One of the forces behind the awakening of Progressive Black Metal are Norway’s BORKNAGAR. The band has always managed to stay fresh among the countless other bands in the Avantgarde Black Metal scene thanks to mastermind and founder Øystein G. Brun and his constant need of challenging himself. This band started out as a Black Metal supergroup consisting of members from bands like GORGOROTH, ENSLAVED, ULVER and IMMORTAL and still is today (Vintersorg, Asgeir Mickelson, Øystein, Lars Nedland and Týr, yep that’s a supergroup), despite the countless member changes.
The intention was to take the Black Metal sound a little further, to create raw yet inspirational and epic musical aesthetics in honour of nature’s free will. “The Olden Domain” and “The Archaic Course” indeed are fragments of music dedicated to Mother Nature and all things pure and untainted but it seems to me that direction and purpose has taken another path on “Empiricism” and “Quintessence” although they never stayed in one place too long.
Anyway this review concerns “The Olden Domain” which is often described as their most epic release. This album takes you high up north past high hills and dreary valleys into an atmospheric cavern where the sounds of ancient winters await. BORKNAGAR’s most efficient source is the triumphant guitar sound, which is very cold and ruthless. The guitars have a very majestic sound and are very loud so it’s hard to hear the structure of riffs and melodies at first, but in time you get hold of it. Under this overall big sound is an acoustic warmth. The acoustic guitars are scattered all over the album, sometimes used separately from the riffing sections other times mixed in the centre of a distorted part.
The album introduces itself with ”The Eye Of Oden”, a good song with a great melody line but somewhat dragged down by the vocals; hadn’t Fiery B. Maelstrom, a.k.a Garm of ULVER, a.k.a. (insert evil name and evil band name) sounded like a subdued drunken Norseman it would’ve been a classic. On the next song “The Winterway” he is full of might and captures the message of the song without overdoing any of his parts, very good. His performance varies from good to less good, he did what he could but it doesn’t seem to fit everywhere, I just don’t think Garm was the right man for BORKNAGAR now that I think about it.
On this album you’ll find Øystein’s most epic creations. Ok so there are some blastbeats here and there but never does it take away the atmospherics created by the keyboards and guitars; the epic melodies of “A Tale Of Pagan Tongue” and “Grimland Domain” are just some of the scales of epic torrents found on this album. ”Om Hundredeaar Er Alting Glemt” is a twisted piano piece; no, not the cheap type introductions we’re used to hear from a Symphonic Dark Metal band, this is a highly original instrumental where the roles of the guitars and the piano exchange; one moment the guitars are atmospheric, the next in a more raw format and then the piano suddenly gets raw and heavy, worth checking out. Still an all time favourite of mine is the other instrumental “Ascension Of Our Fathers”. This one is guitar based with many beautiful melodies; this track got me into BORKNAGAR’s music for almost five years ago, it hasn’t lost its charm remaining just as enchanting as it was the first time I heard it.
I just assumed that the album was recorded at Grieghallen, it has that grim sound to it but never would I guess that it was recorded at Woodhouse Studios (THE GATHERING, LACUNA COIL, FLOWING TEARS, THEATER OF TRAGEDY, SENTENCED, MOONSPELL). The sound is hard to digest, sometimes even unclear; I believe it was intentional by the band because it does sound atmospheric and epic and most importantly it sounds thought out.
For some people this album won’t be pleasurable on all levels but if you like Epic Metal and loud guitars I’m sure you’ll find something good on “The Olden Domain”. (Online March 6, 2004)