6/15/2010 - Review by: Raising Iron
Alright, let me just say right off, despite their somewhat spotty back catalog and an endless array of style changes, Borknagar have never failed to surprise their fan base always intent on exploring new territory regardless of what the flavor of the day is. They left that behind with their blackened roots long ago, and with their newest release, Universal, the guys have found a progressive/extreme/blackened/viking/folk (ha!) sweet spot few can unearth.
Seriously folks, this is metal of a higher order. Everything about this album is right, from the blast beats swelling underneath strung-out melodies to the effectively placed choral "oohs and aahs", it's hard to find a flaw. Detractors will point out the near-absent black tremolos and rasps, but this Borknagar is a far cry from where they started. Universal is an album reminiscent of other genial releases in the last couple of years (see Opeth's Watershed, Enslaved's Vertebrae, or Ihsahn's After), with its purposeful exploration of undulating textures and moods within a single song.
The Norwegians, through a mix of clean and growled vocals and plenty of keyboards sprinkled throughout, achieve their goal of weighty and introspectively virulent metal, yet at the same time remaining classy and refined. Eight tracks at 47 minutes is none too overbearing either, the songs clipping along nicely taking you along their destined courses, allowing for enough to enjoy the aural vibes without getting repetitive or boring. The fourth track, "For A Thousand Years" reminds one somewhat of Mastodon in their current incarnation, but even more full-flavored and textured. The opening track sets the tone for the entire album with its large, ever-moving themes, and the epic "Abrasion Tide" will carry you through a multitude of swirling currents settling in moments to regain your grip.
This is definitely a highlight of 2010 and a nice surprise from the long-running outfit who've now found themselves on a new label (after 6 albums Century Media are no longer in the picture) and maybe that's just the catalyst the band needed to take this next step into the upper echelon of extreme metal.
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