Borknagar - True North
Century Media
Progressive/Viking Metal
9 songs (59:11)
Release year: 2019
Borknagar, Century Media
Reviewed by Goat

Essentially a supergroup, these Norwegians have been thrilling the hearts of metal fans for years with their melodic yet icy strain of prog and although everyone will have their favourite era of the band (not difficult when it was initially fronted by Ulver's Kristoffer Rygg and featured talents such as Ivar Bjørnson and Asgeir Mickelson) the band have kept a high level of quality control throughout their two-decade-plus career. The friendly departure of Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund earlier this year left Borknagar fronted by the dual talents of Simen "ICS Vortex" Hestnæs and Solefald's Lars Nedland, and along with a renewed vigour in the songwriting helps ensure that True North is a worthy addition to the band's catalogue. New members Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow on drums and Jostein Thomassen on guitar (replacing the also departed Jens Ryland and Baard Kolstad) more than prove their worth immediately with the opening eight-minute epic Thunderous, starting with a bang as the vocalists trade lines and the usual post-black tide rises behind them, a touch of Enslaved to the melodies as they build soon drowned by some folksy synths and a burst of blackened heaviness. Vortex's harsh vocals are terrific and the loss of Vintersorg is soon forgotten; he might not be your first choice of Borknagar vocalist, but his voice by now is as instantly recognisable as old Garm's and his performance throughout True North is terrific.

Really, every element comes together perfectly, from the individual performances to the songwriting itself. Thunderous itself simply flies by, those epic melodies making the track feel around half as long as it actually is, and subtle hooks like the repeated "raging river" chorus line keep things memorable. The variety in songwriting is also fantastic, Up North following with a catchy, synth-and-vocal-led tune that could have come from Vortex's sadly one-off solo Storm Seeker project, unafraid of cymbal-heavy drumming or blastbeats with its delightfully enjoyable prog metal. The Fire That Burns takes a more adventurous prog direction with a meandering centre section that would be reminiscent of fellow Norwegian supergroup Arcturus even without Vortex's vocals atop it, contrasting well with the upbeat guitar-driven Lights, with that infectious yet melancholic "my heroes/they all died so long ago" refrain, and the following ballad Wild Father's Heart. This is an album that knows how to play to its strengths, and Vortex is head of the list.

So yes, the obvious downside to this album is if you're not quite as enamoured of Mr Hestnæs as the rest of us. But it is interesting to note that despite True North being the band's longest album to date, it never drags or feels laden down with filler. And even mid-album tracks like Into the White are strongly-written with their own hooks, albeit they just don't stand out as strongly as the strongest pieces present. These are reserved for the second epic on the album, the nine-minute Tidal, just as good as Thunderous, and the moving Viking metal outro that is Voices, driven by Lars Nedland's mournful clean singing in a funereal and folky farewell. Overall this is perhaps not the best Borknagar album but is definitely a compelling and well-written addition to this underrated group's discography that will reward further listens as the cold encroaches and winter sets in. Another excellent taste of northern darkness from the masters.

Killing Songs :
Thunderous, Up North, Tidal, Voices
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Borknagar that we have reviewed:
Borknagar - Urd reviewed by Khelek and quoted 90 / 100
Borknagar - The Archaic Course reviewed by Khelek and quoted 90 / 100
Borknagar - Universal reviewed by Kyle and quoted 86 / 100
Borknagar - Epic reviewed by Jeff and quoted 95 / 100
Borknagar - Quintessence reviewed by Danny and quoted 78 / 100
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