Borknagar - Winter Thrice Review

Borknagar - Winter Thrice
Borknagar - Winter Thrice. Century Media Records

Borknagar have made considerable efforts to push away from fierce black metal since the early 2000s, but no more have they made that clear than with their last few albums. Ever since ICS Vortex returned to the band in 2010, a decade removed from his work on the underrated Quintessence, the group have strived to become more progressive.

It has been an interesting transition, one that has mostly succeeded, and Winter Thrice is a clear end product that’s been in the making since Vortex guested on Universal’s “My Domain.”

There’s a celebratory feel to Winter Thrice, and not only because it comes 20 years after their self-titled debut. For the first time since 1997’s The Olden Domain, Ulver’s Kristoffer Rygg a.k.a. Garm returns to the band. This isn’t a full-time gig though; a lead vocal spot on the title track and backing vocals on closer “Terminus.”

Still, it’s quite a feat to have four vocalists collaborating, harmonizing, passing verses off to each other as if the band got hold on some fan fiction written by a diehard Borknagar follower.

With a few decades of experience behind his voice, Garm makes an invaluable impression with his contributions. It’s almost a shame that he’s regulated to two of the eight tracks, as he’s arguably a more dynamic presence with his harmonious passion than ICS Vortex. Not to knock ICS Vortex’s vocals though, as he gets plenty of space to emote in his usual stellar manner.

Vintersorg’s bellowing rage is present, though diminished compared to the uptick in melodic vocals.

Borknagar could still be considered a black metal group, though that aspect of themselves is now contained to a few explosive passages. There isn’t one complete song on here that could be described as distinctively black metal, which makes their instances—in the opening moments of “Terminus” and after a calming piano welcomes us in “When Chaos Calls”—more profound.

Other than Garm’s welcomed inclusion and a stronger emphasis on tuneful vocals, Winter Thrice is just a sharper interpretation of their last two albums, Universal and . “Panorama” is a surprise with its playful keyboard lines and lack of harshness. Same goes for “Noctilucent,” which acts as a brief decoy into a progressive rock trance before “Terminus” obliterates those dreamy sonic textures.

It’s not every band that gets to release ten albums in their career, and Borknagar are still at a creative high with Winter Thrice. Though lacking in innovation or an outright new style of music, the album buckles down on proggy black metal.

Waiting almost four years can be torture for any fan base, but they should be satisfied with Winter Thrice, as long as they felt similarity about the direction the band have been heading in this current decade.

(released January 22, 2016 on Century Media Records)