Jan 062016

Borknagar-Winter Thrice


(Andy Synn reviews the new tenth studio album by Borknagar.)

Show of hands, how many of you have heard of Theseus’ paradox? A few of you? Good to know.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it refers to questions of identity and continuity, and whether an object can be considered to be the same entity even after all its component parts have been steadily replaced over time, piece by piece.

Now, obviously, there are some parallels here with how bands work. I can tick off a number of names in my head of some of my favourite bands who no longer have any original members left and yet are still, in some ephemeral fashion, the same band.

Prog-Metal overlords Borknagar, of course, have something of an advantage in this area in that their existence has always been anchored (to stretch the nautical metaphor a little further) by the presence of mastermind Øystein G. Brun, but it only takes a quick glance at the Membership Timeline on the band’s Wikipedia page to see how many different members and line-ups the group have gone through over the years, while somehow still retaining the same creative drive and overarching musical identity that first brought the band together.

So perhaps it’s fitting that the line-up featured on Winter Thrice represents perhaps more distinct incarnations of the band at one time than ever before… reaching right back to their earliest days, while still forging boldly, progressively forward.


Borknagar 2015
photo by Martine Petra

In terms of continuity, the six-string tag-team of Øystein G. Brun and Jens Ryland is still very much present and correct, weaving their particular brand of proggy riffery with all the grace and power we’ve come to expect from the two over the years, while the drum throne is still occupied by the band’s youngest (and newest) recruit, Norwegian wunderkind Baard Kolstadt, who acquits himself in stunning fashion across the length and breadth of the album’s nine intricate, inventive tracks.

Similarly, the “lead” vocal position is still occupied by the impressive pipes of Andreas Hedlund (aka Vintersorg), now the band’s longest-serving singer, aided and abetted by backing vocalist/keyboardist Lars Nedland (now in his sixteenth year with the band), and the soaring operatic cleans of bassist/vocalist Simen Hestnaes (aka ICS Vortex), who’s now on his second full album (and fourth overall) after his return to the fold in 2010.

What’s really got a lot of people talking, however, is the return, albeit in a limited capacity, of the band’s original vocalist, Kristoffer Rygg (aka Garm, aka Fiery G. Maelstrom), meaning that, as well as possessing a borderline-illegal level of vocal talent in one album, Winter Thrice effectively represents every era of the band’s 21-year existence in one powerful and polished progressive package.


You’ll likely notice, even on your first listen to this album, just how lush the arrangements and complex, multi-voiced harmonies are, and just how much clean singing there is across each of its nine, effortlessly distinctive tracks, with a good 70-80% or so of the album’s run time dominated by the grandiose and evocative clean-sung melodies issuing from the combined throats of Hedlund, Hestnaes, Nedland, and Rygg.

As a result, Winter Thrice is quite possibly the most outright “prog” album in the band’s collective career, simultaneously putting me in mind of classic Anderson/Howe/Squire/Wakeman/White-era Yes (listen to the gorgeous melodic hooks of “Panorama” or the sweeping ebb and flow of “When Chaos Calls” and just try not to think of albums like Fragile and Close to the Edge) while also remaining true to the same sound the band established on classics such as The Olden Domain and The Archaic Course.

On top of this, Rygg’s appearance – sharing lead vocal duties with Hedlund and Hestnaes on the majestic title track as well as delivering some suitably enigmatic guest vocals on the more intensely blackened prog-metal of “Terminus” – not only gives the band another instantly recognisable, gorgeously melodic voice to play with, but also helps to tie together the past, present, and future of the band in one coherent, creative conglomeration.


Borknagar 2015-2
photo by Martine Petra

Without going into too much detail (as this really is an album that’s at its most rewarding when experienced in full and in person), let me make it clear that Winter Thrice is a truly magnificent piece of work, a diverse and enviably multi-faceted, multi-textured album, where no two songs sound quite the same, and yet all the tracks fit together seamlessly as parts of the greater whole.

And yes, while it is without doubt one of the band’s most progressive and artistic creations – brimming with layer upon layer of sublime, soaring melody and unique, creative riffery (not to mention more vocal parts and gorgeous harmonies than you could shake a stick at) – there’s still sufficient blackened bite present throughout the album to demonstrate that the sextet haven’t abandoned their roots entirely, with Hedlund deploying his signature growl when necessary to caustic effect, and Kolstad proving himself equally capable of cutting loose with a stream of scattershot blastbeats as he is guiding the band’s more flowery and nuanced arrangements with his progressive percussive talents.

Still, although it certainly has its moments of grim intensity (“Cold Runs The River” in particular hearkens back, in numerous places, to the band’s oldest, most resolutely blackened material, in amongst the song’s peaks and troughs of proggy exposition and moody introversion), this is definitely not what one would call a “brutal” album – which is precisely how the band would want it, I have to imagine.

No, it’s a much more nuanced and grandiose affair than that, conjuring a plethora of luminous progressive metallic soundscapes, each one as vivid and mesmerising as anything created by the group’s more famous forebears.


Is it the best album the band have ever done? That’s a hard question, as there’s a good 3-4 potential candidates capable of vying for that accolade, with little except personal preference between them in my eyes.

No, a far easier question to answer is – is it a masterwork on its own merit? And that answer is yes, resoundingly so.

It seems to me that in 2016 the bar has already been raised.


Winter Thrice will be released worldwide on January 22, 2016, by Century Media Records and can be pre-ordered here.



  21 Responses to “BORKNAGAR: “WINTER THRICE””

  1. I am so fucking excited for this album.

  2. I was (woefully, it turns out) unfamiliar with this band; clearly I need to rectify that.

  3. I would get it for the artwork alone 😀

  4. During the years, most (or all?) of Øystein G. Brun’s organic cells and bodily atoms have changed. Even he is not any longer himself.
    But seriously, you really makes me want to hear this album. It sounds very good.
    I wasn’t that pleased with Urd (2012), except for the totally amazing song The Beauty Of Dead Cities (https://youtu.be/DsPxs6GlQJs)

  5. “On top of this, Rygg’s appearance – sharing lead vocal duties with Hedlund and Hestnaes on the majestic title track”

    You’re forgetting Lars Nedland. Hestnaes has just as many vocal parts in this song as Lars Nedland does, and Lars opens the entire song. It’s an unfortunate omission to mention everybody other than Lars. Part of what makes this song (and album) amazing is that there are FOUR incredible vocalists, not three.

    • Hello Steve, in no way am I forgetting Lars. In fact just earlier today I was conversing with Angry Metal Guy himself about how we both love Lars’ vocals and are always keen to hear more of him in Borknagar. Particularly since he is now, if my calculations are correct, the second longest serving member after Øystein.

      However I stand by what I’ve written. Yes Borknagar have FOUR incredible vocalists, each of whom could easily front any number of bands solo, but the point of the title track seems to me to clearly be about showcasing the band’s historic “primary” vocalists all appearing together at the same time. So whilst Lars definitely does have an important role to play in the song, he’s clearly not the focus, nor is he a “lead” vocalist after the introduction.

      This isn’t intended as a slight towards him in any regard, however.

      • I think Jens might be in the band a little longer than Lars, since he was already a tour guitarist in ’97, when they were touring with In Flames. Not sure who did the live keys back then, I think Ivar was already gone by that time. Maybe they brought a tape or just didn’t bother with it 🙂

  6. This was one of my favorite bands in high school, but I don’t think I have enjoyed an album since Epic. Definitely interested in having that old flame rekindled.

    • In my case, the last one I truly enjoyed was Empiricism. I’m not sure why I lost touch with this band after that, but none of the stuff I had heard interested me all that much. This has my attention, though.

      • “Origin” and “Universal” are the only ones which don’t click with me as much as the others, but I still think “Epic” is worth revisiting if you were inclined to do so.

      • I’m with you for the most part. Loved Empiricism and, while I continued to follow the band, only Epic stood out for me after that. Listening to some of these new tracks has reinvigorated me.

        • Your boss and I were waxing lyrical about “Urd” earlier today. It’s a 3-way tie for me between that, “The Archaic Course” and “Empiricism” for my favourite Borknagar album.

          • Ah yeah, he loves him so good ole Borknagar. Urd was quite there for me, but I have to agree with that my top albums would have to be The Archaic Course and Empiricism. I probably return to Empiricism the most; however, The Archaic Course hits me like a ton of bricks every time I take it out and spin it.

            • So nobody here thinks Quintessence is their best opus (at least with ICS Vortex on vocals), despite a pretty shitty production? For me its a tie between that one, Epic and Urd for their best work. Of course I love all their records (it’s one of my 3 favorite bands of all time), but I would argue those 3 have their best songs. Listen to Ruins of the Future, Quintessence or Epochalypse… Very few bands have ever written songs so powerful and beautiful.

              • I do like Quintessence a lot. I return to that one on a regular basis. It may be my third or fourth favorite but I still think Empiricism and The Archaic Course are better (personal opinion here).

              • I’d say Quintessence or Empiricism were my favorites, but I am definitely won back over.

  7. This is definitely one I need to spend more time with. Liked it as per the first few run-throughs though.

  8. Yes! This is a must-have, just like Urd. Definitely gonna buy it once it’s out (and I find a place with sane shipping charges to my country…)

  9. You ever had an orgasm that felt so good you couldn’t even handle it and needed to stop? That is what listening to all these vocalists together sounds like.

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