True North by BorknagarRelease date: September 27, 2019
Label: Century Media Records
With eleven albums under their belt and fast approaching their 25th year of existence Norway’s Borknagar have reached the long climb to the peak of their brilliance with True North, an album so rich in diversity, spirituality and progression, it puts any fears of line-up worries to bed. The biggest change is of course the departure of Vintersorg, whose voice has been stimulating the ears of fans since 2001. There could really only be one man to fill his boots and that man is vocal-God Simen “I.C.S. Vortex” Hestnæs returning to main vocal duties for the first time since 2000’s classic Quintessence.
Borknagar’s driving force over the years is founder Øystein G. Brun, whose songwriting prowess has been the roots grounding the band to mother nature’s savage and beautiful imagery. His lyrical concepts have helped define Borknagar’s distinctive sound with many themes revolving around previously mentioned nature, earth and other cosmic elements. True North can be seen as Borknagar following their roots back to where their hearts beat strongest, and with the simple yet majestic cover art the listener is swept into that journey too.
Opener ‘Thunderous’ is packed full of ideas and contrasting elements that strike like frenzied lightning against a backdrop of wondrous scenery, becoming a perfect storm of beauty and grimness pieced together expertly by the veterans. Prog and folk influenced sections turn to avalanches of blackened icy blast beats and the coldest and darkest of vocals from returning leader I.C.S Vortex, whose rasping voice is just as breathtaking as his cleans. ‘Thunderous’ seems a fitting intro to Borknagar’s new era and is backed up by its stunning follower ‘Up North’. It’s a song to get lost in, to close your eyes and be swept into its pulsing soaring story, carried to new heights and unexplored places through the changing seasons of harshness and splendour. The way Vortex wraps his tongue around some of the songs opening words is truly unique, even playful at times, dancing along to the songs bouncing rhythm. The ‘Colossus’ of this era.
Lamenting ballad ‘Wild Father’s Heart’ touches the soul with its profound emotion, pulling at many a heart-string with its sweet emotive riffs and gorgeous chorus sections, “to climb the peaks to reach the sun, to rise above, to rise above”. Masterful. Borknagar have taken a subtle shift in direction without harming the band’s classic sound, becoming more black metal-infused prog rather than the opposite with tracks such as ‘The Fire That Burns’ and ‘Into The White’. Perhaps the contrasting tones are clearer on this release than others with the bulk of songs leaning more towards progressive metal. Blastbeats are used sparingly like in the epic ‘Tidal’ with only two other songs featuring them, and if this were anyone but Borknagar I’d have a complaint, but it is a welcome and well-played change.
The shift, as I say, is subtle and not smack-bang in the face or too overbearing for die-hard fans to process. The sporadic outbursts of BM iciness on ‘Tidal’ make it one of the albums harshest tracks and a lengthy callback to previous albums, with even a lyrical shoutout to Empiricism’s ‘The Stellar Dome’. The Lars Nedland led album closer ‘Voices’ again pushes the band to explore new depths with its slow pace but hard-hitting epicness, capping off this release, as many great albums do, with something different and interesting.
The keyword to take away from True North is ‘diverse’. It is a free-flowing, tidy and very special release, with any juxtaposed elements making for a marriage made in heaven. True North is Borknagar celebrating who they are and preparing for a spiritual walk into the future. Quintessential Borknagar, and a must-buy for 2019.