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Behind the Cover: Borknagar — Fall

A conversation with the Norwegian band's mastermind, Øystein Brun, and artist extraordinaire Eliran Kantor about the nostalgia, heart, and culminating growth to be found on their grandiose collaboration.

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Words by Luis (@HeaviestOfArt):

On February 23rd, Borknagar ushered in what could arguably be considered their most expansive musical escapade to date, Fall, via Century Media Records, continuing an anthology of folk laden black metal celebrated for its ability to transport listeners to ethereal environments. Signature to their craft, Fall capitalizes on its use of melody and aims high in terms of scope, resulting in one introspective listen that is best felt in complete solace from beginning to end. Guitarist Øystein Brun, who penned its creation, came together with the acclaimed Eliran Kantor to bring its power to the canvas, a canvas that completes an audiovisual experience described as serene and majestic.

To fully grasp the heart at the core of Fall, we brought Øystein and Eliran together for an insightful Behind the Cover discussion that details creative direction, songwriting intimacy, nostalgia, and more:


Øystein, when Borknagar began its trajectory, the physicality of a record was very important — the vinyl, the artwork, the liner notes, etc. For "Fall", you've enlisted Eliran Kantor for cover artwork and he put together an environmental piece that gravitates towards a wander eye, which is fitting for the album's immersive elements. What informed your collaboration and guided your creative direction when developing a visual identity for "Fall"?

Øystein: It was kind of an interesting story, at least from my perspective. We had a slightly different idea initially where I was leaning more towards doing the same kind of thing that we did for "True North" (2019), which uses a photo from a friend of mine (Thor Erik Dullum) that is a nature photographer.

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Cover Photograph by Thor Erik Dullum

Coincidentally, some of the guys at Century Media called me about a music event going in Berlin where there was a lot happening, and Eliran happened to be there. Music wise in Europe nowadays, it seems like everyone is talking about Eliran. He told our team that he was a big fan our band and really wanted to do something with us at some point in time. It was about one month before deadline or something like that and we were a bit short on time, so we reached out and started mapping out the possibilities. We had a nice long talk about music of course, a variety of ideas, but even more so just personal stuff like being fathers.

When it comes to the actual artwork, I mentioned wanting something that shows and portrays the untamed wild forces of nature in essence, you know? I didn't want anything brutal or whatever you want to call it, but a wild, untamed side of nature. The second thing I told him was that I didn't want to have any bodies, heads, faces, or anything resembling the human anatomy, but I wanted to have something that gives associations to human presence at some point. I then of course sent him the lyrics and I sent him the working title, which was actually not "Fall" at that time. I sent him my demos, some proper demos that I completed at my studio here. That's all. We didn't talk for a month and a week before the deadline, and then I got this cover and was like, "Wow, how cool is that?"

Eliran captured the emotions and the whole concept referenced in the lyrics and music so well. He also struck a very personal string with me because when I was younger, my family had an old farm on the countryside up in the mountains. I remember when I was little, especially during the summer time, my father would do maintenance on a building because it was from the 15th century, so about 500 years old or something at this point. Close by, there was this huge waterfall that I remember so vividly. Being a small and energetic kid, safety wasn't part of the discussion back then. I would walk down there by myself, which can be deadly if you get too close. I remember standing there, watching this waterfall from the same angle and truly feeling the power of nature, just being encapsulated by the sound of the water crashing into the rocks. I ended up drenched of course, but it was a special feeling of meeting nature in a sense. When I got this cover, I immediately felt it was on target on more than just a musical or lyrical level, but a personal level for me.

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"Fall" (2024) Cover Painting by Eliran Kantor

At that point, we had a couple of different working titles for the album, but once we got this cover, I just knew it had to be "Fall". It was all a very satisfying experience.

I'm glad you mention the emotional attachment and how the art ties to feelings of nostalgia, which is the perfect segue into my following point. There's an element of detachment that happens when you release a record. When you're writing it, you're investing a lot of your own personal creative ambitions, emotions, and so forth, and upon releasing it, it becomes something else entirely. It becomes subject to interpretation. Is there a feeling of detachment that you feel when seeing this dynamic happen?

Øystein: It's something very unique to being in this position of releasing music. Nowadays, we're able and privileged to work with Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios, which is probably too expensive for a lot of bands. On the other hand, Eliran Kantor is quite the famous artist and he places a lot of time and attention to his work. There's something extremely beautiful about being able to work with people that are genuine masters of their craft for whatever help that is needed for the band, whether that be the band photos or the cover or the mix. These things mean a lot for us as musicians because you can confidently depend on others to do things that you can't do yourself. Back in the day when I started the band as a project more or less, I did everything from the business to the artistic side of things all by myself. I was even writing the inlays with my own handwriting, especially because we operated on the thought that everything should be handmade. which was a core concept back then. Being in a situation where you're able to work with people that can successfully follow up on your musical or visual wishes is, in my opinion, magic. I'm not a religious person, but if there is anything religious in his world, it's the kind of chemistry and creative force that can occur in this these dialogues.

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Photograph by Jørn Veberg

When I started to write music for this album, it felt very intimate, very personal. I had about four songs floating around and then a couple of riffs and some brief ideas. When I write music, I have to sit here by myself, alone in my bubble, in my studio with nothing else in this world. I don't care about the record company or whatever they need from me at that moment. I close the door to everything. I isolate myself because a lot goes into this on a very personal level as you said, so when I do come around to sharing the material, it's a matter of trust, trusting people that are actually able to deal with this in a proper and respectful way. I have to be vulnerable at that moment. For this album cycle, according to my ears and eyes, everything worked out perfectly.

That level of connection yields powerful results, and you of course had to be vulnerable to allow that to happen. Eliran, Øystein notes a strong nostalgic feeling upon first seeing the cover, bringing him back to moments in his childhood and his experiences. For you as an artist (and big fan of the band), what does it mean to have provoked this kind of reaction with your interpretation of his prompt?

Eliran: You put forward something that is meaningful to you, and sharing that feeling is just so special. That's the magic part of collaborating with other human beings: we are a result of quite a journey, we each carry our own DNA, our own upbringing, our own life experiences etc. - making a connection over something you are excited about is a beautiful thing.

I couldn't agree more. Expanding on our previous point a bit further, where did you look to take the creative direction of the illustration upon having heard the record, read the lyrics, and of course discussed with Øystein? It's direct and symbolic, presenting the perfect canvass for the atmospheric listening experience embodied within it.

Eliran: Thank you. The inspiration came from my talk on the phone with Øystein, where he explained to me why he wants to have a nature picture on the cover. Then, I was thinking about their past albums to make sure whatever I do won't repeat what they've already done: a mountain, a tree, a cabin in the snow, etc. I was taking a walk one day and thinking about our talk, about the power and grandeur of nature, and then I remembered the deafening sound and impact of a big waterfall. I actually have no recollection of when and where I witnessed a waterfall for the first time, must have been when I was young, but I remember the sound.

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"self-titled" (1996) Cover Photograph by Johan Brun

The rest is history. There's surely a sense of pressure (or excitement) when painting for a band that resonated so strongly with you. When you look back at when this work began for you, what do you take in reflection as you continue to play such a significant role in the contemporary metal scene?

Eliran: Thank you. Borknagar is one of "my" bands, the ones that you talk to all your friends about so they will also get into them. The people at Century Media are the same, by the way. We all have this mission to give the band the best of us, so the pressure is almost self-imposed. I take what I do VERY seriously. I always say that a big chunk of my job is walking around in circles around the house, thinking "mmmm, no that idea is not good enough either" until I see in my head something I feel is meaningful to me, and hopefully will be to the band and fans as well.

I am in a very lucky position where all the bands I take in are bands that I truly recommend everyone to check out, and it's an honor to be able to contribute. I love music, metal, songs and albums, and being a part of it is living the dream for sure.

The bands you work with share that honor, as one could see from the variety of projects you've worked on, and continue to work on. Thank you for your insight, Eliran. Øystein, you're now at a point in your career, 12 albums in, where you can do that, where you can outsource and be selective about who and what you work with to please your creative ambitions. When you look back at everything you've done over the years and now see "Fall" fully release, is there a sense of realization that you get when you look back at how this all started with the "self-titled" debut (1996)? Perhaps something new that you realize about yourself as a person and musician?

Øystein: There are a lot of things. We're human. We're complex beings. One thing that has always been very important to me is the honesty in music, which to me means that my music should grow with me or I should grow with the music. I've always been very focused on this idea and I'm always clinging on to it, almost as much as the childish passion I have for making music. There's excitement with writing a new riff or a new song or whatever. I just love to create stuff. One thing I can say is that I've never compromised on my music despite some decisions back in the day that haven't been the best decisions, commercially speaking. I've always had a strong engagement in my music because I don't want to burn myself out. I don't want to ever force things. I don't want to ever write music if I don't have to. These are some of the virtues I've been clinging onto my whole career.

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"Moon" Single Artwork by Costin Chioreanu

12 albums in, I can say I've been through all the ups and downs, all the big and small myths about the industry, and the pandemics. There's not as many years left in this for me and I'm not really sure to be quite honest If I really I'm able to grasp the magnitude of everything we've done. I'm certainly much more humble at this point in my career. I feel much more privileged, even though my wife tells me otherwise at times because I worked so hard for this. It's not a privilege, it's something we've worked so hard for. It's not a common thing to be able to travel around the world, meet all the people I do, and enjoy food and beer all over the place. It's quite absurd in one way but also very awesome. It's absurd because when I set out to do this, I wasn't the kind of guy seeking any attention. I didn't want to be on a stage and I didn't want to entertain everybody. Instead, I'm rather shy. Through the years, I've learned to see the value of traveling around and playing music, and how powerful music is in distinct parts of the world. With the pandemics and catastrophes and wars in Europe and whatnot, I feel that the significance of music is more urgent. Music is universal, which is something I've learned to appreciate.

All this to say that it's really hard to sit down and reflect. Maybe in 10 years or so, I can sit down and truly reflect over every facet of my life but right now, I'm in the loop and it feels awesome. It's extremely satisfying to be able to make music the way we do so far into our careers.

Most definitely, because above all else, you've remained true to your artistic integrity despite constant shifts in the commercialization of music, as we're seeing now in the contemporary push for shorter, more consumable songs that do well on social media trends. You do the opposite. You write epics, songs that continuously unfold with with each passing listen. You're intentional about melody and meticulously craft a comprehensive experience that builds from one track to the next.

Øystein: I always use the analogy that life is something of an adventure where you start at one point and you end up at another point with so much happening in between. I apply the same idea to my music in the sense that I start at one point and then I set out to carry something in particular - an agenda of sorts. As I said before, I've always tried to cling on to this childish pleasure of creating music and I don't want to risk not having the freedom to do so by my own means. For many, many years, I've been reluctant to change my approach to songwriting because I don't want to find myself in a situation where I have to do something else in order to have food on the table. Musical autonomy has been such an important thing for me.

I listen to Spotify and all that to check out what's going on these days, but I don't know, I'm too old now to pinpoint any direct inspiration because I found my thing. I have my Bible, I do my shit, and when I write music, I don't bother about anything except what happens when I sit down with my guitar. Songwriting is a very intimate process and whatever trend that is happening out there doesn't change it for me. People have asked us many times to try and do something different with our covers, with our marketing, but no, it's not happening. I'm not using corpse paint, I'm not doing shit different. I'm not that kind of guy and I actually made that corpse paint decision very early on because I don't need to pretend or act like I'm something I'm not. The honesty and intimacy in music has always been very important to me. I honestly find releasing an album today as exciting, refreshing, cool, inspiring, and all those things as I did when I was 19 years old doing our first album, maybe even more. Maybe because I'm older, I'm more relaxed towards life and I don't stress about the small things. I see the big picture a little bit better. I know myself better and I know my skills better. I know what I can do and what I can't do and then I try to challenge myself a little bit. I feel that I'm on a much safer ground as musician these days as I did when I was 21 years old or whatever.

The maturity and experience is certainly reflected in the composition too because as you mention, the wealth of influence happens subconsciously and you're able to explore freely. It's fitting to a central theme of the record, that being a concentration on your surroundings, a fascination and appreciation for the outskirts of life. With "Fall" being a byproduct of your ever growing trajectory, what do you take from seeing how the album is connecting with people on a global scale, from seeing how the artwork is completing the experience for many? You're as enthusiastic as you've always been, indicating we have another twelve Borknagar albums to go.

Øystein: This is my life commitment, you know? I'm not sure I can guarantee that we'll be around on social media forever or selling a lot of records for a long time after this. There comes a point where you get too old for that stuff, but as long as I live, I think there will be a spark of creativity that will continue fueling my life. I've been married to my wife for almost as long as I've been with the band, almost 30 years now, and she knows me pretty well. When I have a bad day or I'm grumpy, she's like, "Listen, get yourself out in the studio and make some music because I want you happy." I find solace in music, which to me is so much more than simply entertainment. I think I'm more on the side of being a musical adventurer than an entertainer. I've had this maybe cheesy idea that I rather open the door to a musical world and invite people in to join this musical adventure rather than being in front of an audience, if you get my point. That's just my mental approach to this.

Life in general is a musical journey for me where I'm always looking to take a step further, lean forward. I'm trying to climb an even steeper mountain next time, I want to see new horizons. We as people are pushing boundaries every single day, trying to achieve greater things. We are always leaning forward and trying to do more, so I apply the same approach to Borknagar, I would be in a nightmare If i would be walking in circles as a musician. If at some point I start to repeat myself and do the same things over and over again, I would absolutely just quit. I don't make music for the sake of doing it. Give me enough money and a guitar and I can make a death metal album, no problem. Give me enough money and I can write a straightforward black metal album, but the point is that there won't be any heart in it. That is where "Fall" is different. "Fall" has heart, and I hope that is one of the central takeaways.


Fall is available now via Century Media (Listen).

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Cover Artwork by Eliran Kantor


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