Borknagar – Fall (Album Review)



Having firmly etched their own sonic path since their origins in 1994, Borknagar emerged from the second-wave Norwegian Black Metal explosion that was sweeping the globe. They very quickly established themselves as an entity that would obey no one’s musical rules but their own. Built upon a skeleton of Black Metal fleshed out with sweeping epic prog, earworm melodies, and a three-headed vocal attack found almost nowhere else in Extreme Metal, Borknagar occupies a unique bit of artistic space. Here in early 2024, the Bergen based collective is set to release their twelfth studio album, once more on the familiar Century Media Records. Entitled simply Fall, and set for release February 23rd, how will Borknagar build on the success of their last two critically acclaimed albums this time around? 

Largely the conceptual work of founding Guitarist Øystein Brun, fans will celebrate the continuation of themes explored on earlier works, specifically the vocal interplay of Keyboardist Lars Nedland and Bassist Simen Hestnaes, aka ICS Vortex. Borknagar delves and once more extracts magic from their mixture, as opening track “Summits” is cast into being. Vortex’ growl is reminiscent of the Archaic Course and Quintessence era, balancing the clear intonation of Lars Nedland, and made even more majestic with Vortex’ other, beloved vocal style – a robust voice that so perfectly compliments the music, it is difficult to picture any other vocalist taking his place. The closing moments of the song are enriched so much by this gorgeous singing, as well as that of Lars Nedland. One might wonder how the band churns up such memorable choruses, but it is no mystery that the skill set they bring to bear on the mic will always come through.  

In all, Fall is rife with superb guitar leads, courtesy of Jostein Thomassen (Source of Tide), as the elements of voice and guitars are beautifully configured. Unafraid to experiment, Borknagar displays once more their boundless admiration for their homeland with “Nordic Anthem.” Cinematic in scope, the astute listener will recall the success of the song “Voices” from prior album, 2019’s True North.  

One of the most striking songs on the album has to be “Moon,” with its sweeping guitars and stellar melodies. Borknagar repeatedly conjures such atmospheres in all their albums, and Fall is no exception. Tension-building swells of guitar and percussion (courtesy of Bjorn Ronnøw) accompany Vortex’ commanding voice. Borknagar has implemented some more introspective moments into the mix, and the guitar solo around 3:25 would not be out of place on a Queensrÿche album circa Empire period. 

It is interesting to see the maturation present in bands like Borknagar, Enslaved, and Amorphis, to draw upon similarly tenured examples, who have woven Progressive Rock elements into the Extreme Metal skeletons comprising each band. “Stars Ablaze” functions as a beautiful example of this, where Borknagar has the ability to make a ballad brimming with sumptuous guitar leads, which then has the self-assurance to become unexpectedly fast and ferocious towards its conclusion. 

Brun and company are a band who do not produce a single musical note absent of reverence; for the process of songwriting, for the gravid subject matter at hand, and this reverence has been brought to the surface once more. This feeling, combined with their willingness to try new things without jumping the shark, help buoy another guitar-melody feast in “The Wild Lingers.” Fans will revel in the new twist on Vortex’ voice, even while basking in the familiar one of Nedland. Coming in at just under ten minutes, album closer “Northward” once more conjures the first five years of Borknagar’s career. This is a titanic blackened prog work of art that is sure to please fans old and new. That said, it would not have been out of place on The Olden Domain from 1997. 

Clearly operating on all cylinders, Borknagar has shown that the marshalling of Brun’s creative power has resulted in the sort of dominance reserved for only a few Heavy Metal bands functioning in their third or greater decade of existence. With something for fans of multiple genres of Metal, masterful performances at every instrument and that invaluable multitude of voice options, these songs will enrich listeners for as long as they have the ability to hear. For this reason, Cryptic Rock gives Fall 5 out of 5 stars. 

borknagar fall album
Borknagar – Fall / Century Media (2024)

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