Borknagar, being one of Europe's most fruitful and creative acts, has always faced one serious hurdle in the confines of metal criticism: definition. Viking metal supergroup? Mid-paced black metal geniuses? How about revolving-door avant-garde extreme metal? Well, now they have gone and done it again, except that this time they have laid all definition to ruin. So people, give it a rest, Borknagar is, well, exactly what the name implies. Quintessence will most likely get lost in the shuffle of "albums not wanted to be understood," due to its strange buried production and sluggish off-kilter pacing. Admittedly nothing seems to happen on this album and nothing strikingly sticks out, as opposed to past releases. Upon repeated listens, though, the listener suddenly understands Borknagar's ingenious and beautiful joke. Go ahead, listen to "Ruins of the Future" one more time; now is the brilliance last heard on "A Tale of Pagan Tongue" evident? How about the unrelenting psychedelic synth textures oozing under each composition -- bringing to mind Diabolical Masquerade's Nightwork. In fact, everything seems to be subdued and buried on this release, a cruel trick, considering Tagtgren's usual Abyss Studio reputation, making it uneasy and demanding on the listener. I.C.S. Vortex shows why he is the most versatile vocalist in Norway, attaining new heights on "The Presence Is Ominous," "Colossus," and "Revolt." Arguably, the dimensions explored in the closing trilogy of Quintessence may be Borknagar's Holy Grail. Here, aggression, melody, electronics, epic vocals, and several other strange elements mesh to form an unbreakable bond of musical brilliance. There is still too much left unsaid, but that is for the listeners to discover for themselves.
AllMusic Review by Jason Hundey