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Borknagar - Empiricism CD (album) cover



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3 stars Continuation.

Borknagar continues to evolve their sound, with much more added effect from Hammond organs and synthesizers, along with different song dynamics. Combinations of operatic chorus vocals with grim vocals is found. Guitars shift from back in the mix to forward, sometimes to ill effect however.

Songs range quite much (and somewhat surprisingly). Some seem quite dull (Gods of My World) as almost cringeworthy metal songs, while others are very intriguing, like the 7th Guest sounding Matter and Motion, an extremely eerie piece. There's quite a bit of diversity, even some jazzy interludes.

Some of the clean vocals can be a bit "too much" at times, just being a bit over the top, but overall it's mostly solid work. Understand this certainly is not for everyone, and I would recommend you have a taste for the genre, even an acquired one, before approaching this. Not excellent, but a nice little piece of work that is rewarding if you have the patience.

Report this review (#108865)
Posted Thursday, January 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Prior to this album's release, I had only heard Borknagar's previous, ''Quintessence'', and had liked it a lot; thus, I was very interested to hear what they'd come up with this time. However, I certainly didn't expect anything like this! The album's atmosphere is very different from ''Quintessence'' (in hindsight, that one is a rather atypical Borknagar album, but obviously I didn't know that at the time), and if anything, I liked it even more. Gloriously melodic, opulent arrangements abound right from the opening piano chords of ''The Genuine Pulse''. The musicianship is outstanding throughout; even (at the time) new vocalist Vintersorg (whose voice I generally like but whose performance I rarely find flawless) puts down the best vocals I've heard from him so far on this disc.

Lars Nedland makes very good use of his trademark Hammond here, an instrument rarely heard in extreme metal that lends some very interesting touches to this album. His piano-based instrumental ''Matter & Motion'' is one of the most intriguing instrumentals I've heard in all of metal (together with ''Inner Landscape'' from the previous album). The (fretless) bass and drum performances in particular are also among the finest to be found in the genre.

Each of the songs has something of its own to offer; while stylisitcally coherent, the individual tracks are far from samey. Even after dozens of spins, this disc still manages to keep me interested throughout as the compositions are so well thought-out and ''complete''. For its genre, this could be said to be a rather atypical album, for where black metal (progressive or otherwise) often strives to deliver a cold atmosphere, the music on here sounds about as warm and organic as is possible within the boundaries of the style. If you can imagine genuinely progressive (post)-black metal with a subtle yet ever-present 70s vibe, that's about what this album sounds like.

With the follow-up, ''Epic'', being a tad disappointing to these ears (basically more of the same, but not on quite the same level), and the latest album, ''Origin'', being a folky, semi-acoustic effort that sadly doesn't do much for me (even though I don't mind the style in general), ''Empiricism'' stands as the finest Borknagar album so far for me, the one where they managed to completely play to their strengths and get everything just right.

Report this review (#185390)
Posted Sunday, October 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars Empiricism is not a bad album, in fact it is rather interesting in terms of sound. However, the album does get rather same-y over time and sometimes one will wonder if he is hearing the same song several times. And despite it being an extreme metal album, the clean vocals are far more prominent than the black metal screams. The vocals and the ever-present synthesizers combine to make a sound that sometimes can sound a bit cheesy. In summation, the sounds on this album are to Black metal as the band Rhapsody is to regular metal: Intelligent, but sometimes too over-melodic and a questionable entry into the respective genre.

That being said, most of the music on this progressive black metal album is pretty enjoyable. The black metal vocals are not too difficult to overcome for the uninitiated, and definetely aren't the primary focus of the music. The clean male vocals are probably the focus, but those may be somewhat difficult to get used to, as they do go a bit over the top and sometimes sound as if the band is trying to come up with a catchy hook rather than focus on a masterful composition. The synthesizer is also worth noting, as all through the album there is background strings, woodwinds, choirs, and piano, adding to a pretty cool atmosphere.

Standout tracks include the opener "The Genuine Pulse", a fast paced song with lots of double bass and a catchy chorus. Later in the album is "Matter and Motion", a curious piano interlude with an ominous ripping sound in the background, showing the more progressive side of Borknagar. "Soul Sphere" also has a great catchy chorus and great singing and is a good one to pay attention to. "The Stellar Dome" is a slow paced song with excellent synthesized strings adding to the more haunting side of the album. The closer "The View of Everlast" is also an excellent ballad-esque track.

This isn't a terrrible album, it's an enjoyable one, especially to those more familiar with prog metal. However, the tracks do tend to sound the same and the overall sound can get a bit cheesy, and everything does have a tendency to become more and more generic. Appreciators of prog and metal should enjoy it.

Report this review (#218071)
Posted Sunday, May 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Empiricism is the fifth full-length studio album by Norwegian melodic/ symphonic black metal act Borknagar. After the recording of Quintessence (2000) vocalist/ bassist I.C.S. Vortex left the band and new lead vocalist on Empiricism is Vintersorg. New bassist is Tyr.

The music on Empiricism is much in the same vein as on Quintessence though. The lineup changes doesn´t mean that much even though I know some people find Vintersorg´s vocals to be an aquired taste. The vocals still alternate between raspy black metal style vocals and clean male vocals. Well executed vocals IMO. The music is dominated by loads and loads of classical inspired keyboards, organ and synths by Lars A. Nedland ( Age of Silence, Winds, Vintersorg, Solefald) and the guitars which are normally the most prominent instrument in metal is a bit more in the background. The drums are excellent and it´s greatly enjoyable that Asgeir Mickelson lends his skills to another Borknagar album. He is such a skilled drummer. The songs are very melodic and generally memorable even though they do tend to get a bit trivial towards the end of the album. I´m not much a fan of this melodic/ symphonic black metal genre though so fans of the genre might feel otherwise.

The musicianship and production is top notch. Nothing wrong in that department.

Empiricism is a good album by Borknagar and I was actually considering at some point if it deserved a 4 star rating but I´ve come to the conclusion that it´s a big 3 star rating. Not quite to my taste but definitely a quality album.

Report this review (#221662)
Posted Thursday, June 18, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Keyboards and drums continue to be the most progressive elements on the album followed by vocals. By now, the band can offer a high quality clean vocal tandem, black metal screaming as well as death-metal growling. Especially the second half of the album is ambitious and progressive by Borknagar standards.

A very unusual electronic start in the first few seconds is abruptly interrupted by unmercible black-metal drums with a retro-synth. There is a duel between the warm clean vocals and black metal shrieks. If you listen to the previous album and skip to this track, you will notice quite a flat sound and drums higher in the mix which I don't like m uch. It is one of the most memorable tracks on the album due to its simple buf effective melody. I don't like the sound of the drums on this album.

With "Gods of my world" awaits us another good track with vocals standing out. Notice also quality keyboard work in the end that make the uutro a bit fairy taile.

While I don't particularly enjoy "The Black canvas", it offers interesting Hammond work, both chords and solo. That's not if from the keyboard, "Matter and motion" leads us to a jazzy and playful territory with even some dissonan chords, unheard of a black-metal band!

"Soul sphere" pulls of a great progressive drumming pattern, seems like > 2 hands/feet playing ;-). Also worth netioning is the acoustic mellow part with acoustic guitar.

The last three tracks are unusually progressive, "Four element synchronicity" already has an ambitious name and displays great compositional craft with complex arrangements, moods. Listen to the playful piano-drums duel at the end of the track.

"Liberated" is a progressive metal piece with black metal vocals and great atmospheric piano. "The view of everlast" is the first ballad by Borknagar, melancholic, mellow and radio friendly at the same time.

This album may not be the most favourite for pure metal fans but will please every progressive heart and ears.

Report this review (#2309958)
Posted Monday, January 27, 2020 | Review Permalink
3 stars Released in 2001, Empiricism marks a fine return to form for Borknagar after two albums (The Archaic Course and Quintessence) that were far from the level of quality the Norwegians had reached on the splendid The Olden Domain. After Quintessence, ICS Vortex, who had sung on both previous albums and played bass on Quintessence, left the band to concentrate on Dimmu Borgir and was replaced by the talented Vintersorg on vocals and Tyr (who had played live with Emperor and Satyricon) on bass. The change of line-up was very beneficial for Borknagar, not because ICS Vortex is a bad vocalist (to the contrary, he's excellent), but because Vintersorg seems to fit much better the sonic masterplan of band leader Øystein G. Brun. His singing is more epic and less extravagant than ICS Vortex's, which is a better match for Borknagar's progressive/folk blend of extreme metal. Tyr's performance is also very notable, with some excellent parts on bass and fretless bass, including a few solos. The rest of the line-up for this album is comprised of Øystein G. Brun and Jens F. Ryland on guitar, Lars A. Nedland on keyboards and Asgeir Mickelson on drums.

The fact that we are in front of a much stronger record than the previous two is already apparent from the opening pair of songs, "The Genuine Pulse" and "Gods of My World". On both songs the songwriting is lean and direct, with some excellent guitar riffs and leads intertwined with Nedland's great barrage of vintage keyboards. The song structures explore different themes and sections, but they are always anchored in instantly recognizable choruses and melodies, that help the listener keep track of the journey. The arrangements add just enough layers to make the music interesting without overburdening it with excessive complexity. Fast and aggressive parts are complemented with grandiose mid-tempos giving the music an epic and majestic tone, reminiscent of the atmosphere one can find on Dimmu Borgir's Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, but with an added dose of quirkiness and folk allure. The overall impression is that on the new album Borknagar have finally achieved the right balance between their various facets (black metal fury and melody; progressive experimentation and accessibility), which is a huge improvement over The Archaic Course, for example.

The individual performances of all musicians involved in the album are outstanding. Vintersorg is excellent, both when he uses his epic clean vocals and when he resorts to his grim growls. Both styles are nicely balanced through each song and fit well with one another. Tyr offers a very melodic bass presence which constitutes an exceptional rhythm section together with Mickelson's varied and sophisticated drumming. Brun and Ryland's guitars nicely complement one another, which is again an improvement over previous albums where one had the impression that Borknagar had not yet figured out how to make the two guitars work together. Lars A. Nedland's performance also deserves tons of praise. On Quintessence he had already demonstrated to be a very talented musician, but his role on that album was perhaps a bit disconnected from the rest of the band, with the result that occasionally his keyboard parts were sounding a bit out of place and forced. Nedland is perfectly integrated in the band now, and it is great to hear his always tasteful choice of keyboard sounds, varying from vintage Hammonds to futuristic synths.

Probably a lot of these improvements come down to the longer time the band actually spent in the studio, honing the songwriting and recording the songs (two months compared to the few weeks of previous releases), and to the excellent sound production by Børge Finstad (who will go on to produce several records in this genre, with Borknagar, Solefald and Wind). The guitars and drums sound great, with lots of bite and edge. There is a lot of space and dynamics in the sound that let each instrument come through when necessary, even Tyr's bass ? which is an instrument that often gets sacrificed in this type of music. This spaciousness does not at all come to the cost of power, though: the album can pack a punch or two when needed. Again, the record is excellently balanced in its various facets.

While there is a lot to like on Empiricism, the album does contain a couple of dull moments, with slightly more nondescript songwriting. This is the case especially in the second half of the record, where we have tracks like "Inherit the Earth" and "Liberated" that are borderline fillers. Fortunately, the good moments greatly overweigh the bad ones, and tracks like the opening duo, the progressive tour de force "Soul Sphere", and "Four Element Synchronicity" stand tall as great example of the talent of these six musicians. The latter song is particularly remarkable for how modern it sounds still today, 20 years after it was first recorded: this track could have been taken from one of the recent albums of Leprous (before their progressive-pop turn) or Ihsahn, showing how visionary and forward-looking Borknagar were back then (or perhaps how backward-looking the progressive metal scene is today!?).

In summary, Empiricism is a strong album, marking a definite return to form for Borknagar. After Quintessence, I had started to wonder whether Borknagar were perhaps a "one album" wonder, which after the excellent The Olden Domain were destined to drown in mediocrity. Empiricism proves me wrong. It is not quite at the level of excellence of The Olden Domain, but it gets damn close and is definitely a highly recommended listen if you are into progressive extreme metal.

Report this review (#2601261)
Posted Sunday, October 10, 2021 | Review Permalink

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