The album kicks off strong with Rhymes of the Mountain, and immediately ICS Vortex sounds smoother than ever while fusing seamlessly with Vintersorg's growls. It helps that the production is smooth yet organic, without the squashed, overly slick sound that plagues too many modern metal albums. (Contrast the production on the last two Blind Guardian albums for a good example of what I mean.)
The musicianship is still top notch if nothing new or unexpected for Borknagar The acoustic passages on tracks like Noctilucent and Terminus give the band room to explore their folk influences, while the choruses, which are notably catchier than on Urd, sound like the band has been taking some influence from Amorphis' recent work. Panorama and the title track are both likely to become instant earworms.
Despite mixing progressive elements with blackened folk metal, Bornagar's music has never felt like some strange hybrid genre experiment. Everything fits together like it's supposed to on Winter Thrice. This is especially noticeable on album closer, Terminus, where the growled vocals take on a distinct melodeath influence. It almost makes me wonder whether the shared name with a Dark Tranquillity song is intentional.
While Winter Thrice brings little new to the table, it's an effective mix of what worked in the past with a slightly more polished delivery. Any fans of the direction Borkanagar took on Urd won't be disappointed with their latest release. Aside from a few fence-sitters won over by the catchier, more refined aesthetic, I can't see this album changing any minds about Borknagar.
Final Score: 4/5