Borknagar Guitarist Oystein G. Brun
Interview by Lord of The Wasteland
Promo pics courtesy of Century Media
After an uncharacteristically long wait, Borknagar, Norwayís
favorite black/folk/viking/prog/avant-garde metallers, have
finally returned with what may be their most ambitious and
progressive album to dateóEPIC. While naming a CD this would be
career suicide for many who would fall under cries of
pretension, Borknagar is able to pull it off without even
blinking an eye. For eight years, the band has been surpassing
genre boundaries and expectations, while stretching its outer
limits under the careful guidance of guitarist ōystein G. Brun.
There have been many members come and go from the band, but
Borknagar has finally trimmed itself down to a four-piece unit
and, according to Brun, secured their best lineup yet.
Brun is a fast talker and absorbing everything he said was
not easy, especially with his thick Norwegian accent and the
fact he was on a speakerphone. However during the course of our
35 minute chat, he did dispel the myth of what exactly the name
ďBorknagarĒ means, as well as expressing his feelings on the
black metal scene, offering some hints of what to expect from
Borknagar next and also some insight into his other projects.
The new CD from Borknagar, EPIC, is going to be released
next month (August 10th) in North America, but I understand that
it is already out in Europe?
Yes, it came out about two weeks ago, actually.
Have you read any reviews for it? I looked around and
didnít see any online yet.
Reviews have been really great, generally speaking, so far.
Of course there are always some people that do not like it, but
itís cool. We are totally satisfied.
I have reviewed it and I gave it a 4.5 out of 5.
Oh, thank you!
I think that it is an excellent CD and a logical
progression from EMPIRICISM. It seems to me that the band has
not only moved forward but looked backward as well. One of the
songs on the new CD is called ďQuintessence.Ē Is that something
that got left over from the QUINTESSENCE CD or is it just a
coincidence that they share the same title?
(Laughs) No, itís not a coincidence. I like to make
references to our previous work, both lyrically and musically.
We never did a song called ďQuintessenceĒ on the QUINTESSENCE
album. It was just an idea or a thought that I wanted to do one
album with that title and that concept. It was intentional,
though. There is another song on the new album called ďFuture
ReminiscenceĒ that is also closely connected to a song from
QUINTESSENCE called ďThe Ruins of Future.Ē They both have much
the same lyrical concept but with a new perspective, new eyes
and new thoughts.
There is an instrumental piece called ďThe Weight of WindĒ
on EPIC. There have been instrumentals on other releases as
well, but it seems like Borknagar has taken the instrumental to
a new level with all the sound effects and the keyboards on this
track. It almost has a jazz feel to it. Did you intentionally
try to outdo all the previous instrumentals?
Youíre right. On all of the albums we have done, there has
been an instrumental piece somewhere. What can I sayÖon the new
one, we tried to make people stand up and say, ďHey, what is
this?Ē You should really ask Lars [Nedlund, keyboards] what the
real idea for the song is because he is the man behind it.
ďRelateĒ has got to be one of the catchiest songs that
Borknagar has ever done. Has anyone approached you to do a video
for this CD because I think this song would be a great choice?
We have just done a video actually. We recorded it two weeks
ago or something like that. Itís just raw clips of me and the
other guys but in relation to the lyrics, it suits the concept
perfectly. Itís not the traditional metal video with us being
evil and on stage playing guitars or anything like that. Itís
more like a short movie with a very artistic approach to it.
Do you know when it will be out?
I donít know. I just know itís on the way to Century Media,
so they will have it soon and start to distribute it then, so
weíll see. There is a short version that is supposed to go on TV
and stuff like that. Itís only four minutes or something. We had
to kind of chop down the song a little bit, but we do have an
original version that will probably be on a DVD or something
Do you have plans to put together a DVD?
Yes, but weíre still collecting stuff. Backstage stuff from
touring and stuff like that. We have live shows, too, of course.
We have some ideas about doing something but weíre still
collecting bootlegs from people around the globe and stuff.
Weíll make a DVD for people who like to see the history of the
band, behind-the-scenes in the studio, touring, shows.
I mentioned the jazz vibe in ďThe Weight of WindĒ earlier
and there is also some jazz influences at the beginning of ďThe
Inner Ocean Hypothesis.Ē Who is the jazz fan in the band that is
bringing all of this to the music of Borknagar?
No one is really a jazz fan. Myself, Iím not a big jazz fan.
I like jazz. Jazz is cool, but I think that kind of reflects the
general attitude of the band. All of the guys listen to
different music. My inspiration comes from music other than
metal. I find a lot more influence in classical music than in
black metal, for example. We have very open minds and we try to
involve as many interesting musical ideas as we can in our
Who came up with the title for EPIC?
It was me, actually! We had a lot of discussions before we
found a title. There were a lot of ideas on the table that went
back and forth and stuff. None of those titles really suited the
album as a whole. They suited half of the record or some of the
songs but nothing was completely right. We wanted something that
was essential to what we have been doing for a long time and
what the key word for us was at this point and I came up with
EPIC. I think it suits the album and sums it up because it is
very ďepic.Ē The album goes up and down and itís almost like a
musical storyteller. Itís the most obvious title Iíve ever done.
There is no magic or big secret behind it.
One thing that I noticed right away was the cover art,
which was done once again by your drummer, Asgeir Mickelson.
Maybe he might be the better man to ask, but can you explain
what is being expressed on the cover?
First of all, I should say that the cover should be seen with
the rest of the layout because itís kind of connected as a
whole. The cover itself is Asgeirís work and he should probably
be the guy answering that, but for me personally, I wanted a
cover that had some relationship with previous covers. Maybe the
same feeling. Thatís something that I wanted to do. I also
wanted the cover to be abstract. I didnít want a comic book type
of cover. It does what I wanted and he used this book that is
the most obvious symbol of an epic. Itís a combination of a lot
of ideas but basically we tried to visualize some of our lyrical
ideas and stuff. I think it looks great. Itís quite cool.
I only have the cardboard promo, so there isnít a booklet
or anything that was sent along with it, but it does sound
interesting. On the back of the promo, there is a photo of the
band and is that you with the shaved head???
(Laughs) Thatís me!
Why did you cut your hair!! Was it just time to do it or
Yeah, man. You know, Iíve had long hair since I was, like, 14
years old and I always had the idea that the day I started to
lose my hair, I would just cut it off and that was the case.
Nature has taken its toll (laughs). When I started to lose the
hair on top, it wasnít really what I wanted to do but it was the
only solution for me.
It must feel strange? You had quite the head of hair
Itís quite nice actually! Itís easy to take a shower and
Borknagar released five CDs in six years, but this one
took almost three years to get finished. Why was there a longer
span between the release of EMPIRICISM and EPIC?
There were different reasons actually, but the main reason is
that we just needed some time to relax a little bit and find
ourselves or whatever. As you said, between 1996 and 2001 we did
five albums and several tours and festivals and stuff. It was
really intense, at least for me, to be doing that for so many
years. The second reason was that the recording turned out much
longer than we had expected. Usually we would record an album in
three or four months but we ended up using almost a year for
EPIC. All in all, it turned out to be three years (laughs)!
Would you say that the extended break benefited the end
Yeah, I think so. We needed some time to relax a little bit
and have some time in the studio. We actually cancelled two
festival gigs last summer because of conflicts with the
recording session. For us, the main priority is recording music.
That is the basis for everything, so we had to choose between
postponing the recording session for awhile and not the doing
live shows. We just had to cancel them because we wanted to
focus on the recording session. For the next album, we will
definitely come up with something faster. Our plan right now is
to record the next album next summer and release it next autumn
Oh! So I guess there arenít any major tour plans for EPIC,
then, if youíre going to be going back in the studio for its
follow-up next summer?
We have never been a big touring band. We are comfortable
with the situation of just making music. We are old guys now
(laughs)! Of course, we are going to do a few live shows and we
would love to go back to North America again someday but right
now we are kind of focusing on making music. We are going to be
working on the new album as well as making an acoustic album.
Personally, I have other musical projects going besides the
Can you tell me a little about this acoustic album you are
We have been playing around with it for awhile. When we are
in the studio, we will jam around with some old songs and mix in
a guitar or a piano or something and then think, ďThis is cool!
We should do something like this.Ē The basic plan right now is
to make half of the record new acoustic songs and the other half
will be acoustic versions of some of our older songs. There will
be acoustic guitars, acoustic bass, acoustic drums,
violinsÖwhatever. It will be a bit on the sidetrackÖsomething
totally different, but I think it would be totally cool to do
something like that and maybe show a different side of the band.
The idea is not to change the band and just play acoustic music
but it would be cool to do something like that for one record.
Would it be something like Opeth did on their last
records, DELIVERANCE and DAMNATION?
I heard some people mentioning them, but I havenít heard
those albums myself. I canít really say.
I was looking at the bandís official site (www.borknagar.com)
and I see that it has been in development since mid-May. Will
the new site launch when the CD is released?
Iím not really sure. It should be up soon, though, I think.
There was a little blurb written on there that the new CD
might include a surprise. Can you tell me what the ďsurpriseĒ
The first 10,000 copies of the album will have included with
the CD a fifteen or sixteen minute documentary from the studio.
It is just us filming each other playing our instruments and
recording the album in general. Itís just something fun for the
fans. Itís not a big thing but some people might find it
You are also two members shorter on this record than you
were on EMPIRICISM, with Tyr [bass] and Jens F. Ryland [guitar]
having left the band. Are they still playing music or have they
moved on to other bands?
Jens is not doing music at all. I think Tyr is just fed up
with the whole music business. I donít know what he is up to
these days. He is doing something totally differentórunning a
firm or something like that. I think he is still playing bass
and stuff but he is not in a band at this moment.
Besides the drums, Asgeir also played the bass tracks on
EPIC. Have you decided who will be playing bass and second
guitar for your live shows yet?
We havenít done it so far. Weíre just relaxing right now and
doing a shitload of interviews with the media as well as working
on new material so we havenít got to that point, but of course
we will need a bass player and also a second guitarist for the
live shows. We have some ideas but no official things going on
Was Asgeir a bass player before he was a drummer?
No, but he had been playing guitar before he played drums. He
is a gifted musician. He managed to adapt to playing bass quite
fast and I think the results are quite cool!
Yeah, youíd never know it was someone who wasnít a regular
bass player at all.
He definitely knows what heís doing. Heís a killer bass
Asgeir, Lars and Vintersorg [vocals] all have several
other bands that they play in. How do you keep Borknagar as a
priority for them?
We have Lars with Solefald and Vintersorg with his band but
none of the bands are really that big that they demand all their
time. When we are recording a Borknagar album, that is the main
focus of all the guys. Of course before we actually record, we
have to write the songs and rehearse and there are different
times of the year where guys spend more time on different
things. Right now, for example, Iím working a lot on a symphony.
We are not so busy with Borknagar that we donít have time to do
You mentioned this symphony project that you are working
on. Do you find it just as easy to get into the mindset to write
classical music as you do with metal?
Itís basically the same thing. I mean writing music is
writing music, but the symphony is much more complex and just
takes more time. I just do this from time to time and then I
have evenings off, but it takes a lot of time. There are 24
different tracks at a time with violins and stuff, so it is
complicated and takes time but it is the same basic structure, I
think. Itís just like building a house, really. If you have one
melody, you just add another brick and so on (laughs). Itís fun
and itís been cool to be working in a different way. I have a
little mini keyboard that Iím working on. In the band, Iím
working more on guitar to make music but with this symphonic
stuff, Iím more using the keys.
Has Vintersorg written most of the lyrics for EPIC?
Iíve done about half of the lyrics on this album and
Vintersorg has done three, I think, and Lars has done three.
Where do you get your lyrical inspiration from?
I really donít know. Iím not the type of guy that can just
point my finger at one thing and say thatís it. Itís everything
from music, movies and books to daily life. Itís a combination
of everything for me personally. Lyrically, Iíve always had a
very philosophical approach. Iíve always been wondering about
things and reading about science, so itís very natural to do
those types of lyrics.
Vintersorg has really given an exceptional vocal
performance on this record. The one song that stood out for me
was ďSealed Chambers of Electricity.Ē He has a black metal
shriek, a death metal roar, clean vocals, whispered vocalsÖhe
really does it all on that one song!
Yeah, I mean thatís the cool thing about him is that he is so
multi-dimensional when it comes to the vocals. He is able to do
whatever you want him to do. As you said, he has the clean
vocals, the screamed vocals and that other stuff and whatís cool
is he isnít just doing it in the studio but he can do it live,
as well. That is quite amazing, I think.
How did the two of you meet and end up working together?
It goes back several years, I think. He wrote me and said he
was fan of the band and stuff and we just had contact via mail.
Sometimes he would call me or send me some CDs, but he was a fan
of the band already. It was quite a coincidence that he came to
visit me just a few weeks after our previous vocalist, Simen [Hetnaes,
former vocalist/bassist; now ICS Vortex in Dimmu Borgir], had
quit the band. Vintersorg had no intention to join the band but
we drank a beer together and kind of listened to music and
stuff. We same to the point where we have the same ideas and
decided that we had to work together.
Between when Simen left the band and Vintersorg joined,
was there ever anyone else considered to fill the empty vocalist
We had some demos and we had contact with people and did some
auditions and stuff like that but at the end of the day, it
Borknagar has had many members come and go over the years.
Why do you think that is?
Iíve wondered that myself, but I really donít know. Iím not a
dictator who kicks people out just because ofÖwhatever. I like
to think that Iím a pretty diplomatic and democratic guy, so I
donít think itís my fault. Itís different situations with each
lineup change. For example with Simen, he enjoyed Dimmu Borgir
and they became quite a big band and felt that they needed him
more than we could allow if he should continue with both bands.
He had to make a choice and he did. Musically speaking, there
has been a long way to go. The current lineup is very good and
very unique. We have a good friendship and very good musical
chemistry. I think it was all worth it to get where we are
today. Of course when someone leaves, it always brings problems.
Cancelled tours and stuff because someone leaves can be very
So is the current lineup the best that you have had since
beginning the band?
Yeah, I think so. We are all good friends and have the same
ideas. It is also very important that we all have the same goals
for music. Before we had some guys that wanted to tour for a
whole year and some guys that didnít want to tour at all and
things like that. Now we are very dynamic as a band. We donít
force each other on to the road. We just kind of do what we want
musically. Itís very relaxing.
There is a lot of speculation and rumor about where the
name Borknagar came from. Can you tell me the real story behind
It was ten years since I came up with the name. It was back
in 1994, actually. It doesnít mean anything. It may sound like a
northern mythology name but the idea when I came up with the
name was inspired by an old fairy tale that I heard once. It was
about a guy who climbed up a mountain called Loch Nagar in
Scotland. Thatís really it. I just changed Loch Nagar around a
little bit (laughs).
(Laughs) I read somewhere that it is actually Ragnarok and
you just shuffled the letters around and added a ďBĒ in front!
(Laughs) Really?? Iíve seen some funny things in different
forums with people discussing the name. ďIf you turn the letters
all backwards, you getÖblah blah blah.Ē The truth is that there
is no meaning.
On every Borknagar CD, there is a bird on the actual disc
itself. What does that represent? Is it some kind of a mascot
for the band?
You mean the dragon?
Oh, itís a dragon?
Yes. Itís actually a file that I found back in í94 or í95. It
has been our mascot for a long time. Back in í95, I wanted to
have more than just a logo. I actually have that tattooed on my
arm! Itís stuck with me (laughs).
When you listen to the early Borknagar CDs, are you quite
critical of the sound or the songwriting, especially since the
band has changed so much from the first CD?
No, not really. I tend to look at the albums realistically.
You have to look at them from the time they were actually made.
I was ten years younger than I am now when we did the first
record and I was not the musician that I am today. For the time,
I think most of the album is really good. Iím very satisfied
with it. Hypothetically speaking, if I had done the album these
days, I would not be too satisfied with it, but for the time, I
think itís great.
Where do you see Borknagar going on the next album?
Well, we always try to progress a little bit but we try to
keep the music to the core of the band. I donít want to do a
sudden change and just do something totally different because
thatís not our way of doing it. With each album we do, we have a
different focus, a different perspective but itís really hard
for me to say right now. Itís always more difficult to say how
it will be until we get to the actual recording session. I will
say that I think the next album will be a little bit darker in
the general approach of it.
Will you ever take Borknagar to a death metal sound that
you did when you were in the band Molested, or is that something
that will be left in the past?
I donít think we will play death metal, butÖwell, maybe! Not
at this point but maybe five years from now? I donít know. I
would love to do something with death metal because I have been
a big fan of it since I was a tiny boy.
Many people consider Borknagar to be a black metal bandóI
donít personally except for maybe your first albumóbut where do
you think black metal is going? Do you think it has run its
course with the whole church burning thing and controversy that
first got it noticed? Is there a way for it to progress beyond
For me, itís almost like two divisions. There are the black
metal bands in Norway that are still doing the old stuff like
Bathory-type of music. The hardcore, cult metal type of stuff.
Then you have another division that is bands like Solefald and
us doing more progressive, experimental music. I donít want to
say that the second division with the progressive stuff is
better. There are a lot of creative bands with great musicians
Which bands do you think are helping to move it
forwardóbesides yourselves (laughs)?
(Laughs) A band like Solefald is definitely one of the bands
who really stretches the borders of the music. Jorn [H. Svaeren]
from Ulver, who really donít have any black metal at all in
their music at all anymore, is one of those guys who has been a
pioneer when it comes to trying new stuff.
Thanks very much for calling today, ōystein. It was a
pleasure to finally get to speak with you. I believe this the
first time Metal Rules has got the chance to interview you!
Same to you. Thank you very much.
Good luck with the CD. I canít wait to hear some of the
other projects that you mentioned, as well. They sound very
Thank you. Take care!
Official Band Site:
Thanks to Heather at Century Media for
setting up the
interview and for the promo.