Considering that Borknagar have been doing things their own way for the better part of two decades now, it’s relatively unsurprising that latest album “Winter Thrice” seems far removed from the still burgeoning “progressive folk black metal tag” which Borknagar have been lumped with since 2000’s “Empiricism” album. Nonetheless, nobody complains, because Borknagar are, if anything, utterly reliable when it comes to producing new music, making things fresh and memorable in a genre which really threatens to become stale in the coming years.
This previous statement is what you could say about “Urd”, the predecessor to this year’s “Winter Thrice”, and not so much to the latest 2016 effort. Why? Because from the get-go, “Winter Thrice” further proves Borknagar are more concerned with playing it safe, teetering on the boundaries of their own musical world rather than pushing through and creating more of the unexpected twists and turns which made albums such as “Empiricism” so interesting. You see, “Winter Thrice” is mostly driven by mid-paced rhythms, very clean choral chants and a questionable lack of black metal bursts to level the field against each songs’ softer, atmospheric parts. Unfortunately, this record doesn’t seem to focus on that very well. Eight songs here all seem to point towards the same direction, but somehow Borknagar manage to pull the quality to an above average state, and that’s only by a margin. When you listen to songs such as eloquent opener ‘The Rhymes of the Mountain’ and the equally as spiritual title track, you understand that without ICS Vortex’s unmistakeably talented choir effects, these songs would practically fall flat. Taking nifty little additions like that away reveals something of a hollow core-instrumentation which provides more of a soundtrack to proceedings that it does an actual force to be reckoned with.
The same aspect affects virtually every other song on the album, bar ‘Panorama’ and ‘Noctilucent’. ‘Panorama’ is just about the one song saving “Winter Thrice from becoming relatively forgettable, especially when you hold the record up against Borknagar’s most notable releases such as the eponymous 1996 self-titled debut and “The Archaic Course”. With as many progressive twists and turns as you can pack into an almost 6-minute song, ‘Panorama’ is so delicious and exhilirating that it’s actually unfortunate that the surrounding songs seem lackluster in comparison. ‘Panorama’ experiments with pace, atmosphere and tone, whilst at the same time never forgetting the core values which made Borknagar stand out from the crowd in the first place. The same could almost be said for ‘Noctilucent’, which disguises itself as the only “interlude” of the album. Calling it “Interlude” is actually something of an understatement, as it presents much more charm and benevolence than the album’s more monotonous material. The fact that it was sandwiched in between ‘Erodent’ (the most boring song of the album) and hard-hitting albeit predictable closer ‘Terminus’ only goes to prove that Borknagar can focus on their own strengths when they prefer to.
“Winter Thrice”, if we’re being completely honest here, seems to play it safe too many times to even be levelled with albums such as “Empiricism” and “Urd”. Whether or not Borknagar wanted to go for a more streamlined approach during the process of this latest effort is as yet unknown, but it certainly doesn’t do the band any favours. The songwriting and musicianship just doesn’t pack as much flavour or appeal as we have by now come to expect from any upcoming Borknagar record, and it’s unfortunate knowing the band, for potentially the first time in their career, are going through the motions. “Winter Thrice” still has its perks, but are too few and far between to be any better than the end product.
Released: Janurary 22nd, 2016
- The Rhymes of the Mountain
- Winter Thrice
- Cold Runs the River
- When Chaos Calls