The norwegian BORKNAGAR are not the typical Norwegian Black Metal band that many of you may think. BORKNAGAR goes much further. Their creative sense of Black leads them to explore other aspects far removed from the blacker classicism to which the average listener-receiver is accustomed to. So, dear reader, if with BORKNAGAR you expect to listen a usually Black Metal songs (like 1349), you are going wrong. They are much more, so much. You maybe left half listening or even you despair because they do not enter with all the artillery, only when they consider it.

I met BORKNAGAR relatively late, in fact I only have one album Urd (2012) and I bought it simply because Simen Hestnæs, or ICS Vortex, was in their line up. When he left Dimmu Borgir, I missed him so much, I needed so much to hear his wonderful voice, and I looked in which bands he was in, only to listen to him (Arcturus, it was the other one) and I already realized in both, that their Black Metal conception, did not it was suitable for poorly trained ears

In 2019 BORKNAGAR released their eleventh studio album entitled True North. From the name as well as from the cover itself with its ice-blue mountain landscape, it tells us that we are going to embark on a journey that can be epic, initiatory or simply escape. Honestly, I see this trip inside a ship, more pirate or less, but with a crew that seeks to reach a specific destination even though during the journey someone stays on the road. It is without a doubt, an album dedicated to their homeland, to their roots and to their Nordic sentiment.

The album has 9 songs of a considerable length (there are none below 5 minutes) but its sonic architecture is so well equipped that it makes them short.

The journey begins with ‘Thunderous’ where the voices of Vortex and Lars blend together in brilliant vocal harmony. The battery has a lot of body and lines, present throughout the entire plastic; are typical Borknagarians. There is a slight drop in tempo where Vortex gives great clarity to the lines, which are a bit grating in the Middle Ages. Towards minute 3.40 the sharpness in the lines are combined with a purely Black vocal register is recovered. In the middle of the song, the rhythm decays with clean and smooth guitars that pick up the initial notes. It is the description of a storm on the high seas.

We continue with ‘Up North’, a very vibrant song from the beginning where Vortex’s voice rules. Here seems the boat goes under full sail with very powerful drums and epic-sounding guitars. Vortex shines with his great vocal register variety of nuances, which has always made it unique. Special attention deserves the purest part (minute 2 onwards). Great song and my favorite by far.

The third song is entitled ‘The Fire that Burns’, and compared to the first two, it starts slower, but does not last long. The Black register entry introduces the drums thumping rhythm. The vocal duo between Lars and Vortex reappears, while the pounding of the drumsticks gives that classic touch of the style. Very pure guitar solo. It is a song with very classic and clear rhythms at the same time, a musical duality within the reach of a few.

In ‘Lights’, Lars makes his appearance with his clear and sweet register to contrast with the blacker. It seems to describe the search for the way to reach their destination until the day (‘in the morning light’) arrives. Lars’ melodious voice explodes to its full extent in the middle of the song, giving it a more intimate tone. He’s just brilliant. It ends abruptly. Another of my recommended.

With ‘Wild Father’s Heart’ we reached the album’s mid-tempo. Lars offers his clean and harmonious registry. Guitars and drums accompany without fanfare. It seems to tell the story of someone who is next to enter Valhalla: every hero on his journey always loses an important figure, a mentor or a father. This song has some very interesting rhythm changes and the encore is simply impressive. Wonderful in all its footage and that ending with classic instrumentation is a plus.

With ‘Mount Rapture’ we could say that we are reaching the peak of our journey or the top of the mountain. It is by far one of the blackest songs on the album, very from the ’90s, but with the essence that only Borknagar is capable of printing. Clear and Black registers and the two voices are combined. Musically it is impeccable both on the strings and on the sticks with those changes of rhythms that they know how to do so well.

‘Into the White’ begins with a very martial tone on strings and drumsticks until Lars’ voice arrives to tell you that the snow covers us and things get complicated. Pattern of the two voices in unison, rabid and purist blacker register. The encore is simply incredible. The two voices seems to float and Vortex comes out. Musically closed and without fringes.

With ‘Tidal’ we are almost at the end of the trip. It starts off really smooth, the guitars are crisp. Vortex combines registers and the drums mark the protagonist’s intentions in what appears to be his final ascent. It is another quite classic theme as far as Black is concerned. The encore is undoubtedly the best of the song, commanded by Lars (it can be distinguished from Vortex because he’s more acute) but together they are the bomb. Curiously, it is a song with a lot of light or at least that’s what the protagonist believes. It ends as it begins. Another one of my favorites.

Close this awesome journey ‘Voices’, an apparently slow song. Here Lars sings like in an ancestral register, closer to chant du fôret,  that predominates in all the whole song supported by the guitars and drums. The protagonist is struggling with voices that haunt him and does not know how to get rid of them. Here the violins stain his monologue of schizophrenia. It is only when he reaches the field that he thinks he finds freedom, but no. It is a Hell’s descent in every rule for which there’s no escape, no matter how high you go. And only with his last breath he will achieve peace. Honestly, I have never listened a song so sad and so brilliant at the same time. An epic gem and another of my favorites.

With all of this, I can say without any doubt that True North is one of the best experimental Black Metal albums with both Folk and Avant-Garde overtones that I have heard. As a personal note, I would like to say that ‘Voices’, has been the cut that, reading according to the old reviews, many of the “critics” literally have not understood what it was about, and it is somewhat shocking because one of the advantages that True North has, is that you don’t need practically letters, it is understood perfectly because the English of ICS Vortex and Lars is impeccable (clear parts, obviously)

The whole album is worthy of praise and deserves your listening with attention. Here you have all the songs one after the other, if you can’t find a copy:

BORKNAGAR currently line up:

Lars Nedland: voices &  keyboards

Simen “ICS Vortex” Hestnæs: voices & bass

Øystein Garnes Brun: guitars

Jostein Thomassen: guitars

Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow: drums

True North was published by Century Media


Official Website





A personal recommendation. The song ‘Frostrite’ from the album Urd (2012)