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BORKNAGAR - Quintessence cover
4.26 | 17 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 2000


1. Rivalry Of Phantoms (4:36)
2. The Presence Is Ominous (4:54)
3. Ruins Of The Future (4:55)
4. Colossus (4:27)
5. Inner Landscape (2:50)
6. Invincible (4:24)
7. Icon Dreams (4:32)
8. Genesis Torn (5:15)
9. Embers (1:25)
10. Revolt (6:05)

Total Time 43:28


- ICS Vortex / Vocals, Bass
- Øystein G. Brun / Guitars
- Jens F. Ryland / Guitars
- Lars A. Nedland / Keyboards
- Asgeir Mickelson / Drums

About this release

Format: CD
Label: Century Media Records
Release date: April 17th, 2000

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I've had a long held belief that the Norwegian black/viking/progressive metal act Borknagar peaked with their second album The Olden Domain (1997). It's a view that many of my fellow fans seem to share. Recently though I've been spending a lot of time with the band's fourth album Quintessence (2000) and have had to seriously question whether I still believed The Olden Domain to be their best work, or if this one is. Both are quite different albums from the band and both have many claims to that top spot (while a good portion of fans will also throw the hat of the debut album Borknagar (1996) into the ring). Ultimately I had the question answered for me by my actions rather than any serious thought: whenever I thought I'd play one of my Borknagar albums my eyes always strayed first to Quintessence, which in turn has led to me playing this one more than any other of their releases that I own.

The music on Quintessence isn't quite like that of any other Borkngarar album. While many would put the band's transition from black to progressive metal at somewhere during this era of the band, which I think of as the ICS Vortex era after the then lead vocalist (he's since returned alongside his replacement Vintersorg), I find this album to be the band's truest fusion of the two genres, with the actual switch away from black metal only coming with the following Empiricism (2001), making Quintessence their last true black metal release even though they've always kept a blackened edge to their music after this point, notably through growling vocals.

I'd equally make an argument for this to be their most truly progressive metal album as well. Their later work I'd actually describe as an example of prog-lite metal (increasingly true with every new record), because it's not really all that adventurous to my ears despite the progressive label being regularly attached to the band (something I find true of many so called progressive metal acts). Quintessence is a different story, but it's also still a black metal album. To my ears this album is actually more black metal than the prior and first ICS Vortex fronted album The Archaic Course (1998), though it is of a much more melodic kind than that found on either of the band's first two albums, A.K.A. The Garm era.

The guitars of Øystein G. Brun and Jens F. Ryland are semi-raw and black metal based and there is some excellent keyboard work from Lars A. Nedland that absolutely reeks of classic progressive rock influence. It's musically an great sound that Borknagar have hit on for this one album, while ICS Vortex puts on possibly the vocal performance of his entire career here. As a singer mostly known for his clean vocals it's an unusual case to hear him growling, but he does it very well and in quite an epic manner that fits with the music perfectly.

The album's first four tracks are especially a real tour de force. The third of these is Ruins of the Future, which may just be the most epic song Borknagar has ever recorded and is without a doubt my personal favourite of the band (it's actually rare for me to have a favourite song from an artist's whole discography like this). Following straight away is Colossus, which is a great example of something I mentioned being possible (despite popular belief): clean vocal black metal, because growls are only used minimal and for backing purposes in this one, and try denying to yourself that the music in this track is any less melodic black metal based than Ruins of the Future, which is growl dominant. Next track Inner Landscape serves as an interlude a breather after the terrific first half of the album. While the remainder doesn't hit quite the same heights as those first four tracks, it's still very high quality work, with Genesis Torn and the finale Revolt being further tracks of note.

In summary Quintessence is a fantastic album from Borknagar. While I enjoy the works that followed they've never again been able to reach the same level that this is on. It has not only overtaken The Olden Domain as my favourite from the band, but I'd go as far to say that it's also overtaken Iron Maiden's Brave New World as my favourite album of the year 2000. I whole-heartedly recommend it as an essential purchase for both black and progressive metal fans.

You want to know what the real kicker about that finale statement is though? At least here in the UK this is the one Borknagar album not readily available to buy a physical copy of at normal prices. All nine others can be in a range of about £5 to £12 online, but this one will currently set you back about three times that, unless you get lucky. Bloody typical of the metal scene that!
And here stands 'Quintessence', the last of the three Borknagar albums I got on that one day I mentioned in my previous two Borknagar reviews. But compared to the two other albums by them that I own, this one is the most distinct. It's an impressive archetype to what Borknagar would put out after this album.

It was during this album and 'The Archaic Course' that Øystein Brun would begin bringing musicians in to his project for the long run, all but discarding the supergroup lineup of well known Norwegian black metal musicians. ICS Vortex, who did vocals in 'The Archaic Course' previously, returns' but beyond him, there aren't any relatively well known players here. Grim, sadly, couldn't return to the drums due to his suicide in 1999. His replacement, Asgeir Mickelson, has proved his worth previously in Spiral Architect and plays the drums well in 'Quintessence'. Jens F. Ryland, previously playing second guitar on 'The Archaic Course', returns to reprise the role on this album. Ivar Bjornson is now gone, and he is replaced by Lars Nedland from the relatively unheard of duo group Solefald who would go on to be a permanent member of Borknagar.

Well, let's see what this new team can do. The folky, nostalgic, old world style of the first two albums are long gone. 'The Archaic Course' brought about a new style of goofy sounding progressive black metal that was definitely weaker than the first two. 'Quintessence' then works on the flaws of 'The Archaic Course' to make an end product that leans much closer to progressive metal than black metal. Vortex's clean vocals are used more often here, and he sounds great...just as long as his voice isn't being fucked with. If there's one negative thing to say about 'Quintessence', it's that layering the vocals can get somewhat annoying at times. One effect that's really irksome is on "Ruins of the Future" where he sounds like he's doing harsh vocals while his mouth is in a basin full of water and he's blowing bubbles. However, his voice sounds excellent clean and harsh on other likcs like "Colossus", "Icon Dreams", "Genesis Torn", and "Revolt" even if the vocals are layered at certain points.

Even the songs where Vortex's voice doesn't shine, the music is very well composed and makes up for it. The goofy sounding tone of 'The Archaic Course' has been peeled away, opting instead for a return to a more epic sounding tone like in the first two albums. Mind you, the nostalgic old world atmosphere did not get carried over. Instead, it seems that Brun and pals created a new epic atmosphere using the two electric guitars and more prominent use of the keyboards. To assign some describers to this atmosphere, I'd still say they bring up this old world that Brun loves so much; but now it seems like it's got some sort of mystical energy that Borknagar can wield using some sort of sorcery, especially evidenced on "Rivalry of Phantoms" where the lyrics talk about summoning winter, rivers, and the presence of time. Brun has been able to work this angle quite well. There's no acoustic guitar to be found on this album; but having Ryland on second guitar has allowed Brun to play some epic sounding leads, particularly on "Colossus". I do like Lars on keys more than Ivar, and the bigger role the keys play in Borknagar at this point in the band's musical transition is portrayed much better by Lars in 'Quintessence' than by Ivar in 'The Archaic Course'. The keys really shine on "Rivalry of Phantoms", "The Presence is Ominous", "Invincible", and "Genesis Torn".

It's not a perfect album, but 'Quintessence' has so many great things about it that the bad things have been greatly outweighed. Thus, I believe it deserves a top tier ranking. It's a very awesome progressive metal album with black metal influences, and it's Borknagar's second best album in my opinion. Unfortunately, Borknagar is coming close to the end of their golden era. They would still have 'Empiricism' yet to be released; but after that album, they would grow weaker as they would be unable to recreate the magic of these first few albums.
Borknagar were really onto something by the end of the 20th century. The Archaic Course was a strong album and the Quintessence album pushed the symphonic black metal to an even louder and more extravangant level of bombast then anything before.

10 years ago I had a short fling with this type of music that lasted for about 3 albums. 2 from Dimmu Borgir and Borknagar's The Archaic Course. That is probably about all you need. This music is so formulaic and single-minded that you'll never need more then 3 albums. Each minute must be loud, it must feature dual guitars engaging in sharp-edged riffing battles that take place under dark keyboard heavy skies. Busy drums have to seal each possible breathing space tight with blasting beats and endless fills. Add a vocalist varying gutteral bile with clean anthemic metal chants and you got it nailed.

That doesn't necessarily mean it's bad, it's a description that can be applied to many types of music, but there's actually only one track that moves me a bit and it sits right at the end. Revolt stands out with one of the very few remarkable melodies.

You get it, I'm not too fond of this, but it's well done and probably deserves 3 stars, maybe 4 if you're into this type of music.

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