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Aske (which is Nordic for "ashes") probably has the most iconic album cover in all of black metal. Fantoft Stave Church torched down to its bare frame. The cover is a declaration of war on Christianity; a propaganda tool for the recruitment of new comrades in the war against the foreign faith. However, the album doesn’t live up to the cover. Musically Aske is the weakest recording (spare the demos) in the entire Burzum cannon. It is unclear what Varg was trying to achieve with this EP, but on the whole it would have to be deemed unsuccessful.
For whatever reason—probably either due to Varg’s arrest or his financial disputes with Euronymous—Aske was released prior to Det Som Engang Var, in spite of the fact that it was recorded after. Musically, the EP does not sway too far away from the sound of the first two full lengths. Varg brought in Samoth (Emperor, Zyklon-B) to play bass, making Aske the only Burzum recording with a guest musician. The effect is negligible. While the bass is slightly more audible than on the prior two albums, Samoth is not required to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s unclear why Varg recruited Samoth for this EP.
Aske consists of three tracks; two originals and one rerecording. “Stemmen Fra Taarnet” is a fast paced, bouncy attacking piece in the vein of “Feeble Screams from the Forest Unknown.” It shifts back and forth between firing verses and dizzying choruses all bathed in Varg’s scathing howls. However, the track randomly cuts off at the six minute mark. What happened here is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the producer screwed up on the final cut. Maybe the physical recording got damaged. Maybe Varg couldn’t afford more recording time. Whatever the case may be, “Stemmen…” is like reading a 2/3 of a novel only to realize that the final few chapters fell out of the book; a very frustrating experience.
“Dominus Sathanas” is the highlight of the album; a slow, doomy piece with symphonic layering. Melodious lead guitars swing back and forth, backed up by a thicket of fuzz. Eerie chants sneak into the backdrop and a single vile scream tears through the entire landscape. This is the sort of sound I expect Dauði Baldrs album would have had if it had been recorded properly.
The closer is a rerecording of “A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit,” which originally appeared on the debut. This rerecording is inferior. The dynamic of the song was presented brilliantly on the debut. The composition shifts between faster, feverish passages and slower, haunting passages. The original version is played at a faster pace, which allows the quicker sections to slash the listener like a Nordic midwinter breeze. Consequently, the slower stretches mark a true contrast and the melancholia is palpable. On the rerecording, everything is slowed down. This means the difference between the passages is not sufficiently accentuated. Thus, the rerecording lacks some of the dynamism of the original.
Ultimately, Aske will draw you in with its controversial cover, its historic mystique and perhaps its obscurity. (If you ever see it at a record store pick it up because it is damn rare and you will probably never see it again). However, as a musical document it basically a footnote in the otherwise stellar Burzum catalogue.
(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com/)
For a artist whose middle name might as well be controversy, Varg's music has been more of an exercise in cultural revivalism and historicism, rather than an endless stream on contrarian blasphemy. Much like his old and perhaps former friend Abbath, he has tended to be off in his own world, obsessing over the lore of the olden Norsemen. There is, however, an exception in the Burzum catalog that brings up the question of cultural conflict, and it is lodged right smack in the midst of an impressive spurt of musical creation over the span of a single year. And this lone statement of dissent is so blatant that completely divorcing its musical contents from the implicit ideology is not feasible.
Known to English speakers as ashes, "Aske" carries with it the visual memory of a rather infamous act of arson. The political subtleties of a nation with an official state church supported with state money should be taken into account, along with the obvious differences between Nordic culture versus the British Isles and the Alpine mainland in terms of self-identity. When this occurs, it becomes possible to empathize to a certain extent with the consistency of a man who has taken a total plunge into ancient paganism, and it definitely speaks to a genuine passion expounded in the lyrical content of this EP.
While the general production character of this is among the more frostbitten and cold sounding of Varg's creations, and there is a fairly strong remnant of the early black metal scene's ties to death metal, it is also one of the less intricate as well. Part of the plainness that these songs exude is tied to a one-dimensional expression of agony, lacking the depth of later works where keyboards and a denser atmospheric aesthetic complement the frosty bite of the guitars, let alone the serene and contemplative ambient elements. Nevertheless, even as a straightforward aggressive slate of minimalist black metal, this fares well for its ability to balance intensity with a disciplined sense of organization.
The contents of the first half of this endeavor, labeled as the "Side Hate", contains some of Varg's simplistic offerings. "Dominus Sathanas" has an older metal feel, almost along the line of an early 80s vibe, and provides a haunting atmosphere that is a bit denser that the remaining contents found on here. "Stemmen Fra Tarnet" goes through more of a mid-paced route with a chunky main riff that, again, conjures up images of the early days of metal, like a Hallhammer emulation with a rawer vocal interpretation and a higher end guitar tone. There isn't really anything surprising to speak of here, just a consistent pattern of basic musical ideas with a neurotic vocal impresario.
The second half, dubbed "Side Winter" contains a long faster song in "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" that largely runs parallel to the droning frost of "Under A Funeral Moon". This is where Varg's woeful wails really fit into the equation and push the arrangement rather than clash with it, though it is important to note that despite the similarity to Darkthrone, that the instrumental character is a bit higher fidelity. A good point of contrast would be between hearing a storm from under a sheet of ice (post 1992 Darkthrone) versus walking in the midst of it (pre-"Filosofem" Burzum).
The mixed reactions that most present day black metal fans tend to have to this is understandable, despite the ideological credentials it touts on its cover. This is Varg's simplistic music minus the varied genre hybridization that started soon after, and in a less aggressive dose than the debut self-titled album. But taking the music for what it is, this is a solid musical effort, one that is strangely aware of its own futility. Abbath definitely had a point when explaining his own non-involvement in the arson and acts of vandalism, stating that "If you burn a church, the government will just build a new one, with our tax money", and in just 4 or so short years, the Fantoft Church was standing once again as if it had never been gone. From my standpoint, music trumps politics, as the former never really fails in its attempt while the latter defines itself by failure. And its by the musical merits that any album, be it a tribute to futile dissent, or a strange statement with a brain-splattered cadaver on the cover, that it should be judged by.
Adorned with its silent provocation of a burnt out Church, the Aske EP served as little more than a stopgap to Burzum's sophomore Det Som Engang Var (to come later the same year). However, this being the infamous act that it was and remains, and having been published through the legendary DSP imprint (before the murder), it's proven to be quite the collectors' item. Most people will have experienced this material as a part of the Burzum/Aske release compiled through Misanthropy Records, which uses only one of the version of the redundant track ("A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit"), but a more recent edition incorporates both the Aske and s/t editions of that track.
Naturally, since that track was not a favorite of mine on the debut, I'm not in love with it here either. Again, not for a lack of substance, but simply too much of that substance bleated into oblivion, and the fact that Samoth (Emperor) appears here on the bass adds nothing for me. It unfortunately occupies over half of the content on this EP, severely diminishing the value I was able to draw forth from it. So my attentions here have always been turned towards the other pieces: "Stemmen Fra Tårnet" and "Dominus Sathanas". The first is a straight shot of mid paced archaic Norse black metal, with a thicker guitar tone than was found on Burzum (Samoth also performs the bass on this), leaden and hostile riffs that perfectly support Vikerne's even more harrowing, bloodied vocal presence. If I had a dime for every underground black metal crooner who apes this very voice, I could purchase most of Jan Mayen and the Scandinavian Peninsula, but in retrospect I don't find this particular song to be as stunning as most of those from the debut, despite the few glints of atmosphere.
"Dominus Sathanas", though, is a curious departure which is probably best compared to the tiny track "The Crying Orc" from the first album. It's a guitar instrumental with screaming and bass lines, and the melodies are menacing and thick here, resonant against the void of percussion. If not for Varg's timely, carnal outburst, and the lack of drums, I'd very much compare this to something Candlemass or some other Gothic doom metal band might compose, and it has that same effect of gathering black clouds over the listener. Sad to say, it's the most intriguing piece on this album...
Gauging any real value here is perplexing. For its day, 'Ashes' was a nice limited run affair that fans could get their paws on, and original copies probably still fly off the auctions. But honestly there's just not enough to it that I'd ever get excited. "Stemmen Fra Tårnet (The Voice of the Tower)" is the first Burzum track delivered in the Norse tongue, and notable for that reason, but it's not nearly the most engrossing that he's written. "Dominus Sathanas" continues to exhibit Varg's incorporation of instrumental material to his releases (I won't count the screams), and it's not bad. "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" is slightly more energetic in this environment than on the debut. All three work wonderfully as a bonus to the Burzum CD but independently there is not much to say for this. Collectors, get excited if you find an original kicking around. For anyone else, there is vastly superior Burzum music to invest in.
This is one of the five black metal recorded pre-jail for Varg Vikernes and, despite its shorter length, it lives up to the other releases without any questions asked.
This is probably, bar some of his electronic affairs, one of Varg's most minimal and ambient records, despite being the only one to feature 100% guitar orientated tracks. As has been widely documented, the beauty of Varg's music has never been technicality but here he especially relies on brilliant songwriting, all encompassing production and vocal lines that make you feel his anguish to communicate an atmosphere that is, for me, unmatched by any other artist past or present.
As I mentioned before, the riffs on this release are somewhat simple chords that develop and grow through the tracks, incorperating layers of melody that drift in and out creating a wash of sound that, once fully devop and progress throughout the tracks, can take you to another world in your very own head. Bass guitar generally contributes as accompaniment only but is very audible and sometimes takes a different direction, slowly taking another road only to be slowly brought back to the main melody with seamless ease. Drums are not fast, not technical and not even stand out but serve another purpose which is simply to accompany the journey. Mostly adverse to the standard in rock music, the drums are used more in common with the traits of classical music, in the sense that they take a back seat to keep concentration on the song development at hand or even, at some points, are just completely left out. Don't get me wrong though, when the melodies and construction of these tracks are as good as some of these, you are thankful for it.
I'm trying hard to avoid talking about single tracks as it's more of an all encompassing listen, however I will have to be forgiven for saying a couple of words on what is one of my favourite Burzum tracks, "Dominus Sathanus". This song really, even almost 20 years down the line, gives me hope that it is possible to write small symphonies lacking percussion yet still assign it to part of the metal genre. The gentle build up of almost confused and bewildered notation at the beginning of the track only develops into a haunting and eerie middle section before building up and by the end creating an almost folky and epic outro which creates an atmosphere which makes a 3 minute track feel like I have been lost in for hours.
Both first and last tracks take similar form although the latter being longer and the pacing slightly more abrupt, being perfectly used to conclude the album. There is also more of the percussive techniques mentioned using a combination of very fast and minimal drumming akin to Fenriz on "Transilvanian Hunger" and at points creating such a slow down and appreciation for tempo change that percussion is left out entirely. It is this sense and concentration on song development found here that really creates such a rewarding listen and brings metal to another level of artistic integrity.
Overall this is one of my favourites as you may have gathered and the reason it misses out on perfect for me is the completely unexplained abrupt ending of the first track, which as much as I try to think about, just confuses me. It just seems far too random to be on purpose. Either way this is essential listening for Burzum fans, black metal fans and metal fans alike and I cannot praise it highly enough, as well as all of Burzum's other early work. With his new opus on the horizon I worry that it will not live up to what once was, however we can all live in the knowledge that whatever is released from here on in there will always be the unmatcheable atmosphere and beauty of a bizarre intellectual visionary's early 90's output.
Burzum plays what is easily my favorite metal music, but as most people will usually say, there is at least SOMETHING by a favorite artist that you don't like. Seeing that this release contains three songs, I'll give up to 33% points per song.
The first track on 'Aske' is 'Stemmen Fra Tårnet.' Regardless of how I feel about the EP as a whole, this song is one of my favorite songs by Burzum. It would easily be my favorite if it weren't for the abrupt ending of the song. When I first listened to 'Aske,' I had downloaded it from the internet, and I thought that the person I had gotten it from had a messed-up release. However, when I bought the 'Burzum / Aske' release from a local record store to check, the same abrupt ending was present. If this song had an ending that did not make the song seem fragmented, 'Aske' would be considerably higher rated. The lyrics tell of a journey through a dark and dreary forest after being summoned by a voice.
The second track, 'Dominus Sathanas,' is a nearly instrumental track that is a slow transition into the final track. The pace of 'Dominus Sathanas' doesn't feel right after the force of 'Stemmen Fra Tårnet,' but after the first minute or so, the pace seems natural. It is a fairly peaceful song for black metal, besides the one line of vocals: "AAAARRRGHHHH!!!"
'A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit' is the final track, and transitions in very smoothly after 'Dominus Sathanas.' The version of 'A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit' on 'Aske' is an extended mix of the same track on Burzum's self-titled debut album. Besides the fact that the version on 'Aske' is about 2 minutes longer, it also has a different atmosphere than that from 'Burzum.' The version on this EP feels a little slower and restrained. The vocals on both versions tell a story of death, and the decay of this death comes even after his death when he return as a ghost.
'Aske' is an EP that Varg regretted releasing, according to an interview on metalcrypt.com. In his own words: "I wish I had never recorded this mini-LP in the first place, because it is only an mini-LP, and I don't like neither EPs, mini-LPs, "best of" albums, compilations or singles. If it's not a full-length album it's not worth releasing..." It doesn't surprise me, then, that I do not like this album. I read the interview (http://www.metalcrypt.com/pages/interviews.php?intid=170) after I had already listened to 'Aske,' so that didn't sway how I felt about the work. But, knowing that he wasn't fully satisfied with this work might show why I don't like it. If the artist isn't completely behind his work, he can't expect others to be.
I can never complain about Varg's talent. What people have to remember is that even if they don't like the music of Burzum, it is all recorded by one person (not counting Euronymous' solo in 'War' from Burzum's debut). All of the instruments were recorded separately and put together with great attention how they would flow together, and those deep, piercing shrieked vocals come from the same man. However, compared to some of Varg's other works, the lengths of the latter two tracks on 'Aske' detract from how much I enjoy it. I don't have a problem with long songs, necessarily, but compared to Burzum's earlier work, the longer songs are less enjoyable.
The final scores for the songs are:
''Stemmen Fra Tårnet' - 30%
'Dominus Sathanas' - 15%
'A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit' - 10%
Overall - 55%
This is not only one of Burzums best, but also one of the best in the genre.
The evolution from the self-titled to this ep is astounding on multiple levels.
First, the guitar layering/harmonies are on a whole different level than before, the classic Burzum "tone" that we all know and love was first introduced here.
Second, the compositions have improved dramatically, creating the otherworldly almost anti-human vibe that reminds me almost of the first 3 Mortiis albums(!!). Varg creates his own world and his screams are the native tongue and he delivers them with a profound realism that is hard to find in black metal before or since.
The opening track, Stemmen Fra Taarnet starts out with the classic burzum
beat with a nice fade in and just when you get settled in, the unearthly screams rip into your soul. He literally sounds like he is either dying or wants to die, and thats pretty black metal(hehehe). The middle section is very nice with some very suttle keyboard touches here and there. Burzum is one of the only bands in my opinion that understands how to properly use keyboards to add just the right amount of background atmosphere, an almost swelling feeling to it.
Track 2, Dominus Sathanas, is an instrumental and a rather nice one at that. The opening riff is a prime example of the increase in guitar layering and harmonies that started on this release. Adding with the chants and non-vocal screams really fills out the whole song very well. The overall feel is mid-paced, and although some people really hate mid-paced bm, I feel that this tempo really brings out the best in the riffing. Imagine how terrible this song would sound with a typical Dark Funeral blast beat on top, that would be both hilarious and horrific. Not much to this song, but thats what makes it great. Sometimes less can be so much more.
Track 3, perhaps the best Burzum song ever written, A Long Forgotten Sad Spirit. This song originally appeared on the DSP version of the self-titled, and they took off that version(NO!) and kept this version when Misanthropy rereleased them both on digipack. The opening riff is simply mesmerizing, it drags you in and the screams possess your thoughts and dreams. The breakdown after this is my favorite part of the song. The groove, if you can call it that, is very mid-paced and has a nice overall sound with the well timed vocal deliveries. One other thing that I love about this track is that you can actually heawr the bass, which at that time in black metal history was definitely not the case. The rythym section overall in every "metal" Burzum album is always the glue that sucks you in even if it doesnt stick out at first, but there is some really great stuff going on back there, you just have to sit and listen.
The overall production is almost perfect and really fits the mood and atmosphere. It is heavy when it needs to be, and raw and grim when it needs to be. Overall this album is an absolute classic and a must own for any fan of norwegien black metal or mid-paced atmospheric bm in general.
Burzum's formula has been always the same in his Black Metal albums: three or four repetitive riffs in the same tempo for the whole song, average drumming and typical Black Metal shrieks. I heard too much that Burzum creates a unique atmosphere in his music, but all I hear is some monotonous power-chords and nothing more in his music.
The production is alright. You can hear each instrument pretty well [except the bass] and there isn't a mess or something that interrupt the music...but there isn't enough music, that's a serious problem!
The first song has exactly 3 riffs in the whole 6 minutes. It fades in slowly with the guitar which plays a single power chord and then the drums and guitar get balanced into a monotonous repetitive tempo which doesn't change for the whole song. The riffs are nothing special, just some improvised power chords which drags on and on and then some shrieks which sounds alright but...what's the point with that song? Nothing really happens here! It's just the same chords all the time and this is such irritating one. It seems like Varg took his poor guitar, throwed some power chords here and there and then wrote some hollow lyrics which sounds unclear [you can't understand anything without the lyrics] and called it a song! Really, it just sounds like an intro for a song which stucks in the same place instead of develops into a real song. "Dominus Sathanas" is a journey to the dulness in Varg's mind. There are no drums, the rhythm is boring as hell, the riffs doesn't make any sense and it drags on for 3 minutes...yeah, whatever.
"A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" is the climax of the emptiness here. Dull riffs, dull vocals, dull drums, everything here is just dull, and the fact that this song clocks out at almost 11 minutes it's nothing more than a total goofiness.
I think I gave this album a fair chance, I gave it more than 10 listenings and it's still doesn't attract me or interest or makes me feel something else than tiresomeness.
Just stay away from this, ignore the name Burzum because it won't make this EP sounds better than what he really is... a worthless and improvised one.
The production and musicianship on "Aske" were undoubtedly Varg's best at the time. With this release his previous studio experience is finally paying off and this recording sounds a little less like a sloppy and rushed demo, unlike his earlier works. That said, there's really no reason to make a fuss about this. It opens with "Stemmen Fra Taarnet" which is a slow to mid-paced tune with more of a rock feel than most of his stuff to this date. The keyboard adds a nice element to it, but I honestly can't say this song is anything special. I like it because Varg usually creates a nice brand of BM that relies more on melancholy emotions and reflection than rage and hate (or worse, SAAAATAAAANN!!!) like a lot of other bands in this field back then. If there's one thing that I think should be mentioned and appreciated about this release it's that this is the last album before Varg began writing too many songs that seemed endless and horrifically simple. A lot of fans don't seem to have a problem with this, but it has always bugged the shit out of me because it just seems pointless to write a song that's 20 minutes long that consists of only 2 to 3 strictly average and generic riffs. The next track is "Dominus Sathanas" and here's where I start to have a problem with this album. It may not be the same for everyone, but I strongly prefer the demo version of this titled "Rite of Cleansure." The album version feels like it goes nowhere because it doesn't have time to. It's pointless. There were many cool parts that were left out and I don't think the production really works with this one at all. The other reviewer stated that it sounded "evil as fuck," but I honestly have no clue where that comes from. It's a pretty normal and subdued instrumental that sounds more curious than foul. Last is "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit." I HATE this version. While the rest of the production sounds better than the original, the guitars are mush and that totally kills it because you can barely tell what he's playing in comparison to the crystal clarity of the guitar tracks from the "Burzum" version. There are also two other things I don't like about it. I don't like how when it first comes in one of the guitars kicks in before the other, or one of them is late. I'm not sure which. In my mind that sounds sloppy and suggests carelessness. I can't believe he would let a fuck up like that be right in the opening of the song. You may say that I'm looking into it too much, but with music that's supposed to be as deep as this it's hard not to. The other thing I don't like about this version is the first slower section. It sounds too slow compared with the original which was as perfect as it could have been, all things considered. I can't believe that this version is on the re-release instead of the original and superior version.
In conclusion I don't see what makes this so great. It has one good song and two that were done better elsewhere. One song does not make an album worth buying or praising. As for the cover... Would anyone really know what it was if they weren't more interested in the "legend" of Burzum and Varg than the music itself? Don't let the politics and crimes get in the way of the music, because at the end of the day it's the songs that make the album. I think "Aske" sucks because it has virtually nothing to offer. If you've read any other Burzum reviews I've made you probably think that I just don't understand this type of thing or that I simply have something against Vikernes personally. While I loathe fascists, that assumption would be totally incorrect because I feel that he was a very gifted composer, but he made sloppy music and had a few too many bad ideas which almost ruined his music and others that ruined his life. A shame. I'll give it 20 points for the first track and 5 for the improved drum sound.
Perhaps the epitome of the Norwegian Black Metal movement of the early to mid 1990's, these hymns are the creation of a visionary. Recorded and released at a time when new ground was being broken musically and ideologically, 'Aske' is not so much a 3 track mini-CD as it is a statement. The front cover alone (a photograph of the scorched remains of the Fantoft stave church, which also serves as a little reminder of the Count's extra-curricular activities) is enough to give you an indication of the ideas Grishnackh was purporting at the time.
Somewhat of a rarity here, this incarnation of Burzum is not solely Varg. Emperor's Samoth lent his bass-playing talents to 2 of the 3 tracks (namely tracks 1 and 3), though it's hard to notice, honesty. The production is rough and raw, but the guitars and drums, and vocals are clearly audible, and overall the production suits the music perfectly.
The 3 tracks on offer are all excellent. "Stemmen Fra Taarnet" is a grim, Bathory-esque headbanger of a song. Beginning with a simplistic first-wave-sounding BM riff and developing slowly into an epic yet subtle piece, the feeling prevalent is one of soaring Norwegian landscapes by the sea, of water, and of fjords. Atmospheric is an understatement. The song ends very abruptly, strangely enough, leaving the listener momentarily off balance.
Before given time to recover, "Dominus Sathanas" begins with an evil as fuck riff. Layered guitars provide harmonies and melodies that are equally menacing and sorrowful. Early on, Varg whispers something then lets out an acidic scream around 30 seconds into the track. Although short and somewhat repetitive, this effort serves as a good intermezzo between the 2 behemoths either side of it.
"A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" is a fucking masterpiece of ashen, hateful, "depressing" (before that term became stale and meaningless) black metal, which is hard to describe musically, because the level it works best on is spiritually. This is another grand, epic firestarter, bringing to mind the image of a Norwegian standing in front of a blazing church in the black of night, gazing with pride upon what he has just created. Again, the pace is slow to moderate for most of the song, at times sounding like the kind of thing Nortt might do nowadays, though not as well.
The Count's burning screams embody perfectly the prevailing mood and spirit of this mCD. The sound of one man struggling against Christianity, single-handedly fighting to rid his proud, noble country of the pathetic Christian plague, and attempting to, with music and fire as his weapons, bring back "what once was". Close your eyes, and be taken to another place. A place where the strong prevail. Where the spirits of old are alive once more.
An interesting footnote: some copies came with a Burzum zippo (though apparently Varg had nothing to do with this).