Tag Archives: Baard Kolstad

Leprous – Malina – Album Review

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Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Malina

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 25 August 2017

One of the very biggest compliments that I can bestow upon a band is to say that they sound unique. In a day-and-age where originality is harder to come by than a public sector pay rise, it is quite an accolade to be able to declare to the world ‘we sound like no-one else’. And that is exactly what Leprous can boast. Good on them too, I say.

Ever since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ (2009), the Norwegian outfit has delivered superb music. In the early days, there was a touch more of the generic about them as they cut their teeth in the tough world of music whilst proudly wearing a few of their inspirations on their sleeves. The album was still brilliant, with a vibrancy and confidence thoroughly belying the incredibly young age of the individuals concerned. However, as they have become older, wiser, and ever-more proficient, the output has become more unique and, as a result, ever more intriguing.

I confess here and now my love for Leprous. However, that being said, my love is not the easy kind where I metaphorically fall into their arms, swooning at the immediate saccharine beauty of their music. Instead, it is a more reserved love, born out of respect, admiration and often astonishment at what I am hearing. That’s not to say that Leprous’ music is not beautiful, because it is, but they never seem to make it easy. And why should they? This is prog after all.

Whatever album you listen to within the back catalogue, you must make the effort, listen hard and work at it. If you do, ultimately the rewards will come. The same is true of ‘Malina’, the quintet’s fifth release to date.

At this point, I will admit to a certain amount of sympathy for Leprous, although the reason for the sympathy has been somewhat self-induced by the Norwegians. You see, their debut placed the bar very high. And remarkably, every release since then has nudged that bar higher and higher. Not one of their four previous albums has been less than brilliant. Always pushing themselves, always honing their output and tweaking their sound, they have consistently released brilliance without ever standing still. That’s all very well and good, but how can Leprous possibly continue to improve when each previous release is so strong?

Whatever the answer and whatever their strategy, something must be working though because, with ‘Malina’, they’ve done it again. You can hear the influences of previous albums, ‘The Congregation’ (2015) specifically. But importantly, the output and musical direction has been tweaked yet again; some might even baulk at the word ‘tweaked’. Nevertheless the Leprous of 2017 via ‘Malina’ sounds fresh, interesting, compelling whilst remaining totally, unequivocally unique.

True to form, my first spin through did not result in love at first listen, far from it. Instead it resulted in shrugged shoulders and apathy. My second brought consternation; would I ever like what I am hearing? The answer is ‘yes’, but not until at least the fifth pass through. Suddenly, chinks of light began to emerge, my mind opened and I now hear music full of variety, full of drama, full of melody, and full of emotion.

The rumours circulating on the internet are true, in that ‘Malina’ is definitely a less heavy beast, but to these ears, that’s only if you consider heavy guitars and pounding rhythms to be sonically heavy. ‘Malina’ has these elements and they use them wisely. But they are used less. And, as with each and every Leprous release before this, the music remains intricate, full of atmosphere and crushingly intense. It is also a multi-layered and multi-faceted affair too, with plenty going on in each composition, even if that’s not how it immediately appears.

Much of the intensity is down to the vocals of Einar Solberg, the guy that only got into music because he was coerced into it by his family. Solberg has a tone and delivery quite unlike all others. He can be melodious, he can be angry and he can be sombre, fragile, and deeply emotional. Like a chameleon, he can bring exactly what is needed to each and every composition. And he does it effortlessly. On ‘Malina’, Solberg has clearly worked a lot on his clean singing and in fact, has all but ditched the more abrasive delivery that featured so strongly on earlier albums.

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Credit: Bjørn Tore Moen

The aforementioned intensity is also created, in part, by the song writing and the absolute attention to detail. Each of the eleven tracks has been beautifully crafted and executed with a loving care. There is an ebb and flow to the material too, from atmospheric minimalism to the bang and crash that you’d expect from a band consistently labelled in some quarters as ‘progressive metal’, despite more of a rock sheen of late. Whether or not ‘Malina’ is a concept album, the music itself undeniably tells a story. Dip in and out of the record if you wish, for each track stands on its own. For maximum enjoyment however, ‘Malina’ should be listened to in its entirety.

‘Bonneville’ is the perfect introduction to the record and a firm insight into the overall stylistic direction of ‘Malina’. With its stark, minimal soundscapes at the outset, it gently builds as it develops, ultimately becoming heavier and more robust as it nears its conclusion. The melodies become more pronounced with repeated listens and those familiar guitar tones of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and newbie Robin Ognedal offer some reserved muscularity.

Unfortunately for ‘Bonneville’, it is then followed by ‘Stuck’ which is an absolute monster, arguably my favourite track on the album currently. I could spend hours dissecting it but suffice to say that there is a lot going on within the composition. Again, with perseverance, the melodic intent becomes more obvious and addictive, culminating in a very strong chorus, almost pop-like in many ways. However, I love the way the song frequently undulates and transitions from quiet introspection to something altogether more powerful. And then there’s the wonderful juxtaposition in the latter stages between the modern and the traditional, when the utterly gorgeous cello/strings of guest musician Raphael Weinroth-Browne join the electronic sounds created by Solberg’s synths. It makes for a truly epic finale.

Thereafter, we’re treated to a run of songs that are very nearly as excellent in their own way. ‘From The Flame’ offers one of the most openly catchy choruses as it ploughs a slightly more straight-forward construction, relative to the usual Leprous output of course. The properly progressive ‘Captive’ by contrast is all about the rhythms, with drummer Baard Kolstad and bassist Simen Børven working overtime to act as the foundation for this lurching number, enhanced by layers of vocals and more genuinely interesting synth sounds and effects. ‘Illuminate’ reintroduces strong melodies and manages to be the perfect contradiction by simultaneously being both upbeat and densely introspective, the latter achieved in part by the swathes of gentle keys that nestle just beneath the surface.

‘Leashes’ is smothered in emotion, quiet and unobtrusive for large parts but then dominated by some of the best, most impassioned vocals from Solberg when things take a turn for the heavier and more intense. The ebb and flow continues courtesy of ‘Mirage’ which enters the fray with some seriously heavy-sounding instrumentation from what I assume emanates from the four and six-strings respectively. But the chorus, when it hits, is bright, breezy and distinctly pop-ish in tone albeit underpinned by a clever, complex beat that seems second nature to Leprous. The djent-esque outro is a clever touch too, with props going to Børven again for some flamboyant bass work.

The title track, with the reintroduction of those lush strings is a dark, sombre composition that occasionally bubbles up via some well-placed percussion from Kolstad, but generally remains an intense, claustrophobic experience due to its fragility and emotional minimalism. It’s not an easy listen, but the pay-off is well worth the effort.

‘Coma’ reintroduces a faster pace, interesting because of the impressive drumming and incessant nature, whilst ‘The Weight of Disaster’ is a lumbering, loping hector but in the best way possible. The hint of groove finds much favour with me, particularly with the way I which it is not overplayed. In fact, this is another track of huge contrasts, where extended passages of quiet contemplation are butted up against moments of forceful intent. And it works thanks to the adeptness and sophistication of the song writing.

It is left to ‘The Last Milestone’ to close out ‘Malina’ and it does so in fabulous style. It is a crushingly beautiful, poignant and sad hymn, led by the strings of Raphael Weinroth-Browne and the sorrowful, almost operatic delivery of Solberg. It is a very different approach for Leprous but not for a single second do I believe that it doesn’t belong on this record. It is a bold way to end, but just like the opening track, it is perfectly placed, providing maximum impact in the process.

To conclude, ‘Malina’ is ultimately a stunning record. In so many ways it remains faithful to the core Leprous sound but it is bound to raise the eyebrows of many existing fans at the same time. The more rhythmic, staccato guitar work remains, as does the flair for the deceptively complex compositional and instrumental work. That said, ‘Malina’ feels smoother, even more assured and, dare I say it, more mature. Put simply, it is the sound of progressive music par excellence. Just don’t dismiss it after the first listen because if you do, you’ll be making a big mistake.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 5

Welcome to the top 5 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. It has been a long time coming but here we finally are – the five best albums of 2016, according to the Man of Much Metal.
as I’ve said many times before, this is just one man’s opinion of the music he has heard over the last 12 months. I have not taken votes, I have not compiled the list in an effort to get extra traffic to my site or a procession of positive, fawning comments. Frankly, given the quality of the music this year, I could have compiled a top 60. But instead, I have kept it to the very best 30 from my subjective viewpoint.
I’m always keen to have a debate, so let me know what you think of my choices.
If you’ve missed any of the previous 25 posts in this series, you can find links to them all at the bottom of this post. In addition, you can also find links to the entire lists I have compiled since 2012, should you be curious about my choices in years gone by.
And now, here comes my pick for the fifth best album of 2016…
Number 5
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Borknagar
Winter Thrice
Century Media Records
“It’s only mid-January and already I’m confronted with an album that has well and truly put the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons. The enigmatic and evergreen Borknagar have released what I consider to be their magnum opus. ‘Winter Thrice’ is nothing short of magnificent, a triumphant album full of almost flawless music. You think I’m kidding? You think I’ve begun this review with unnecessary and frivolous hyperbole? Just wait until you hear this beast an then tell me I’m overstating things.
…the first place to start with this record has to be with the vocals. Most bands would kill for a world-class singer but in Borknager circa 2016, there are four.
It is a sensational slab of intelligent, powerful and sophisticated extreme metal that is as beautiful as it is brutal. I have been captivated since the first listen and I cannot see how the spell that Borknagar has cast upon me can be broken. Mind you, I don’t want it to be broken. This is a near perfect aural experience and I am all the richer for having it in my life.”
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Credit: Martine Petra Photography & Dance

 

‘Winter Thrice’ was the first album of 2016 that knocked me sideways. In fact, it knocked me backwards, sideways and upside down. I knew when I heard it back in early January that it would feature in my top 30 countdown. I knew in January that it would feature in my top 10. But it is testament to its brilliance that it finds itself at number 5 in the face of stiff competition from all quarters since.
In fact, ‘Winter Thrice’ has ended the year being my favourite extreme metal record of 2016. And why have I bestowed this honour upon Borknagar ahead of all other more extreme metal releases this year? The reasons are many but here goes…
Firstly, the four vocalists that appear on the record are sheer class. The variety that each individual brings to the table is immense and gives ‘Winter Thrice’ an added dimension that is lacking almost everywhere else. From growls to smooth, introspective clean voices, the lyrics are delivered in a deliciously unique manner.
The musicianship is out of the very top drawer, as is the songwriting. Each and every composition on this record offers something almost magical or otherworldly that draws me well and truly under their spell. ‘Winter Thrice’ is the sound of a band at the height of their powers and  as a result, there is no filler and in fact, there’s nothing less than brilliance to be heard throughout the album.
For me though, the best thing about ‘Winter Thrice’ is the way in which elegant and captivating melodies are brought into the recipe to counteract the heavier bombast elsewhere. It’s sometimes difficult to imagine a true extreme metal band being elegant and sophisticated but that’s exactly what Borknagar achieve. As a result, each facet of their folk-tinged and progressive metal output comes across as being that little bit more powerful, pronounced and engrossing.
It is a special album that can make something so apparently impenetrable and daunting sound so welcoming and warm whilst at the same time kicking some serious butt. Whenever I listen, I never know whether to smile, grimace, head bang or tap my foot. So I generally engage in all four and plenty more besides.
Oh and the title track is just about the most perfect song that I have heard all year. It is truly astonishing and acts as an eloquent example of what Borknagar are all about. I adore it and nearly a year on, I still do not tire of it. If anything, the magic has grown and I’m more obsessed than ever about it. In fact, I think I’ll listen right now, for the 1,034th time…
In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:
Album of the Year 2016 – number 7
Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30
And from previous years:

Borknagar – Winter Thrice – Album Review

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Artist: Borknagar

Album Title: Winter Thrice

Label: Century Media Records

Year Of Release: 2016

It’s only mid-January and already I’m confronted with an album that has well and truly put the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons. The enigmatic and evergreen Borknagar have released what I consider to be their magnum opus. ‘Winter Thrice’ is nothing short of magnificent, a triumphant album full of almost flawless music. You think I’m kidding? You think I’ve begun this review with unnecessary and frivolous hyperbole? Just wait until you hear this beast an then tell me I’m overstating things.

Borknagar are one of those bands that have been blessed by a strong and dedicated, cult-like fan base. The pay-off is that the loyal followers seem to scrutinise every move that the band makes, dissecting every detail along the way. As such, and rightly so, there are some strong opinions out there, with some fans praying for a return to the black metal-heavy early days, whilst others long for ‘Empyricism’ part two. That 2001 release is hailed by many as being the Norwegian’s greatest album and so the hope for a return to this exact style is not unexpected.

One day, this may happen but whilst Borknagar continue to evolve and grow as a band and as musicians, it is unlikely. That said the output throughout Borknagar’s career hasn’t ever been wildly different, certainly not to these ears anyway. Yes there has been a gradual increase in the progressive aspect and the folk elements have tended to play an ever-increasing role but at its heart, the music remains extreme, black-tinged metal of the very highest order. Can you name any album within the Borknager back catalogue that is anything other than excellent? No, me neither. And that’s probably why the fan base is so strong.

But back to the main event, ‘Winter Thrice’, and the first place to start with this record has to be with the vocals. Most bands would kill for a world-class singer but in Borknager circa 2016, there are four. Vintersorg handles the majority of the harsh parts whilst keyboardist Lars A. Nedland (Solefald) and bassist ICS Vortex (Arcturus, ex-Dimmu Borgir) contribute their own beautifully unique clean deliveries. And then, to top it all off and to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Borknagar’s debut self-titled album, Kristoffer ‘Garm’ Rygg, he of Ulver fame, is welcomed back into the fold having departed in the late 90s following the release of ‘The Olden Domain’. Suffice to say that these four artists blow me away time and again throughout ‘Winter Thrice’, enhancing the music at every possible opportunity.

Completing Borknagar is the founder, brainchild and guitarist Øystein G. Brun, lead guitarist Jens F. Ryland and drummer Baard Kolstad (Leprous, Rendezvous Point). And kudos has to go to each and every member for playing a full and vital part in helping to shape this spectacular record.

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‘Winter Thrice’ opens with ‘The Rhymes Of The Mountain’, an absolute behemoth of a song in every respect. After an understated choir-led intro, the listener is confronted by a frenetic but pinpoint accurate blast beat accompanied by a vital and razor sharp riff. The track then soon opens up to allow a little room for some quieter atmospherics and a delightful melody enhanced by some superb clean vocals. I love the ebb and flow, the textures and the pulsating nature of this song, made all the more striking by a brilliantly clear and powerful mix courtesy of Jens Bogren (Fascination Street Studios). It leaves me breathless and wanting more.

Happily, my wish is granted and next up, the title track is, if anything, even better. In fact, it is a track with which I am completely obsessed. Again, the blend of extreme metal and folk with more progressive elements is something very special indeed. Nedland begins the vocal content before ICS Vortex takes over briefly. And then, in between bursts of controlled savagery and atop a groovy, mid-tempo and intensely melodic chorus of sorts, Garm takes over to deliver an utterly beguiling vocal performance. It is full of passion, surprising subtlety and not a little sorrow too. As is the Borknagar way and in keeping with the themes of the entire record, it is a song about the natural elements. As the name suggests here though, the focus of ‘Winter Thrice’ is the harsh and unforgiving face of winter. I have listened to this track on repeat more times than I care to mention and my conclusion is that it is about as perfect a composition as it is possible to achieve. Could this be the song of the year? It’s perhaps too early to say but everyone else will have to produce a slice of magic to beat it.

The fervent hope of course is that after such a powerful beginning, the album doesn’t then start to fall away. Fortunately, there’s no chance of that – this is Borknagar after all. ‘Cold Runs The River’ features an almost cheeky riff before the blast beats return. Vocally, Nedland takes the lead over what is a surprisingly buoyant and groovy number that features a great guitar solo and a myriad of different and subtle ideas. This track just underlines, if such a thing was necessary, how technically gifted and on-point this sextet are as a group.

‘Panorama’ is another real head-turner, a more experimental number that pushes the folk and progressive elements to another level. Swathes of keyboards dominate the song but in a way that evokes the prog rock of the 70s and creates some really warm and inviting textures. I love the rumbling bass and captivating drum beats in the mid-section before the song goes on to soar with yet another sumptuous up-beat melody. The folk-inspired embellishments are nicely quirky but in an understated way and everything combines wonderfully to create a cohesive and thoroughly engaging piece of music.

‘When Chaos Calls’ begins with a vibrant piano flourish before launching into more frenetic blast beats reminiscent more of Borknagar’s early days. Nedland once again shines behind the mic crooning above yet another soaring melody and I absolutely adore that Borknagar trademark dampened guitar ‘chug-chug’ that creeps into this song. It is always used sparingly but for some reason, it brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

Borknagar show their early black metal roots most obviously on ‘Erodent’ before the song plunges into a quiet and atmospheric abyss at the half-way point. As the track begins its ascent, things turn much more progressive in nature, albeit underpinned by the ubiquitous pummelling drums. The melodies on this track are a little more subtle, thereby turning the track into a real grower that gets stronger upon each listen.

The shortest track on ‘Winter Thrice’ is ‘Noctilucent’. A word used to describe certain cloud-like phenomena, it is perhaps fitting that this track has a lighter, floatier feel to it, complete with a clean guitar solo and yet more layers of synths to create a lovely dreamy façade.

And then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, ‘Winter Thrice’ is brought to a close by ‘Terminus’. It opens in almost cacophonic fashion, bristling with almost uncontrolled fury. However this brutality is then juxtaposed with some of the most immediate melodies on the album again joined wonderfully with Garm’s smooth and heartfelt vocals. Together, they combine to ensure that the album ends on a positive and thoroughly edifying crescendo full of aural beauty and majesty.

I’m not sure what’s left to say about ‘Winter Thrice’. It is a sensational slab of intelligent, powerful and sophisticated extreme metal that is as beautiful as it is brutal. I have been captivated since the first listen and I cannot see how the spell that Borknagar has cast upon me can be broken. Mind you, I don’t want it to be broken. This is a near perfect aural experience and I am all the richer for having it in my life.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.8

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar StormVanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld