WORDS: Tim Chisnall
The Norwegian band are described as progressive black metal, which has several defining features that could be predicted to present themselves within the music. Lyrics may revolve around historical events, mythology, the occult or cultural traditions and the music could be composed similarly to melodic death metal. With many black metal bands, guttural growls and high pitched screams dominate the vocals and even ‘folk’ instruments accompany or imitate the melodies being produced by the lead and rhythm guitars.
With these preconceptions in place, the first track from BORKNAGAR‘s Winter Thrice came across vastly different than expected. Entitled The Rhymes of the Mountain, it starts with harmonised backing vocals and subtle synthesised sounds present purely to add to the layered sound that the band were striving for in both production and composition. The traditional black metal sound rarely relies on crisp studio production, which makes BORKNAGAR stand out from the crowd instantaneously.
A wide vocal range is explored in the initial track’s somewhat generic rock vocals, but the growls iconic of extreme metal seem to be where talent really shines through. Fantastic aggressive power performed with an ability to articulate lyrics with impressive clarity seriously send shivers down the spine.
A similarly progressive, almost experimental sound is continued through into the second track. It is undeniably interesting musically although some of the synth sounds and effects are of questionable taste. The growls far outshine the clean vocals even more so in Winter Thrice title track, not because they are particularly bad, just mediocre.
Cold Runs the River blasts full speed ahead into a new depth of brutality for the album. The clean vocals and synths provide spice to the traditional recipe which really comes to life in this one, with far more power than previous tracks and still incorporating the elements that make BORKNAGAR different from their Scandinavian metal-band comrades. This song is a remarkable one from the album, when sitting and calmly appreciating the highs and lows of Winter Thrice develops into headbanging away to a monstrous track that also shines some light onto the impressive drum work being played that holds it all together.
Panorama is a weaker, slightly direction less piece with lyrics that strive hard to conjure up wondrous storytelling images, yet seem to fall short of the high poetic benchmark that other bands of a similar style have achieved. This coupled with the cheesy keyboard sounds rekindle any previous scepticism that a first time listener may have. Progressive music such as this is incredibly hard to perfect. Either it comes together as a glorious, unique symphony or it seems to be a trying a little to hard to become something the musical composition does not live up to. Winter Thrice has its moments in both of these categories, When Chaos Calls being another example of this. The consistent greatness throughout is still the passionate screams coming from vocalist Andreas Hedlund, they are redeeming in the albums weaker moments and masterful in its better ones.
Erodulent and Noctilucent have some solid riffs but the band seem to lose their way, diving off into musical tangents that aren’t necessarily as powerful as they could be. But the final track blends speed and technicality with simple riffs that are more structured, making them easier to follow. The song’s progression shows the same experimentation that is abundant throughout the album, though restrains itself from becoming too random and disconnected to appreciate.
To summarise, the heavy parts of this album are thundering, the band are unafraid to experiment with the instruments tones and their musical composition too. When this pays off, it really does and feels like and epic novel is being read to the listener. For new recruits, other bands would take my recommendations such as DRAGONFORCE for the tounge-in-cheek fantasy lovers or OPETH, GOJIRA or MASTADON for those who want to appreciate the experimentations possible for a metal band to create.
If BORKNAGAR‘s flavour of progressive metal is something you’re familiar with, then its understandable that this would appeal to you straight away and this review may seem overly critical. Upon second listening it becomes significantly more appreciable, though not an album I would regard as a timeless masterpeice.
Winter Thrice is out now via Century Media Records.