During the year two thousand, founding band member Oystein Brun told vocalist/bassist ICS Vortex
that he had to tour with Borknagar
, instead of recording with Dimmu Borgir
, because it was a conflict of interest. So he quit Borknagar
to focus on Dimmu Borgir
, which was probably more profitable at the time. Vintersorg
subsequently filled the vocalist position in that same year. After about ten years with Dimmu Borgir
left the band in two thousand nine and rejoined Borknagar
in late twenty ten. The twenty twelve release, Urd, was their first full album to feature both Vortex
together as a duet. It was a beautiful collection of compositions, which combined chilling keyboard music, crafty guitar work and angelic vocals. Then their twenty release, Winter Thrice
, was a mix of slower songs and unusually faster tracks. The textures alternate between mellow heaviness and choppy grinding intensities. Vintersorg
quit the band earlier this year, to spend more time with his family and he didn’t perform on this new CD.
The opener, Thunderous, commences with eighteen seconds of a low rumble of thunder. Then it abruptly jumps into a majestic rhythm with salient keyboard music and strong bass lines, at an invigorating pace. The drummer pounds along hard, as the vocalist sings with the high notes to project an uplifting effect. Then after a couple of minutes, the texture becomes rougher, with the guitarists grinding melodically at the midrange notes. This gives occasion for the grim vocals, which are hollered with a strain of throatiness. ICS Vortex
plays two principal roles within the schemes of these compositions. At vocals he sings with a smooth voice, often with a manner of eloquence. His higher notes have an angelic quality and his grim voice exhibits a convincing mood of rage. As the bassist, his performances are an integral part of the music and usually dominate the presence of both guitarists. He often plays bold deep lines and heavy rhythms.
Keyboardist Lars Nedland has been with Borknagar
for twenty years and this is his eighth album with the band. The keyboard music dominates most of the songs and it keeps a low atmospheric profile in the others. Sometimes he plays the higher notes, with occasional flamboyant outbursts reminiscent of Don Airey
from Deep Purple
. The third song, The Fire
that Burns, begins with light guitar chords and high note keyboard notes for about thirteen seconds. Then it suddenly breaks out with more intensity, as the guitarists and keyboardist play an epic melody. During this intervening time, Vortex
screeches out the lines with his throaty grim vocals. The tempo soon slows back down, with a seventies pop styled melody and ICS switches to his angelic clean vocals. These two textures alternate throughout the song, as can be expected.
The sixth number, Mount Rapture
, starts with melodic guitar music and decorative keyboard notes. The bass music is plucked with a strong complimentary rhythm and the drums are beaten hard at a medium pace. Vortex
screams out with an unusually raspy midrange quality of throatiness, which sounds similar to Hjervard from Nomans Land
. Then the music glides into a dramatic slowdown and the guitarists play choppy riffs. ICS soon sings with an elegant clear voice, reverts to the grim vocals and returns with the angelic carols. The guitar work becomes more ornamental with artistic picking, as the bas music saunters along. Founding member Oystein Brun is the lead guitarist and long time rhythm guitarist Jens Ryland quit the band last year. So the new rhythm guitarist is thirty nine year old Jostein Thomassen. He has also performed with Fracture (NOR), Profane Burial
and Source Of Tide
(as Pendragon). There is a lot of gentle picking and folksy melodies, although they usually aren’t too catchy. Sometimes Oystein plays epic riffs and intricate solos. But rarely do these guitarists rock out with spectacular intensity.
Their former drummer, Baard Kolstad, quit the band after performing on two albums and six years of service. The new drummer is Bjorn Ronnow and he has previously performed with Profane Burial
Solfa. Depending on the musical structure, he beats casually slow or at a moderate pace. At times he exhibits fluttering shuffle patterns and short drum rolls with varying intensity. The last track, Voices
, flows with subtle keyboard music played at a slow pace and Vortex
sings with his natural tenor voice. “There are voices in the air.” “They always find me, no matter where I go.” Bjorn softly shuffles along and the bassist occasionally adds a deeper note to compliment the keyboard music. Then after a minute, the guitarists play slow rhythmic power chords and the bassist follows suit. Soon the opus is joined with soft violin notes and the keyboardist plays a light symphonic style.
of these songs plus the lyrics were written by keyboardist Nedland and lead guitarist Brun. The title track was fully written by Vortex
. The album’s lyrics deal mostly with the nuances of nature, with a couple of allusions to how modern man has deteriorated it. Vortex
does a very good job on the lead vocals and there is a difference. Maybe he is the poor man’s equivalent to Vintersorg
, but it’s time for a change to break the routine of the past seven albums. The guitars sounded better with Jens Ryland, because there was more artistic flair before he left. They probably only need Brun on guitar, since they focus mostly on the keyboard music. The new drummer isn’t an upgrade, because Baard Kolstad played with more pizazz. Lars Nedland performed very well on this release, but his best performance was arguably on the Quintessence
album. Up North
isn’t their best CD, but it sounds different and they’re moving in the right direction.