Reviews : Albums : Borknagar, "Empiricism"

Borknagar, "Empiricism"

Well, the wait's over and we finally get to hear Borknagar with Vinstersorg handling the vocals. I had really mixed feelings about this album on first listen and I knew I had to take extra time to let it sink it. Eventually, I came around to what the songs are doing and since then, I've enjoyed this release immensely.

Borknagar has continued their drift away from black metal and have adopted even more progressive elements in their sound. Opening with a piano run that's quickly joined by a Spiral Architect-ish tom fill and then lost as the band drops in with full ferocity, The Genuine Pulse is a song of all seasons, roaming back and forth between black metal cruelty progressive hooks. It quickly becomes apparent why Century Media is not calling them black metal anymore, opting instead for "Epic Metal," which is a pretty good description of the sounds you'll find on Empricism. The speedy black metal sections are still there, but so are large, sweeping sections like that at 2:50 of Inherit the Earth and the chorus of The Genuine Pulse.

The guitars are quieter and quite thin, allowing the rhythm section more room in the songs and making the mix much more skeletal and focused on the drums, bass and keys. Asgeir's drumming is noteworthy, as his performance is much more in line with what he's done in Spiral Architect than his previous work with Borknagar. He's an incredibly fluid, abstract drummer and he adds greatly to the progressive feel of the songs. But ultimately, it's Lars Nedlund's keyboards that take most of the credit [or blame, depending on your point of view] for the progressive sounds, as witnessed in Matter & Motion or the verse of Gods of My World. Unfortunately, he's not quite good enough to justify having the keyboards that far out in front, but I do love the distorted organ sound he pulls out again and again. The quiet acoustic passage at 2:50 of Gods of My World brings us to Tyr's bass performance, which is simply massive. He solos in a couple of parts, but his basslines sit side by side with Steve DiGiorgio's as textbook examples of how play creative, effective bass in metal.

Big choruses and quiet passages are found in abundance and Vintersorg's near-godly vocals are given total freedom to indulge in harmonies and counterpoints whenever they please. but Vintersorg - despite being the more accomplished vocalist - just isn't the same thrill to listen to that Simen is in his best moments. Because Vintersorg's such a good vocalist, you never get the feeling that he's really trying to hit those notes. Whereas with Simen, it felt like he was giving everything he had to hit those high notes, and there's something about the sound of his voice that always gave me chills in those moments. Regardless though, Vintersorg is amazing throughout Empiricism and one listen to the choruses of The Stellar Dome or the intro to Four Element Synchronicity and you'll be hard pressed to name a better vocalist in metal.

This all makes for a very complex, dazzling record that will take dozens, if not hundreds of spins to completely appreciate. But it also makes for a less gratifying listening experience right off the bat, especially if you're expecting the melodic wall of sound that Quintessence had. Where Quintessence was a waterfall of notes that poured out of the speakers as a cohesize sum much greater than it's parts, Empiricism is more like an enormous tree in the dead of winter; its naked, bony branches cutting through the sky, ever-dividing, ever revealing new forks and new relationships. And though it's harder to do, there's beauty to find here if you can stop comparing and just learn to look.

Standout Tracks

   The Genuine Pulse
   Gods of My World
   Four Element Synchronicity