The latest from Norway's masters of melodic & progressive black metal Bjorknagar has been taking a bit of a pounding from many reviewers across the 'net for some reason, and it's hard to figure out why. If you've been following the career of this band, they have been quietly moving in this 'grand/symphonic' direction for quite some time, incorporating folk instruments, keyboards, and clean vocal passages into their brutal black metal style. Universal is the logical progression of albums such as Epic, Empiriciscm, and Quintessence, a creative and quite progressive & epic sounding platter of melodic black metal that firmly puts them at the top of the list with Enslaved, Opeth, and Dimmu Borgir when it comes to this type of extreme progressive metal.
Lead vocalist Vintersorg has been on board now for a few albums, and his presence is now one of the major focal points of the band with his variety of clean vocals and vicious black metal shrieks and growls. The other is keyboard player Lars Nedland, who contributes layer upon layer of synth, piano, and Hammond organ tones, giving a very rich sound to tracks such as "The Stir of Seasons" and the raging "Reason". There's plenty of crushing, maniacal black metal to be heard here, like on the raucous opener "Havoc" or the wild folk-metal of "For a Thousand Years to Come", both which feature the fine guitar work of leader Oystein Brun and lead player Jens Ryland. To hear the band at their most progressive & symphonic, look no further than "Abrasion Tide" (complete with some fancy stick work from drummer David Kinkade), and the song "Fleshflower" has an almost Pink Floyd/Genesis feel to it thanks to Nedland's wonderful Hammond accents. He again works wonders on the brilliant mix of prog & manic black metal that is "Worldwide", where his Hammond does battle with crushing riffs, pounding drums, and Vintersorg's venemous vocal delivery. Former Borknagar/Arcturus/Dimmu Borgir bassist/vocalist I.C.S. Vortex makes a guest appearance on lead vocals on the symphonic closer "My Domain", and it's great to hear his operatic, powerful delivery again. After his recent dimissal from Dimmu Borgir, one can only hope he finds himself in another known act sometime soon, as he's too talented to not be contributing his solid vocals and bass work somewhere.
Universal is ultimately a dramatic and powerful release from Borknagar, as they get back to business after the all-acoustic Origin from a few years back. Sure, if you are looking for traditional Norwegian black metal ala Mayhem, Gorgoroth, Immortal, Emperor, and Darkthrone, this might not be your cup of tea. However, if you like a healthy dose of that black metal style mixed in with plenty of melody and adventurous, progressive, & folky flavors, this will definitely ring all the right bells for you.
- The Stir of Seasons
- For a Thousand Years to Come
- Abrasion Tide
- My Domain