Published on November 4th, 2019 | by Justin G.
Borknagar: True North (Century Media, 2019)
Norwegian progressive/folk/black metal titans Borknagar have a new album out. It’s their 11th studio offering and it’s called True North. The arrival of a new Borknagar album is always a big deal, but a lot of fans were holding their breath going into this one since it sees the departure of long-time vocalist Vintersorg, who was a huge part of Borknagar’s sound for nearly two decades. ICS Vortex is now handling all vocal duties. Guitarist Jens Ryland and drummer Baard Kolstad are also out, replaced here by Jostein Thomassen (Fracture) and Bjorn Ronnow (Profane Burial).
As weird as it is to hear a Borknagar album without Vintersorg, it becomes apparent very quickly that True North is a more than worthy addition to their legacy. After all, founder Oystein Brun and keyboardist Lars Nedlund are still here, and ICS Vortex is a major vocal presence in his own right. And of course it helps to have Jens Bogren mixing the album to keep that consistency in overall sound.
True North has a lot of the characteristics that made the previous Borknagar album (2016’s excellent Winter Thrice) so powerful. It’s still very much winter in Borknagar-land, and those themes of frozen mountains and blinding snow come through clearly here. They tread deftly between their black metal roots and the progressive and folk elements they incorporate so well, so the album never wanders too far in any direction. It’s heavy when it needs to be, but the melodies are still present and engaging. ICS Vortex sounds fantastic doing clean vocals, and his growls are even more effective.
Early single “Up North” is a standout track in that it’s unusually catchy for a Borknagar song. It’s almost (but not quite) their Night Flight Orchestra moment. The heart of the album though (figuratively as well as literally) are the back-to-back-to-back songs “Wild Father’s Heart,” “Mount Rapture” and “Into The White,” which perfectly encapsulate this album’s overall themes and atmosphere. True North has no skippable songs though.
The lesson here is: regardless of the lineup, it’s never a good idea to doubt Borknagar. True North is another in a long line of epic, unforgettable releases from this band, and one that is sure to get many spins as winter approaches. It has definitely carved (in ice?) out a spot on the “best of 2019” list.
Edition Notes: The CD version of True North comes in a digipack and includes a pair of demos as bonus tracks.
Summary: Borknagar continue to dominate