BORKNAGAR – Fall (Album Review)

Borknagar: Fall: Album out Feb 23 on Century Media
Borknagar: Fall: Album out Feb 23 on Century Media

Introduction To The Band

Borknagar are a progressive blackened death metal outfit from Norway who have been around since the 1990s. For some “blackened death metal” might be a genre too far for them, but with this band, I believe some might change their minds as they have some wonderful melodic sounds going on mixed with some folkier moments.

Fall is the band’s 12th album, their first being self-titled back in 1996 and their last one True North released in 2019. The band are comprised of ICS Vortex (formerly of Dimmu Borgir on bass, vocals and choirs), Lars A. Nedland (keys, vocals and choirs), Øystein G. Brun (guitars), Jostein Thomassen (guitars) and Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow (drums and percussion). For those who don’t know Øystein is the original member and founder of the band with Vortex joining about 3 years later and Lars joining in time for album number 4 (Quintessence). This is the second album with this particular lineup.

A Description Of The Album

Øystein is quoted in the press release saying this about the new 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 wilderness, 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.”

On listening to the album you really get to understand what he says here. The music is at times full-on blackened death metal, whilst at others beautiful and haunting which in turn can become hopeful and uplifting with gorgeous melodies. There is of course a mix of vocals with Vortex providing the harsh screams and growls and Lars providing some lush clean vocals. I think compared to previous albums there is definitely more of the latter and in all honesty he sounds better than ever before.

The Longer Songs

There are 3 longer pieces all around the 8 and 9-minute mark which are placed apart on the album with one being the opener “Summits“, another the closer “Northward“, and one in the middle of the album called “Stars Ablaze“. Most of the other songs are around 5 minutes. There are 8 songs in total and a run time of around 57 minutes. I am of the opinion that the positioning of the tracks works to its advantage. There is a journey going on, we go north, as far north as possible, into the bleak frozen cold lands and as we travel we experience hardships and yet the beauty of nature is never far away.

Opener “Summits” starts with swooping synths quickly being overtaken by a heavy Nordic riff which suddenly drops for all but a second or two before it turns into the most powerful blackened death metal, double kick drums, fast tremolo picking guitar and screamed vocals. Of course, it doesn’t stay that way as clean vocals come in, firstly to call and respond with the harsh and then taking over. We are urged to “conquer the challenges” followed by the repeat command of “climb, climb, climb“. The music swings from folk to symphonic all the while being very proggy (in an Opeth sense) with the brutal being intense and the melodic gentle, calming and atmospheric. “I carry my history” he sings and I suppose we all do, we all have baggage and we all need to come to terms with what we have experienced.

Borknagar: A band in the wilds...
Borknagar: A band in the wilds…

Emotion And Truth

Stars Ablaze” is one of the highlights of this excellent album with its lovely shimmering first section which drops down into something even more delicate and lovely with the keys having an almost flute-like sound to them. Wonderfully melodic. The song heavies up after a good 2 minutes or so, into brutal death metal, but the joy of a band like this is they know how to take their time to get somewhere, nothing is rushed, they lull you into a mood or mindset then they turn things on their head leaving you quite stunned. When it calms down again from there the vocals still harsh but yet quite melodic, you can make words and expressions out clearly.

The lyrics talk about “fathers and sons… walking in their paths in the absence of god” before talking about how “the stars in the sky are our undying guide“. I think anyone who has ever travelled into wilderness areas, getting away as far as possible from civilisation will understand that emotion and truth, the sky is indeed a marvelous tapestry of beauty yet a light and a guide to those who need it.

Uplifting Yet Bleak

Northward” is a song that takes us to the end of the album’s journey. All the way to the most frozen wastelands. The band have a talent for being very heavy yet still providing guitar melodies that are utterly bewitching. There is always a mix of light and dark. The melody that comes in after 2 or 3 minutes captures the meaning of the words which are in part harsh and part clean. “Northward we stray” they sing “into vast expanses of icy terrain“. “It is what our essence yearns to see“, the “desolation” which is “far away” at least from most people, our journey is pretty close to that wilderness. The music goes from the most extreme to very melodic, we are pushed back and forth musically in a sense like we would be by the wind in such northerly areas.

Near the end there is a musical air provided by a soaring guitar line whilst the vocals tells us that this is the “harshest beauty we endure“. Strangely it is uplifting yet bleak at the same time. It makes one want to head to somewhere like Norway to explore those northern sections despite knowing that it won’t be easy. This is the best advert for the Norwegian tourist board that they don’t know about.

Borknagar: A band happy in the wilds!
Borknagar: A band happy in the wilds!

The Highs Of The Shorter Songs

The rest of the album is equally as good whether it be the tribal and ethnic-sounding “Nordic Anthem” which certainly lives up to its name. “We bow our heads to nothing but our past, we know our history will last, we won’t bend our necks to any god” Lars sings rather beautifully. In fact, this could be his best vocal here. Really gorgeous. The song is subtle and effective capturing the sound of the lands.

Afar” is a mix of folk and blackened death metal at their best. The mix of screamed and melodic vocals are excellent. Lyrically the song will take you to the top of a mountain looking into the distance with wonder, which I am sure hikers and climbers reading this will be able to testify, it can be almost a spiritual experience. The wonder of the world and nature layed out in front as far as the eye can see.

Moon” is heavy musically but clean and clear vocally before going into galloping NWOBHM riffage before finishing on a more folk-sounding vibe. “Unravelling” is a shorter track with almost pop sensibilities. Don’t get me wrong, it is HEAVY but the chorus is pretty darned big. “The Wild Lingers” has a rather lovely opening with jazzy-style guitar work going on. This is almost 1970s prog but with a modern sound (maybe a little like Wobbler). Lars sings quite deep on the verses but lighter and higher on the choruses. The lyrics refer to being guided to “areas soft and grey” and the music matches that melancholic mood nicely.

A Beast Of An Album

Borknagar continue to impress, this is in particular an excellent addition to their catalogue. There is possibly more clean vocals than before (and as I said earlier I think this is probably the best I have heard from him) but there is still enough black metal for those who like their music brutal and bleak. There is also plenty of melody, prog rock and folk to please fans of those styles too. It is an album that flows pleasingly and does feel like a journey (yes it seems like a cliche but it is true). An absolute beast of an album that captures the spirit of the frozen north and manages to straddle a number of musical styles with ease and expertise. A must-have for all fans of proggy black folk metal and those who enjoy any of those styles.

Out on Friday 23 Februaryon Century Media Records.

Purchase On Amazon  USA  //  Canada  //  UK

Official Website  //  Official Facebook

Check out my other articles and reviews here. Tom.

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