Released: 2004, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
Am I the only person left out there who isn’t mad at Borknagar? Every time the subject of this band comes up, it seems there’s someone in my face slagging their recent releases, changing their focus and indulging the (rumored) megalomania of its odd frontman Øystein G. Brun. Well, at the risk of being pilloried for breaking the traditional faith, I have to say my favorite Borknagar release so far was 2000’s QUINTESSENCE, and this, continuing the progressive black metal direction they truly began on that album, definitely scores pretty high with me.
I don’t know whether EPIC is really worthy of that title, but it’s certainly a good album. From the first track, “Future Reminiscence,” the band shows that they’re not afraid to mix up the guitar crunching and black metal wailing with some more progressive, slower and less orthodox elements, including Scandinavian folk. Not that anything on EPIC sounds like Finntroll, but the influence of Vintersorg, who here does vocals, is quite evident. Mr. Brun continues to explore some interesting territory in “Origin,” which is quite a haunting song, and “Cyclus,” which would work extremely well as a doom metal song if it was slowed down just a bit. The interest never slackens on this album, even during the slower tracks such as “Relate” and “Wonder”—they all sound very…well, arresting, at least mentally. Borknagar has a curious quality to tweak your mind without really being able to put your finger on what element of their music does it. Nonetheless I liked every track on the album, and not caring where the needle drops is one of my personal hallmarks of an excellent record. I will confess, however, that my least favorite track is “The Weight of Wind,” not because I didn’t like the song, but because its eerie, simple melody has a habit of sticking in your head and not letting go, like a commercial jingle.
Mr. Brun has demonstrated in the past his propensity to be different, and EPIC continues that tradition. Keyboards, weird harmonica-sounding instruments and even pianos moonlight on this album. For my money the element that stitches it all together from beginning to end is the awesome vocal performance of Vintersorg. He can be appropriately chilly—i.e., Scandinavian—while at the same time generating enough warmth and interest with his voice to pull the listener along through the very complex soundscape. Borknagar has never been known for an especially strong guitar sound, and that remains true in this instance as well, but it doesn’t detract from the album.
In a word, EPIC is great. If you still have a major problem with the fact that Borknagar doesn’t sound like they did in 1996, you may want to skip this album, but considering if that’s the case you’ve probably already skipped QUINTESSENCE and EMPIRICISM, that may not be a big sacrifice. Anyone interested in progressive-sounding metal combining disparate influences will probably enjoy this.