Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Album Review: Borknagar - Winter Thrice (2016)

Borknagar - Winter Thrice

Not many bands do majestic and sweeping melodies as well as Borknagar; there's a real sense of grandeur, of mystical heroism and spiritual power, in many of the songs on Winter Thrice. It's a richly textured album with a lot going on. The first four tracks are exceptional; they're unpredictable and beautifully arranged, each song has its own fingerprint and own path to tread. It all falls under the theme of winter: groaning frost and eternal blizzards, the rhymes of mountains and ice draped rocks; it's a harsh yet harmonious landscape and, as in 'Panorama', 'Everything grows, Everything Dies.' Erosive black-metal collides with soaring folk-melodies, the best songs on this album are those that waltz between intense spurts of black-metal and melodious clean passages inlaid with tender keyboards, harmonious vocals and acoustic caressing. Occasionally, as in 'When Chaos Calls', the two worlds combine, one world flows in to the other, and this is when this album is at its best, when these tender melodies merge with abrasive shrieks and pounding drums.

The two pre-released tracks that open the album are incredible songs that lift the album to the summit of frost-topped Norwegian mountains from the get go, it's hard to top such a great opening and the rest of the album attempts to break free from its mountainous shadow. They may have been more powerful placed elsewhere in the album, as a centre piece perhaps, or as a mighty culmination at the end.

Borknagar - PhotoThe clean vocals in 'Winter Thrice' are fantastic; the rotation of vocalists works perfectly, each singer has a certain tone that reacts with the others and the song so well: Lazare has a soft melodious voice that seems to long for something, Vortex has a powerful idiosyncratic whoop, more fierce, Garm - of Ulver - comes in with a more depressive drawl before Vintersorg's shrieks infiltrate from the external cold. I like clean vocals when done right, and Borknagar are masterful.

Some songs fall a bit flat in comparison, the intensity and the diversity isn't kept up, 'Noculent' is rather bland with its folk hard-rock conventionality, but it leads in to the pummeling snow-blast opening of 'Terminus', There is a strong progressive element to this album. 'Terminus' and 'Panorama' are prime examples of this with modulated keyboard sounds not far from something by Yes. 'Panorama' is different and playful, it reminds me of Ihsahn or Solefald, it does seem Lazare - founding member of Solefald - had a much greater role in this album. ICS Vortex isn't as prominent, which is a shame.

The second half of the album, in comparison to the first, isn't as instantly memorable, there were no sections that hooked me like 'Rhymes of the Mountain' and 'Winter Thrice' did. It's a solid record all together, but it could have been so much more. It's certainly on par with Urd, in my opinion. They're consistently great and because of this so much is expected of them. 

Rating: 7.5/10

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