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Borknagar – The Pulse Is Still Genuine

By: David E. Gehlke

Because they never got totally sucked into the world of black metal, Norway’s Borknagar have long drifted along over the course of 17 years as the “thinking man’s” antidote to the sheared and brazen sound of their countrymen. Sure, they’ve taken the occasional dips in the BM pool (see: 1997’s The Olden Domain and 2000’s Quintessence), but Bork’s sound has always been too multi-faceted, elusive, and frankly, cerebral to be layman’s black metal. They’re not too dissimilar from Enslaved, who have taken the same difficult, not-so-treaded path to escape the shackles of BM.

Making the band even more enticing, the vocalist spot in Bork has always been helmed by a noted figure in the metal underground. Original singer Garm (Kristoffer Rygg) helped launch the band for its first two albums, giving way to future Dimmu Borgir bassist/vocalist Vortex (Simen Hestnæs) who lent his superior talents to 1998’s near-perfect
The Archaic Course and the aforementioned Quintessence. Vortex would proceed to bolt for Dimmu on a full-time basis, allowing solo artist Vintersorg (Andreas Hedlund) to assume vocal duties starting on 2001’s Empiricism where he’s been ever since. In a quasi-surprising move, Vortex rejoined the Bork fold in early 2011 for the release of this year’s stellar Urd. And Bork is nearly untouchable again.

When speaking to founding member/guitarist/principal songwriter Øystein G. Brun, one can get the sense the man is in a state of euphoria. And how could he not be? He has arguably the best vocal tandem in extreme metal, a stable lineup, a renewed relationship with label Century Media, and an excellent new album to boot. So without further waffling, we hit “record” on our recording device (it’s an old tape recorder) and off went Brun…

Blistering.com: I think it’s pretty cool how things have come full circle now that Vortex is back in the band. Did you ever expect this to happen?

Øystein G. Brun:
Oh yeah, what can I say? I’m like a little kid. It’s different…we had other lineups that had been working perfectly well, but now that Vortex is back, it’s just like, yeah, it fits perfectly. The whole vocal piece, it’s just great, actually.

Blistering.com: It feels right to have him in the band.

I think you’re right. We had him do some guest vocals on the last Universal [2010] album on “My Domain,” and we hadn’t worked together for a decade. Just being there with him was just magic. It was all very easy and his position in general in the band feels so good. Plus, I feel like a very lucky man – he’s one of my favorite vocalists. I love his stuff and I love Vintersorg’s…his vocal lines are just brilliant as well.

Blistering.com: You walked right into my next question: For a songwriter like yourself, what’s it like having two excellent vocalists at your disposal? A bit of a songwriter’s wet dream, eh?

Yeah, I was really excited about [it]. I thought of ways Vortex’s vocals could combine with Andreas’ vocals and how they could blend together. But at the same time, they’re each such good vocalists, for this album, it’s more like let’s let the two of them do their own thing; let’s not do the [dual] vocal thing too much. We didn’t want to do a cappella album [laughs]. Vintersorg has been in the band long enough, so he knows how we write songs and things like that, he fit in from day one. The vocals for the new album just came naturally. I didn’t have to sit down and go “This is where he’ll sing and this is where the other guy will sing.” We didn’t worry about schedules or shifts…we just waited to see how it turned out.

Blistering.com: Getting down to the songwriting aspect, was it hard to figure out certain parts for both vocalists when you knew both could do the job properly?

I don’t really think about that outside of the basic framework of the song, actually. I didn’t give too much thought into the parts other than what the melody would be. From my point of view, I tried to keep the vocals as open as possible, and see what would work best. I like that “open” element. I’m more like, “Here’s the song, what do you do?” At some point, it was easier to figure out who would do what, and there are times when Simon is doing backing vocals are vice-versa. I was looking for whatever makes the song the most powerful, honestly.

Blistering.com: I think a really cool example of that is the Metallica cover of “My Friend of Misery.” Vintersorg totally nails it.

I’ve always liked that song, and the reason why we did that song was the fact that Metal Hammer magazine in Germany was having a special CD release to commemorate 20th anniversary of the Black Album, so I think we had two options which was this song and “Don’t Tread on Me,” which Vortex ended up doing with his solo band. We didn’t have too much of a choice, really [laughs]. It’s my favorite song on that album and I think Andreas did a great job. That song turned out really well and was the spark in the new album. It was a good start, a nice intro for the production of the actual album.

Blistering.com: I read somewhere that you felt like Urd was bringing you back to the “core elements” of the band. What did you mean by that? Do you think you got away from Borknagar’s core on previous albums?

Not really. One of the challenges of being a band like ours that suits the progressive elements and has been around longer than 10 years is you actually progress, but at the same time, there are so many bands that leave their identity. For me, it’s important from time-to-time to see where we are, to see if the anchor is still there. On this album, absolutely, I wanted to go back to the old songs and try to find some of elements from the past, like, what made The Olden Domain a good album? We don’t compromise it, and it’s no fun if you recycle old riffs and ideas. I think the production for the new album is better; we spent much more time on the production, getting the sounds for the drums and guitars.

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