Photo by: Jorn Veberg
Avant-garde (definition): “Those artists, writers, and musicians whose techniques and ideas are markedly experimental or in advance of those generally accepted.”
It’s a term that BORKNAGAR fans love to toss around when discussing the band, and with good reason. Since the beginning of their career in 1996, guitarist/founder/mainman Øystein G. Brun has kept one eye on the future, constantly looking for ways to improve upon a growing and increasingly impressive discography. With the release of the full acoustic album “Origin” in 2006 – capping off a decade of experimentation – BORKNAGAR made it clear that no musical territory was taboo. It was a point driven home with the 2010 follow-up, “Universal”, an album that went well beyond black metal criteria and reached into the realms of ‘70s dynamics. Somewhere along the way, BORKNAGAR had become a sort of 21st century Pink Floyd. With their new album, “Urd”, the band has pushed forward once again, guaranteed to take even the most devout fan by surprise.
“It's been a musical journey for us since the very beginning”, says Brun. “After the release of the acoustic effort “Origin” some of the media people were calling “Universal” a comeback album, but it's more like we went back to square one. So, if “Universal” was the first step on our new musical journey, “Urd” is the next one. I think “Universal” is a really solid album and I still like it, but we wanted to make more out of it. We wanted to make an album that was more diverse, with new elements in the music. We could have done “Universal” Part 2, sure, but we don't want to stagnate. We played to our strengths on the new album. It's always been the nature of this band to take a step further, and even take a step broader.”
The musical journey quite naturally continues on “Urd”…via rollercoaster throughout the northern landscapes. At its core the new album picks up where “Universal” left off, but Brun wasn’t shy about re-introducing the black metal elements BORKNAGAR is known for. Nor was the band afraid of twisting their sound with occasional symphonics, Deep Purple-flavoured keyboards, epic vocal harmonies, and even a wah-wah guitar solo on one track (‘The Earthling’). It’s fair to say that calling BORKNAGAR black metal falls far short of a worthy definition.
Brun adds: “Since the second album “The Olden Domain” I've tried to... not really distance myself from black metal, but to make something more out of it. We have a black metal approach on some of the new songs - with screaming vocals or blastbeats - but it's also Pink Floyd-ish, a bit orchestral. We want to be more than just a musical term. There’s no wah-wah pedal in black metal? Maybe so, but in 1996 no black metal band had clean vocals, either (laughs). No black metal band used a Hammond organ. We introduced both of those things to our sound, and five year later everyone was doing it. For me it's about daring to push things just a little more than what people might expect- without losing ourselves.”
One of the most important aspects of “Urd” is the mix, handled this time out by Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios in Sweden. Known for his work with Opeth and Katatonia, Bogren brought everything out of the original multi-studio production, right down to the tiniest nuance. Brun, meanwhile, took charge of the initial production.
“The whole procedure we had regarding this album was brilliant”, he reveals. “We recorded the different parts in different studios, and we had the time and the resources to do what we wanted. I didn't want to be just a musician for this album; I wanted to implement the producer's perspective. I wanted to produce the songs more than we had done before. And knowing that we were doing the mixing with Jens Bogren, I knew that he would be able to give the album a huge sound but a very distinctive sound at the same time, so people could hear everything going on in the music. We had to make sure all our performances were really good because in a Fascination Street production you hear everything. Nothing gets buried in the mix, so we had to play everything properly this time (laughs)”.
And Brun adds about finalizing “Urd”: “The album was finished in mid December and all in all we spent about 6 months to record, produce and mix it. In the “Bork-World” this isn’t really long, but I can assure you that we have never before invested so much time, energy and effort into one single production. It has been a tough, yet inspiring ride. Since June 2011 I have constantly been working with this album, recording, editing and so forth – day and night. The same goes for my comrades, never before have we made an album where everybody in the band has been so heavily involved and dedicated as this time around. “Urd” is surely the peak of our musical journey so far and we are extremely proud to have made this giant of an album! It’s massive, it’s emotional, it’s fast, it’s slow, it’s epic, and it’s progressive…all the ingredients that we have crafted our musical world on! And not to mention the “golden threesome” on vocals (Vintersorg, Mr. Vortex and Lazare) really shines on this album…”.
Indeed, one of deadliest weapons on “Urd” is BORKNAGAR’s ability to add surprising, interchanging colouring and flavour to the songs by having not less than three very gifted and distinguishable vocalists within their current line-up. Next to frontman Vintersorg (who carries the main vocal duties since 2001’s “Empiricism” album), it’s the input by keyboardist Lars A. Nedland (a.k.a. “Lazare”, Solefald) and recently returned bass-player ICS Vortex (Arcturus, ex Dimmu Borgir) - who actually used to handle main vocals on the albums “The Archaic Course” (1998) and “Quintessence” (2000) - that lifts this release up to a whole new level of musical diversity and depth.
The new album’s title (“Urd”) is explained within the band’s historical context as follows: “Our previous album was called “Universal” and where should we go after an album title with such a magnitude? Well, we decided to head back home to earth. We really wanted to get back to the core of the band, where it all started – the admiration and pondering about nature and mankind’s place therein. “Urd” is the name of one of the norns that according to northern mythology stands under Yggdrasill and weaves the lifeline of mankind. “Urd” is representing the past, while “Verdande” is representing the present and “Skuld” is representing the future. You might very well say that this is an ancient expression of what we today know as DNA. And I have always been very fascinated by the fact that parts and bits of our DNA actually derive from the very beginning of time. All living creatures are somewhat connected to the very first organic cell. That is some of the story behind the album title- portrayed within the framework of the Bork- universe…”.
Brun sums “Urd” up as simply as he can; not an easy task given the depth and scope of a monstrous album: ““It feels way more professional somehow, more mature. It's very satisfying to listen to because it correlates with my skills, my age, and my history as a musician. It feels like the perfect record at the perfect time. And I am pretty sure my bandmates feel just the same, as we all gave this one 100% of our skills, dedication and effort.”