I have previously laid out the backbone of a grand theory of musical creation: Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™. According to this Law (SCIENCE!), the production of bands will inevitably decrease with time both in frequency and in quality. We have seen time and time again that this is the case, bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Iron Maiden have all shown epically how inconsistent they can be with time. But this has also happened with some of my favorite bands in the underground—Arcturus, Morbid Angel, Paradise Lost, Opeth—and the list goes on. And because that list does go on there’s no question: The Mighty Atheismo has evolved the universe in such a way that bands will inevitably produce shitty records in the long run. So it is with great joy to report to you that Borknagar have thrown off the shackles of Universal Laws and written their best record in a very long time—if not one of their best ever.
I can hear the gasp emanating from my adoring public already. “EVER!?” Yes. Ever. While the band is not producing the same music they were when Borknagar or The Olden Domain was released, Urd is the tour de force of progressive post-black metal music that we’ve all been waiting for since Quintessence. And in terms of consistency Urd is just as consistently good and fun to listen to as anything the band has ever produced. This is not to say that the records between then and now have been bad—because they haven’t—but there’s always room for the gripes, complaints, whining and the “Everything was better before” that always follow bands into their old age (see: above Law). But what Borknagar did to offset this was to unite 3 of my favorite vocalists ever onto a single record and put a proverbial vocal cherry on top of some finely written … ice cream. Metal. That fucking analogy fell apart pretty quickly. In any case, the only way this could have been better was if Garm was also involved.
But for me the standout for the album is the mixture of Mr. V, ICS Vortex and Lazare into one of the most unique and finely tuned vocal instruments in the history of metal. Trading off, the vocal lines on tracks like “The Beauty of Dead Cities,” “Frostrite” and “The Winter Eclipse” show off the wide variety territory a band can cover when they have such talented vocalists. And given the fact that Urd features some of the band’s most straight forward tracks in their modern era, there is an energy to the band that I don’t think we’ve heard since Empiricism. And I think that’s an important feature of this record—the songwriting really has been shifted from the recent approach and, in my opinion, improved.
Using Universal as a point of comparison, Urd doesn’t suffer from the same kind of meandering writing. By that I mean that the songs seem to be less winding and more refined. The aforementioned “The Winter Eclipse” is the album’s big epic, and yet it never goes astray from its themes: it twists and turns—certainly—but never wanders aimlessly. On only one song—”In a Deeper World”—does it feel like the more aimless Borknagar rears its head, but then Simen’s vocals pull the listener back into the song for the chorus and all is well. Every other track on this album is a monument to what Borknagar has been and will become from the blasting opening and the amazing three part harmonies on “Epochalypse” (oo, punny!) to some of my favorite guitar solos the band has ever produced (specifically “Roots”) to the parts that just remind me of Quintessence or Empiricism and scream classic Borknagar like “Mount Regency” or “The Earthling.”
Frankly, cut off “In a Deeper World” and this would be a perfect album. The production is fantastic, the songwriting streamlined and the vocals turn me from an Angry Metal Guy into a Euphoric Borknagar Fanboy! The way the vocal parts are mixed in and balanced out between the vocalists gives this record an energy that doesn’t cause me to recall the classics, but makes me want to live in the moment. And that’s what an excellent album from a long time favorite should do. It’s nice to be able to write that review for once instead of the Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™ review. I’m getting pretty sick of that law.