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.