Borknagar – Winter Thrice (2016)

borknagar winter thrice

Winter Thrice would’ve ensnared me for some time, had it come out in 2009. In my youth, I was more receptive to pomp and circumstance in my music, and if there’s one thing Borknagar’s latest recording does especially wrong, it’s that it never relents from its apparent desire to be epic, even to the point of having its share of contrived quiet sections for obvious dynamic contrast. Restraint is not part of these musician’s repertoire, and it makes for yet another flat (albeit psychically draining) album that I can’t imagine even its most rabid fans having much patience for once the initial blitz of sales wears off.

At its core, Borknagar is descended from the same sort of ‘atmospheric’ black metal that their fellow scenesters and countrymen in Arcturus once made a living doling out to the masses. It’s probably a coincidence (at best, historical understandable in the context of Norway in the early ’90s) that both of those bands have some roots in especially unusual death metal oriented recordings. What degraded these bands (and similar ones) over time was their ever increasing addiction to sonic novelty. While Borknagar was quicker to unify a few elements they liked and streamline everything else into their signature sound (I described the teaser as “melodramatic, pseudo-progressive heavy rock music”), they’ve ended up so dependent on their own aesthetic that it interferes with their ability to develop their songs.

Now, Borknagar is technically proficient, as you might expect from any metal band that sells and isn’t deliberately ultra-primitive. However, only the vocalists’ contributions manage to rise to any sort of prominence. If I strain my ears, I can catch a glimpse of what the instrumentalists are attempting, and I’m sure it’s pleasant enough as a result of all the time that went into writing and recording it, but there’s very little of substance there beyond the ‘epic’ orientation of Borknagar’s songwriting. On top of that are a series of sung parts from three vocalists all scrambling for your attention. These are again skilled singers (and shriekers) to the point that their performance takes center stage, but when the arrangements they perform are so forgettable, does it really matter?

Ultimately, I found Winter Thrice to be so aggressively unmemorable, to the point that remembering just what it sounds like beyond a vague impression of 3/4 time and minor key progressions is difficult. At its best, it sounds good, but this stylish album is ultimately free of substance.

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9 thoughts on “Borknagar – Winter Thrice (2016)”

  1. 1349 says:

    This stupid plastic cover art provides enough info on the album content.

  2. Stephane says:

    I like Borknagar old stuff as well as this last release. This release seams to focuses more on what’s just around them, this is a less universal records. Of course this is not black metal from the cave with a crappy sound, this is perfectly mixed and mastered to bring the right balance between atmospheric // lyrical moments and heavy sound guitars with powerful vocals.

  3. Erik the Red says:

    “…Of course this is not black metal from the cave with a crappy sound…”

    If it’s not black metal, or heavy metal, or prog-metal, or prog-rock, or heavy/hard rock, or even alt-rock, then what the hell is it? Oh, I know! “A perfectly mixed and mastered balance” of “atmospheric” and ” ‘heavy’ guitar with powerful vocals “. To convey or communicate what? Some avalanches, some static landscape, and then a bunch of dudes hangin’ out at the local Viking Museum?

    Isn’t this the problem? Metal is supposed to be about something, but this record seems like it’s about…?

    1. Stephane says:

      @Erik the Red
      It’s about them and what they love to do, and I think as musicians they do what they want to do and they’re lucky.

      1. vOddy says:

        You didn’t answer the question.
        He asked what the music describes or expresses.

        1. Stephane says:

          vOddy, you don’t understand the music (in general) if you ask me to answer this question. Music brings to each of us a different feeling and as well different interpretation. Anyway, Borknagar latest release brings (me) peace of mind and contemplation, make me think about my past journey along Norwegian and Swedish coast.

          1. David Rosales says:

            Purely subjective stuff added from OUTSIDE, not within the music, which is just pop posturing.

            1. vOddy says:

              I haven’t heard Borknagar because I currently don’t have access to semi decent sound quality, and I want to give them an honest chance, but:

              You should in general not be so quick to divide music in to either pop garbage which expresses nothing, or the opposite.
              There is a lot of bad metal which, although it doesn’t speak well, still does recognizably speak of a subject. It just does so in a clumsy, unnuanced, and inelegant way.

          2. vOddy says:

            “Music brings to each of us a different feeling and as well different interpretation”

            To some extent, yes. But not completely.

            IF you ask people to draw depression, you will get similar drawings. A friend of mine took some art classes in college for fun, and the first warm up assignment was to draw certain things using only straight lines. When it came to depression, everyone drew either a long line sloping downward, or a spiral like vortex.

            Music can be thought of as a language, and if we do this, then we understand that while interpretations will differ somewhat, we as humans have similar enough minds to roughly get the same idea.

            For example, no one will say that Burzum sounds like hedonistic drug use and sex. It is not party music.
            No one will say that “Battles in the North” by Immortal sounds like peace – it describes violent.

            I haven’t heard Borknagar, but you seem to be saying that it describes the Scandinavian land, and perhaps wandering. You gave a valid answer, which is all I asked for. There is no need to say that I don’t understand the music.

            The answer is fine, unless you are reminded of wandering the Scandinavian land for external reasons, like thinking of your childhood home when hearing music that you heard as a child, rather than the music itself having qualities of Scandinavia.

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