Metalheads saying “I’m a pagan” is, generally speaking, our chosen genre’s equivalent of wine-guzzling middle-aged single women who say they’re “not religious, but spiritual” during those book clubs where Eat, Pray, Love is read in perpetuity. It’s empty posturing to make someone sound more profound and “enlightened” than they actually are. So-called pagan metal is generally melodic stuff with a lyrical eye to old folklore but, other than that, the definition doesn’t give us a whole lot to go on. Bornholm was sent to me as a “pagan black metal” band, so I expected Primaeval Pantheons to fit this loose criterion. It did, but these Bornholm fellas are, as it turns out, the good pagans: ones who don’t cause anyone over nineteen to roll their eyes immediately.
Rather ironically, Bornholm’s adherence to well-known melo-black tropes could be described as almost religious. If you’re into the works of Moonsorrow, Mistur, and Thyrfing (among many others), then you’ll feel right at home with Primaeval Pantheons. The requisite influence of popular trailblazer records like Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and In the Nightside Eclipse are present and accounted for, and with that comes songs that stray beyond the five-minute mark more often than not. There’s also that folk influence which is, according to some special charter signed by every pagan metal band which us regular folk are not privy to, required.
Primaeval Pantheons begins on solid footing with “Eye of Knowledge,” a seven and a quarter minute demonstration of what Bornholm does well. After a surprisingly competent ambient intro, an icy Emperor-style riff takes the lead with some keyboard embellishments in the background adding some dramatic flair. The band doesn’t take their foot off the pedal often, and they mix in folky clean vocals to spice up the relatively few different ideas here. Ending on a wildly successful coda, Bornholm builds up to a grand finale of the record’s best melody and eventually drops everything but two guitars in an effort to highlight how good it is. This pays off rather well and sets a promising tone for the rest of the record.
Unfortunately, this promise is not adequately fulfilled. Now, there’s very little here that can be considered outright bad or aurally offensive, but Primaeval Pantheons meets its lackluster fate by a bunch of small punctures instead of one big, brutal wound. “Atavism,” the second track, reveals the cracks rather quickly. Opening with an encouraging riff and transitioning into a good one, Bornholm nonetheless runs out of good ideas and surrounds this with half-baked stock metal, dampening its effectiveness. Further damning is the inclusion of mid-tempo stuff that gets interrupted by blast beats in an arbitrary and capricious manner. “Runes of Power” has this in spades, and is followed up by “Old,” which jettisons the blasting outright. Twelve minutes straight of this is tough to swallow, and makes Primaeval Pantheons feel a lot longer than it is. Bornholm’s ideas seem to have very little melodic range, and the amount of bleeding together that happens makes for fifty-one minutes that go by very slowly.
As far as pagan metal goes, Bornholm isn’t a terrible band and Primaeval Pantheons indisputably has some decent material. However, the good bits only make the bad bits worse by showing some inspiring potential that doesn’t get actualized often enough. Primaeval Pantheons sounds fairly sterile and bland, exacerbating its described flaws further. Sahsnot’s harsh vocals sound like those from Sons of Balaur, and while they’re enunciated wonderfully they sound oddly flat and tame. His clean vocals fare better, and while they lack any significant range they’re put to good use when they show up. I want to like this record more, but in this increasingly crowded genre, Primaeval Pantheons doesn’t do enough to stand out from the pack. If you’re the type who needs constant stimulation and a steady flow of new pagan metal bands to listen to, this would work for you. If you’re looking for a record to really sink your teeth into during the long, cold winter, you’ll find that the hunger pangs will strike rather quickly.