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Borknagar – Borknagar (Reissue) Award winner

Borknagar
Borknagar (Reissue)
by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 08 December 2021, 1:54 AM

Over the decades, BORKNAGAR have changed their sound quite a bit.  Although they still retain a lot of black metal elements, their sound has been expanded with more melodic and progressive soundscapes to their already compelling repertoire. But what of their beginnings?  Were they of raw and of humble origins?  Or was BORKNAGAR always going to turn out amazing, even from their early days?  Yes, to all those questions actually.

Nothing on this self titled debut was ever a demo first, which is hard to believe considering how much even newer black metal bands love to parade around demos.  But Øystein essentially formed a super group, their reputation preceded them and they got a record deal from the get go.   Øystein himself was from the death metal band MOLESTED but the others were making names for themselves, even back then.  Garm came from ULVER to provide vocals, bass duties were given to Infernus of GOROROTH, Grim from IMMORTAL and GORGOROTH provided drums and Ivar from ENSLAVED play keyboards because, at this point, why not?  Seriously though, the man plays everything.

But even back in 1996, BORKNAGAR was onto something special.  Were they the confident, dynamic group they are now?  Of course not.  Hell,  Øystein is the only one from this album that is still in the band.  But sparks of what makes the band so special, glimpses of their future, can be heard here.  How could it not?  With talent like that on the album, then of course good things were going to be born from it.  The band members may be different and the sound may have changed but the spirit born from this album remains the same.

And now, twenty five years later, the world can be stunned by this album for the first time again because it has been remastered by Øystein himself and filled to the brim with great bonus songs that are worth the price of admission a second time. The album is divided in half between black metal and instrumentals, five of each track. “Borknagar,” is one of the few albums where the instrumentals/interludes are actually worth listening to, though they don’t always sound like they belong.  But, still, it is yet another glimpse into the dynamics that would come into play as the band continued their journey.

Vintervredets sjelesagn,” presents BORKNAGAR to the world for the first time with Garm letting lose a killer blackened scream and the entire band going for broke.  Despite the speed, the song sounds open and expansive especially near the mid section with the riffs that tread the line between classic black metal and more melodic leanings.  Even when the sound is encompassing, the bass still stands out, a credit to the good work that Oystein did. “Tanker mot Tind - Kvelding,” comes out of left field with its big usage of keyboards and military precision drumming.  Like I mentioned earlier, these instrumentals don’t necessarily go along with the black metal portion of this album’s musical narrative but they are enjoyable on their own.

Svartskogs Gilde,” does what “Borknagar” may have attempted by adding in all the instrumentals: balancing searing black metal with melody.  This song is definitely more along that train of thought and I can hear some influences within this song that would define their career later. In particular, the way the drums hold down a rock solid blackened foundation while complimenting the riffs is also what stood out on “Quintessence.”  GARM’s operatic style of cleans make an appearance on “Dauden.”  The use of cleans goes from sporadic to heavy as they grew into their sound but they work well here and I’m even reminded of Garm’s stint in Arcturus.  The bridge of the song kind of has a folk vibe to it, a new dimension of sound they would return to quite often during their Vintersorg era on albums like “Empiricism,” and “Epic”.  The rawness of this early BORKNAGAR sound however doesn’t make the song disjointed when these elements are used and, overall, the vibe of this track is still brutal.

The last proper track, “Fandens Allheim,” is maybe the most intense the song the band has ever done.  Everything about this track, from the riffs to the frantic drumming, is 100% black metal destruction on a grand scale. But the use of subtle keys throughout the song and the clean beginning show that Oystein still desired do step outside the box in these early days. The bonus tracks are a treasure trove of more raw, impacful version of the album during live sessions and rehearsals the band had as the Grieghallen Studios.  I’m not going to go through all these because I have a life and, at some point, I need to stop listening to black metal and go to bed.  But they offer a glimpse at a young band trying to find their sound and place in the scene.

Obviously, this album is a classic so the score is moot but beyond the actual song writing, the remaster sounds IMMENSE and the bonus tracks are great for hardcore fans.  If you don’t have this, you NEED to add it to your collection but there is enough here for you to own it twice!

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
Disc 1

1. Vintervredets sjelesagn
2. Tanker mot tind - Kvelding
3. Svartskogs gilde
4. Ved steingard
5. Krigsstev
6. Dauden
7. Grimskalle trell
8. Nord naagauk
9. Fandens allheim
10. Tanker mot tind - Gryning l

Disc 2

1. Vintervredets Sjelesagn (Live Session at Grieghallen Studios 1995)
2. Svartskogs Gilde (Live Session at Grieghallen Studios 1995)
3. Krigsstev (Live Session at Grieghallen Studios 1995)
4. Dauden (Live Session at Grieghallen Studios 1995)
5. Grimskalle Trell (Live Session at Grieghallen Studios 1995)
6. Fandens Allheim (Live Session at Grieghallen Studios 1995)
7. Ved Steingard (Alternate Mix)
8. Nord Naagauk (Alternate Mix)
9. Vintervredets Sjelesagn (Rehearsal 1994)
10. Grimskalle Trell (Rehearsal 1994)
11. Ved Steingard (First ever recording 1994)
12. Vintervredets Sjelesagn (Alternate Mix)
Lineup:
Garm - Vocals
Infernus - Bass
Øystein G. Brun - Guitars
Ivar Bjørnson - Keyboards
Grim - Drums
Record Label: Century Media Records
     


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Edited 30 June 2022
 

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