Review by Vinny for Borknagar - Borknagar (1996)
Seeing this album come up for feature this month immediately took me back to my wranglings with their sophomore release (and gateway record into the band) The Olden Domain and how I had to work hard to come to terms with Maelstrom’s vocals. Had I realised that on the debut they had a completely different – and much more appealing style of – vocalist then coming to that sophomore release after this would have been even more of a challenge.
Like the follow up, Borknagar’s debut album is a richly rewarding experience albeit the appeal with the debut is more immediate for me. A mix of melodic Viking and black metal that retains a rawness to it that does not intend to alienate as does the sound of other black metal bands of the time. This retention of authenticity in terms of the movement that started the whole second wave sound is key to my enjoyment of the album, just as is the more melodic leanings of the music also.
Having amassed the collection of famous names we all know by now, Brun’s determination to move beyond the brutality of his death metal roots was destined for success. Whilst not all the musicianship is perfect by any means it is a well-executed album still. Full of variety in terms of instrumental interludes that hold the attention and add a lush depth to proceedings without distracting from the more intense black metal sounding tracks that are spread over the album.
With me slowly developing issue with Viking metal over recent years (Bathory’s efforts being of challenge nowadays) I find the aggressive take here quite refreshing and much more cohesive; even in the cleaner vocal sections the tracks still retain real heart. This successful marriage of the epic with the baser credentials of black metal and the earthy acoustics of the instrumental passages needs acknowledging even if not all of it is top-drawer musicianship (Grimskalle Trell needed re-recording surely). The production job plays no small part in the victory of the album. I cannot recall many albums that blends these sounds as well allowing all elements to breath so easily without continuously sounding like they conflict with each other.
No question if I had heard this album first, I might never have been able to get my head round the future sound of Borknagar as they went off into more progressive leanings. As the album draws to a close each time I listen I find I just want to put it straight back on or dive off into the discographies of the various artists involved. As such Borknagar’s debut is a real gateway album to the wider scene.