Bornholm – Apotheosis (Album Review)

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Heathen warriors with blackened hearts arise.

Somewhere between the crackling, low fidelity, orthodox cult of black metal’s Northern European reign in the early to mid-1990s and the smooth, atmospheric, more eclectic offshoot that would come to capture mainstream attention afterward, there is a sweet spot that captures all the best elements of both. Of late there have been a number of bands sporting this more refined yet still bitter cold aesthetic, but few have been able to bring it into the sort of uniquely mystical and captivating place that Hungarian veteran fold Bornholm have taken it. Ever since the early 2000s, theirs has been an exercise in taming the chaotic beast that inspired the likes of Dissection and Enslaved back in their formative years and bringing it into a present day context, complete with a respectable smattering of progressive and folksy elements to further sweeten the deal for anyone seeking after a more grandiose yet also accessible experience.

With the arrival of their fifth studio LP “Apotheosis,” the title pertaining to the exaltation of an individual to the point of deification, this quartet has put together a series of highly engaging and intricate anthems that convey a sense of reality meshed with a dark heroism that often lends itself to a Viking-themed narrative. One can’t help but notice the mixture of sorrowful melodic themes dancing back and forth between the guitars and the surrounding keyboards that remind of the dense and dreamy stylings of Emperor and Dimmu Borgir, combined with an occasionally dancing folk-themed element and chanting clean voice moment that dovetails with what Borknagar and Moonsorrow are known for bringing to the table. The lyrical ponderings that come along for the ride are no less involved, delving heavily into the subjects of philosophy, history and a more abstract take on heathen traditions that could be likened to the refined discourses that one would expect from rival schools in ancient Greece.

At first glance, this album has all of the makings of a typical battlefield-themed black metal showcase, but presenting a commonplace exposition proves to be an effective means at building up a surprise. The opening prelude “I Divine” stands as a mighty orchestral undertaking that conjures up images of armored soldiers marching into war in a Hollywood blockbuster, featuring plenty of bombastic brass instruments and drums. The soon to follow blackened storm of auditory arrows that is “My Evangelium” balances a highly chaotic, blast beat-steeped and machine-gun double bass infused assault typical to late 90s Immortal with a methodical execution more in line with mid-90s Emperor, albeit with a heavier attack and denser atmosphere. Newly recruited guitarist Zoltan Valter plays a particularly pivotal role in making this song, and by extension the entire album, stands out from the aforementioned influences with a more virtuosic and solo-happy six string assault.

“Apotheosis” Album Artwork

As the rest of the album unfolds, it becomes clear that while the aggression factor is pushed all but to the maximum, that this album has a somewhat more contemplative character than most that dabble in mixing old school black metal with folk and symphonic elements. Torrential downpours of riffs with a wild drumming backdrop that would make Hellhammer proud such as “Sky Serpents”, “To The Fallen” and “I Am War God” check all of the boxes for a brilliant nod to the days of old in the style, yet also take time to transition into slower moments and accentuate the darkness of the entire arrangement. Meanwhile, mid-paced crushers like “Black Shinning Cloaks” and the multifaceted epic “Thy Darkened Grove” take their time in moving towards their respective blasting apexes, the latter proving to be one of the more complex and elaborated compositions to come out of the sub-genre in the past few years, while the restrained semi-ballad “Spiritual Warfare” really brings out front man and multi-instrumentalist Peter “Sahsnot” Sallai’s prowess as both a shriek machine and a more clean cut singer.

For an atmospherically charged black metal experience that is long and technically involved enough to avoid the raw simplicity and bitter coldness of the old Nordic sound, yet not quite as fancy as what one might expect out of Necrophobic or newer Enslaved, this is the sort of album that balances it all out and comes off as epic in scope despite a methodical and measured approach to songwriting. It leans heavily into the melodic end of the spectrum and will no doubt function as an effective stand-in for those who have been waiting for years to get something new out of Old Man’s Child or Troll, though it also wouldn’t be out of the question to see some of the more atmospherically minded among the 3rd wave’s primary audience taking to this album. It’s the sort of opus that sums up what the style is all about in both its original and present day forms, and whether one wishes to conquer the enemy by the pen or the sword, this manifesto serves as the perfect declaration of auditory war.

Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: November 5th, 2021
Genre: Pagan Black Metal

Musicians:

  • Sahsnot / Guitars, Vocals, Keyboards
  • D / Drums
  • Charun / Bass

“Apotheosis” track listing:

1. I Divine
2. My Evangelium
3. Sky Serpents
4. The Key to the Shaft of the Abyss
5. Black Shining Cloaks
6. Spiritual Warfare
7. Darkened Grove
8. To the Fallen
9. I am War God
10.Apotheosis
11.Enthronement

Order your copy HERE.

9.0 Excellent

The old ways of black metal with a pagan bent are reborn into a slicker yet still frosty and bleak kingdom with the unveiling of a longstanding Hungarian dark horse of the 2nd wave’s sphere of influence’s fifth studio album

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9
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