Borknagar – Urd (Century Media)

Following the classic Universal, this time Borknagar is back to Earth and to its natural microcosmos with Urd.
Release Date: 
26 Mar 2012 - 1:30pm

Borknagar and its team of stars - (David Kinkade (Drums - Soulfly) – no more in the band, has been substituted by Baard Kolstad after the recording sessions,  Jens F. Ryland (guitars, - ICS Vortex, being back in the band since the last album), Lazare (aka Lars Nedland - Keyboards, Vocals – Solefald, Age of Silence), Vintersorg (vocals, do you really need presentations?), ICS Vortex (vocals, bass – ex-Dimmu Borgir) , and Øystein Garnes Brun (guitars, the mastermind behind the whole scheme) – have created an all over  magnum opus from the cover art (made by the Brazilian Marcelo Vasco)  to the production handled by Jens Bogren (Fascination Street Studios – Sweden).

The saying ‘never judge a book by the cover’ really doesn’t apply here. And what we have inside that cover is  marvellous, intriguing and breathtaking music. This time around, the band is sticking to the most original kind of folk/progressive/black metal ever imagined by the human mind! It’s the crème de la crème of 2012.

Above all, ICS Vortex is back in the fold. On Universal, he had made just a cameo, but now, besides the bass workings, he divides his clean vocals with Vintersorg, being the most interesting duo of singers since Deep Purple dispatched Ian Gillan to contract Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale (and yes I SAID THAT!) back in the 1970’s. 

So let’s plunge into the music: Epochalypse opens the album with clean vocals that transform themselves in an ocean of black metal attack and then again in an onset of clean vocalizations, stupefying at first hearing, all of this in less than one minute. The variations keep coming and coming; flooding from the speakers and flabbergasting the eardrums with a perfect poise between what is extreme and what is calm, they aggregate all the senses of coldness and natural/cosmic beauty into the oscillation of instrumental layers, sounding neither bewildering nor groundless. 

Roots is equally interesting, but, more progressive, which means, it’s not the highlight in the first minutes of the song, but it morphs itself in a beautifully sung and memorable tune.

The Beauty of Dead Cities is the best song of the album in my opinion, bringing the remarkable vocals of ICS Vortex along for its chorus, with strange lyrics like “Powerful Green, forces gray away”, the breathtakingly intricate beats of Kinkade and keyboard work which resembles Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, only to debouch into vocals a la (Yes frontman) Jon Anderson… man and you have no idea how I love Jon Anderson!

Now, ladies and gentleman, the strangest and the most original piece of the album: The Earthling. Starting in a slow tempo, with the vocals of Vintersorg, and evolving into a pure form of classic symphonic black metal with the vocals screaming with pure hate and of course, swinging back to more cleans vocals from Vintersorg. Also, by this time one can notice the geniality of the fretwork of Jens F. Ryland and Øystein Brun, and the backing vocals of ICS Vortex complete the whole scene: it’s rock n roll, it’s black, it’s progressive - then the grand finale: The harsh vocals heralding  the clean voices again like the most enigmatic thing ever sung: although I don’t have the booklet I can guarantee that Vintersorg sings: “I’m the earthling, I’m the river of the sun” or something like that, whatever it means. Climax and ecstasy given to this poor listener. But let’s not kill him. Time for the interlude:

The instrumental The Plain of Memories brings peace to the spirit being a “hearing for sore ears”. A classical, monumental, perfect and trippy piece in the sea of calmness. 

Mount Regency is stylistically like The Earthling, bringing over again the vocals of Vintersorg, but this time adding a death metal approach to vocalising along with the black metal. Variation is Borknagar’s middle name. The song stops. You think you’re in a trip, just to be interrupted again by a guttural voice from hell that brings again the harmony of Kinkade, Lazare, ICS and Brun, a helluva instrumental assault..

Frostrite features ICS Vortex as the highlight of the song himself, resembling 100% his solo band that is a masterpiece, and it’s clear he gets the reins this time. This song it’s not black metal, bringing some delicious soloing and the last part of it being completed by Lazare exploring his keyboard in a piece that wouldn’t be out of place in Jordan Rudess' work.  Gosh, how can a band like Borknagar be real? How come?

The Winter Eclipse brings it all back to the apocalyptical black attack and over again featuring the insane drumming of Mr. Kinkade. The riffage is pure true Norwegian black metal, with that Bathory feeling to it. It’s the song that has more changes in the harmonies and tempos, with a lot of ideas thrown into it, but sounding seamless of course. Regardless being full of different parts, it’s the tune that you get yourself singing along all the way. I wish I could write riffs. Unfortunately you’ll have to hear it to understand it.

In a Deeper World, the “epilogue” to this microcosmic chef d’ouvre, is more serene making it the perfect closer to an album full of highlights. A flawless song.

The bottom line is this: Borknagar manages to work with a team of talented musicians, never colliding their egos, distributing the works equally, within an otherworldly production, so, how could I dare to say that it isn’t the best work of 2012? I know there’s more to come, but for the entirety of this opus, hardly a band will take the lead in this contest. 

PS: Borknagar never was my fave band. I’ll hear their entire discography again and relocate them to pantheon of my favorite bands (rock and metal) of all time. A statistic: this CD was heard 34 times, the record of times I voluntarily heard an album in the last three years or so.