Borknagar - 19/09/2009

BORKNAGAR is a progressive black metal band from Bergen, Norway, founded in 1995 by Øystein Garnes Brun. The band's style combines folk metal and black metal with progressive and melodic elements. BORKNAGAR 's lyrics often deal with philosophy, paganism, nature, and the cosmos.


BORKNAGAR was founded by a remaining member of the Norwegian death metal band Molested when  Øystein Brun became tired of the brutal aspects of the band's music. Øystein formed BORKNAGAR to explore a more melodic outlet of expression, apparently inspired by the burgeoning black metal movement Norway was experiencing. He wrote all the music and lyrics, and gathered together an all-star group of black metal musicians to play in his band, such as Infernus of Gorgoroth, Grim of Immortal and Gorgoroth, and Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved. When Garm of Ulver, Head Control System, and Arcturus joined the project, it brought the band immediate attention. The band never even recorded a demo; they simply asked for a record contract on Malicious Records and were granted their request. Borknagar's music instantly gained fans and received positive press attention.


BORKNAGAR has released seven albums to date. Their self-titled debut album features lyrics solely in Norwegian; all subsequent albums have featured lyrics written in English exclusively (however, ‘The Olden Domain’ featured an instrumental track titled in Norwegian). Aside from Brun's lyrical contributions, the band has featured lyrics by other members as well: ICS Vortex from Arcturus and Dimmu Borgir, drummer Asgeir Mickelson, keyboardist Lars Nedland and more recently by current singer Vintersorg from Otyg and his eponymous band. Bassist Jan Erik Tiwaz aka Tyr wrote the song “The view of Everlast”.  

BORKNAGAR’s previous album, ‘Origin’, is "an acoustic effort based entirely on the epic and progressive aspect of the band", according to Øystein G. Brun's statement. In late December 2007, the band signed a three-album deal with the Norwegian label Indie Recordings. In March 2008, Øystein announced that Erik Tiwaz and Jens Ryland had once again become official members of the band, and that the band were aiming for a January 2009 release. In May 2008, Øystein released another statement announcing Asgeir's departure as the band's drummer, due to "evolving differences in musical ideas and visions”, later that year drummer David Kinkade joined the band.    


In 2009 BORKNAGAR has completed work on its new album, ‘Universal’, for an early 2010 release via Indie Recordings. The CD was recorded and mixed at Toproom Studio in Lunner, Norway, with the band members themselves handling the production duties.



It appears there is much to talk about and so we tracked down Jens Fredrik Ryland (guitar) to ask him some questions, here you can read what he had to say to the readers of Metal-experience.


Although your new album ‘Universal’ has been postponed to an early 2010 release,  we’d like to ask you a couple of questions about it. First of all, could you start this interview off with a short introduction of the members, you’ve had some line-up changes so can you give us a quick update on Borknagar?


Jens: I guess you can say there was a revitalizing within the band as the Century Media contract expired and gave us room to look for other possibilities. Nothing wrong with CM, but you know: it's like getting a fresh start with someone else. So Øystein phoned me up one day and told me there was a contract suggestion from Indie, and things just started rolling from there. In between both Tyr and me were playing the liveshows anyway, so it's not like we all lost connections. Somehow it feels more like I've been on vacation from Borknagar than having left and returned.

Those are the changes you talk about, Tyr and me rejoined.


How did you launch into writing material for ‘Universal’ and how much time did you spend on the songs?


Jens: The writing process is Øysteins, and him being one overproductive fellar he’s had some of the riffs on tape since the late nineties. The song named “My Domain” was actually intended for ‘The Archaic Course’ in 1998, that's also why Vortex was brought back in to do the vocals. Then there is the actual preproduction work to bring it all together, but also here most of the work is done by Øystein. 


What approach did you take to create this album, did you go for a more raw exposition.. or something more reminiscent of your previous other works, or something all together different?


Jens: The key words here are “fresh start” and the spirit within the band also reflects on the album. We want to move back in time a bit and recreate a bit of rawness in the sound and the songs themselves. Still the album is the best produced work we have done so far, Øystein is getting really good at this.


How can we imagine you work on new songs, what's the typical writing process like for Borknagar?


Jens: The actual writing process has changed over the years. As we live quite far apart we can't work things out in the rehearsal- studio, so we use Cubase to exchange files. Usually Øystein has most of the songs done anyway, so it's more about arrangements and details by the time we get the files. Øystein also always has a lot more material than we actually end up recording, and part of the process is to filter out what we don't want to use.



Did ideas come easily so that you just had to write them down or was it more of a careful composing thing?


Jens: You would have to ask Øystein about this really...


What comes first, lyrics or melodies?


Jens: Melody comes first.


What were the goals you had in mind when you started to record ‘Universal’, any elements you definitely wanted to include on the album?


Jens: For my part I just wanted to get back into the process and contribute to a recording again. Studio work has never been my favorite part of “band- work”, but it has grown on me with time. Øystein’s preprods sounded both strong and interesting, so I was kinda eager to get to it.


Could you describe the implications of the title ‘Universal’, what does it stand for and is there a special meaning behind it?


Jens: As always, a Borknagar title has many meanings and no one way to understand. I guess by using “Universal” we want people to look back in time, one of the songs on ‘The Archaic Course is also called “Universal”. But we haven't made this album with a reference to TAC either. It's only a hint. Universal seems like an allround fitting name for our music anyway, it's dynamic, varied and challenging. It's music you need to listen to, and it's not meant for a small group of listeners.  We're not a grind-core band, we're not a strictly Black Metal band either, our music is more Universal...


Can you give us a little background information on the songs, is there a story behind them?


Jens: The songs are individual, no concept album here. They're within the usual Borknagar spirit...

How did the recording process proceed, did you work differently this time than you did with your previous works? How much time did you spend in the studio?


Jens: As always, we broke the recording into sequences as everyone has work and other obligations. Staying for one month in the studio with the whole band to record an album is so nineties he he. The only one who has actually been in the studio during the whole process is Øystein who also produced the whole thing. David came over for the first week to record the drums. I only went in there to deliver the drumkit, I never set foot in the studio in the actual drum- recording process. I guess this is how we have worked since we visited Abyss studios in 2000. Andreas just came down one weekend and he had already recorded all the vocals in his home- studio.



After the release of your previous studio album ‘Origin’ there were some line-up changes and some members rejoined band. Did this line-up change have an influence on the new songs?


Jens: Not really, Tyr already played on the Origin album so the small difference would be my guitar- tracks.


Did they contribute to the songs?


Jens: Not as much as I would wish, as I rejoined rather late in the writing process I didn't participate as much on the album as I normally would have, but I'm still there...


What do you think the main differences are between your previous works and ‘Universal’?


Jens: Production and perhaps sound. Øystein is getting really good at this by now.


What is the utmost important ingredient for a song?


Jens: I don't see the songs on an album standing alone, I'm more concerned about the big picture here. I've always been the one that loves playing live, so I tend to enjoy the “live- friendly” songs more than the others, but on an album we want diversity so we need all the others there too.


Do you have any favourites on the album?


Jens: Kinda contrary to what I just answered my actual favorite on the album just now is one that starts out with a very moody acoustic riff: “Stirr Of Seasons”, but this tends to change back and forth.


Have you received any feedback on the album yet?


Jens: We're keeping the cards close to avoid any leaking on the net this long before the actual release, but we have played the album to a few people, and I think we're gonna turn some heads with this album yes :)


Are third party opinions (press, fans, etc.) on your music important to you? Or are your music and band the only things that matter?


Jens: Well, I can say that we're mostly unaffected by opinions when it comes to the process of making the music, but the good part is to get recognition from outsiders, that confirms we're making music people find interesting or inspiring. If we kept making music we found very suiting ourselves, but which everybody hated I guess it wouldn't be as rewarding. 


Overall, are you pleased with the outcome of the songs or would you have liked to have changed anything in retrospective? Which element of the CD are you the most proud of?


Jens: In the process of releasing an album you go through a lot of emotions and phases, some compare it to a mild version of having a baby. At this point I'm very content. The overall view of things is that we have made an album that's very whole, varied and dynamic like a Borknagar album should be. We have made progression in sound and it's very well produced. There are details I would have changed, but nothing worth mentioning.


With several albums under your belt, how far has Borknagar surpassed your original dreams and what would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the band?


Jens: Oh, when I pull back to family and work after doing “band- duty” I sometimes think I'm partly living a dream. In many ways we're in a perfect place right now where we can choose when to expose ourselves and meet the fans, but in my everyday life back in Norway I don't get any attention at all for being a musician, here I'm just Jens, I don't envy those who have become rich and famous, even though that might have been one of the goals back in the mid nineties for us also. As long as we get to go out and play some concerts as it suits us, I'm happy.

The strange thing to get used to now is being one of the veterans in the scene, releasing a “best of..” made me feel old! But it has its advantages also.



What is your opinion on the metal scene these days? What do you think of the overload of bands at the moment and is there anything missing in the scene?


Jens: The metal scene is sharing the same problems the rest of the music scene is, and that's how to deal with the problems of downloading. Almost all labels are stunned with the developments and have no clue how to deal with it. And the problems the upcoming metalbands are facing is that the old way of measuring how popular you are for a live show is looking at the sales numbers in the area you want to play live. Now there is no way of comparing bands up against each other as sales numbers don't tell you naught! So in my opinion it seems like when a band is up and coming, it is more out of pure luck than it used to be. You need to get an album out, and if you manage to create some kind of buzz on the net you pave the way to play a few gigs, and if enough people turn up for the gig, you have made a buzz for yourself by playing live. 


In my view, most major labels are now looking like dinosaurs just after the meteor hit the Earth, causing their extinction: They're just too big and can't cope with the development and are just running in circles finding nowhere to hide. Soon they will be dead and the path will open for new races to develop.


I see that the bands succeeding in the future will be those who are able to master more of the business themselves. You can't have 5 people in a band where everyone makes music and no-one is thinking about all the other details.


What can we expect from Borknagar in the future, any touring plans?


Jens: We're not built for touring; we have too many responsibilities back home. But things change and the world turns, so you never know what we might do he he.


Where do you see Borknagar going within the next couple of years, and where do you see your musical direction going for the next album?


Jens: I want to do more gigs for sure. As I said, don't expect us to go on 2 month tours, but we want to go out and meet some fans and play our music for them directly, so that's the goal for the next few years. As for the next album, that's really too early to say.


Anything left to say to our readers?


Jens: I'm not gonna be the one moralizing about downloading and such, just remember there are many ways to support the bands you like. Buy merch, go to concerts, be supportive on the forums and let your favorite band know you're there in other ways if you choose not to buy the album. It does help. It's like this: If you look at Borknagar we see no reason to visit a country like Portugal as our label tells us we sell only a few albums down there. So we can't tell if it would be worthwhile or not. But if you let us know with other measures we might show up ;) Let us know you exist; we know you're there...


Jens Fredrik Ryland


Thanks for your time!

Eugene Straver



Current members:

Øystein G. Brun - Guitar (1995-)

Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund - Vocals (2000-)

Lars "Lazare" Nedland - Keyboard, Backing Vocals (1999-)

Jens F. Ryland - Guitar (1997-2003, 2007-)

David Kinkade - Drums (2008 - present)

Jan Erik Tiwaz - Bass (2000-2004, 2007-)


Former members:

Infernus - Bass (1995-1996)

Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg - Vocals (1995-1997)

Ivar Bjørnson - Keyboard (1995-1998)

Erik "Grim" Brødreskift - Drums (1995-1998)

Kai Lie - Bass (1996-1998)

Simen "ICS Vortex" Hestnæs - Vocals, Bass (1997-2000)

Justin Greaves - Drums (1998-1999)

Asgeir Mickelson - Drums (1999-2008)



(1996) Borknagar  

(1997) The Olden Domain  

(1998) The Archaic Course  

(2000) Quintessence  

(2001) Empiricism  

(2004) Epic  

(2006) Origin  

(2010) Universal