Released: 2006, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Cronian is the amalgamation of two talents who already play in a band together. Huh?! Well, Øystein G. Brun guitarist/founder of Borknagar and Vintersorg (credited here as “Mr. V”), who now fronts Borknagar but also does time in his own group as well as various side projects including Fission, realized in 2000 that they had similar tastes that were not fitting with either’s main band at the time. They vowed to work together on an atmospheric, melodic and experimental project (dubbed Ion initially) that took five years to come to fruition but Cronian is the end result. TERRA certainly delivers a bleak feeling of isolation similar to Borknagar’s neo-Black metal but the ethereal keyboards, string sections and, of course, Vintersorg’s flexible voice lend a progressive (rather than aggressive) slant to the music, filling it with a lushness and accessibility reminiscent of 70s prog-rock at times and even dips into the New Age-y complexities of film score instrumentals. Borknagar fans eager for another thought-provoking headbanging session better look elsewhere because it’s not here but an open-minded metalhead looking for a calm, soothing listen just might get hooked.
A drum machine is employed on TERRA but it isn’t overly noticeable. Cronian isn’t about blastbeats and double bass. The keyboards (LOTS of keyboards!!) are moved way up front alongside Vintersorg’s amazing voice. Moving effortlessly between the raspy growl, elegant cleans and soaring melodies that he is so well-known for, Vintersorg employs almost every style on every song here. There are even some spoken word sections. Lyrically, things are focused solely on polar iciness (the press release claims the album was recorded during winter snowstorms at -4F/-20C), cosmic science, geophysical themes and human existence under these conditions, so this isn’t exactly light stuff but anyone familiar with either artists’ work knows they don’t dabble in the usual metal archetypes. Let’s be honest, how many bands use words like “organelle,” “permafrost,” “mesial” and “sagacious” in their songs?
“Diode Earth” opens with a sweeping instrumental section behind Vintersorg’s growling that eventually leads to a double-tracked cleanly-sung chorus. The sounds of nature wisp through your speakers with a relaxing lushness usually reserved for spas and craft shops but the snap of the programmed kick drum and metallic edge of Brun’s riffs quickly puts to rest any ideas that things are going the route of some New Age fop like Vangelis or Zamfir. Likewise, the expansive intro to “Arctic Fever” evokes memories of a film score, while “Cronian” is a grandiose exercise in escapism before a subtle lead by Brun firms things up. “Iceolated” is the type of track that can take a person on a journey of the mind with a good set of headphones and the right listening environment. Vintersorg’s carefully delivered vocals embody the tale of the sub-arctic predator and the lengthy instrumental passages capture the essence of vast frostbitten plains awash in isolation. Besides his vocal talents, Vintersorg is also an accomplished musician and he supplies the instrumental “Colures” with sampled violins, cellos, choirs and other effects that create an audio dreamworld. At the same time, he can deliver vocals on a track like “The Alp” that, when combined with Brun’s hook-filled melodies, is instantly catchy but simultaneously heavy with a Black metal roughness, not unlike Dimmu Borgir’s newer material. “End(durance) – Part 1” closes TERRA with a subdued instrumental that really captures the majestic feeling created during the previous 45 minutes.
What hampers TERRA is the overabundance of keyboards. They are mixed very high and often overpower even Vintersorg’s vocals not to mention the fact that Brun’s guitar is barely present. Put simply, there isn’t a lot here to get excited about. In fact, even after five or six spins, I still found myself referring back to the track titles solidifying the fact that TERRA suffers from a generic sameness from song to song and is easily forgotten once it finishes. Also, what is going to draw listeners to Cronian is the fact that Brun and Vintersorg are steering the ship but many will be left disappointed at the overly-long songs which contain a lot of keyboard noodling and pretentious gap-fillers. I doubt either musician sees Cronian as a springboard to bigger and better things but TERRA seems like an under-developed, watered-down side project that both men haphazardly tinkered away at and finally decided to release when they ran out of ideas.
Vintersorg’s voice really steals the show on TERRA. The man is able to shift gears from a throat-shredding growl to an almost angelic clean vocal at the drop of a hat and without the distortion of excessive guitars and thunderous drums, we are treated to a true showcase of his vocal skills here. Not many vocalists can evoke a vision and an emotion to coincide with the music on TERRA but he nails it track by track. Still, given the talent involved with Cronian, this could have been a lot better and I doubt it will create more than a ripple on most people’s radar. For fans of Vintersorg’s vocals and keyboard-laden instrumentals, you won’t be disappointed but for most others, stick with your favorite Borknagar and Vintersorg (the band) releases.
KILLER KUTS: “Diode Earth,” “Iceolated,” “The Alp”