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Reviews

Borknagar: Urd

16/04/12  ||  Will Cifer

Borknagar’s “Urd” is a reminder of how timeless metal should be made. After having worn “Universal” into the ground two years ago, my lofty expectations for this release were rewarded. The band treads a line between supergroup and side project, yet continues to mature as a unit. The more in-your-face bombast is toned down, due in part to the drum mix which sits without any real thunder in the background. While the band has a new drummer, Baard Kolstad, behind the kit, it’s actually David Kinkade whose fleet feet are doing these songs justice.

There is a noticeable formulaic element early on; at three and a half minutes into the songs, things take a more introspective prog break down, introducing prominent piano or acoustic guitar… something for the elves to slow dance to. Yet the only filler is the piano-driven instrumental, “Plains of Memories,” could have been excluded; it comes across as a section of a longer song rather than holding purpose on its own.

Ics Vortex is back in a big way, so big that his soaring vocals overpower Vintersong’s in the mix, though their two voices blend so well together it sometimes becomes hard to differentiate the two… until Ics pops out with his upper register yodel. One of the band’s strengths is Vortex and Vintersong’s knack for unconventional melodies wrapped around the music and touching on folk elements. These melodies are as majestic as any procession in Narnia.

The question to ask of progressive music is where is the progress? How is the sound evolving? A wandering keyboard solo alone does not make a band progressive. The song “The Beauty of dead cities” reveals that the band are students of Yes; the Rick Wakeman-influenced keys glide in the background, and in a particular section the vocals even mimic Jon Anderson’s phrasing. Even after repeat listens, I could not shake the Marillion vibe the album was giving me, the blend of majesty and the morose. The keyboards are an integral part of the music rather than an afterthought. Lars Nedland’s playing adds drive to the song in the same way Jon Lords once did with Deep Purple. Repeated listening proves how crucial the atmosphere they bring to the album is, making this a lush listen. It helps to keep introducing new sounds at every turn.

The trend in progressive black, or if we are going to blame Opeth, then death metal, is leaning harder into more traditional prog at the cost of sacrificing some of the heaviness. I think the Comorant album was the last time the blend felt right. The slight dial back in intensity is less offensive and more forgivable here than, say, on “Heritage”. “Mount regency,” one of the albums heavier moments, could not convince anyone who no longer has “Dr. Feelgood” in regular rotation that this is in any way black metal.

The qualms I have with the album’s sometimes thin mix are overlooked, as it continues to draw me back in for repeated listens. I have missed Ics Vortex and this album cures the disappointment of his bland solo album “Storm Seeker”. In today’s musical climate, this may not win them new fans, regardless Borknagar is burning the metal torch bright for true believers.

8,5

  • Information
  • Released: 2012
  • Label: Century Media Records
  • Website: www.borknagar.com
  • Band
  • Vintersorg: vocals
  • ICS Vortex: bass, vocals
  • Øystein G. Brun: guitars
  • Jens Ryland: lead guitar
  • Lars A. Nedland: keyboards
  • David Kinkade: drums
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Epochalypse
  • 02. Roots
  • 03. The Beauty of Dead Cities
  • 04. The Earthling
  • 05. The Plains of Memories
  • 06. Mount Regency
  • 07. Frostrite
  • 08. The Winter Eclipse
  • 09. In A Deeper World