When a band’s life has spanned over 20 years and various members have come and gone, one would often assume a linear progression and gradual adaptation of sound. Yet with Borknagar’s tenth album ‘Winter Thrice’ they seem more inherently self-aware than ever of their existence in its entirety, from the more black metal roots through to all of their progressive and stylistic branches. The most obvious manifestation of this is the long awaited return of original vocalist Kristoffer Rygg. Although he only lends his vocal prowess as a guest on the tracks ‘Winter Thrice‘ and ‘Terminus’, it does consequent in all of the band’s historical singers coming together in one magnificent force. The move to welcome ICS Vortex back into the fold for the previous two albums alongside Vintersorg and Lazare was most welcome and has led now to this collection of songs that features contributions from four of my absolute favourite clean vocalists all together. The result does not feel forced or over-crowded, rather a perfect method for flowing elegantly through the diverse segments of each composition.
It is important to remember the solid foundation beneath this wondrous choir of voices; namely Øystein G. Brun, the only consistent member in the band’s long history and the primary songwriter. The pace and intensity that ebbs and flows throughout gives for a thoroughly engaging experience, with a different song lingering in my thoughts after each listen. For this album Øystein also took the role of producer, giving him full control of his artistic vision, and to great effect. Everything about the sound is well-polished without losing the necessary potency of the guitars and harsh vocals.
Borknagar are one of those bands who I struggle very hard to think of a comparison for, and this is down to the carefully crafted style that surrounds all aspects of the band. The lyrics, the imagery and even the music itself feels incredibly connected to nature and the elements. The manner in which Vintersorg’s lyrics convey this connection is not one purely of mysticism, but one routed through science and philosophy. There is a sense of self-understanding coupled with an unceasing outward questioning of the universe and our positioning within it that perhaps mimics the band as an entity itself.
There are other forces at work here, to make this album the impressive musical apex that it is. Baard Kolstad has been making a name for himself as one of the most gifted young drummers in the scene. Having bestowed his talents upon bands such as Solefald, Leprous, God Seed, and Ihsahn he has now found his way into Borknagar, a place where his creativity and virtuosity can certainly flourish. There is an intricacy and delicacy about his drum work that can often go unnoticed in such a rich musical environment, but it is in slower songs such as ‘Panorama’ where his ability to make every passage interesting presents itself. Incidentally, this particular track also brings me to another huge positive for this album for me personally. As evidenced by having ‘Panorama’ penned and sung entirely by Lazare; the keyboardist seems much more prominent and involved now, especially with his vocals, which he delivers in the same unique manner as his other projects (Solefald & Age of Silence). His voice soars eminently clear and has a marvellous angular quality when shifting notes which compliments the way he effortlessly forces syllables into melodies.
Overall ‘Winter Thrice’ is a memorable expression of everything Borknagar has been (even the album title itself harks back to a refrain from 1997’s ‘The Olden Domain’), yet because of its organic nature it still sounds innovative and full of new life. With this means of gaining sustenance from the essence of everything past it has taken root in my mind already as a masterwork, an outstanding opus to be relished and revisited with great frequency.