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Borknagar - Epic CD (album) cover



Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

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4 stars **** - A small masterpiece of extreme progressive metal!

So this is where Norwegian metallists Borknagar have come through their colourful career - from being a furious black metal band to a full-blown progressive metal group with a very rich and multi-layered sound! The music on this album is of course very heavy, that's the one thing Borknagar has never abandonned - but it's also very symphonic.

The songs on "Epic" vary quite a bit; some are frantic metal hammering with blastbeat drumming and aggressive growling, whereas some are peaceful and concentrate more on clean vocals and beautiful melodies. Actually most of the tracks are a blend between these two styles; that's what makes the music so interesting. Vocalist Vintersorg makes a perfect job changing from his merciless growls and soothing cleans. There couldn't be a better vocalist for a band like Borknagar. Drummer Asgeir Mickelson bashes the cans as furiously as ever, but he's very technical and adjusts his drumming with the moods of the music flawlessly. Keyboardist Lars Nedland provides great layers of sounds, using Hammond organs and grand piano with the synthesizers and guitarist Řystein G. Brun is at the top of his career; both technically and regarding his compositional skills.

I won't go into too much detail but a few highlight tracks must always be mentioned. The opener "Future Reminiscence" is sheer brilliance; the change of moods and vocal styles it at it's best here. Both very heavy and beautiful mellow parts are in a perfect dialogue, all the time backed up with Nedland's keyboard wizardry. "Sealed Chambers of Electricity" is another top notch track. Here we can hear a flute as well and the Hammond organ is very audible. This goes to show that Brun is willing to experiment beneath the traditional heavy metal instrumentation. The guitar playing and drumming is as complex as ever. "The Weight of Wind" is an instrumental track, and it features Nedland playing the Grand piano in a very fine way. This is mostly a keyboard track, yet in the middle the guitar and the drums kick in to support the absolutely brilliant keyboard melodies.

I can say with all my heart that this is prog metal, and if anyone doubts this, I dare you to try this album and reconsider your views regarding this Norwegian band. For all progmetalheads this is essential stuff in my opinion. The composition, the instrumentation, the execution; splendid.

Report this review (#41172)
Posted Monday, August 1, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars First of all, before we get in the dabate of knowing if Borknagar is black or progressive, let's start by saying that, i am not a fan of black metal, not at all, but i 've heard the instrumental song the weight of wind, and i really got something out of it. The rest of the album is just perfect, the black side of the album, is not always present, and the clean voice make's the grim one more accessible. The orchestration in this album is fantastik, with all the changes of mood and the omnipresence of up-tempo beats, the final result could be classified as great black prog metal, a true wall of sounds and power, but also very "proggish atmosphere, with . Songs like Cyclus, sealed chambers of eternity, Circled or the magnificent song called the wonder come to close the album, with an epic song that contrast beautyfully with the heavyness of the rest of the album. BORKNAGAR, HAS, on it's own redifine how black/death metal could adjust, in order to become enjoyable for non-initiated fans of louder and heavier music. Excellent musicianship!!! After, more than 30 times of listening this album, i am far for getting tired of it...if it does happen, i wil run to buy their previous albums, because this one is amazingly great.
Report this review (#59897)
Posted Friday, December 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars "I am rising as I am falling".

The best Borknagar release, combining the majestic leanings of symphonic prog with black metal, to create a moving and stimulating work of art. It is intelligent, wonderfully produced (which is in contrast to most black metal), and wonderful at creating tense atmospheres.

The album is fairly solid throughout, with little downfall in the material as we go from the beginning of the record to the end of it. The Weight of the Wind is perhaps my favorite, which sounds almost as a sinister take on the style of Anglagard, as the keys here are menacing. The Classical effects here are well done, and there's much in terms of variation, from the scathing vocals to mellow sections, to soaring melodies. Vintersorg's clean vocals are especially good, and really help to accentuate the music.

The compositions are well considered, inspiring, and the keys fit in brilliantly with the music. This is a wonderful record for those looking to explore the deep end of progressive metal as it has enough symphonic leanings to keep those interested who are not acquainted with the genre. I won't deny that their are a few weak spots, but the professionalism of the work and it's overall quality makes it a worthy part of a prog collection.

Report this review (#110232)
Posted Thursday, February 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars Progressive?, I don't really think so, sounds more like modern angsty metal to me.

What can I say, i was bitterly, bitterly disappointed by this, I had heard comparisons to bands like Ulver and it immediately piqued my interest being of the black metal persuasion and being included in the archives I thought something had to be good here. Alas it was not to be, what we have here are the angsty metalcore type vocals that plague modern metal, cheesy melodic singing set to a vaguely black metal background with some organ tacked on randomly at the end which doesn't fit at all.

If you're a prog metal fan first you may enjoy this, if you're an extreme metal fan more than a prog metal fan then you should probably steer clear as this really isn't for you.

Report this review (#146660)
Posted Wednesday, October 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars I first got into the heavier aspects of music (meaning metal of all kinds) around about 2004, when this record came out, though I hadn't yet heard of Borknagar. I discovered bands such as Deicide and Cannibal Corpse first, and despite my liking for some of the music, I was seeking something with a touch more melody and atmosphere. I knew it had to be out there.

It was.

I was asked by an old friend to join him for lunch and to come back to his place to listen to some CD's he had just gotten. I was drawn, for a then unknown reason, to his CD shelf. I began to pull each CD case out, one by one, staring at the artwork. Then I came across Borknagar's "Epic". The front cover caught my eye, as I had never seen anything like it prior to that moment. I asked my friend if he could pop it in the player. He smiled at me and said "You're gonna like this."

Damn it all if he wasn't totally right.

To this day, I still enjoy the record. Since I discovered it that year, I have bought and thoroughly ruined about 6 copies. Why? Let me tell you.

First, the production is wonderful; clear and crisp without being slick. I know it's a digital recording, but it doesn't SEEM like it's digital. I hate over-processed, Pro-Tools sounding records, but I have none of that feeling with this release. With that said, they could have gotten their hands a BIT dirty, as sometimes it seems like Mickelson's snare floats in and out of the mix. That complaint is rather trivial, as the rest of the recording is pretty much dead-on.

The band knows how to arrange a tune, don't they? The record comprises twelve songs, and it's a little over 58 minutes, so the average track length is four minutes and change. Unlike most prog-metal bands (I turn my gaze towards you, Opeth, Dream Theater and Metallica, though I do love you three), they seem to know when to let a song end, either by fading it out or stopping it completely. They also don't seem to want to be heavy or brutal simply for the sake of being brutal or heavy, unlike the massive dick-waving contest that is much of today's metal scene (of any stripe). Oystein is a great guitar player, and it appears that he has perfected an excellent mix of acoustic and electric, push/pull, action/reaction, pulse/pathos. This might seem like semantics, but-to these ears, anyway-each riff or melodic theme sets up the next one pretty nicely. To that end, there doesn't seem to be much-if any-repetition. Brun DOES repeat himself, yes, but when he does, it's usually to emphasize a point or structure a melodic theme. His playing-both acoustic and electric-is solid and well done. Melodic and atmospheric, it almost seems that he speaks through his guitar. I like that.

Now, let's talk about the rest of the instruments, with vocals first. Vintersorg has an eccentric (mildly put) tone, somewhere between Dani Filth's "terrier's nuts in a trap door" squeal and Shagrath's stentorian bark. His clean vocals, however, are pretty majestic, and he does have a range. Check out the vocal backing on "Sealed Chambers Of Electricity". His vocal is absolutely spine-tingling, and only adds to the lush atmosphere. The keyboards, played by Lars A. Nedland, are another ace up this band's sleeve. Lars knows nothing but melody, and he plays some resolutely majestic parts here, whether it be on piano, organ or synth. The guy is simply impressive, and a is a capable backing vocalist as well, which the trained ear will hear on various parts of the disc. The drums and bass (both played by Mickelson), are a technical triumph, but they don't get techy for the sake of being techy. In fact, the disc really doesn't get "heavy" at all. But that might be the band's trump card; instead of balls-out savagery, they appear to prefer mood, feeling and atmosphere (there's that word again), which I quite like.

Moving on to the songs themselves: This is a compact little firecracker indeed, with an average track time of four minutes and change. The tunes, despite some speed-ups and random breakdowns, are deceptively accessible things, laden with hooks soaring guitars and an almost psychedelic feeling. Now, I wasn't born in the sixties, but if this is what the psychedelic boom sounded like, I'll book a trip to Woodstock faster than you can say "I saw Hendrix burn his Strat.". Despite being lumped in with the "black metal" scene (which they still have ties to, mind), they're not the average, run of the mill BM band. The lyrics deal with philosophical issues; Oystein manages to namedrop Copernicus in a song, which is a rare thing for anyone to do (irrespective of genre). So no; no typicality here at all.

In closing, I wish they had continued down this path. Both "Origin" and "Universal" are strong showings, but neither really gave me the mix of sensuous melody and spine-tingling atmosphere that "Epic" did, which is why I will always turn to this disc when I need a fix of the 'Bork. So my rating is 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.

Report this review (#458723)
Posted Friday, June 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
Prog Sothoth
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Borknagar can mean a lot of things: an alien race, an insect that eats trees, or a deviant sexual act. Apparently the name is just a name, as the band didn't wish to be tied down genre-wise by a title that adheres to strict categorization, which in a way gives them prog credentials before even hearing the music. Name your band Skullripper or Satan's Buttocks and you'll likely have a tougher time convincing potential fans that your brand of metal is intrinsically progressive, although Gorguts managed that feat. Borknagar's version of extreme metal doesn't shoot for off-kilter weirdness though; they play a rather melodic and easy-on-the-ears variety while maintaining enough aggression and speediness to easily hold on to their classification here.

The base of their music is symphonic black metal. There's the atonal goblin rasps, sections bolstered by blastbeats, tremolo riffs and plenty of keyboards to add extra layers to the mix. The mix itself seems to almost favor the keyboards by merely giving them an equal push to the front as the guitars sound-wise. But other aspects of the band give them a bit of identity separate from the numerous Emperor clones that began clogging metal sections of large and soon to be defunct record chain stores in the late 90s. By the time this album was released, that whole scene had mostly withered out, possibly due to the backlash involving a few bands of that ilk that became commercially successful by underground standards, but Borknagar stuck to their guns and evolved their sound somewhat with a strong hammond organ presence and an increasing majestic and far from 'grim' sounding chord sequences. Vintersorg's clean vocals continue to be used frequently, and why not since the guy can sing, and does so without resorting to falsettos, 'gruffiness' or a soft approach. The lyrics have next to nothing to do with typical morbid subject matter, focusing instead on the mysteries of life, the universe and everything. No mention of Douglas Adams though.

To be honest though, their style gets a bit tiresome after awhile with all the bombast and a production that's tight, clear but lacking in atmosphere. I actually prefer a couple of their early works just because they just felt more organic rather than clinical, but I could just be thinking this because I've heard enough bands with elements this album possesses that it doesn't strike a chord except on a few occasions. "The Inner Ocean Hypothesis" without a doubt remains memorable though thanks to the cool piano, drum and bass jazziness going on at times. Probably my favorite track off the album.

I can't fault the band at what they do; they most certainly are a talented bunch, including the vocalist, and there are plenty of quality moments throughout that stand out after repeated listens. As a whole though, it doesn't grab me like it would have done if it were released in the mid-nineties...although I'm guessing it would've thrown me across the room if that was the case.

Report this review (#761846)
Posted Friday, June 1, 2012 | Review Permalink

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