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Borknagar

According to earlier conversations I know that talking to Oystein G. Brun, the mastermind behind the innovative Norwegian band Borknagar, has always been a very great, debonair experience. As one of the first bands they started to relish their harsh black metallic heaviness with progressive influences. Promptly they were labelled as avant-garde metal. But there is more. Sixteen years later they still create progressive, innovative music in which raucous fragments are regaled with unexpected additives. Now that the release of their ninth studio album 'Urd' is about to happen, we had another fine chat with Oystein. After a long winter, spring is in the air with the first warmer day of the year and following on our cosy weather talk (even in Norway winter was mainly rainy without much snow) we get to the point of our conversation: the infamous 'Urd' album!

By: Vera | Archive under black metal

Congratulations with the new album 'Urd'! What a stunner it is! But I have read on the site that you are extremely glad with it as well, isn't it?
Thank you! Oh yeah, I cannot remember having such a good feeling about an album. Maybe not perfect, but it is almost close to perfect, at least in my point of view. That's the most important thing: that we in the band had fun making this album and we can be proud of it. Of course we get a lot of good feedback nowadays from the journalists and that's fine.

But now you have a dream line-up with three eminent singers in the band, Vintersorg, ICS Vortex and Lazare, I guess?
Yes, I am lucky as a kid. That's a luxury, you know. Working with those guys – as you said – almost like a dream coming true. The whole process of making this album has been so great, because everybody was so dedicated and everybody really wanted to make this album the best we can do at this moment. I think we have succeeded and had a really nice time. It has been a lot of work though. I have been working shitloads of hours and days, six months in a row. Just after we finished the mix I was totally drained and exhausted, but it is rewarding in the end.

And the return of ICS Vortex… did it have something to do with his return on the previous album 'Universal', when he contributed with an old favourite song of him. Was the seed planted at that time for a new and further, fruitful cooperation?
At that point we did not talk about that. He was still a member of Dimmu Borgir then. We did not expect that he would have enough time for that. It kind of just happened when he had left Dimmu Borgir. We started talking about things and it led from one point to another. From my point of view it was a magical moment in the studio when he came to my place to record 'My Domain'. I think we all agreed that the chemistry was still there. We always kept in contact. I helped him with his solo album, when he was starting up ICS Vortex for the 'Storm Seeker' album. Somehow we felt what was going on, but there has always being a fence between us in saying promptly “yes”, but we talked more and more on a daily basis and at some point we realized: let us just join forces. Let us get back to the old good feeling and let us make an awesome record. And that is basically exactly what we did.

But the man on the drums is gone now. David Kincade (Malevolent Creation, Soulfly) is gone now, although one can still hear him on the record, isn't it?
Yes. We kind of decided to split a few months after we recorded the drums, for many reasons, but the main reason was that it was close to impossible continuing to work with us for live dates, because he is living in the United States. He tried to move to Norway, but the problem is: when you are in the European Union you can emigrate quite easily to work in Norway, but when coming from outside the European Union it is pretty difficult and very complicated. So there's a lot of bullshit we had to go through and it just slapped us in the face. Of course, in the long run, he is an American citizen and we are Norwegian citizens. There are some differences, a different mindset, you know. There were things we did not agree on. When he got that spot to play in Soulfly, with Max Cavalera and those guys, we agreed: “Let us work on our separate ways and just split. So you can do your stuff with Soulfly” and we went looking for a Norwegian drummer. No drama about that subject. Those things happen. He is a good guy, a great drummer but so is life.

Indeed; there have always been changes in the line-up over the years…
Yeah, I do not know why, it is something mysterious. I don't have an explanation for that.

But the signature Borknagar sound always remained in tact…
Yes, that's the point. I think we already have established a sound for the band. It is bigger than me and it is bigger than anyone in the band. So it does not really stand or fall with one member. I might sound a bit cynic now, but this whole music business is kind of hard. It is a tough business for everybody. I do see so many people coming into this business, doing one or two records and they do not give a shit anymore and just quit to do something else. It is tough. You have ups but you also have a lot of downs. Some people cannot deal with that in the long run. I have been in it almost for twenty years now. Before Borknagar (with Molested – Vera) it was very underground, but with Borknagar we have more than fifteen years as well. I think for me, my secret is that I always focused on and lived for the passion of music. I do not compromise for commercial interest. Then you are in a kind of commercial limbo, where they tell you what to do and only fame and fortune matters. Of course there are bands who can handle that, but a lot of bands drown in this chaos. For me it is about the music and all the rest is secondary. Of course I do interviews, we play at festivals, that's fine with me. As long as I can keep having this passion for music and I am able to make records; that is actually what keeps me going. If I was focused on selling records, I should have opened a record store; that would probably have paid off better (laughs). You see, I am not in it for the big or quick money. That attitude is important in the long run I think; if you want to keep this doing for a long time.

Did you play some gigs, more than before, after the release of 'Universal' (because I did not see you coming to Belgium)?
(chuckles) We always try to do that and we definitely intend to do a lot more shows than we have done before. At some point, I think we will do. The situation is that we are all in our mid-thirties, so we have families, small kids and houses, other engagements, but we definitely want to do it. It causes problems how to coordinate it. It is only a matter of finding the right time. I really want to do it, we also got offers from South America, but… We just have to deal with reality.

Sure, I understand that. 'Universal' was a kind of new start after the acoustic 'Origin'. How do you see 'Urd' then, as a kind of continuation, the second chapter or something completely new?
For me, madly speaking, it is as 'The Old Domain' was. The second album we made. It is not kind of similar to that album, but I think I can consider it as the second album of our new musical journey, so to speak. I do not know how the fans and journalists look upon it, but for me, 'Origin' was reflective, the beginning of a new chapter. 'Universal' was the first part of the new book. It is a kind of musical spiral that later on developed and thus 'Urd' is 'The Olden Domain' of 2012.

As a matter of fact, 'The Olden Domain' was the first record I bought from Borknagar. Not being into the first wave of black metal, I only got interest in it when it was relished with other influences and got out of the old-school garage thing. So called progressive or avant-garde influences made it worth listening to…
More progressive indeed. We were probably part of this. Coming from Norway and doing not that traditional hardcore black metal stuff, we were a part of that indeed. I still think we are a part of that.

Indeed, I have written down here: from the moment I listen to a Borknagar album, I am going through an enriching learning process…
Wow, that's so cool. What can I say? It is about learning and experiencing things. That's why we have to do this music, which is kind of complicated. Well, it is my favourite music. When I listen to my favourite bands like, for example Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree, I just want to capture a little bit more than easy listening or pop music. I want music to open your mind or stimulate people to reflect, to challenge the listener a bit. That's the music I like to listen to myself. I love music. Like Nile, I listened to it two or three times and I just conclude: this is brilliant. I am still going crazy on things I discover. I have to listen to it several times too, but it is worth spending your time, now I think it is genius! It really grows upon me. This is the real thing for me. It is not about general value or something, but somehow it lasts longer and it stands the test of time. You can listen to it in ten years or longer again.

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Indeed, it goes deeper, also lyric-wise, for instance the title 'Urd'. I think you have a proper explanation for that. Can you tell a bit more about 'Urd'?
Oh yeah, I can tell a lot (laughs).

Aye, go ahead…
For us it is always complicated to sum up the album, music-wise or lyric-wise. We spent a lot of time on choosing the title, because it sums up the whole album. It is just a kind of feeling. The reason why we called it 'Urd' from the beginning is that we should do something really Norwegian, getting back to the olds and all that Norwegian stuff. We go back to the tree of life in mythology and on this tree there are three Norns, representing the lifeline of mankind. You have one for the past, one for the present and one for the future. This combined together is the lifeline of mankind. 'Urd' is the one of the past. It is interesting for several reasons. This album in certain ways represents the past, 'Urd'. Borknagar is kind of progressive in many ways at and that stuff, but for us, as a band, doing all that stuff I think it is very important to keep your connection with the past, what made us what we are, while still progressing. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and see if the ardour is still there, you know. Or do we float around into oblivion. Progressing on the past and to our musical heritage is what it comes down on. There are important values we have to keep. That's basically what this is all about. As I said before, this lifeline is kind of interesting when it comes down to the topic of this album, because I have read a lot about ecology movements and philosophic topics around that subject. The Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss is quite interesting to read about that subject. He is quite famous in Norway. I was inspired by his theories of looking at nature. While looking into the mind of great philosophers always includes looking at the skies, at the universe, looking to the stars and the galaxies, looking out from the planet, you know. Where do we come from?… all that stuff. What I wanted to do with this album is going back to the earth and dig into this earth basically. What is our place in this world? Where do we come from? It was kind of interesting to do some research on those topics, for example about the ground we are walking upon. It is a kind of retrospective way of looking back to developing systems of men, so to speak. Also this lifeline, which is Norse, is almost a sweet, nice way of analogy of humbling the DNA molecule mankind has. What is fascinating me is that DNA molecules of mankind seem to have bits and pieces from the beginning of time. People have actually bits and pieces in their bodies that come from the very beginning of everything. If you start thinking about that, it is kind of “wow”! It is not only about biology or evolution theories. There is even some poetry about that. There is something huge about that, about the whole thing. The lyrics all have different perspectives on that. As we always do basically, but on different perspectives this time. I truly love reading about these things. In the end you have more questions than answers, to speak frankly. We do not pretend to have any answers either, but the matter is interesting enough for some thoughts and introspection. It is a complicated topic, I can talk for hours about it. It is anyway basically about it.

Very fascinating! I think it comes down on one thing I have read a long time ago: people are made up from stardust, which actually goes beyond reason. We come out of an earthly mother, what's the stardust?
Yes, I have been reading a lot about this kind of literature. Yes, we are made of stardust and probably go back to stardust at one point. Automatically so it seems. We have no control over it. It is crazy thinking about that stuff, I have read a lot of books about that. In the end we are all part of the whole cosmos, which goes beyond our comprehension. (recalls some books that I do not know but should check out – Vera) There is also something poetic about it all. If you start thinking about this, it is epic. I do not want to go into documentaries about that matter, but I want to show that segment of nature in this record. There is some greatness in it, almost like the artistic side of nature, because it is so brutal and at the same time it is so beautiful. That's the point, there is nothing beautiful, there is nothing brutal, for nature it just IS. This duality is none made construction. You can go on discussing this.

I think there is stuff for many records if you start discussing this…
Oh yeah! I just started.

That's fine, because it probably leaves the door open to something we will probably never know. A kind of unknown mystery of our being…
The more we know the more questions we get. We really do not know. Of course it is a kind of mystery. That is the devour excitement, even for me, I think. I have been around for a while, but obviously there might be an explanation in the future for some things, but for now we really do not know. At this point, now, we really do not know about things. It is timeless, it is not a fashion thing, I only want to say that mankind has to deal with forever, it will always be there (the universe – Vera). The mystery of things and how things go will always be there. We always want to portrait this in a poetic way, more than a documentary on TV. That's fair enough, but I just want to project the beauty and mystery of nature through my music.

I think it was the first time you engaged Jens Bogren to do the mix. Was there a reason for that?
Yes, there was. With 'Universal' we had a number of great songs, I am really proud on it, but I felt I had to compromise on that a bit too much. We did not really manage to make a perfect mix. The production was not top notch I think. We really wanted to improve the sound this time and make it more perfect. A step further. We got the chance to do the mix at Fascination Street Studios with Jens Bogren, on behalf of Century Media of course, and it was like: “wow, cool”. It is so brilliant! Jens is so great! I have been working with a lot of people, but Jens really is a genius. So he did a great production, BUT he also understood the music. That was a revelation for me, he knew how to process the music. That's brilliant.

But you did more on the production yourself this time, isn't it?
Oh yeah, we did everything ourselves. We recorded the drums and guitars ourselves, everything… Guitars for example are done in my home studio where I am sitting right now. At this point we are not only musicians, but also producers. We can do this ourselves. And this gives a good feeling, because I always like not being relying on an engineer, hoping he gets the feeling. This is music from the doorstep to the fans. For me that is a good feeling, because the fans will get a true feeling, hopefully. This is the real thing, I want to bring this over. Honesty is important. We can hire a million dollar producer to set things right, but that's not what we are looking for. I want to have that tight feeling between the listener and the journalist, our music getting straight to these. The gap between us, as musicians, and fans and journalists gets much tighter in this way.

I think it makes sense, because how do you explain your music to an outsider?
(laughs) Some people ask me what kind of music I play. This is pretty hard for me to answer. Wow! I cannot say. Great music cannot be explained by words, you just have to listen to it. There are feelings in the music you cannot put any words on. I understand the label is putting styles on our music, but for me, I just cannot. Is it rock? No. Pop? No. I want to be a band you cannot place it in one musical term. Because that's the kind of music that really matters, like Porcupine Tree. What kind of music is that really? Of course people expect some kind of music from us, like blah blah blah, but we are way beyond that thing. I do not have any expectations, we can do whatever we want. I want to be more than a black metal band. Neither I have I wanted to be a progressive band. I just want to be a BAND!

The previous record came out at Indie Recordings, now you are back at Century Media. What happened?
Things did not work out, to be honest. They are good guys, but we have been such a long time at Century Media and they have much more to offer in promotion and a proper distribution. We actually got a lot of feedback from our fans that they could not get hold of or buy 'Universal'. So it was not really working that way with Indie Recordings. It does not fit our band. It may be a good label for other bands, but not for us. We had some talks and just cancelled the deal. Then we talked with Century Media again and they were really happy to sign us again. We can do something together, I am glad to be back at CM, it is our home. I have been working with them for fifteen years. They know how to deal with us and we know how to deal with Century Media. It is great to be back home. It is just great!

Now that the band has any live experiences… was there already that huge concert you want to select for a live DVD or does it still has to come in future?
(laughs) I am not sure. I do not like live DVD's myself, to be honest, that's probably the reason why we do not do it. We should do that, I know, but I am just not a big fan of live DVD's myself. If people want to buy it, it must be a high quality product. We do not want to release just a common show.

I see that there are two shows booked and at the Inferno festival will be the first show with new drummer Baard Kolstad…
That's right. He is around thirty, a bit younger than us. He goes to a drum academy and is really skilled. He even performs on National TV and stuff like that.

There will be two songs extra on the special edition and one of them will be a Metallica cover. Why Metallica?
Why not? (laughs) The thing was actually that Metal Hammer in Germany wanted to do a tribute CD with all kinds of bands for the anniversary of the black album from Metallica.

Oh yes, I remember… I have it!
They asked us and it did not take so much time to do and record another song. It is a quite easy song and it turned out pretty good I think. I am not a big fan of that record, but 'My Friend Of Misery' is a nice track. One of the better tracks. It is actually the first time ever in my life that I have played something that I have not written myself.

Do you still have plans with Cronian?
Yes, of course. We are working on another album. I do not know when it will be released, but we have three or four songs now. We are working on a few more nowadays. Hopefully late this year or maybe early next year there will be a new record out.

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