Daniel Cece

Hot Off the Press: Borknagar - "Fall"

Music Scene Media
Feb 29, 2024
4 min read
Album Art via Amazon -- Artwork Done by Eliran Kantor

One undeniable thing about Borknagar is that, since their inception, they have stayed true to their roots with unwavering commitment. While a significant plurality of artists end up shapeshifting into a completely different entity within mere years into their career, this Norwegian-bred quintet has largely remained faithful to the sound that got them their start almost thirty years ago. Unlike the band's 1996 debut self-titled album, their latest work is an amalgamation of the numerous adaptations that comprise their lengthy career, one which has lasted longer than most artists' regardless of genre. Every one of Borknagar's twelve full-length albums was not a mere iteration of the previous, however, as each one had something truly proprietary to offer. Fall is no different in that it is yet another progression of the group's sound while simultaneously also serving as an homage to their origins, core beliefs, and personal journeys. It is filled with tributes, ballads, allegories, and even their very own "Nordic Anthem" that channels the essence of their culture and ancestry while taking a stance that is about "finding YOUR OWN nature, strength, and freedom", taken from a Facebook comment made by the band themselves. Had Borknagar's discography been void of a self-titled album until this point, Fall would be the album that best meets the criteria to be the band's defining self-referential oeuvre from a sonic, lyrical, and visionary perspective.

Fall is packed with a diverse array of messages and themes, ranging from familiar, if not reimagined, portrayals of the majestic Northern topography to more profound elaborations of existence, purpose, and the nature of humankind. The core motif of each track, layered in conjunction with the album's overall concept, serves as the fundamental beating heart of the writing, both lyrically and instrumentally. There is clear intent behind how phrases and sections are structured that goes beyond just being "aggressive" or "melodic" or the like; parts that might have been written simply to compliment an adjacent phrase or to cohesively complete a song's particular "feel" have instead given way to a more unorthodox, sometimes less "catchy" melody that takes the song in an unexpected direction. Borknagar has always toed the line of occupying a Progressive space within the otherwise Black & Folk Metal genre that comprises their musical foundation. The dichotomy of Fall, something that sets it apart from the rest of the band's discography, is its juxtaposition of the more avant-garde, atypical curveballs relative to the iconic components that fans have come to know and love.

There were sections throughout its runtime where I would expect a certain type of transition or payoff but instead was met with another type of energy altogether. This isn't a criticism of the quality of the writing in those sections per se, but more so to point out that much of Fall does not fit any formula that fans of Borknagar may be accustomed to. There is no heavy reliance on any one aspect or influence throughout this compilation – fans will still enjoy their signature brand of gritty, atmospheric Black Metal as well as the uplifting vibrato vocal theatrics that we've come to know and love in years past. However, listeners who favor those elements above all else may be disappointed by how sporadic they appear amidst the album's more mature, reserved layers that drive much of the melody, sometimes for extended periods. This writing style has given Borknagar the ability to explore divergent, creative ways of expanding upon their tried & true sound without sacrificing key characteristics. I would argue that this is something that, by all accounts, should be celebrated, especially if fans want new music that doesn't sound regurgitated or tired. It's clear that these musicians are writing what they want to write, regardless of genre boundaries or expectations; despite much of this album taking on an uncharacteristically low intensity with its execution, there are rewards for those who approach it with patience and objectivity.

Borknagar guitarist and founder, Øystein G. Brun, describes Fall as being about "cherishing the unseen and unknown forces that shape our existence" in an Instagram post made by the band. It is with this kind of uninhibited philosophical perspective that Fall is best consumed, especially given how interwoven the subject matter is with the music itself. That is not to say that casual listeners need a hearty bandwidth to make it through the album – Borknagar keeps everything digestible and relatively comprehendible from start to finish, especially considering their occasional use of odd time signatures and linear, unrepeating song structures. Fall is packed with valuable substance that is intended to be pondered but is communicated and expressed in a way that won't go over listeners' heads. It extends a friendly invitation to venture into the introspective minds of Borknagar who have taken a new approach to the discussion surrounding these larger-than-life notions.

One potential criticism of Fall is that, unless all of this background context is adequately decoded, either through lyrics or external investigation, listeners may not get as much out of the music as the band might hope – sort of a "Death of the Author" situation. This goes doubly so for fans who are expecting and hoping for Fall to be a parallel succession to Borknagar's previous album, True North, which was a fan favorite for many, myself included. Along the same vein, certain songs on Fall are just simply not nearly as musically memorable as tracks from other albums, or even compared to the previous/next tracks. Several guitar and vocal melodies, especially in the album's latter half, fail to live up to the standard set by the more euphonious, momentous segments in the first half. The conflict that I have here is, with all of this being said, these very same sections embody that which makes Fall the deceptively multifaceted and meaningful demonstration that I find to be laudable in its own right. Each note carries personal significance – like it was chosen because it genuinely best conveys what it is intended to represent in the eyes of the player/singer. Whether or not that strikes a chord with the listener is what may separate the fans of this album from its disparagers. Regardless, Fall is worth more than one listen, if nothing else aside from being an opportunity to immerse oneself in a piece of art that provides insight into five artists' interpretations of the imperceptible, inexplicable, or otherwise unexplored.

Overall Rating: 8/10

FFO: Insomnium, Be'lakor, Dimmu Borgir, Enslaved, Omnium Gatherum, Mors Principum Est, Shylmagoghnar, Ihsahn, Tyr

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