For Fans of Borknagar
I'm on a quest!
When it comes to metal, my main genres are Power Metal, NWOBHM, Trad. Heavy Metal, Visual Kei, and small doses of Speed and Thrash. I don't typically listen to anything in the world of Black or Death Metal, not because I have a problem with harsh vocals, but rather I have a problem with these songs being very monotonous to my ears. To me, a person unaccustomed to the more extreme subgenres, every song sounds like 3-30 minutes of droning, growling, and blast beats.
Quite a while ago, Amazon ran a promotion where you could get certain (read: not popular) albums for $0.01. The whole thing was an attempt to get more people in their Amazon Music ecosystem, but I just grabbed the albums I wanted and stuck the MP3s into foobar2000, my music player of choice. Since each album was only a penny, I decided to branch out and take a chance on a bunch of artists I had never heard of. Of all the albums I got, Borknagar’s Winter Thrice was far and away my favorite.
I’m neither a music critic, nor am I good at describing the technical details of music, so forgive me for how badly I’m about to describe why I like this band. I love the way the harsh vocals and the clean vocals trade off with each other. Both types of singing radiate power: the growly vocals mutter a few lines, and then in come the clean vocals with the melody. I also really enjoy how the subject matter of most of the songs is about nature. We've got songs about mountains, rivers, winter... I love it.
So, I put out a request on Lemmy for stuff that I would like if I like Borknagar, and I got a bunch of suggestions. I’ve been throwing these band names into Youtube, picking two random songs, and jotting down my first impressions. Here’s what we’ve got!
Song listened to: Disavow Your God
Notes: Just sounds like all black metal to me, harsh monotone growling vocals. I like the part where the singer dropped out and just let the guitars do their thing, but I wish the vocals had some melody to them.
Song listened to: We Are the Sun Gods
Notes: I think I like this more than Disavow Your God, but all of my thoughts about the monotone singing still stand. The chorus changes things up slightly, but not enough for me to add these guys to my everyday rotation.
Song listened to: Preboreal
Notes: No harsh vocals here. This kind of reminds me of something from Magma-era Gojira. Not a bad song at all, but also not particularly what I’m looking for with regards to a Borknagar-esque sound. I’m making a note to come back to listen to the whole album when I’m done with this.
Song listened to: Miocene/Pliocene
Notes: Oh, there’s some harsher vocals. This is much closer to the sound I’m looking for. I wish it was just a smidge less droney and a smidge more melodic, but between Preboreal and this, I could see myself listening to a lot more of The Ocean.
Song listened to: O Solitude
Notes: Metal Archives lists Pantheist as Funeral Doom Metal, a subgenre I’ve never heard of before, and yeah, I can see it. I’m not really sure what to make of O Solitude. We go from a crawling dirge, to a very sparse guy and piano lament, to synths, and then then synths give way to whisper singing. This song is undoubtedly a vibe, but not really the vibe I’m seeking.
Song listened to: Wilderness
Notes: Kind of like the last song but on a larger scale. We go from a trudging drone and growl, and around the 8 minute mark we enter the just-piano-and-vocals section. Things pick way up two minutes later. It’s kind of shame the rest of the song doesn’t sound like this part, but I don’t think that’s what Panthiest is really going for.
Song listened to: Burdened by Grief
Notes: I really like the melody and intensity, but I wish the vocals weren’t so completely buried by everything else. I don’t know if it’s intentionally mixed like that, or if that’s just what happens when your growl is as low and opaque as this. Kind of like Disavow Your God by Gorod earlier, the monotone drone-growl just doesn’t do anything for me. I say ‘growl’, but the way the singer holds notes it almost sounds like a draining bathtub. It’s tough, I like everything about this song except the vocals. Like I said, I’ve always had a hard time penetrating the world of black/death metal.
Song listened to: Every Day, A Funeral
Notes: Can I just say that I think all of Rise to the Sky’s titles are wonderfully evocative? Again, there’s so much going on in this song that I like, like how the guitars and the violins give this song equal parts power and sorrow. But these subterranean vocals, man! I don’t know. Maybe it’s growing on me. Is this the band that gets me into death metal? Somewhere out there, someone is laughing at me for being such a power metal-listenin’ nancyboy who needs melodic, audible lyrics. Guilty as charged!
Song listened to: Demon of the Fall
Notes: Hey, I've heard of these guys before! I was specifically told to check out early-era Opeth, so that’s what I’m sticking to. The vocals on this song totally took me by surprise, I sure wasn’t expecting an echo/double up effect. I also wasn’t expecting the cleaner, more melodic part at 4:45, but I’m certainly happy to take it. I gotta say, I think this is a pretty great song.
Song listened to: Godhead’s Lament
Notes: I like how dizzying the song sounds at the beginning. I imagine the guitars tumbling through a never-ending wormhole, but the song soon mellows out and becomes a bit more acoustic before going back to growls. It’s neat, but I don't like it nearly as much as Demon to the Fall.
Song listened to: Exile of the Gods
Notes: Oh hey, this is our first group with a female singer, huh? I cannot begin to explain why, but the chorus of this song reminds me of a Eurovision song. Not any song in particular, it just gives me Eurovision vibes. I hear “like dying emberrrrrrrrs!” and in my mind I see the camera cutting from a torso-up shot of the singer to farther away crane shot of all the performers on stage and the crowd waving a million little Swiss flags. This is not meant as a diss on the song. To me, it’s a major endorsement.
Song listened to: The Call of the Mountains
Notes: Bad news, I don’t think this band is much like Borknagar. But I kind of don’t care, because this is all pretty great. Congrats Eluveitie, you’ve just hit number one on the “bands I need to check out after all this” list. I could live without the children’s choir at the end of this song, but honestly it’s a small complaint.
Song listened to: Gravollet
Notes: This reminds me of Amon Amarth. Like, a LOT of Amon Amarth. That’s not a dealbreaker, I think Amon Amarth are okay, but I usually don’t find myself actively seeking them out. The little flute in this song is doing a lot of heavy lifting for me personally. I wish we had the Borknagar-style back and forth of clean and harsh vocals.
Song listened to: Lindisfarne
Notes: Is that a mandolin? Lute? Svarsot’s folky instruments are leaving more of an impression on me than anything else. This is very melodic and fine stuff, but not entirely what I was seeking out.
Song listened to: Lec, eglīte
Notes: Hey! Okay! We got chanting, we got thatched roofs, we got flutes. The chanting vaguely reminds me of Heilung, everything else reminds me of… I don’t really know. But I don’t hate it.
Song listened to: Melnās Buras
Notes: A perfectly cromulent song. It reminds me a lot of Gojira. Also: I guess I should mention that Borknagar, Gojira, and Amon Amarth are my only forays into black and death metal, so I’m sorry if everything gets compared to these three bands.
Song listened to: Forsen
Notes: Why do the violins and melody in the chorus remind me of pirate metal? I don’t know, but I did find myself swaying in my seat while listening so that’s a plus. Like most of the bands mentioned, I don’t really know if this reminds me of Borknagar, but I don’t really hate what’s going on here.
Song listened to: Blodsvept
Notes: Wait, ARE they pirates? Because the photo used in this youtube video sure do make a handful of these guys looks like pirates. Funnily enough, this song does not remind me of pirates at all. The little tune the strings play sounds like some real SNES-era JRPG music. Like, this music means I’m fighting a subboss that I had no idea was at the end of this cave, and I am *so* not prepared and I haven’t saved in a while. I’m boned. I’m thinking Blodsvept is my favorite of the two Finntroll songs I’ve heard. Also, I guess all the band members wear prosthetic ears to look more troll-y? Love that for them.
Song listened to: Rauta
Notes: UH. What the? Hey did you know iske is Finnish for forge? You learn something new everyday. I learned that I was very unprepared for what I thought this was going to be. Most of the songs I’ve been listening to have been very aggressive, or depressing, or folksy. I can’t believe we have a second song on this list that gives me Eurovision vibes, but this time it reminds me of a particular song: Trenuleţul by Zdob şi Zdub, aka the train song from Eurovision 2022. Honestly, “folklore and rock n’ roll” is a great way to describe what is happening here. Very silly.
Song listened to: Ievan Polkka
Notes: Are you kidding me. And the album art is a viking attacking a swan swimming in lava? Is this band composed entirely of goofsters? Just a bunch of silly billies? Lil funny guys? This doesn’t count, I gotta get one more song in with these guys.
Song listened to: Ämmänhauta
Notes: We got fiddles, we got riffs, we got… an accordion, I think? This is a more standard affair, and honestly after the sheer silliness of the last two, this song seemed a little dull in comparison. It’s not Ämmänhauta’s fault, I accidentally ate the sugary dessert before dinner. I went back and watched the Ratua music video and there is indeed an accordion guy in there, but from what I can tell it’s just helping with the underlying drone of Rauta. But it really gets a chance to shine in Ämmänhauta and I’m glad it’s here.
Song listened to: Songes Ineffables
Notes: I know ineffable is an actual factual word, but my first encounter with it was Cats, so anything ‘ineffable’ is always going to conjure up Cats. Not unlike Mister Mistoffelees, conjuring seven kittens right out of a hat! Anyway, the song. Kind of a slow drone with harsher vocals peppered throughout. Nothing about Songes Ineffables particularly leaped out at me.
Song listened to: Solar Storms and Nebulas
Notes: 30 seconds in and I already like this more than Songes Ineffables. I wish the clean vocals didn’t sound so… muddy and distant, I guess? I never know when stuff like this is bad mixing or an intentional stylistic choice. Whether it’s deliberate or not, it’s probably my least favorite thing about the song, but the rest was pretty solid. The otherworldly-sounding bit at the 7-minute mark is probably my favorite part, especially with the riff progressively getting louder.
Song listened to: Nightmare Years
Notes: A lot of the songs I’ve heard so far a slow, trudging affairs that build up to something, but not Nightmare Years! We are growling and blasting from the get-go. I don’t know if I could listen to a full hour-long album of this, though.
Song listened to: Sun of the Sumerian
Notes: Well, I’ve only heard two songs, but this one’s pretty similar to Nightmare Years, so maybe Maahlas’ single album IS nearly an hour of this! I like singer’s vocals in both the songs I’ve heard, how he varies from a deep growl to more of a shout. That might not sound like much of a range but it’s a little more interesting to my ears than a song that’s 100% growl.
Song listened to: The Law of Asbestos
Notes: The title had me intrigued right from the jump. What is the Law of Asbestos? Sadly, the song is not one of those “IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAS MESOTHELIOMA…” ads set to music. Instead it’s an anti-capitalist screed! And hey, love me an anti-capitalist screed. But I just don’t know if I gel with the sound here. I’m absolutely at fault here and I’m strong enough to admit it. I can recognize when something is very artsy and I am too unsophisticated to appreciate it.
Song listened to: The Wretched Mills
Notes: I think I like this more than The Law of Asbestos, but I still don’t think Ashenspire is for me. And I kind of hate that! Love the message, but I’m just not finding myself enjoying the way the message is being portrayed. Metal Archives lists Ashenspire’s genre as Avant-garde/Progressive Black Metal. And it *very* much is.
For the record, I want to say that I don’t think any of the bands or songs I listened to are bad. I had a highly specific itch that needed to be scratched, and some bands scratched it more than others. I basically wanted a Borknagar clone, and I don’t really think any of the suggested bands here could be called that. But I did find some bands worth checking out. I think I’ll be looking into Eluveitie, The Ocean, Finntroll, Opeth…
…and probably Korpiklaani, those goofballs.