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THIS IS ARMAGEDDON!: BORKNAGAR Find Their True North In The Mighty Mountains And Majestic Fjords Of Norway


Welcome back to the latest instalment of This Is Armageddon! As a semi-regular column, our goal is to bring the very best as it relates to Norway and True Norwegian Black Metal. This week, we bring to you an exclusive interview with perhaps the most consistent band to spring from the twisting, vexing fjord-and-frost-covered lands of Norge… the mighty Borknagar.

With a history that spans three decades, the glacial caverns of Nordic extremity run deep. For the recently graduated glaciologists among you, it is likely you have spelunked the Nordic depths, unearthing an icy ecosphere rife with contemporary black metal artists such as Whoredom Rife, Mork, Djevel, Avertia, Myrkraverk, Nattverd, Valgaldr, Sjukdom, Last Lightning, Hagl, and Viðr.

THIS IS ARMAGEDDON!: BORKNAGAR Find Their True North In The Mighty Mountains And Majestic Fjords Of Norway

What do all the aforementioned bands have in common? Well, it is more than likely not one would exist without the pioneering efforts of their forebears. If one chips their way deep enough into this ice-covered mountain, eventually they'll reach a blackened permafrost. Buried beneath this crepuscular glaze lies the beginning of all things. Far from dormant, never to be forgotten, giants such as Mayhem, Satyricon, Immortal, Dimmu Borgir, and Enslaved continue to pierce the world with cold, bleak, frostbitten winds.

Within this syndicate of Nordic disharmonia lives one Øystein Garnes Brun. Hailing from Bergen, in the county of Hordaland, Norway, Øystein is the founder, and only original member, of the mighty Borknagar. With roots stretching all the way back to '95, Borknagar has seen a veritable who's who of Norwegian black metal within their ranks. The likes of  Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved), Kristoffer 'Garm' Rygg (Ulver), Infernus (Gorgoroth), among others, have, at one time or another, called Borknagar home.

With such a formidable history under his belt, we thought it prudent to sit down with Øystein on the eve of Borknagar's release of their seventh studio album, True North, to pick his brain on all things Borknagar and Norway. Enjoy!

THIS IS ARMAGEDDON!: BORKNAGAR Find Their True North In The Mighty Mountains And Majestic Fjords Of Norway

On weathering the troubled waters of shifting members…

Yeah, running a band for this long is indeed a complicated affair. It might not be a moon landing, but I guess it's damn close! (laughs). Through all this, I have always clung to a child-like passion and excitement for making music. Nothing in this world gives me the same sense of buzz and satisfaction as fulfilling musical ideas – whether that be just a riff or whole album. Unfortunately, sometimes tough decisions must be made in order to pursue this craving – or addiction. That said, the lineup changes after Winter Thrice actually came very naturally to those of us involved. It felt more like a transition rather than a change of lineup.

On the initiation of newest members Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow (drums) and Jostein Thomassen (guitar)…

The new boys locked in wonderfully. The songs for True North were already written before Jostein and Bjørn got involved in the band. Once they 'passed the test', so to speak, we wanted to involve them as much as possible during the process of recording the album. I have always had this idea of utilizing the best of the potential we have available, so we gave them space to do their thing, to bring in their ideas and make their footprint on the album. I think it worked out extremely well. So, yeah, both Bjørn and Jostein brought quite a lot to the table, or campfire, if you like, that shines through on the album. They are wonderful people and did a stellar job.

On Borknagar's place within the realm of Norwegian black metal over the last quarter-century…

I guess we've always been some sort of an oddball in all this. Since the very beginning of the band, I've had a clear vision about establishing my own musical universe.  This has been done in an attempt to make something unique and timeless that is positioned somewhat outside any musical wave, fashion, and whatnot. Furthermore, I have always envisioned my/our musical career as some sort of musical journey, with the fundamental philosophy behind the band always being to take a step further and always find new paths and new musical grounds. So, quite frankly, and maybe slightly cocky, I think this differs us quite some from the rest of the Norwegian Black Metal scene.

On the influence of Norwegian black metal in Borknagar, both musically and aesthetically…

As a band we clearly derive from the Norwegian black metal scene – musically speaking. I would still argue that we have been some sort of opponent to some of the very generic aspects of the Norwegian scene throughout the years. Very few bands on our musical 'branch' back in the nineties used clean vocals, Hammond organ and such, but now everybody seems to do it. That's an empirical fact. So, yeah, I think we've been at the forefront of the more progressive and adventurous side of the black metal movement in Norway over the past twenty-five years.

On the era of Borknagar held closest to heart…

I have always put all my heart into the music. I do this solely because of the shared love for making music. I've never done this because I had some childhood dream about being on stage or being a rockstar and what not. The fame and fortune idea never really appealed to me, rather the opposite. All this said, and to turn things around a little, I must admit that there have been times throughout my career I haven’t been able, or in a position, to do things wholeheartedly. In early/mid-2000 my first child was born. I also bought my first house and such. Looking back now, it's quite clear to me that some albums during that period were made more out of routine and less on full-blown passion. But, I guess that is life – which is not a constant in any sense.

So, to answer the question, the last, and first, ten years of the band are the eras I feel are closest to my heart. The nineties were awesome and the last ten years have been stellar. In all honesty, there were some years in the mid-2000s that I didn’t really feel it the way I should.

On summoning the magic that went into the creation of True North

There really isn't any formula or magic tricks. It's just an endless amount of hard work and sacrifice. That being said, I have always been very firm in my belief in honest music. Music is a very human artefact. Genuinely good music is music that, in some shape or form, mirrors life. We live in a world where we are constantly dragged towards generic and set systems – whether it's life in general or in a studio environment. With today's technology, you can compensate for almost every human flaw that exists. In many ways, that is a good thing, but within the realm of music that is a force of evil, in my opinion.

On the inspiration that has lead to every Borknagar album entering the pantheon of black metal classics…

During the release of Winter Thrice I went through the toughest time of my life losing my dear father. This gave me a reality check that was brutal in so many ways. So, when writing songs for the new album, I felt a very strong urge to humanize the music even more than before – to, quite simply, get closer to life. To scope all facets of life – the good times, bad times, powerful times, weak times, and so on. While earlier albums have been more philosophical in lyrical terms the music has been very packed-up in complexity. For this album, we sort of wanted to cut the crap and get closer to real life. As a result, I think the album is more direct and based in reality, both in terms of lyrics and the music. At least that is some of the mentality behind it.

On the jaw-dropping beauty of Norway and its influence on Borknagar…

As a kid, I quite literally grew up in the forests of Norway. We lived in the countryside and my father was a mountaineer all his life. I didn't go to kindergarten, Sunday school or such. I spent all my childhood in the woods with my knife building cottages up in the trees or hiking the mountains with my father. I still live in the countryside. Behind my studio, I have my own path leading up to the highest mountain in the Bergen area. On the other side, I have a beautiful view over the fjords. Of course, all these things have some sort of impact on me and have shaped the person I am and the music I create. Utilizing nature as the scenery for musical outlets feels to me like the most natural thing in the world. Let's say I was a painter; I would probably paint trees and mountains all over the place. So, in the name of honesty and authenticity, this is what listeners get from me.

At the end of the day, with my music, I have always strived to capture the feeling of being on a mountain top. In my world, nothing beats that. The sensation of being on top of the world, yet feeling so small – the mighty silence yet the winds howls. In many ways that is my True North. I live it, not just write about it.

Borknagar's True North is out now via Century Media.

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