Words by Sumeet Dandekar
My introduction to Borknagar came all the way back in 1997, with their sophomore release, “The Olden Domain.” I was intrigued by recommendations from people who told me their music has lots of variety, and that they don’t fit neatly into any particular sub-genre – and it’s safe to say that album as well as their subsequent releases did not disappoint. But unlike a lot of the leading bands from that legendary wave of 1990s Scandinavian death and black metal, I’d never managed to catch Borknagar live in the intervening couple decades. So I was understandably stoked upon the announcement of their spring 2020 US tour alongside fellow 90s black metal titans Rotting Christ. And I was equally dismayed when the tour was pushed back to spring 2021, before ultimately being canceled… only to rise from the ashes and become a reality in spring 2022.
As the lights dimmed for the start of their set, I was at the bar enjoying a drink and perusing the various shirts and assorted merch. Needless to say, as I heard the gentle opening notes of “The Fire That Burns” from their epic latest release “True North,” I moved closer to the stage. The song is in many ways a perfect encapsulation of what Borknagar is all about: both melodic and heavy, sometimes understated, other times overt, and a sound that alternates between melodic and furious in equal measure. It was clear that a good percentage of the crowd was not particularly familiar with the band, but as the set progressed, they were clearly winning over most of the skeptics. This, of course, is always great to see as a fan, and during one of the crowd-participation interludes, I even saw one of the bartenders clapping along.
On this tour, they had time for a tight 8-song set that lasted a little under an hour, and concentrated primarily on their most recent few releases, with a couple older gems interspersed. Along the way, the audience was treated to passages of black metal, death metal, prog metal, classic metal, folk metal, and every imaginable combination and permutation thereof. Along with the dark, pensive, thoughtful lyrics for which they’ve long been known. Special mention here must also go to co-lead vocalists, bassist Simen Hestnæs and keyboardist Lars Nedland, who traded off vocal lines seamlessly, harmonized when needed, and made sure both the moshers and the more cerebral listeners in the crowd stayed focused and were having a good time.
As the set ended, after much headbanging and fist-pumping on my part, I exited the venue to take a short breather before the headlining set from Rotting Christ.