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Album Review: BORKNAGAR Fall

7.5 Reviewer

Ahh Borknagar, welcome back. It's been about 5 years since we last heard from you with the stunning album True North. I was looking forward to getting a new song stuck in my head from the Nordic outfit other than "The Fire That Burns". Fall marks itself as the band's 12th studio album – an impressive feat for any group. I'm grateful that the band keeps trucking on, pushing for something fresh while keeping true to their blackened roots.

The first track "Summits" sets the tone for the rest of the album. While it still has Borknagar's signature style and natural power, it ushers in a softness resulting in a less bombastic, crowd-riling album opener. There's an inescapable feeling of darkness present, while choral moments let shards of brilliant light shine through. The 'darkness' isn't terse or brutal; rather it feels like Fall was inspired by an arctic-cold winter night – the kind where ice crystals glitter in the moonlight and winds blow bonfire smoke into the vast night sky. Borknagar songwriter, Øystein G. Brun, states that he has “a very visual relationship with music” and it shows. I always find my mind drifting through awe-inspiring Northern landscapes as Borknagar plays, and "Summits" is no exception to the rule.

On the surface, the second track "Nordic Anthem" may seem like another rallying call adding to the deluge of oft played out Norse pagan tropes. Upon a closer listen, "Nordic Anthem" is actually a different beast entirely. The track is about rejecting any kind of suffocating societal rules whether they be religious or political. It’s about listening to your true nature, answering to your native calling, and finding the freedom in that journey. It’s beckons us to live up to our own values, identify the strengths in one's own heritage, and stand up against gods and authorities that try to push doctrines which control or corrupt you. "We won’t bend our necks to any god!”

The overall sentiment of the song is one of interpersonal freedom, approaching the subject with an almost feral approach to living. "Nordic Anthem" has an almost meditative quality and sounds like it could've been co-written by Wardruna. It is a standout for Borknagar in that it lacks complexity and doesn't feel like a standard-action offering from the group. If you're looking for something that goes 'hard', you won't find it here.

"Moon" is a track that is heavy with existential introspection. Lyrically, it invokes a firm sense of self telling us to stand resolute against the yawning void. Musically, Borknagar incorporates elements that are more progressive – akin to ICS Vortex's past project, Arcturus. "Moon" is intriguing in it's composition, brightened by compelling bridges and a soulful guitar solo. The end is anthemic, with hyped-up drums leading us into a harder-hitting closing. It's a beautiful song, flawlessly executed, and there could be an argument made here for this being the best track on the album.

In contrast to their preceding two albums, the energy of the album as a whole is much more subdued. However, Fall does have energetic bursts which pop up sporadically throughout the tracks that are decadently familiar for Borknagar fans. If I had to encompass Fall into one word, I would call it "introspective". I'd have to venture a guess that long-time Borknagar fans might be initially disappointed in this offering because of how message-driven the songs have become. Frankly, this isn't the apex of what Borknagar have to offer as a band. The majority of songs are slower-paced and thoughtful. Fall gives almost singer-songwriter vibes painted with a trademark Borknagar finish – melodic, purposeful, and complete.

Fall is a thinker, not a headbanger. Though it isn't as 'tough' as preceding albums, there is still a lot of effort in the tracks. Lots of multi-layered vocals and symphonic elements are strewn throughout the album. The songs are alluring, making Fall more of a slow-burn for listeners. The more I listened to the album, the more I liked it. Closing song "Northwind" sums up the album well, marrying their softer aesthetic with classic Borknagar vocal reaches and time signature changes. The album doesn't fall short on talent, but it is different for Borknagar.

I found myself listening to Fall again and again, looking desperately for that one song to grab onto and listen to over and over again. However, in truth the album plays better as a whole. There is no one stand-out track or even tracks. There are memorable moments instead. I'll be listening and suddenly think "wow this is beautiful" or "hell yeah this part slaps" but these moments aren't measured song-by-song, rather it's a reflection of the album overall.

As a Borknagar fan I really enjoy Fall, and I accept the fact that the album is a newer, uncharted venture. However, if I were a new listener of Borknagar, I don't think the album would enthrall me. Fall feels like you're getting to personally know the band's philosophy and inner thoughts, and that's something only hardcore fans might enjoy. Still, it's an objectively well-written album that holds up well within the band's discography. Fall proves that Borknagar is a band that, even 12 albums in, can still deliver fresh material enrobed in their signature sound.

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