flaccid vocals can ruin even the best of songs.

To reiterate, this album essentially is not black metal. It’s much closer to, say, Bathory’s Hammerheart. In fact, I would put The Olden Domain about a notch below Hammerheart on my Viking metal scale, and that’s only because Hammerheart, to me, is THE essential album of the genre. Unfortunately for us listeners, Borknagar just kept changing so much with each album they subsequently released. I enjoy their newer stuff with Vintersorg, but I don’t think it even holds a candle to this album. You know how sometimes, after listening yet again to one of your favorite albums of all time, you feel almost sad knowing there will likely never be anything like it again? Well, this is one of those albums for me. So hauntingly beautiful yet excessively powerful at once, The Olden Domain indeed can almost bring me to the verge of tears, and for that I must commend Borknagar for releasing such an album. It’s not black metal, nor is it full-on pure Viking metal. Who cares? Go buy it.