Release DetailsLABEL Century Media
RELEASED ON 8/10/2004
posted on 5/2004 By:
Oh, Borknagar, what changes hast thou seen? From the self-titled debut to this new offering, Epic, it’s as though you’re listening to an entirely new band. With only one original member to speak of, it’s not surprising that the band has morphed so drastically over the course of their career (pushing a decade at this point). What changes Borknagar hasn’t seen, however, are many between Empiricism and Epic. That’s not to say that they’re stagnating. They are most certainly not. It’s just safe to assume that anyone who enjoyed Empiricism (which, really, everyone should have) will enjoy Epic at least as much. The most obvious differences that Borknagar have integrated into their sound in the three years between the new album and its predecessor are further stylistic influences from the numerous other projects in which the band members are involved. For example, it’s hard not to hear some Solefald-esque riffing from time to time that wasn’t so evident on previous Borknagar albums, and the appropriately more epic feel to the album as a whole is reminiscent of Vintersorg’s main project and namesake. Not to mention that many of the lyrics are about metaphysics and all sorts of other pretentious pomp that Vintersorg is so well know (and either loved or hated) for. Overall, though, the atmosphere here is the same kind of forward thinking and progressive blackened metal that was found on Empiricism, with an equally dense feel that is complex yet never nonsensical.
Epic is a relatively lengthy and entirely consistent affair. There are twelve songs averaging just shy of five minutes apiece and none sound out of place or forced. The density of sound sort of makes it seem a little too consistent upon first listen, if you catch my drift. But, fortunately the monotony fades as the subtleties in each song make themselves more apparent. Every song has something unique to offer, from moments of ferocity to moments of calm and beautiful folk to epic and grandiose Viking-esque melodies. Thus far, some of the standout tracks include opener “Future Reminiscence,” “Traveler,” “Quintessence” (oddly titled, a title track for a previous album), and closer “The Wonder.” With the opener, the stage is set for a new and far more majestic Borknagar. It manages to encompass all of the styles that are to come on the album, and is rather surprisingly aggressive much of the time, complete with blast-beats and an abundance of screamed vocals. The albums true gem is the second song, “Traveler.” Its chorus is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever heard from Borknagar, with fast tremolo picking that would come off as pure black metal were it not for the strangely happy sounding melody. Top that with a prime example of just how good Vintersorg’s clean vocals can be and you have a winner. “Quintessence,” which shares a name with the album the band released before Empiricism, is another fast and aggressive song that has some unique and very nice atmosphere provided by keyboards. The closer offers a mellower end to an intense album, and it’s just as good as the rest with some pleasant and atypical acoustic melodies.
That only covers the first and last two songs on the album, which leaves eight in the middle. Those eight aren’t quite as striking as the others, in general, but they all still have some wonderful moments among them. One such wonderful moment is the instrumental entitled “The Weight of Wind,” led by a spacey keyboard part and some subtle guitar harmonies that don’t sound too dissimilar from something that Solefald would use. Another is “Resonance,” possibly the closest to pure Viking metal and fairly reminiscent of Thyrfing or Moonsorrow but a lot more forward thinking and progressive. The use of rock organ is undeniably cool and a perfect fit. The other songs in between the extremely strong beginning and ending are never less than enjoyable enough to listen to, unlike the filler than many bands use, so Epic is a consistently good affair that’s only broken up by some spectacular moments. I have no complaints about that.
Lyrically, Epic is a bit over the top. Sure, it’s all well and good to discuss metaphysics with friends from time to time, but I’m of the persuasion that if the band is passionate about their lyrical content, it should be about something that people can get excited about or relate to. Frankly, not many people will be able to derive any strong emotional responses from a verse like “Numbers are the essence of all things / When a metaphysical principle / Of rational order in the universe.” Still, though, you have to admire them for straying from any of the typical lyrical themes in metal music today. Lyrics about burning churches, gutting corpses, or defiling Jesus wouldn’t fit very well with this type of music. My feelings on the lyrics are by no means a gripe, maybe just a cautionary mention if lyrics are something about which you care.
The musicianship and production are both of the highest quality. Borknagar has always been something of a super-group and despite numerous personnel changes, they’ve maintained a very high standard for great playing. Probably my favorite performance are that of Asgeir Mickelson on drums and bass. The rhythm section is unlike what most other bands would use, with fast and intricate basslines and extremely complex drumming. All of the performances are stellar, though, and the vastly improved production showcases them all the better. Where Empiricism was somewhat tinny-sounding and hard to enjoy on headphones Epic is warmer and more full but without sacrificing any raw energy.
Borknagar have always been one of the better bands in metal because they’re always progressing. Not many can say that, and many who can say that can’t say that they’re progressing in a good way. Epic is a hugely solid release, destined to please any past fans and easily strong enough to bring on some new listeners. I can’t really predict whether this album will remain as strong as it has seemed through my initial many listens, but it’s so dense and detailed that it will probably continue offering new charms for a great many listens to come, and will possibly end up on many best of lists for 2004.
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