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Borknagar - "Universal" (CD)

Borknagar - "Universal" CD cover image

"Universal" track listing:

1. Havoc (6:42)
2. Reason (6:55)
3. The Stir of Seasons (4:01)
4. For a Thousand Years to Come (6:46)
5. Abrasion Tide (7:14)
6. Fleshflower (3:28)
7. Worldwide (6:59)
8. My Domain (4:49)

Reviewed by on January 18, 2010

"The random synth, poor attempts to sound folky, and changes in sound between songs ultimately makes 'Universal' a failure."

As typical black/symphonic/folk-y fare, Borknagar fits the genre really well. All of the elements are included, from tremolo picking and synth work to the down tempo progressive sections; Borknagar knows how this music works. “Universal” is their latest effort, and while it indeed includes all the aforementioned elements and is played by skilled musicians, it just doesn’t flow as well as it should and becomes uninteresting very fast.

“Havoc” starts the album with a great down tempo intro and explodes into a blackened torrent laden with symphonic elements. The rest of the album is well constructed and contains cool bits of music, but overall, these elements don’t flow together well. For how progressive the album is, all of the songs seem very separate from each other. I would have loved to see the songs all work together and not seem so slapped together. The majority of the progressive elements come across less as progressive and more as filler. Another issue is substance. There are parts of this album that are very fast and heavy, when suddenly it transitions into a lighter, progressive section. These transitions are very sudden and far too often, and come across more as lacking substance than actually being progressive.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t interesting parts. As mentioned before, “Havoc” emerges slowly, but then explodes into a well rounded song. “Reason” contains a well-done solo. “The Stir of Seasons” and “For A Thousand Years to Come” features some interesting guitar work. Unfortunately, those songs also contain a lot of uninspired riffing, filler material, and poorly mixed synth. The album plummets on the abysmal “Fleshflower,” a song that attempts to come across as catchy, but sounds trite and tired. The band seems to switch back and forth between a progressive sound and a catchy one; it barely works, if at all. Also, this album features a ton of clean vocals, which isn’t bad in itself, but they are way too frequent and not very well done.

Borknagar are definitely skilled musicians. In terms of proficiency, everything on this album is dead-on. Even all the right elements are included, but the ways they are presented are not particularly cohesive or interesting. The random synth, poor attempts to sound folky, and changes in sound between songs ultimately makes “Universal” a failure.

Highs: Proficient musicianship and some good elements.

Lows: General lack of cohesion and substance.

Bottom line: Though well-played, this album is inconsistent and not very interesting.

Rated 2.0 out of 5 skulls
2.0 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)