Borknagar - Universal
Indie Recordings
Progressive Folk / Post-Black Metal
8 songs (46:54)
Release year: 2010
Borknagar, Indie Recordings
Reviewed by Kyle
Major event

Lately, whenever I’ve found myself caught in one of those moods where I just can’t decide what style of music to listen to, I’ve found Borknagar to be my go-to band. Their albums from Empiricism onwards have been deceptively accessible; on the surface, their catchy yet progressive blend of post-black and folk metal is easily listenable for even the least seasoned of metal fans (And perhaps even for non-metal fans), but dig deeper and you may just discover a reason to take the music more seriously, with melodies that grow on you more and more with each listen, sleepy yet creative acoustic sections that serve as much more than just transition points between the heavier moments, and of course, the aforementioned heavy portions, which are more complex than you would originally believe. This essentially sums up the sound of Borknagar’s long-awaited return voyage into metal, Universal, and though that description could easily apply to both Empiricism and Epic, this latest album is a much different breed than those two that not everyone will enjoy. Fortunately for me, I’ve been enjoying it immensely since its release, though admittedly it’s not as good as their last two albums (not counting Origin).

Let it be known first and foremost that Universal is not a black metal record in any sense. It’s not an album that you can dive into headfirst and enjoy to the best of your ability on only your first listen. Rather, I believe that the type of person that will appreciate Universal best is a metal fan that has no problem sinking their teeth into a progressive rock album every once in a while. With keyboards set to an organ sound, classic rock-influenced vocal lines from the ever-controversial Vintersorg (who unfortunately sounds a bit weak on this album), and jazzy drumming on tracks like For a Thousand Years to Come, Universal at times doesn’t feel very metal at all, especially on the song Fleshflower, which completely refrains from exploring the realm of the heavy with its quirky, folksy style. More often than not Universal comes across as an experimental record – thankfully, it’s a damn good experimental record. It’s a difficult album to wrap your mind around; this music seems more emotional than Borknagar’s previous works, lending it a more spacey and cosmic vibe, which cooperates wonderfully with both the album’s title and wonderful cover art.

There is, however, much metal influence to be found. Littered about Universal (and in all the right places to keep things moving along swiftly) are heavy, blackened segments, complete with blast beats, harsh vocals, and dark chord progressions to give you an unsettling feeling after all the bouncy, proggy moments. There are also minor chords everywhere, popping up even in the mellow bits, though they’re not very noticeable at first. But that’s one of the great things about Universal - with every single listen, you’re bound to miss something, whether it be a short-yet-wonderful folk melody on flutey synths, or an underlying chord that gives the song in question some added flavor. This is one of those albums where, while it’s nice to have on as meandering background music as you write an essay or ponder over your past and what the future may hold, it’s also great if you’re searching for a deeper album that will take several several dedicated listens to dissect completely. Hell, I’ve been listening to Universal on an almost daily basis ever since its release, and I still don’t think I’ve managed to obtain a full grasp on the big picture that Borknagar is attempting to display here.

Unfortunately, Universal isn’t exactly a perfect album; some of the heavier, blackened passages lack inspiration, and some songs, like the rather dull Worldwide, need just a dash of energy so that they’ll be able to keep pace with the rest of the record. Also, as successful of an experiment as Universal may be, it still feels like an experiment in the end, and one that could’ve been made better with a little more time devoted to writing creative music; sometimes the album seems a bit empty, and that just a few touches here and there, such as an added guitar line or synthesized melody, could’ve filled in the gaps wonderfully. But even with these flaws, I can still wholly recommend a purchase of Universal if you’re willing to devote a good amount of time to it, and you surely will want to listen to it multiple times, as it flies through its 47 minute running time rather quickly. It’s a highly memorable and easily listenable (given a chance, that is) album that I will surely want to hear again after this review.

Killing Songs :
The album is best heard as a whole, but Havoc, For a Thousand Years to Come, Fleshflower, and My Domain are the best songs.
Kyle quoted 86 / 100
Other albums by Borknagar that we have reviewed:
Borknagar - True North reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Borknagar - Urd reviewed by Khelek and quoted 90 / 100
Borknagar - The Archaic Course reviewed by Khelek and quoted 90 / 100
Borknagar - Epic reviewed by Jeff and quoted 95 / 100
Borknagar - Quintessence reviewed by Danny and quoted 78 / 100
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