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And now for something completely different. Perhaps sensing that their career as an important, consistent but nevertheless underappreciated black metal band (secondary to Emperor, Darkthrone, and a few others) was in need of a major shake-up, Borknagar came up with the radical notion of making their seventh album, Origin, a predominantly mellow collection of acoustic songs, steeped in both folk and classical music. And, heck, why not? Some of the most extreme black metal artists (Norway's Dimmu Borgir and Windir, Sweden's Bathory, Finland's Amorphis and Finntroll, etc.) have integrated both orchestral and Scandinavian folk traditions into their music over the years, so it really shouldn't surprise anyone that the gentle sounds displayed on Origin appear to come so naturally to Borknagar, as well. So it is that, along with the band's core members -- who bravely bare their instrumental talents to scrutiny and acquit themselves impressively without the shielding cloak of electric amplification -- several guest musicians are brought in to contribute orchestral strings and native-sounding woodwinds to all nine songs. These are topped with seriously philosophical and certainly pagan-inspired lyrics discussing life, the universe and everything, and result in frequent highlights throughout elaborate but supple offerings like "Earth Imagery," "Grains," "The Sprit of Nature," and a totally reinvented version of old song "Oceans Rise." On stark interludes like "Signs" and "Cynosure," sweet, delicate flutes provide a distinctive sense of lonely melancholy; while on the frugally named "White," the tables are turned and its dense and dramatic sweeps of orchestration are being used to successfully translate black metal's structural complexity and emotional unease to these lighter environs. Even so, one is tempted to wager that most listeners who stumble upon this album without knowledge of Borknagar's prior history might well be fooled into thinking that it represents their everyday musical pastures, not a total departure. And that, more so than speculating on its merits as compared to other mostly acoustic albums, is probably the biggest validation of its overall quality.

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