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- Fall review


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Band: Borknagar
Album: Fall
Style: Melodic black metal, Progressive black metal
Release date: February 2024

01. Summits
02. Nordic Anthem
03. Afar
04. Moon
05. Stars Ablaze
06. Unraveling
07. The Wild Lingers
08. Northward

When they went Up North, Borknagar left a large part of their black metal past in the rear view mirror; however, as they continue further Northward and sing the Nordic Anthem, it appears that old habits die hard.

With their thirtieth anniversary around the corner next year, Norway’s Borknagar are by now Nordic metal royalty, at least partly due to the calibre of musicians that have performed under the name over the decades. The likes of Garm, Infernus, Ivar Bjørnson, Vintersorg and Baard Kolstad are Borknagar alumni, but it is arguably ICS Vortex that comes first to most people’s minds when thinking about the group. Certainly that’s the case for me, as while I am acquainted with some of their earlier records, it was Vortex’s return to the group in 2011 that introduced me to the group, and it is their subsequent material that I am most familiar with.

With a far more polished sound than albums such as landmark release The Olden Domain, or even The Archaic Course from Vortex’s first stint in the band, Urd and Winter Thrice offered a grandiose progressive black metal sound on which Vortex’s soaring clean singing (along with that of Lazare, a fine singer in his own right) dominated the soundscapes. Much like their compatriots in Enslaved, who have similarly ratcheted up the progginess of their sound and presence of clean singing, some have come to question the role of black metal within present Borknagar’s musical fabric, and on 2019’s True North, the band seem to have done the same, as blackened shrieks appeared in only occasional bit roles, and they continued to rely less and less on blast beats and blackened guitar tones. However, if some thought that True North may have been the precursor to a subsequent all-clean album, Borknagar evidently had other ideas, as that blackened heritage makes itself a bit more present in the songwriting this time around.

It's not like black metal dominates Fall by any means; clean singing is still the predominant vocal style, with multiple fully sung tracks, and Borknagar’s music remains something more akin to ‘blackened prog’ rather than ‘progressive black metal’. However, the frenetic opening to “Summits” immediately captures one’s attention, and I do find that, despite all the beauty of the band’s singing and melodic instrumentation, those bursts of intensity and extremity do add satisfyingly emphatic moments in long songs such as “Afar” and “Stars Ablaze”.

Style-wise, Fall doesn’t do anything particularly new compared with its predecessors; like Amorphis, Borknagar are a band with a sound that is fully their own, and there’s no need to dramatically shake things up. Perhaps the song that stands out most in terms of approach is “Nordic Anthem”, which embraces folk in a way that the band rarely have done before, right down to the appearance of stringed folk instruments and percussion in the mix. The song de-emphasizes metal about as much as “Voices” did on True North, but in spite of the name, is arguably less anthemic than that track, its chorus melodies not ingraining themselves quite as instantly into one’s memory.

It's nevertheless a pleasant song (albeit a tad disposable), in no small part due to Vortex’s reliably resonant singing (there’s not many musicians that can join a group featuring Nazare and steal the vocal spotlight), and Fall is a consistently satisfying listen in terms of the tones in the mix, both coming from the two vocalists and also from the grandeur of the keyboard-laden metal instrumentation. It lays a good foundation upon which to write good songs, and on that front, Fall does perhaps feature a proggier approach than True North, a record that had an innate accessibility to it. “Summits” launches out of the blocks, but beyond its rampant drumming, lively tremolo riffs and the tastefully integrated clean-sung chorus, there’s a nice meandering mid-section with some intriguing spacey prog keyboard sounds, which leads (via a dainty guitar solo) into a triumphant climactic passage during which both Lazare and Vortex lay down some soaring vocals.

To emphasize the progginess of Fall, it’s worth noting that, although there are fluctuations in track length, there’s nothing here (beyond “Nordic Anthem”) that has the immediacy of past songs such as “Nights”. In truth, if there’s one aspect of Fall that might cause it to rank lower in the estimations of fans compared with previous releases, it does lack something in the way of song memorability. It’s a curious one, as during the course of album playthroughs, the songs don’t lack on the melody front, and the tracks are reliably enjoyable while playing, but for whatever reason, I find they fall short in terms of moments that stick with you.

There are highlights, nonetheless. “Afar”, one of the most extreme songs here, culminates in an intense and exhilarating passage where a triumphant tremolo folk-inspired melody is powered along by pounding blasts and double bass, and “Stars Ablaze” further shows off the folk elements within Borknagar’s sound in some deft keyboard snippets. “Moon”, despite a rowdy opening few moments, is a track that really dwells in Borknagar’s softer side, with a lush midsection during which Vortex trades off passionate singing with delectable guitar solos. Finally, the 10-minute “Northward” rounds off Fall with a summary of everything they’ve incorporated into the record.

I’ve namedropped Enslaved and Amorphis above, and like both groups, Borknagar are a veteran Nordic band that have been onto a good thing for a while with a refined sound that is firmly recognizable as their own. Both those groups are coming off the back of albums that continue their strong streaks while being among the weaker releases in said streaks, and it’s possible that Fall will come to have a similar reputation. I don’t think this new album will necessarily go down as a late-career classic for Borknagar, but it nonetheless contributes rather positively to their impressive legacy.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 7
Production: 9

Written on 25.02.2024 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 5   Visited by: 108 users
26.02.2024 - 19:49

Simen wasn't on the olden domain. That was still all Garm.
26.02.2024 - 20:25
Rating: 8

Written by Lanthros on 26.02.2024 at 19:49

Simen wasn't on the olden domain. That was still all Garm.

Right you are, have corrected that bit in the intro, cheers for pointing out
28.02.2024 - 01:41
Rating: 9
Dream Taster
The Enemy Within
Good read and fair review. I have been spinning it for a bit and while a truly enjoyable album, I cannot clearly point out a standout track overall bit Vortex vocals are definitely a key note here.
28.02.2024 - 04:40
The singles released before the album falsely gave the impression that this would be their most commercial album yet. I stand corrected. There's definitely enough black metal to satisfy any fan of Borknagar. Another great one from the Norwegians.
12.03.2024 - 22:08
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
No matter how far north they go how far away from old true kvlt tr00 bm, there always be something to like and enjoy in new album. I prefer prog black Borknagar as Enslaved
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