K17, Berlin - 2016

Text: Tobias Nilsson Photo: Lunah Lauridsen

It’s been almost two years since we last met up with the nature-loving black metal band Borknagar from Norway. At that time, it was in the picturesque setting of the Slovenian Alps, at the Metaldays festival, and out of that meeting there came, among other things, a fun and different sort of review for us, where we were allowed a closer look into the going on’s of a band, not just during their concert, but also what happens leading up to it.

When we learned that Borknagar would stop by as close as Berlin (yeah, apparently Denmark didn’t bother to book them…) on their tour in support of their highly acclaimed tenth full-length album, Winter Thrice, we immediately contacted them, in hope of reprising the success. Thankfully, they were into the idea as well, and thus began another adventure.

For the nature lover, a concrete backyard parking lot in East Berlin might not seem as picturesque as mountains, valleys, and rivers, but it was nonetheless there that we met up with Jens F. Ryland, who welcomed us, and showed us inside K17.
Inside, the concert hall was bustling with activity, as Baard Kolstad, various members of the support bands, as well as soundwiz Rob Sherred and the crew guy who shall not be named, were all working hard to set up the stage, together with the local German crew of two (as far as I could tell). In the middle of the floor, the drum-rig was being built, and around it were a large number of guitar cases, drum boxes (is that what they’re called?), and bags filled with cables, effect pedals, and various other thingamajigs, strewn about. A semi-controlled chaos, to say the least!

Not wanting to get in anyone’s way, we turned to the opposite hall for a bit, where a similar chaos was unfolding, as all of the merchandise boxes were being opened, checked off, and things were stapled to cardboards for display. K17 apparently had their own merchandise stand as well, with a large selection of CD’s and LP’s that would later be for sale to the coming audience of the night.
Here we met with a very relaxed Øystein G. Brun, and exchanged a few pleasantries as well as a belated birthday greeting. The day before, at the gig in Oberhausen, he had celebrated his 41st birthday, and a fan had brought him and the band a five kg. heavy birthday cake in the shape of a guitar, a gift the band still happily discussed.
Simen ‘ICS Vortex’ Hestnæs was taking it easy, as he had hurt his leg, taking a tumble in the tourbus earlier on in their travels, but was still eager to lend a hand when a trip to the nearest music store was needed, for further cable purchases. Greeting the rest of the band would have to wait, as live vocalist Pål ‘Athera’ Mathiesen had gotten himself lost in another part of the city, and Lars ‘Lazare’ Nedland wouldn’t be joining them until later in the evening. Personal business had prevented him from taking part in the beginning of the tour, and this was the first night he would be playing.
We did however get to meet Sara Sostini of Savage Artworks, the girl who had won the tour-shirt design contest Borknagar had held prior to the tour. Together with a friend, she had come up from Italy exclusively for this show, just like we had come down from Denmark. Nice people all around, as you can imagine.

Not stepping on toes, while still working on getting some good shots of the process proved easier than anticipated. Borknagar isn’t a band of a million and one crew members - I believe there were only three in fact. The sound tech, the gear tech, and the merch seller.
Still, with the combined effort of the band members, the stage was soon set for soundchecking. Athera had now shown up, but there was still no one around with keyboard skills, so in the end the gear guy had to step in and play a few notes, just to check that everything was in working condition.
Even though the time of opening K17 to the audience was running nearer, there was still a rather relaxed and cosy atmosphere, and people were still having fun, and pulling the occasional prank on each other.
On top of all this, Lunah also got to do a fun guitar shoot with Brun and Ryland, which got cut a bit short, as the doors had now opened, and people were beginning to file in. It was a mixed crowd, some clearly fans of one or more bands playing tonight, and some merely visiting K17 for the last time. Yes, Borknagar was to be the last band ever to play this venue, as it was shutting down the day after. Quite a nice way to go, if you ask me!

But I’ve rambled on for long enough now, don’t you think? So, without further ado, let’s skip ahead to the concert, shall we? You’ll have to imagine the concerts by Diabolical and Kampfar, or read them elsewhere at this site, for this is all about Borknagar, the main event of the evening, and the very reason we came here in the first place!

“Hello Berlin! We were here two years ago on tour, how many of you were there? (a few, spread, shouts) Cool, a lot of new people!”
- Pål ‘Athera’ Mathiesen (vocals)

K17 was a bit more than half filled, according to ticket sales. Up front and centre, where I was standing, it was pleasantly packed, so I guess it must have thinned out a bit further back, but I really didn’t take any notice of that. The band was walking on, and were well greeted from what I could hear. Because of his leg, ICS Vortex was placed on a barstool for the show, and Lazare looked a bit tired, surely from the trip, but other than that, the band looked fired up and ready to go.
The Rhymes Of The Mountain, opening track of the Winter Thrice album, opened up the concert, and straight from the start, the front and I were headbanging and singing along. The Rhymes Of The Mountain is a great track for singing along, as well as one displaying the greatness of having the vocal capabilities of ICS Vortex, Lazare, and Andreas ‘Vintersorg’ Hedlund in the same band. Vintersorg wasn’t here this evening though, and even though Athera surely is a skilled singer in his own right, he doesn’t have quite the same flavour as Vintersorg does. To some, this may be a bonus, but for me, I missed good old Mr. V. It should be pointed out perhaps, that he was the very reason I got into the band in the first place.

Vocal differences aside, it felt as though Athera may not have had as much time preparing for this tour, as he had had the last time we saw him with the band. He kept a lyrics folder with him at all times, and this sadly affected his performance. At Metaldays, I commented on him doing a very good job fronting the band, but here he spent too much time keeping track of the lyrics instead of grabbing the attention of the crowd. Hopefully, this will improve through the rest of the tour. This was, after all, only the third date.
It also seemed like the setlist was built on the fact that Vintersorg wasn’t with the band, and my assumed point that Athera hadn’t had much time rehearsing. What I mean is, that it seemed to weigh in heavily on the ICS Vortex fronted songs, and while I don’t mind hearing him sing one bit, I was wondering why, if my assumptions were correct, the setlist didn’t include a single song fronted by Lazare? Possibly because he had missed the beginning of the tour, but I wouldn’t have mind hearing Fleshflower, my favourite track from the Universal album.
For anyone who’s listened to Winter Thrice, they’ll know that original vocalist Kristoffer ‘Garm’ Rygg of Ulver fame, also played a strong guest part of the already amazing vocal landscape on the album. Of course, Garm wasn’t on the tour either, so when playing the song Winter Thrice, Lazare, ICS Vortex, and Athera took turns on his vocals. The much older Dauden saw Athera picking up the grim vocals, and ICS Vortex handling the clean ones. Surprisingly, this was a split they also did on Oceans Rise and Ad Noctum, both songs from the The Archaic Course album, which had ICS Vortex sporting all vocals. Maybe he isn’t comfortable doing grim vocals anymore? It’s anyone’s guess.

I won’t comment on the sound of the show. I know Sherred can rock the mix, but honestly, front row and centre has never been, nor is it likely ever to become, the golden spot if you’re interested in good sound.
There are other factors that weigh in on the positive scale however, like the very immediate and undiluted contact with the band.
As I’ve already mentioned, the band looked like they were enjoying themselves. Even though Lazare had a tired look in his eyes, he didn’t seem to let it affect his performance. During The Eye Of Oden, he went centre stage, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Athera while chanting the non-lyrical vocal parts, and later, at the beginning of The Dawn Of The End, he pretended to be the drummer of the band!
Brun, Ryland, and Kolstad may not have been front-seat travellers in this show, but they delivered a vital and strong backing performance, and Brun was often seen with his foot on the monitor, where it belongs. ICS Vortex on the other hand, didn’t let the fact that he was bound to a barstool hinder him from having fun. He sat there, looking like a wicked heavy metal lounge singer, and when he could he also took a twirl on the stool. Others had best beware, lest they’d be knocked over!
If anything, I could have wished for a little more communication with the crowd, which could have helped on the set not feeling so short. Not rushed, mind you, but for my sake, they could have continued on for a bit more.

“You guys having fun? I can’t imagine a better place to be than here with you on a Friday night!”
- Athera (vocals)

Now, up where I stood, it clearly felt like the Berlin crowd was having a blast. Both behind me and to my sides, people were either headbanging or singing along, or both, although that gave a funny sort of sound. I admit, I didn’t too much time during this gig keeping an eye on what was going on behind me, but I think it was mostly the front rows of the crowd that took an active, physical part in the spectacle, while the rest were content in showing their appreciation by shouting a bit between songs.
It doesn’t matter however. I was in full-blown fanboy mode, and I’m not ashamed to admit it!
Crowd singing only intensified, as Athera let his mic reach out over the audience for a “hey” chant during Ruins Of The Future. Again, it’s hard for me to relate precisely on the behaviour of the audience as a whole, but I had a heap of fun! And that the show was a success was a given, as a man close to me asked afterwards what band this was (he was apparently one of those who had come to say farewell to K17), and that he was sure to check them out as soon as he got home.

After the gig, Kolstad took position in the merch stand, while the rest of the guys went into the backstage room to wind down. If someone wanted an autograph however, they were more than willing to comply.
The discussion touched slightly on the cake from the day before again, before everyone began trailing off into their own conversations, while emptying the fridge of beers.
One hell of a night had come to an end, and even though the surroundings were better fitted at our last meeting, the heart and soul of the matter, which was the show itself, had been a blast from beginning to end here in Berlin as well! Who knows, maybe we’ll get to do this again one day? Until then, I’ll fondly remember these two great opportunities that the band so willingly had agreed to give us, and I’m happy for the new acquaintances we made.


The Rhymes Of The Mountain
Oceans Rise
Cold Runs The River
Ad Noctum
The Eye Of Oden
Icon Dreams
Ruins Of The Future
The Dawn Of The End
Winter Thrice
Tanker Mot Tind (Gryning)

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