Borknagar - _Universal_
(Indie Recordings, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (7.5 out of 10)
I remember quite well when I heard Borknagar's first self-titled album. I'm going to date myself here, but that's fine. It was October of 1996, and I was in my first year of university. I recall going to the local metal record store, Ragnarok (sadly long gone out of business), with my friend. As we entered, there was a box of new CDs sitting on the front counter. After the owner had described to us what was in the box, he handed my friend a CD with what looked to be a really intriguing cover -- it looked like an old Norwegian wooden farming house in a field, surrounded by fog. I remember the cool thing was that Malicious Records had made a mistake and included two extra cover inserts in the CD. After looking at them, I saw that Øystein G. Brun had moved on from Molested to form Borknagar. Well, my friend ended up buying the CD, leaving me to guess who Borknagar was for a while. Finally, though, he let me borrow it so I could tape it -- yes, I said tape, as there weren't any readily available recordable CDs at this time (I think they came out about a year later). Anyways, this CD came to be my soundtrack to driving to and from my university for around five months straight -- I couldn't get enough of the raw and chaotic energy, coupled with the band's nature-based aesthetic.

Unfortunately, I didn't really like _The Olden Domain_ as much; and it really wasn't until _The Archaic Course_ that I was able to really appreciate Borknagar again. Without going into a critique of each album, I'll get right into what I think about _Universal_. My first listen wasn't so good. My initial reaction was that it was _Epic_ part two. Regardless of the return of guitar-player Jens F. Ryland and bass-player Tyr (Jan Erik Tiwaz), and the addition of the American drummer, Davide Kinkade (formerly of Malevolent Creation, Divine Empire, and Council of the Fallen), things have really not changed very much at all in terms of style, save for the bass playing which is clear and upfront in the mix. We still have the typical Borknagar epic melodies and clean, folky guitar interludes; we still have the pretty idiosyncratic use of flute/violin-synths (and Hammond organs), courtesy of Lars Nedland; we still have a pretty varied approach to the drumming (never too fast or too slow); and, last but not least, we still have good old Vintersorg (Andreas Hedlund) occupying the position of lead vocalist. Although Vintersorg keeps himself busy by switching between harsh and clean vocal, I have to admit that I can't appreciate his approach at all. Yes, there are quite a few catchy choruses in songs like "Havoc", "For a Thousand Years to Come" and "Abrasion Tide" with its "Aaahhh... ahhhh... ooooooohs", but there's still something that I just can't get into about Vintersorg's voice (maybe I'm crazy). I just find it pretty annoying after a while, unfortunately. I have to say that I loved Garm's vocal style; and when he left the band to concentrate on Ulver, I loved Simen Hestnæs' unique croon even more -- and, still to this day, I think Hestnæs was probably the best fit for Borknagar. All is not lost for _Universal_ in terms of vocals, though, as Mr. Hestnæs returns to do the lead vocals for the track "My Domain" (a great, albeit fairly mellow, track). What I did find a little different about _Universal_ compared to, say, _Epic_ is that Lars Nedland doesn't contribute nearly as much vocally. In fact, he only appears on one song, the somewhat oddly titled "Fleshflower".

I was really hoping that after the release of _Origin_ in 2006, Borknagar would release something truly different, yet still in the unique Borknagar style. Even after repeated listens to _Universal_, I just can't help but think I'm listening to a repeat of _Epic_. In my opinion, this is the same sort of curse that has befallen bands like Opeth, Immolation, and Morbid Angel -- they just keep putting out the same album over and over again. It's a shame that even with the return of two former members, and the addition of a new drummer, Borknagar couldn't steer their ship in a different direction. Oh well, perhaps the next album will be a little more different? Let's just hope we won't have to wait another four years to see.


(article published 7/3/2010)

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8/12/2000 P Azevedo 8 Borknagar - Quintessence
1/16/1999 P Azevedo 8 Borknagar - The Archaic Course
3/16/1997 S Hoeltzel 7 Borknagar - Borknagar
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8/12/1999 A Wasylyk Emperor / Witchery / Borknagar / Peccatum / Divine Empire Canada: No Church-Burners Allowed
8/12/1999 J Weathers Emperor / Witchery / Borknagar / Peccatum / Divine Empire U.S. of A.: Church-Burners Are People Too
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