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Borknagar - Borknagar CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.11 | 35 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars BORKNAGAR started as a project once Norwegian guitarist Øystein Brun grew tired of the 90s world of death metal when he was in the band Molested. Having been surrounded by the explosive world of second wave black metal that was taking Norway by storm in the1990s, Brun desired to create a more progressive form of the style by mixing traditional second wave black metal sounds with the newly created Viking metal from Bathory along with Scandinavian folk music and progressive rock.

Brun's vision was so persuasive that he successfully recruited a cast of underground superstars which included Roger TIegs aka Infernus (bass) of Gorgoroth, Erik Brødreskift (drums) of Immortal and Gorgoroth, Ivar Bjørnson (keyboards) of Enslaved and Kristoffer Rygg aka Garm (vocals) who sang in Ulver, Head Control System and Arcturus. This dream cast was so impressive that the BORKNAGAR project was able to by-pass the demo process by scoring a record contract on Malicious Records solely based on the lineup and the newly formed band quickly recorded and released this self-titled debut in 1996.

Brun's desire to expand the boundaries of the second wave black metal that had launched the scene onto the world's stage came at the right time when the limitations of the traditional ways were presenting themselves however black metal has proven to be a very adaptive beast with early bands like BORKNAGAR showcasing its adaptability and resilience. Having been put off by the relentless brutality of his death metal involvement in Molested, Brun was more interested in integrating melodic expressions in conjunct with the ferociousness of black metal but also added the pagan folk infused aspects of Viking metal along with the more adventures themes of progressive rock.

BORKNAGAR's eponymous debut differs from the band's many albums that came after in a few ways. Firstly this was the only album to be performed exclusively in the Norwegian language and the only album to feature Infernus as the bassist. The album is also the closest to the second wave black metal with caustic second wave black metal alternating with non-metal segments which feature ominous piano rolls, acoustic guitars and dark ambient atmospheres. While the band would develop the folk and progressive aspects much further on the second album "The Olden Domain," on this debut they still make their presence with folk infused musical scales providing the melodic infrastructure as well as progressive time signature deviations and unconventional song structures taking unexpected turns.

While the black metal aspects are very much in the vein of Darkthrone, Immortal, Gorgoroth and other no nonsense black metal bands bent on burning down as many churches as humanly possible, the seasoned playing skills of the musicians allow the tracks to be quite difference in how the instrumental interplay unfolds. Bass lines, guitar riffs, drumming styles and keyboard runs exude a firm sense of creative control while offering a sense of fearless improvisation in variations. The balance between sheer brutality and the sensually melodic is achieved and sounding seemingly effortless. The contrast between the dissonance of the buzzsaw guitars and frenetic raspy screams with the beautiful melodies and pacifying atmospheres is uncanny. Even some clean vocals can be heard.

Overall BORKNAGAR's debut may not be representative of the band's classic sound that followed but showcased the true power of a supergroup and its potential. Some 25 years on after its initial release, nothing on this album may sound revolutionary but during its time it was a true innovator which pioneered the world of progressive black metal that would allow bands like Enslaved to take black metal into the 21st century. Even without such plaudits, BORKNAGAR's debut is a true powerhouse of inventive black metal that exploits brutality and sensuality in tandem to unthinkable resolution.

As far as i'm aware this may have been one of the first albums to demonstrate as well how comfortably frenzied second wave black metal with its angsty raspy screams could coexist with the more chilled clean vocal mood swings of Bathory styled Viking metal. Any way you slice it, this one is a satisfying amalgamation of the entire black metal menu of variations up to this point and one that more than stands the test of time sounding as creative a quarter of a century after its release as when it must have during its own time. As the least progressive of BORKNAGAR's canon, this is also the most easily accessible to newbie ears and the obvious entry point for any curious ears wanting to explore this unique band's eccentricities.

4.5 rounded down

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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