Borknagar_Winter ThriceWinter Thrice is the follow-up to 2012’s excellent Urd. Urd may be my favorite Borknagar album. The way the band used the massive vocal talent at their disposal—Vintersorg, ICS Vortex, and Lazare all uniquely adding to the epic feel—combined with music that was intense and more direct than anything since Quintessence. It made for an intoxicating listen. It’s been four years since Urd was released and Winter Thrice builds upon the back of Urd while trying to expand its vision. The album is sixty minutes of epic, blackened, progressive metal which builds on the back of excellent vocal performances, including the unexpected—but totally suggested by me—inclusion of Garm’s cleans in the growing vocal mosaic.

Winter Thrice walks a balance between the progressive impulses of the band and its inclusion of the black metal elements which they have never completely dropped. Vintersorg is still the band’s ‘lead’ vocalist and his screams litter the album, often backed with blasts from new-ish drummer Baard Kolstad (who’s in every active Norwegian band but Darkthrone as far as I can tell). The black metal bits are few and far between, however, with most of the album lilting along like a river in the thaw—at a medium pace, but with the possibility of overflow dangerously close. The threat of intensity is just around the corner.

Scandinavian-Winter-05-NorwayWinter Thrice spends a lot of time teasing intensity and variety, but never quite delivers it. The songs are long—often times pushing 7 minutes—with vocals swapping between Vintersorg, Simen, Lazare, and even Garm on a couple tracks. The writing is littered with blast beats and builds—like “Erodent” and “When Chaos Calls”—but the music is winding, and it rarely peaks for long. While the use of the different vocalists is enchanting and makes for majestic harmonies and playful interplay between voices, generally the songs seem to be split into sections that are assigned to a vocalist. Rather than taking advantage of the variety of singers to create lots of lush forests of harmonies—using the different timbres to create variety—there are Vintersorg songs (“Cold Runs the River”) or Lazare songs (“Panorama,” which is the best song on the album). The feeling is disjointed, as though the music was written and vocal tracks mailed in from different studios. There are notable exceptions like “Dominant Winds” and “Winter Thrice,” but these are exceptions.

The feeling that Borknagar is teasing with variety and intensity is absurd, of course. Winter Thrice is not a uniform record. The songs on here are all unique and interesting. While it’s more mid-paced and a little more winding than Urd, every track is at least pretty good on its own. Vintersorg nails choruses for Borknagar with the same vocal alacrity he does in his own work, and the guitar work from Jens and Øystein is as good as ever. “When Chaos Calls” has a beautiful and intense build, “Noctilucent” features some of Camel‘s best writing since Åkerfeldt, complete with an onion on his belt, was channeling them in the early-aughts. “Panorama” is a truly five star song featuring not only amazing vocals, but excellent lyrics.

I think the feeling that this album isn’t dynamic is because the album sounds quite flat. Music as lush and dynamic as Borknagar should not be crushed to the point where the drums have no punch and the quiet proggy parts are just as loud as the blast beats. It’s absolutely bizarre to listen to an album and realize that the blasts are no more intense than the music coming before them. I know that I sound like a broken record—I’m as tired of this paragraph in my reviews as you are—but I can’t help but wonder if the feeling of uniformity doesn’t have more to do with the brickwalling of Winter Thrice‘s master. When everything is loud, nothing is—and the peaks and valleys don’t really peak or valley.

Borknager_2016

Ultimately, and whatever the cause, Winter Thrice is a mixed listening experience. Taken song-for-song, I think everything on here ranges from pretty good to excellent. Taken as a whole, though, I’m not even really sure I’ve made it from start to finish more than 3 or 4 in the dozens of times I’ve heard the album. I found myself losing the thread after “Panorama” and coming back and having to listen to the back half of the album separately. I split the whole album, toward the end, into mini 3-song EPs and could enjoy each one on its own. I listened to this in my monitors, my headphone monitors, two different sets of speakers and my earbuds, and…

There’s a sad irony that I finally got what I wanted—a Borknagar record with Garm on it and all of my favorite Scandinavian vocalists in one place—and I’m having trouble enjoying it. I want to lay this at the feet of production because I don’t know how else to understand it. Every song on here is good when taken alone, and yet I have trouble listening to Winter Thrice. When I see gushy reviews like the one Andy Synn did over at NCS, I feel robbed. Moments like “Panorama” and “Dominant Winds” make me see that there is brilliance here and I want to like it. But I only sort of do.


Rating: Mixed
DR: 6 | Media Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3s
Label: Century Media
Websites: borknagar.com | facebook.com/borkyborkborkbork
Releases Worldwide: January 22nd, 2016

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  • Pimpolho

    Great review, overlord. Maybe this is the 2016 version of In Times?

    • I was absolutely thinking of Axioma Ethica Odini when I was listening to this. It reminds me of how I was absolutely in love with Vertebrae but couldn’t get into AEO at all and never have.

      • AndySynn

        Bah, Vertebrae can’t hold a candle to AEO.

        • It must feel terrible to be so wrong all the time. :(

          • AndySynn

            It’s my cross to bear.

            Also, fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

          • Pimpolho

            Don’t worry guys, you’re all wrong. Isa is their best. There, can we all be happy now?

          • Fuinha

            I’m the only one who likes RIITIIR ;-;

          • Kronos

            You’re both wrong and the only thing that matters is the new Wormed record.

          • :D

          • Eva Drewsen

            *worms

  • El_Cuervo

    I get the distinct feeling that AMG has intentionally been trying to subvert the rating system – Mixed, Worth It, etc.

    It’s almost as if he has an agenda….

    • This isn’t a subversion of the rating system. It’s not my fault you can’t read.

      • I feel subverted.

        • Carlos Marrickvillian

          Better than perverted I suppose

        • Should I call social services?

        • That’s just gas, my friend.

        • sir_c

          i think we officially got Borked

      • You’re so subjective…

      • El_Cuervo

        But I associate numbers with my emotional attachment to anything and anyone. “mixed” confuses me

        • Well, then, let’s work out a better descriptor. The problem is that it’s mixed: some good, some bad. Frustrating.

    • Guillotine of Papal Crowns

      Angry Metal Agenda… You can even sing it with Thor´s “Metal Avenger” chorus. THAT´S UNDENIABLE PROOF, PEOPLE.

    • sir_c

      tag says 2.5. prolly with an error margin of +/- 2.5

  • AndySynn

    Blasphemy!!!

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Your review had better band photos. : )

      • AndySynn

        I’ll take it. I’m not a proud man.

  • Simon Shrimpton

    I’m really digging the embedded track but it’s when the vocal harmonies kick in that it all seems to really work.

    Having read the review which suggests that these are exceptions I’m tempted to wait for a stream and give it a whirl before investing.. Good review!

  • I think I actually posted a reply to a post on Øystein’s or Borknagar’s Facebook page after they asked what we expected of the next album. This was way before the recordings, so quite a while ago. So I mentioned getting Garm back for a track or two would be awesome + more mixed vocals. So I guess I kind of called it too… also it was the best next logical step in Borknagar evolution after the stellar Urd. What else could they do (sell beard oil… oh wait) ?

    The first two tracks, Panorama and Terminus are outstanding songs. The rest is good but not as strong as the songs on Urd. Sucks about the mastering…

  • Zadion

    It’s strange you say you listen to it in individual sessions, because I’ve listened to it only twice so far and each time I had to split the listening experience as well. It’s very dishearetening, because Urd is one of my favorite records and it felt Borknagar is one of my few favorite bands who hasn’t been disappointing me lately, but it’s as you said: the songs sound great, but long before the album is over, it’s like, “Okay, that’s enough of that for now.”

    Really hoping a bit of time and multiple listens opens it up more.

  • Elton Chagas

    I also always had “mixed” feelings about Borknagar, like: “these guys are great musicians, they shoud have done something epic here!” Nevertheless, it seems to be a good album, but not their best. Also, great review.

    Ps.: I actually can’t fucking wait to read the AMG review of the new Megadeth hahaha

    • Here’s Johnny

      I’m calling a 2/5 for Megadeth, as it is getting good reviews elsewhere. Just to keep up the elitism and snobbery ratio.

      • I won’t be doing one, but I would just like to remind you that we do not pan records because we’re elite and snobbish. That’s a joke. There are dozens of examples of how this accusation is ridiculous, but I’ve already discussed that at length elsewhere.

        • Scionyde

          Meaning the site won’t be doing one, or just that one of the other reviewers will cover it?

          • I dunno if we’ll do one or not. I’m just saying that I won’t be the one writing it regardless.

          • It will likely be me.

          • Here’s Johnny

            Aw f***!

          • sir_c

            you mean to say you’ve had your share with Maiden? or was that different? [/no troll intended]

        • Here’s Johnny

          I was half speaking in jest but you are elite and snobbish, it says so in your tagline ;)

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    I love Borknagar to death and I really annoy this album, but I agree with you. There’s a lot going on and lots of good tracks but it’s missing something. Still another great release from the band but not their best.

  • Here’s Johnny

    Could be a grower though…and I am talking about the record(not Steel Druhms tiny wee pecker).

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Ummm wow…

    • Johnny likes dick jokes and Jorn.

      • Here’s Johnny

        To be fair, dick jokes and Jorn are awesome.

      • sir_c

        He likes his dicks nice and Jorn? :-)

  • Pimpolho

    That’s one of the best Facebook urls out there.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Ha, that is good. Like the Swedish Chef facebook page…. Or Norwegian Chef, I suppose.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Despite the mixed verdict I’m still keen to check this out.
    This does sound like a case of ‘In Timesitis’. I edited 2 songs from ‘In Times’ (Building with fire and Nauthir Bleeding) to get it closer to 40mins than an hour and it’s a way more satisfying listen as a result…
    With a consumer hack Winter Thrice could well scale up to great and be what you were hoping for.

  • Pascual Villaseca

    Defintely ill check this album, didn’t realize how much i miss Garm vocals on Borknagar untill now.

    Great review btw, i was expecting an actual rating 3 to 5, but hey, maybe it fits for weird album of the year xD

  • Ein Sophistry

    So, I downloaded this from BC today. Got eight tracks, clocking in at 49 minutes, not 60; none of the songs bears the name “Dominant Winds.” BC page is now down. What are you playing at, Century Media?

    • Ein Sophistry

      Apparently, “Dominant Winds” is a bonus track exclusive to the physical releases. Still don’t know what happened to the BC page.

    • In the future remember that Century Media doesn’t do BandCamp. Double check band pages and links before purchasing.

    • Ein Sophistry

      Well, don’t I feel like a proper doofus. Didn’t know bandcamp fakes were a thing, though in retrospect, it’s utterly unsurprising. Thanks for the heads up, ANG, BlackLotus.

  • Wilhelm

    For a “progressive” band they seem to keep putting out the same album, over and over. I’ve heard two tracks, and from what I can tell, the production is polished and compressed and the songs weren’t enjoyable. they should try to crawl back into those Norwegian woods from whence they came and record a good black metal album again…this sounds too mainstream and typical.

  • Feytalist

    Love that album cover.

    Urd was an amazing album, I still listen to it fairly regularly. I’m sure I’m going to like this one, from the prereleased tracks, but if you’re going to have four of the best vocalists in the business together (shut up, Vortex is awesome), I feel that you could do a bit more with it.

  • Vince Rayner

    Got the vinyl version last night and happy to report that it’s DR12

    • Gah! Why can’t I get that!?

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        My guess is that to get that you have to pay for it instead of waiting for the record label to send it to you?

        And since irony doesn’t work with online commets, I want to make clear that this is meant as that kind of joke that comes with a little bit of truth buried beneath.

        But you know what they say about jokes: if you have to explain the joke there is no joke.

    • Good, just ordered it last night!

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Good tip mate, thanks!

    • My pleasure. Almost fell for it with the Aborted releases, but somehow it was too good to be true and I had to check with the band’s management. That’s how I knew it was phony.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Where’s them numbers? You say the album has “good to excellent” material and undermine that with “Mixed”? Man, I don’t like it.

    • The observant reader will see the numbers if they squint hard enough.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        I see. So are you planning to eventually ditch them? If you still have them, why not just put them in the review? You could do an AMG speaks on this.

        • I don’t need one. Check this out.

          • Pimpolho

            I kinda get it… But not really. What does it mean?

          • It’s a way of positioning the messages that people take from the symbol used to transmit information.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        I see it… Rating: Mixed. You take the “M” and “D” out, “I” is 1, “X” is “.” and “E” is 3. So this gets a 1.3.

        Where’s my prize?

  • Innit Bartender

    Another very thoughtful review! Urd has been probably the “extreme” metal album I’ve loved most in recent years. So far I’ve listened only twice to Winter and it’s been a very very uplifting experience, even in the crappy headphones I am forced to use. No problem in listening to the whole album from start to finish, it flows really well. Let’s see how it grows… Off to read Mr. Synn’s review…

  • You have a rating system from 0 to 5. So mixed???? Stick to your rating system or drop it!

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Why don’t you have a close look at the ratings and see if you can figure it out…

      • Gotcha!

        • Carlos Marrickvillian

          :)

  • One More Thing

    The way I’m reading this, this is this year’s “Labyrinth” (Fleshgod Apocalypse). The music is on point but the production is the mountain between you and the full experience. I understand the lack of numerical rating here, as a low score due to the production misrepresents the strength of the material, while a higher score isn’t possible either because the material doesn’t carry that 3.5 or 4.0 punch when it’s been mixed and mastered the way this has. A tough review to write, I’m sure, but a damn good and relatable read. Thank you, sir!

  • Steve

    Not going to complain about the lack of a rating, the numbers are always secondary to the actual body of text containing the opinion. Only problem here is I can’t really form an idea of whether this is a recommendation or not. I’ll have to listen to it myself I guess!

  • J.L.V.V. Sarsgaard

    I’m a huge Vintersorg fan, but I could never really get into Borknagar.:/ Found out why, while checking out Winter Thrice. It was pretty obvious, really, it’s the fucking blast beats! Often you’ve got one of these great vocalists singing something really nice… and what sounds like a fucking tractor running over that.:S And I’m definitely with you on the disappointing lack of ‘lush forests of harmonies’. Ever since I first heard of Vortex coming back, my mind immediately jumped to aural visions of savatage-like vocal harmonies.:D They could be doing SUCH AWESOME STUFF!=(

  • Eva Drewsen

    Although I agree that the production makes it sound too flat, I really enjoy this album and have no problem listening to the whole thing twice in a row. ‘When Chaos Calls’ was the first one to stick and it gives me the chills every time.

  • Ernesto Aimar

    I’ve listened to the album a couple of times, and so far it sounds even better than “Urd” IMO. I believe it delivers even greatly than it’s predecessor, which had some moments that weren’t that great. Plus, having Garm once again on board it’s and outstanding feature which brings the listener back to the splendour of “The Olden Domain”.
    The lack of harmonies between different vocalist was also present in “Urd” and I guess it’s somewhat the same as Avantasia, in which each guest get’s it;s part but there are few or none whatsoever interactions between them. Despite that, these four majestic beasts give “The Winter Thrice” a whole new dimension of awesomeness. Oh, and Vintersorg rasps are greater than ever, but I think his cleans sound a little bit better in his solo project.

  • OzanCan

    I just hope that this album is not overpriced as the previous one… AMG would understand :)

  • Norfair Legend

    My music is predominately listened through my $7 earbud headphones at work or my stock Nissan Rogue speakers so I don’t seem to notice most of the differences in production. I mean, I sure can if it’s just plain crap but for now I’m fairly immune to the loudness war. My habits also tend to not give me the needed time anyway to sit down and really digest an album.

    I would and do love to listen on a much grander scale but for right now I live in an apartment where I can’t “crank” anything and am saving to buy a house where I can put said stereo first.

    I feel the pain here and understand the dynamics thanks to all the great articles over the past year but they don’t affect me as of right now. Great review as always but my Justice League power is “anti-brickwall” and this Borknager album is great.

  • robpal

    Ratings mixed, same as my feelings after one spin. It’s quite complicated, definitely some teases of greatness, but nothing exceptionally catchy. Or maybe I wasn’t listening carefully enough…

    And since we’re in Norway… are you angry guys reviewing new Ulver? Thouroughly enjoying this one!

  • For me Borknagar is always good, but not as good as I feel it should be. I completely empathize with this review.
    Also, the Swedish chef-ism in the Facebook link was nice.

  • Dan

    This is a pretty great album. Your reviews just feel off lately. I’ve been coming here for a long time. It’s all opinion, I know. But you gave it a rating of “Mixed”, yet tagged the album with “2.5”, which implies distaste, since other albums you’ve scored a 2.5 are tagged the same way

    • Eva Drewsen

      2.5 = Mixed if you look at the rating system. Maybe he just wanted to emphasize the reason instead of the numerical score this time.

  • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

    It still blows my mind that Bork’s drummer was performing on the street prior to being hired on permanently. I’m glad they took notice and offered him a job!

    Picked up the two singles, but I’m hesitant to grab the rest after reading the review. Anyone recommend me some of the better songs, or at least which to outright skip?

  • Shane R

    I think this is good enough to buy (alas, I have been unemployed many months so it must wait). I like the way the vocals change.

    That said, it reminds me a bit of Woods of Ypres’ final release. Except, obviously, it achieves more speed than that doomy piece. The mood is quite similar.

  • Jan

    Great review! After the first few spins I would’ve signed it top to bottom. Now that I’ve listened to it some more though I feel that many of its songs are among the strongest material they’ve written so far.

    Borknagar’s discography is, to my ears, a pretty mixed bag. I got into them in a big way with Vintersorg / Empiricism while I remain luke-warm on the earlier Garm / Vortex stuff. Epic was fine but too stuffed for its own good. Origins never opened up for me. Universal was a near-desaster. Urd was a constant back-and-forth between boredom and genius.

    But Winter Thrice I can listen to from start to finish and find something to love about every song (the Garm parts are never as transcendent as Vintersorg’s work though; I could’ve done without that particular reunion). Especially When Chaos Calls… holy shit. What a tour de force!

  • Insurrekt

    I just don’t dig Vintersorg’s vocals, he replays the same melodic patterns over and over and it’s just boring as fuck. This sounds exactly like everything he’s ever done IMHO