Opening line of the press blurb with this promo describes Borknagar as "intrepid black metallers". After fully digesting their latest album, 'True North’, it transpires that is a very loose description of where they're at in 2019. Black metal idioms and dynamics are present, for sure, but their creativity is so much more expressively wide than mere genre affiliation on this new one. If I had to describe the music using a single phrase, then it would be "epic metal", and I don't mean the kind crafted by the likes of sympho-power metallers Rhapsody of Fire. Oh no. This is far more refined and sonically exquisite.
Perhaps their wider aural palette has been engendered by the band's revised lineup since 'Winter Thrice'. Founding member, guitarist Øystein G Brun remains, alongside bassist/vocalist ICS Vortex, and keyboardist/vocalist Lars A Nedland. However, with three longtime members now gone - guitarist Jens F Ryland; drummer Baard Kolstad; and vocalist Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund - it's made way for new blood. Namely, sticksman Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow and guitarist Jostein Thomassen.
Brun remains the primary songwriter, although Nedland contributes three tracks and ICS Vortex one. The latter is now also responsible for growls as well as clean vocals, while Nedland seems to have taken more of a central vocal role in many of the songs. And it's the latter's predominant vocal contributions that ultimately seem to infuse the tracks with flavours that deviate from the expected Borknagar fare. Flavours that have always been there, but now take centre stage during many passages of music. The overall Borknagar sound is intact, for sure, although some of the songs, vocally and compositionally, have a kind of Solefald vibe about them. Nedland's vocal prominence is perhaps the main reason here, although certain vocal lines, refrains, general melodies and moods are reminiscent of the more euphonic passages in Solefald's music. Solefald but without all the sonic derangement, if you will.
There are bursts of up-tempo metal extremity throughout the album, but there are so many more down to mid-tempo passages, where there's a ton of breathing space in the compositions for melodies to develop, shine and progress into all kinds of melancholically interesting soundscapes. Clean guitars, distorted guitars, bass and keys combine in ever-interesting ways in what are some evidently well thought out arrangements. The amount of work that’s gone into crafting these songs is axiomatic. Same for the vocals as the instrumentations - the vocal arrangements are fantastic. And, as a Solefald fan since 1999's 'Neonism', Nedland's part in the vocal arrangements and vocal lines is easily discernible.
However, 'True North' shouldn't be merely judged as a Borkfald (Solenagar?) album. This is Borknagar indulging in a side of the band that's always been there; almost recalibrating and creatively capitalising, based on the talents and strengths of the remaining members. An incredibly well produced/mixed/mastered work (the perennially reliable Jens Bogren had a hand... say no more), 'True North' is one of the band's very best.
Review by Mark Holmes
27th Sept 2019
2) Up North
3) The Fire that Burns
5) Wild Father's Heart
6) Mount Rapture
7) Into the White
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"This is Borknagar indulging in a side of the band that's always been there; almost recalibrating and creatively capitalising, based on the talents and strengths of the remaining members."