Borknagar - Fall

Artist: Borknagar

Album Title: Fall

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 23 February 2024

For some reason, completely unknown to me at this point, ‘True North’ completely passed me by. Released towards the end of 2019, I can only assume that I took a temporary leave of my senses. Under any normal circumstances, new material from Borknagar is met with the kind of feverish anticipation and excitement that only a special band can create. In my world, Borknagar are incredibly special and very important so temporary insanity can be my only excuse. It’s even more confusing considering how wonderful 2016’s ‘Winter Thrice’ was, with the title track being one of the very finest compositions for many a year, and one that I spin regularly. I can only offer my humble apologies to the Norwegians, and hope that they are merciful.

With that heinous admission out of the way, it is to album number twelve that I must turn, the simply named ‘Fall’. And the first thing of note is that the band that released ‘True North’ around five years ago remains intact this time around. That means founder and guitarist Øystein G. Brun is once again joined by the serious talents of bassist/vocalist ICS Vortex, guitarist Jostein Thomassen, keyboardist/vocalist Lars A. Nedland, and drummer Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow.

Blessed with gorgeous artwork from one of my personal favourite artists, Eliran Kantor, ‘Fall’ immediately makes an impression. Lyrically and thematically, the album makes just as large an impression, too. Within the accompanying press release, Øystein G. Brun is very eloquent about the album:

Fall’, in a way, is the change of the seasons as we know them, but it’s also about universal struggle. Let’s look at it like this: once you’re born, nature by design is against you. In other words, life is a struggle. If you live in the wildness, jungles, or the outskirts of existence (opposite of what I’d call the comforts of civilization), nature will do everything to put you back into the ground. The core of ‘Fall’ is the struggle against nature. Surviving nature. The album title connects with the artwork, the music, and lyrical content—the album title, ‘Fall’, sums up everything.” 

It’s a fitting subject matter for Borknagar, and they back it up with some of the best material of their career, too. I wanted to start a review somewhere other than the opening track for once but ‘Fall’ makes that impossible thanks to ‘Summits’. At nearly eight minutes in length, it really does encapsulate everything that makes this band such a force to be reckoned with. Cosmic Arcturus-style sounds set the wheels in motion and, from there, we’re taken through harsh, aggressive soundscapes of blastbeats and cold black metal riffing, accompanied by the gruff growls of xx. But, in true Borknagar style, the chorus which features ICS Vortex’s clean voice is a thing of majesty – no less heavy and oppressive, but with strong folk-tinged melodies to inject some grandiosity.

Those cosmic sounds emerge in the song’s mid-section, alongside acoustic guitars and a sense of well-placed calm, before the track thunders to a conclusion via one of the strongest and most spine-tingling melodies since the gargantuan ‘Winter Thrice’ assaulted my ears. ICS Vortex is in his element, crooning as only he can, atop a crescendo of stunning proportions. You literally feel like your facing into the blizzard as the sheer power and brilliance of Borknagar flows headlong out of the speakers at you.

Borknagar - Fall

What comes next in the shape of ‘Nordic Anthem’ is equally as compelling, but very different in approach. Gone are the thunderous black metal blasts, to be replaced by a slow, tribal-sounding beat, lashings of dark atmosphere, and glorious multi-layered vocals. The track is slower overall, but true to its name, it’s an anthemic composition that crackles with the band’s pride of their heritage. Never have I wanted more fervently to be of Norwegian descent, such is the quality of this song. It’s hypnotic and utterly compelling from start to finish, with a chorus that will remain in my head for weeks to come.

The more I listen to ‘Fall’, the more I realise that there’s not a weak track to be heard anywhere here. Some of the songs are a little more on the ‘grower’ side, such as ‘Stars Ablaze’ or ‘The Wild Lingers’, but be fully prepared, dear reader, because when they click, they click in a way that I guarantee you weren’t expecting.

Others, such as the delectable ‘Moon’ are much more immediate on the eardrums. You think, at the outset, that you’re in for another bracing blast of black metal ferocity. But after the initial tumult, the song settles into something much more melodic and, dare I say it, groovy. It retains that extreme edge in places, but overall, the tones are much more ‘old school’, with sumptuous lead guitar solos, huge melodies and an even bigger vocal performance from ICS Vortex. Truly, no-one else sounds like the big dude that was once a part of Dimmu Borgir. And that’s a compliment, trust me.

Finishing with the longest track on the album, ‘Northward’, Borknagar also close out this impressive release on a real high note. The early stages are once again dominated by the more uncompromising extreme metal for which Borknagar are known and loved. But as the song develops, it shifts, deviating between further explosions of power and calmer periods of quieter contemplation, where the atmospherics come to the fore much more potently. Again, there is a fantastic lead guitar break that brings with it a more pronounced melodic feel which is built on as the track moves inexorably towards its conclusion.

My conclusion here is simple: the thirty-year veterans of the Norwegian metal scene have delivered another irresistible slab of extreme metal in a manner that only they can muster. It’s heavy, it’s ‘progressive’, it’s nuanced, it’s intelligent, it’s melodic, and it’s an utter joy to listen to. The lyrical content might be geared towards the savagery of the world around us, with much of the music following suit. But listening to Borknagar on this form is, paradoxically, a very comforting and enjoyable experience, one that I shall immerse myself in many times over in the coming weeks and months. I do love this band.

The Score of Much Metal: 93%



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