Byelobog Productions, 2010
Genre: Black Metal
1. Leukes Renkespill (Introduksjon)
2. Belus' Død
3. Glemselens Elv
4. Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning
8. Belus' Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon)
It's been quite a long time since we've heard from Varg. The only original material being produced over the years has been two Ambient albums, which I am debating on whether to get to round out my Burzum collection or not. While in prison he gave us some delightful antics and interviews over the years. Now that Varg has, finally, been released from prison, he has immediately returned to music and writing a new Black Metal album. I was, honestly, quite skeptical if I should bother purchasing this. Burzum albums have always been on the rather pricey side and I wasn't convinced it was really worth the risk, but being assured it was Black Metal, I took the plunge and handed over my money. As with the Misanthropy releases it comes as a very beautiful digipak. There is a booklet containing lyrics and he sort of returns to the black and white approach, but this time it is a dark picture of a forest being used for the background... so its a little better than straight black.
So, without further ado, Varg returned to Grieghallen to record his latest material. Grieghallen has, naturally, gone through some upgrades since the early 90's. Pytten is certainly a better engineer and with modern equipment they captured the most crisp sounding Burzum album. While it may not have the dirty rawness of the early days, "Belus" is a surprisingly great album. Varg actually tries to stick to a more usual style of vocal rather than going after his old high pitched wail of the old days. His vocals fit very well in the music and they have a sort of dry rasp to them, similar in style to Satyr, I would say. If you look at "Filosofem" and look through the dates of when the songs were written "Jesus' Tod" was one of the last songs written before Varg went to jail. Much of the "Belus" album really picks up on the direction from where this song left off. It has that sort of dark chord structuring found on Thorns' "Trondertun Tape". So, naturally I really fell in love with this sound a lot. He sort of goes the Gorgoroth route with "Belus' Død" and only plays one riff for the duration as Gorgoroth has done from time to time. The riff, luckily is quite atmospheric and actually works pretty well letting the listener just bask in the atmosphere. It transitions into the epic "Glemselens Elv" perfectly and this is where the album really picks up its strength. I don't know how much Varg has paid attention to modern Black Metal during his prison years, but parts of "Keliohesten" have a very reminiscent Mgla feel to them, which is very awesome. Unfortunately, like his debut album there is a very out of place sounding song with "Sverddans". It's this album's version of "War" really. It has a gritty punkier feel to it and it really annihilates the atmospheric experience we were so enraptured with from the other songs. Based on the worthless intro piece I was a little worried about the concluding song being nearly nine minutes long. One of the stark differences on "Belus" is that there is no keyboard section. All of the atmosphere is driven by the guitar work, so I was worried with the final song and wondered if this was where the Ambient would finally show up. It doesn't! It's an instrumental track, sure, but it's actually a well done droning piece to close the album on.
In the end this is essentially the album I've been wanting Varg to release since I've heard Burzum. Aside from the track "Sverddans" this album is nearly perfect to me. Sure, I do miss the Ambient blended with Black Metal as before, but I think "Belus" presents a fine show with an album that feels a lot more well thought out than before. I think that's more what I'm getting at, this is the album I wanted to hear because it was all actual Black Metal and I don't have any extensive Ambient tracks that throw off the nature of the Black Metal. "Belus" is a strong return for Burzum, hopefully this will keep up in the future for Varg.
Note: I haven't decided if I'm going to continue on and pick-up the two all Ambient releases after this. I heard them many many years ago and I no longer remember what they sound like. But for the sake of filling in the discography gaps, I may pick them up and review them eventually.
Misanthropy Records, 1996
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
2. Jesus' Tod
3. Erblicket die Töchter des Firmaments
4. Gebrechlichkeit I
5. Rundgang um die transzendentale Sáule der Singularitát
6. Gebrechlickeit II
Just when it seemed Burzum couldn't possibly have any more material, here we have "Filosofem" being released in 1996. It's heralded as his best work by far and that's, essentially, correct. The material was actually recorded in March, 1993 and its taken three years for it to see the light of day. I can't even imagine what the landscape of Black Metal would have been like with this being released in 1993. This is the first digipak that comes with a very nice full booklet as well adding a lot more art to be viewed. The layout isn't all that great, but its a step up from the simple all black and white approach from the prior releases.
Despite this being recorded closely to "Hvis lyset tar oss" the recording quality is strikingly different. One could attribute this to the fact it claims to have been recorded in a different studio called Breidablik Tonstudio, but according to the 2010 re-edition this is not the case. Like all the other Burzum albums it was recorded in Greighallen. Production wise, this is probably the best with respect to recording quality. Writing wise its on par with "Hvis lyset tar oss". The vocal performance this time around was also very different. Rather than going after his usual high pitched wails, Varg has defaulted to using distortion on his voice and he just lightly growls through this. Luckily, Varg's music is overwhelmingly atmospheric so the use of vocals is quite sparse throughout the experience. The albums first parts are the real meat of the release and the real reason to be listening to this. The Black Metal sections are not too different from what we found on the prior album, and part of me wishes he had just released all of this kind of material together, rather than recording every four months or so. I feel like this approach yielded the effect that you have albums with throw away material, rather than working towards a very strong full-length. The material on here, for whatever, reminds me of something that paved the way for the future style of Lunar Aurora and Paysage d'Hiver. The song "Jesus' Tod" has some serious reminiscence to a more Thorns styled structure which is wonderful to hear. Unfortunately, once the Black Metal is over we are subjected to two instrumental tracks. The first is twenty-five minutes of Ambient... and not very good Ambient. This was the aspect that marred "Hvis lyset tar oss", but at least that was under fifteen minutes, this is just unreasonable to listen to for so long. Sitting through this has made "Hvis lyset tar oss" a better album alone... but wait, if you thought it was over "Gebrechlichkeit II" begins to play and more Ambient ensues. This time it is rife with strange noises under a somber piano line. Luckily this is only about eight minutes in length. We get a little hopeful as a guitar appears in the background and steadily gets a little louder, but then we realize this never really goes anywhere. The addition of the guitar into this Ambient tracks certainly saves it from being the overwhelming bore of the prior track, but at the end of the day its still just more Ambient. Furthermore, Ambient hasn't really been Varg's strong suit, so while I thought "Hvis lyset tar oss" had a poor ending, this is just so much worse. It's almost to the point where I've forgotten the Black Metal now...
In the end this may not be the best album because of the last two songs, but what we do have in the ways of Black Metal are very good. I think I do actually like "Hvis lyset tar oss" a bit more on an objective level, but "Filsofem" is easily my second favorite from these early years. These last two albums are certainly the most influential material from Burzum and it certainly transcends the mans fame outside the music in my opinion in the end. At this juncture I figured we would never hear from Burzum again... but history has shown a different outcome.
Misanthropy Records, 1994
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
1. Det som en gang var
2. Hvis lyset tar oss
3. Inn i slottet fra droemmen
Despite being in prison somehow Varg is still releasing Black Metal album. The reason behind this is because he recorded this material back in September, 1992 in Grieghallen Studio. 1992 seems to have been an overly productive year for Varg and with output that frequent, I can't help but wonder what Varg's musical landscape would have become if he had never murdered Euronymous. If this album had been released in early 1993 it would have been so much more influential compared to his actual debut. I imagine there were delays in releasing this considering the arrest and despite the back saying 1993, this was eventually released in 1994.
If you thought "Det some engang var" was some engaging and atmospheric material, you are in for quite the shock. The opening song is nearly fifteen minutes long and it really sets a gold standard for how the rest of Atmospheric Black Metal should proceed. Much of the atmospheric bands follow this format of slow churning music with soaring keyboards to help round out the majestic sound. Furthermore the music is played over a time span where the listener can easily get lost in the sounds. Future bands like Paysage d'Hiver would combine this with outright Ambient and push the speed envelope in a way that gave the same affect as the more mid-paced feel we find on "Hvist lyset tar oss". The title track has sections that have this massive droning affect that would later be used by the likes of Hate Forest. The third song "Inn is slottet fra droemmen" is probably the weakest on the recording, because the first half is only okay compared to the other two prior tracks. In the context of other music, its actually quite good, but compared to the other two tracks its not as strong until the halfway point. I, somewhat, got the feeling that the first part was performed in a somewhat sloppy fashion, which isn't too surprising given that Varg was never the greatest instrumentalist out there, but his writing is often off the charts incredible. In the first part of the song he tries to play with a bit more dissonance, which is an interesting thing to play with, but it doesn't quite fit with the melodic and epic nature of the other material. Halfway through this transitions into some of the most beautiful and epic material he's ever written and I sort of wish the song was just that over and over. The final track is a fourteen minute Ambient piece. I keep trying to tell myself this was recorded in 1992, so not to expect very much, but its a rather daunting thing to listen to. The keyboard settings chosen have a sort of whispy spacey feel, rather than a majestic epic feel, which would actually fit with the music. He really should have stuck with a more dungeon synth approach as with the song "Han som reiste", which I think would've fit this album a lot more. I think if he had played some Black Metal over these he may have inadvertently beaten Darkspace to the punch for this feel, but, alas, it is only the synth recording.
Even though the album ends on a low note, we can't deny how incredible the rest of the music is, or how influential it was. I would have figured this was the end of the Burzum discography for many years and what a high note to end on really. At the very least we really made to the birth of proper Atmospheric Black Metal and the world is, honestly, better off for it. "Hvis lyset tar oss" is truly a must have of the Burzum discography in my opinion.
Genre: Black Metal
1. Den onde kysten
2. Key to the Gate
3. En Ring til aa Herske
4. Lost Wisdom
5. Han som reiste
6. Naar Himelen Klarner
7. Snu mikrokosmos tegn
8. Svarte troner
Despite being released in 1993, this was originally recorded in April of 1992, just a few months after the debut in the famed Grieghallen Studio, which is where many Black Metal bands in Norway went to record. This is probably where Varg started getting fed-up with Euronymous' lack of releasing his material. Rather than put this album out on Deathlike Silence, Varg created his own label and put this out on his own. Originally, "Aske" was supposed to come out after this, but that clearly never happened. This was further emphasized by the fact that ten days prior to this he murdered Euronymous. I'm sure the release of this album hitting that soon after killing one of the founding fathers of Black Metal left quite the sour note with many bands and fans alike. From these early days there has always been this undercurrent of a Burzum vs. Mayhem kind of ideal throughout the scene. I think throughout this I've always fallen pretty solidly on the Mayhem camp's side. Varg's actions were clearly overly selfish, not to mention bringing Snorre Ruch into the whole thing just made things worse for the genre and the lack of Ruch's involvement over a ten year span of time is sad as well, nevermind removing what Mayhem perhaps could have grown into if Euronymous still lived.
However, we cannot deny the historical merits of his musical works. Insane man aside, this music has greatly influenced a large portion of the Black Metal genre. And on that note I finally did buckle and purchase these early Burzum works. The editions I have are the Misanthropy Records pressings in beautiful digipak and this one came out in 1994. So whether or not the character of Varg matters to you, we must look at his music anyway if we are to see some of the foundation works of the early Black Metal scene.
The music is quite a bit different from the debut and really brings Burzum into their own sound. I feel like these recordings are also a lot more focused than the self-titled. Here Varg focuses more on creating epic and rather droning atmospheres. This is really where the influence for Atmospheric Black Metal completely took off. The way "Key to the Gate" begins doesn't really lead us to think this and it is truly the only part of this album that is far out of place. Eventually the song fades into a
Aspects of this album certainly stand the test of time, but I think what this release influenced in the future has been of even greater benefit in some regards. I just wish Black Metal had gotten over the Varg style vocals while playing this style of Black Metal. Sometimes they work, but he is not the greatest vocalist and the focus on the high pitched wails rather detracts from the experience. The addition of the sort of chanting approach really worked especially well with songs on here and that was a nice addition from the first release. The only track I can certainly do without is "Svart trone", which is basically ambient noise with Varg making weird noises throughout. Luckily, I don't think this really influenced much of anything in the grand scheme of things.
Truly a legendary release in the annals of Black Metal. We can see the trend of Atmospheric Black Metal really start to gain some ground and I can only imagine how incredible this would have been if it had been released around the recording session of 1992.
Deathlike Silence, 1993
Genre: Black Metal
1. Stemmen fra Taarnet
2. Dominus Sathanas
3. A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit
Now for one of the ballsiest album covers in the whole of Black Metal. It is right up there with Mayhem's "Dawn of the Black Hearts". On the cover is featured the burned husk of the Fantoft Stave church in Norway, which Varg allegedly burned down. This really drove the point home that Black Metal is a war against Christianity and further solidified that such beliefs are unwelcome in the genre. This is one of the aspects where I make it part of the definition of the genre. This also seems to be where problems with Euronymous began to appear for Varg. "Aske" was intended to be released after the second full-length "Det some Engang Var", but this release was delayed and Varg blamed Euronymous for this delay. So, we have "Aske" hit first in the discography.
The question comes up if the music on this EP can live up to the cover. Things start off very promising because "Stemmen fra Taarnet" is a great song. Despite having drumming sometimes derived from Punk, Varg made it work decently in the mix. The recording quality is far superior to the debut and the song has a sort of catchy folky feel to it. This would, no doubt, influence the likes of Satyricon's "Dark Medieval Times" in later years. "Dominus Sathanas" is a slow brooding song, which is, once again, entirely different from the opening song. It's an instrumental song, which is rather curious given the length of the release. But if you consider it as a sort of "outro" piece for the first song it might make more sense. The closing track is a re-recording of "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit". This is one of the more frustrating parts of the re-release by Misanthropy, it never included the original recording and it only features this one, so I'm not sure I've ever heard the original song before. The production quality on this re-edition is very good and I have no complaints about that. Varg's vocals feel a lot more accessible on these recordings than on the debut. He still uses the higher range, but I feel like it fits a bit better within this recording quality. Still, they are not the best vocals out there, but they're low enough in the mix as not to be overwhelming.
In the end I'm not quite sure this lives up to the album cover. But this does show some marked improvement to the Burzum sound and way of doing things. I think it's heading in a better direction than the debut and I would have been looking forward to the next full-length upon hearing this release.
Deathlike Silence, 1992
Genre: Black Metal
1. Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown
2. Ea, Lord of the Depths
3. Spell of Destruction
4. Channelling the Power of Souls into a New God
6. The Crying Orc
7. A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit
8. My Journey to the Stars
9. Dungeons of Darkness
Delving back into the legendary early days. I'm going to try and conjure up what I thought of this when I first heard it in the 90's. As you can see from the picture I never got the original Burzum releases as they came out, I didn't get into them until about 1996 and by then Misanthropy Records had been repressing the albums in very nice digipaks. Regardless of how crazy I think Vikernes is, I, for whatever reason, was never a die-hard fan of Burzum's music. I completely acknowledge the merit of the art in the greater context of Black Metal. I'm really not going to bother delving back into Burzum's demo days, because I feel their debut really encompasses the vast majority of that material.
Revisiting this in 2014, brings back nostalgic memories of my early forays into Black Metal, but I still have the same general feeling of this album back then. I, personally, find this a rather mediocre release in the grand scheme of things. Even by 1992 Emperor's demo was better, Darkthrone's debut was stronger etc. This was during a time frame when all kinds of murder and general mayhem were being committed by some of the bands in the scene, which gave them more fame than their music probably would have. One of the major changes Burzum brought was reference to Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings", which became a favored topic in Black Metal over the years by a surprisingly large amount of projects. Burzum take their name from a line of dark speech found in the first book. The name itself
Musically, this is actually a very varied release. Much of the music feels inspired by the likes of Bathory and Thorns. "Ea, Lord of the Depths" has chord structuring pulled right out the Thorns style and structuring. Then there are tracks that feel closer to Bathory's "Blood Fire Death" in style. The general approach is not too dissimilar from Darkthrone with the more mid-paced blast beats to slower paced drumming. There are a couple instrumental tracks that feel very out of place, like "The Crying Orc", which really goes nowhere and is too short to care about much. The song "War" really comes out of left field. The song has this gritty punky feel and features a guitar solo performed by Euronymous. Its so out of place on the album that you just wonder why it is there. I think this is one of the major reasons I had a hard time getting into Burzum. There was no general atmosphere to the music that I could really get behind, because before you knew it he was onto something else influenced by some other band. The album eventually closes with "Dungeons of Darkness" and that is just a giant waste of space. I think its meant to be ominous, but after so much variation you're just tired of it. There are some good songs on here, but the variation mars that overall experience for me, plus having a vocal performance that was not very endearing.
Burzum wound up influencing a fringe break off of Black Metal more than the general scene, because a lot of his material seems to have spawned into the DSBM scene in later years. His penchant for high pitched vocals, which sound awful to me, has really made it a staple of that scene altogether. Bands that did this better were acts such as Bethlehem and Silencer, but they probably bore some influence from Dani Filth in those stages. Dani Filth was likely influenced by Burzum's approach vocally and just taking that to a far more extreme level. Further why I usually dislike that vocal approach much. The only album I've ever heard the extreme high pitched vocals sound decent was in Hecate Enthroned's "Slaughter of Innocence". So that's one of the regions in which this album influenced the future, but by this point in time this style of vocals wasn't appealing to me in general.