My buddy told me he was stuck in a Borknagar pit consisting mainly of their first three albums. I’ve been a fan of the Borknagar albums I’ve heard and the band consists of multiple musicians whose other projects are amazing so I figure now is a good time to explore the earlier works of this band. I have had their second album, The Olden Domain, for some time now so this will be about their first album Borknagar, and their third, The Archaic Course.

The band was started by band mainstay and guitarist Øystein G. Brun in an effort to add more traditional musicianship to the ferocity of traditional black metal. Among the musicians he gathered for the project were Garm on vocals (if you’re not familiar with Garm and his legendary impact on not just black metal but music in general, stop reading this right now and go listen to the first three Ulver albums. Do it. Do it right now.) and Ivar Bjørnson on keyboards, who was also pulling keyboard, guitar and vocal roles in some band called Enslaved (and still is). Bringing up the black metal attack were two members from Gorgoroth. Bass player infernus and drummer Grim (RIP). Now this is just the lineup for the first album and already it’s goddamned impressive. The band will rotate members from here on out.

Borknagar is more traditional black metal then the rest of the catalog I’ve heard. While they grow to get more “natural” and folk influenced, this album is still firmly rooted in black metal. There are those elements, and they are beautifully played. It must have been more of a revelation in 1996 then now when bands playing with folk and classical influences are a dime a dozen. The musicianship on this album is borderline genius. Garm’s vocals, are as always, incredible and every time I hear them, no matter the context, I get a shiver down my spine. The guitar is killer, both the black metal and the traditional parts and the bass manages to keep up. Grim kills drumming on this album. Just incredible. I’m slightly disappointed in myself for not having listened to this album sooner.

Skipping right over their second album and straight into their third, the lineup has changed. Most noticeably I.C.S. Vortex has replaced Garm on vocals, where he would remain until 2000 then again would return in 2012. If you need some reference for Vortex, well, he’s in Arcturus, and Arcturus is awesome. Garm was also in Arcturus. You should probably go get some Arcturus if you haven’t. While Garm’s vocals are amazing, Vortex brings a different approach to Borknagar. As a whole, the band has gotten more theatrical, more “experimental” and Vortex’s theatrical and versatile vocals fit amazingly well with what is going on with this album. I miss the black metal vocals Garm provided on the previous two but I’ve always been a fan of Vortex’s as well. This album marks a shift in the sound that I think has been prevelant since. Admittedly I only have a few albums here and there after this period but all of them have staggering similarities to what is going on with The Archaic Course. This album is a killer album as well. Dare I say, even a classic?

So there you have it. A spotty adventure into the earlier years of a great band. Borknagar is still putting out quality albums and have had various member changes with some incredible musicians. Digging through the related bands to Borknagar is a daunting task but well worth it so you might as well start with Borknagar first. You can’t go wrong with either of these albums. Classic black metal.