Borknagar return to Finland: Waited for a Thousand Years to Come

Borknagar, Shade Empire & Atena – Nosturi, Helsinki – November 29, 2014

Arriving at Nosturi some twenty minutes before the beginning of the show, the room was cold and quite empty. Coming from France, that’s quite a cultural difference which never ceases to amaze me, since people usually start queuing some hours before doors open there.

Still, Atena would have deserved a warmer reception given the performance they offered. The bassist and guitar player entered the stage with long strides, the latter holding an instrument with an insane amount of strings (I counted eight of them). Always moving in exaggerated motions, it felt like they were inhabited by some kind of malicious spirit during the whole show.

The combo presented syncopated music, with fast and blasted parts accompanied by furious screams, but also offered more contemplative moments, where the instruments gave room to samples on tape. This was usually the time for some rest for the musicians, but also for some weird things like kneeling and turning their backs to the audience, feinting prayers (or were they real?)  In summation, I’d say that this performance was weird: the aggressive parts were convincing, but the calm ones a bit too lengthy and esoteric; however, it was quite enjoyable, and consistent with what one can expect from an opening act.

Kuopio’s Shade Empire, who seemed quite highly anticipated based on the fervor in front of the stage, didn’t spend much time on meditative interludes; instead the audience was offered an onslaught of blasting industrial black metal, including many old rarities. However, if you didn’t know the songs, and no thanks to the atrocious acoustics, it felt like all the instruments were blended, and none stood out of the mix. Worse yet, many of the samples seemed out of place, and not coherent with the rest of the music. Nevertheless, from time to time you could feel something – a riff, a rhythm maybe – that made you bang you head, and the audience cheered at every song announcement, so it’s safe to say that Shade Empire reached their goal this night.

I must confess: I wasn’t highly familiar with Borknagar before this show. Intrigued by some listening sessions and by the presence of Vortex in the formation, I came with no real expectations. The gig didn’t start all that well, because the sound was quite muddled and the keyboards resonated in an odd way, as if too high-pitched. Still, Pål Mathiesen, live singer of the band for the last two years, delivered Vintersorg’s inherently catchy vocals pretty well, and as the sound improved, the magic revealed itself. I imagine this has much to do with Vortex, who illuminated this night with his unmistakable vocal lines and his perfect pick-less technique on bass. This, and the atmosphere specific to Borknagar songs, created a very emotional show which was to end far too soon.

“Yeah, he’s not that good… and we apologize for this!” – Vortex, jesting about drummer Baard Kolstad

After a short and satisfying drum solo, Vortex, in a joking mood, assumed the role of the frontman as Pål took a rest (and a beer) on the balcony, posting on Facebook a pic of his own band performing on stage. The charismatic bassist explained how happy he was to play in Helsinki again, not forgetting to thank the fans for coming to the show. Singing alone “Frostrite” and “Universal,” he let burst all his class and talent before being joined once again by Pål for the encore. The harmony between the two of them was tangible, and this duality in the vocals is certainly one of the main assets of the band.

Finishing the show with a colossal “Colossus,” they left the audience dazed but more than willing to welcome them back when the time finally comes again.

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Photography by Lady Enslain.  More photos of Borknagar and Shade Empire.

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