As I sit writing this review, in the middle of the UK's mildest winter for decades, there's an inadvertent irony in Century Media releasing Borknagar's new album at this time of year, titled as it is. 'Winter Thrice' implies some kind of long, harsh wintertide, inflicting its icy bitterness and freezing malice upon the landscape. Alas, it's currently 14°C and sunny. However, artistically, 'Winter Thrice', lives up to its name and has brought my December/January into its own frosty juncture; delivering its winter-ridden promise in sonic form. All in a very positive, uplifting way, I hasten to add.
2016 marks Borknagar's 20th anniversary, and what a way for the band to start their celebratory year. 'Winter Thrice', their tenth studio album, is a stunning piece of art. Steeped in blackened atmospheres and melancholic moods, with innovative twists and turns sporadically introduced into their richly layered instrumentations, these Norwegians are back with their always interesting, ever-evolving, progressive take on dark metal grandeur. With founding member, guitarist Řystein G. Brun, at the helm, they're as strong and musically invigorating as they've ever been.
Ostensibly, 'Winter Thrice' adheres to many of the black metal subgenre's traits during certain passages. Songs are loaded with bursts of blast-beat led passages; a melodic consonance/dissonance duality; tremolo-picked guitar parts; symphonic keyboards; snarled vocals; a sonic path that alternates between cacophonic and euphonic juxtapositions; and a general feeling of blackened melancholy. However, it would be a fallacy and all too dismissive to align Borknagar's music within any kind of restrictive parameters. This is so much more, and transcends genre trappings with the profundity of its various mood shifts in the context of stylistic fluidity and diversity. Nothing sounds forced or generic here. Rather, 'Winter Thrice' is an incredibly fresh sounding, dark metal work, and one that's grounded enough so as not to distance the casual listener, but also one that offers a more profound experience for those who listen below the surface, and can hook onto its emotional core and subtle, yet assured, moments of innovation. As such, its rewards seem almost infinite on each new listen. Its depths and penetrative complexities are quite staggering... and in a totally non-perplexing way; it flows magnificently from start to finish.
Vocally, 'Winter Thrice' shines in every possible way too. Aside from the harsh/clean vocals of Vintersorg; mainmain Brun; Arcturus and ex-Dimmu Borgir bassist ICS Vortex; and Solefald's Lazare (also the band's keys man), Ulver's Garm returns to Borknagar's fold for the first time since 1997, by contributing a few vocals here and there; apparently to mark the occasion of their twentieth anniversary. Too many singers, you might think? Not in the slightest. This polyvocal approach works in the album's favour, adding to its grandeur and wide-ranging soundscapes... even if traces of certain members' core bands do occasionally materialise - for example, 'Panorama' erupts into a chorus that wouldn't sound out of place on a Solefald record; this song has Lazare's stamp all over it... but in a very positive way, of course... and still within the context of Borknagar innovation rather than Solefald avant-gardism.
'Winter Thrice' also has a great production. Every instrument and voice has just the right amount of resonance and bite to add to the exhilarating whole. And kudos to the ever-reliable Jens Bogren too, for his masterful mix. Few can mix so many layers to such utter perfection as the Fascination Street Studios founder, and he's delivered once again. Borknagar's tenth album is, undeniably, an epic beast of a record that I'm sure will find its way onto many a journalist's end of year lists. This bunch of talented Norwegians are pivotal to the metal scene, in keeping its aesthetic moving forward into exciting, yet accessible, new territory. Thank fuck for Borknagar.
Review by Mark Holmes
22nd January 2016
1) The Rhymes of the Mountain
2) Winter Thrice
3) Cold Runs the River
5) When Chaos Calls
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Steeped in blackened atmospheres and melancholic moods, with innovative twists and turns sporadically introduced into their richly layered instrumentations, these Norwegians are back with their always interesting, ever-evolving, progressive take on dark metal grandeur."