Borknagar – Winter Thrice (Century Media)Monday, 18th January 2016
Perhaps no extreme metal band has seen so many illustrious vocalists pass through its ranks. Borknagar, of course, started with Kristoffer Rygg (aka Garm) in the mid-90s, before he gave way Simen Hestnæs (aka Vortex), who then was replaced by Andreas Hedlund (aka Vintersorg). It’s a vocal three-feat that has yet to be equaled, and this doesn’t even count the spare contributions of keyboardist Lars A. Nedlund. Band leader Oystein G. Brun has managed to seamlessly transition from one vocalist to the next throughout the band’s 20-plus years, but now that all of them are teaming up on Winter Thrice…look out.
Wisely nipping at the heels of their glorious, unstoppable late-90s period, Borknagar have managed to remain decidedly in the go-between area of black metal. The elemental ties of Brun’s riffing – spherical, strident, wintry – remain in tow, which explains the grandiosity of opener “The Rhymes of the Mountain.” The above-mentioned four-headed vocal monster gets its time in the sun (dark?) via the title track, with Mr. Garm himself stealing the show with his patented vocal soothe and glide. (Curiously, Vintersorg was tasked with handling the song’s growled vocals.)
Elsewhere, the frosty (duh) “Cold Runs the River” is highlighted by some fantastic keyboard textures by Nedlund, who not only takes the cake here, but also on “Panorama,” the album’s most progressive number. The graceful “Erodent,” and nefarious “Terminus” are both challenging, particularly “Terminus” which finds Vintersorg hanging in the back with his clean vocals amidst a cavalcade of blasting.
Borknagar has yet to match their most transitory album, 2002’s Empricism, until now. Winter Thrice holds the proverbial lock and key to Norwegian epic metal glory; a late-career buster that demonstrates knowledge, depth, and veteran agility. Borknagar remains a treasure of Norwegian metal.