When Borknagar’s eponymous debut came out four years ago, it hinted at greater things to come for the Norwegian quintet. A year later, The Olden Domain, the band’s apex, blew copious amounts of fresh air into a black-metal scene blanketed in a stale cloud, thereby establishing Borknagar as purveyors of a grandly epic, dynamic and, most importantly, unique strain of true black metal. Then, another year later, The Archaic Course showed some signs of wear, many of Borknagar’s contemporaries catching up with their progression in the between-album interim, but the album was solid nonetheless, especially when taking into consideration who was sponging whose moves. Now, two years later, Borknagar’s newest statement of intent, Quintessence, hits the streets, displaying the quintet’s statement of intent as…exhaustion.
Exhaustion?! Yes, Borknagar, after losing their previous rhythm section (sadly, former drummer Grim committed suicide last year), have either run out of fresh ideas or, more likely, everyone else has not only caught up with the band but has surpassed them — it’s utterly baffling, to say the least. The most prominent factor in this latest turn of events is that fact that much of Quintessence floats in a sea of bland uniformity: next to nil dynamics, structural shifts of little consequence, melodies that hardly stray from the same handful of chords and progressions, and a rather pedestrian production job (courtesy of the band, with Hypocrisy’s Peter Tagtgren mixing), which neither sublimates nor amplifies Lars Nedland’s keyboards.
It’s almost a backlash of sorts, the kind of which pays truck to the purists who once viewed the band as a bird too unique of a feather to handle. The only point of recommendation here, really, is new member Nedland’s haunting style, which bears no small resemblance to Deep Purple’s Jon Lord, especially when he’s playing notes instead of chords; however, such instances are all too infrequent. To be fair, though, a few tracks — namely, “Revolt,” “Colossus,” and “Icon Dreams” — hint at Borknagar’s brilliance of the past, but even then, these cuts comparatively would’ve been mere filler on The Olden Domain.
In sum, the question begging to be asked: Quintessence of what? Who knows anymore…
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