Originally written by K. Scott Ross.
I have a very particular idea in mind of what makes a good Borknagar album: the listener should be able — perhaps even compelled — to sing along to the melodies on the first listen. This isn’t to say that the album should be a rehash; consider that the strength of Borknagar is the vocals of Vintersorg, Lazare, and ICS Vortex. The more the band supports that, creating the right beds for their intertwined melody to grow in, the more successful the album.
By that standard, Winter Thrice kicks off to a good start with “The Rhymes of the Mountain.” The nearly seven minute song feels half that length, as guitars soar above vigorous double-bass drumming and the three vocalists sing something that seems familiar yet new. The lyrics are reverent and worshipful of the glories of Mother Nature, and despite the album being called Winter Thrice, there’s a feeling of springtime to the music.
The title track gives much the same impression as the album opener. If you’re having a hard time telling the three vocalists apart, “Winter Thrice” can serve as a good reference. Vintersorg sings first; he’s the one who sounds like a Swede, and also the one who yells, but listeners of his past work definitely would pick up on his familiar growl immediately. Vortex is the one with the highest voice, singing the stanza that begins “The groaning moaning frost.” Lazare sings last, starting with “I have wandered the skies.”
Unfortunately, familiarity can also have a downside, perhaps more so in such vocal-driven music. I can barely tell the first two tracks apart, and while I enjoy them both quite well, this wasn’t an issue on Borknagar’s 2012 album Urd, which had a remarkably distinct array of songs. The third track doesn’t even stand out at all, and it isn’t until “Panorama” that the band changes up the formula a bit. It’s a slower, more introspective sounding track, at least at first glance. The chorus has a power metal swagger to it that wouldn’t be out of place on a Stratovarius album, and the inclusion of an organ section leading into the second verse leaves an impression.
“When Chaos Calls” seems as though it’s going to be another slower, even balladic song, but then kicks immediately into the energetic, fist waving, shield shaking enthusiasm of the first three songs. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad song. None of the songs on Winter Thrice are bad. It’s just that so many of them are interchangeable, and knowing that the band has a lot more diverse ability it becomes somewhat disappointing. The last four songs all have their moments, but none of them stands out.
Basically, Winter Thrice is an album full of Borknagar doing Borknagar. They do it really well at this point. It certainly meets the requirement of being wonderful for sing-along moments even when the listener doesn’t know the vocals. But so did Urd, and that album had a plethora of diverse moments, in addition to having slightly more dynamic range and being four minutes shorter. I like Winter Thrice. It gets the listener pumped up and is great for jogging or cleaning the house or any sort of activity where you want empowering music on. But that’s about all that Winter Thrice aspires to—the background.