Řystein G. Brun (guitars/mastermind), Vintersorg (vox), Lars Nedland (keys) and Asgeir Mickelson (drums) return after three years to bring us the sequel to "Empiricism", an album that I loved. Borknagar, for those of you unfamiliar with them, play a progressive blackened death pagan hyperspace style of metal. If you're looking for variety, you'll find it here (and on all of their other releases, for that matter). Vintersorg is an amazing vocalist who can do every style from blackened rasps to death roars to wavery, clean folk (and do each very well). My only complaint about the guy is his tendency to overuse cadences and phrasing. Most singers suffer from this, but Vintersorg has so much to offer in his stylistic range that I wish he'd also offer more variety to his melodies and rhythms. So while he's truly great, there is room for improvement. That said, "Epic" is a worthy follow up to "Empiricism", offering a bit more variety in mood and approach, but staying well within the scope of the previous album. "More of the same" for some, "More of the same excellence" for me.
Musically, Borknagar treads the same waters as bands such as Arcturus, Opeth, Emperor, Solefald and the like. Song structures are fairly unpredictable, layering of instrumentation is thick and tempo changes abound, often unexpectedly. The band bounces all over the metal, prog and folk map. I'm particularly fond of keyboardist Lars Nedland's efforts, as his use of numerous textures (from piano, to synth, to organ, to faux orchestration and beyond) truly bring life and warmth to the chaotic/eclectic mix. Brun is equally adept and bringing different styles to the table, from the typical trilling black metal guitar buzzsaw to hard hitting traditional metal power chords to casual acoustic meandering. I should also compliment Mickelson for his ability to follow whatever style the band is up to and create numerous points of interest via use of cymbals (as well as some impressive rolls). All these guys can flat out play and arrange. Lyrically, Vintersorg covers numerous topics that are more interesting (albeit sometimes more confusing) than most metal bands offer.
This type of music is surely not for everyone. "Avant-garde" is the term most often thrown around when dealing with progressive black metal, and while at this point in the game the style that Borknagar trades in is no longer avant-garde (it's been around for close to a decade now), it is more challenging to listen to than your average extreme metal album - there are no break downs and little in the way of head banging groove - it's all about the nuances. The key to Borknagar's sound is the contrasts, so many elements are tossed into the mix that keen listening is almost required. "Epic" is not the record to throw on the CD player when you're washing the car, it's the one to listen to when you can sit with the headphones on and concentrate. This record encapsulates so much of what progressive metal was and is that I can't help but love it.