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I thought giving myself a month to listen to Burzum’s new record, entitled ‘Belus’, would be a smart move and a sufficient amount of time to become accustomed to the new ways of the twisted mind of Varg Vikernes. That is, if he had indeed adopted new techniques with which to pursue his career in the modern day. I was gravely wrong and had misjudged the amount of time that it would take to adjust to the new sound of Burzum. In fact, as time has gone by, I have found it even more difficult to muster any up sort of cohesion or coherence in my opinions in regards to the new material. I’m sure the majority of the metal world knows by now that Varg has been released from prison and has indeed already released a new record to once again garner support for his musical expressions of the darkness that surrounds our daily lives, despair that tears us apart and the mythological interest that seems to have a great bearing on Varg’s personal life, particularly when it comes to his art, both in the form of music and literature.
Having listened to ‘Belus’ almost every day since its release, I must admit that it is definitely what most people refer to as a “grower”. This record leeches off its listener and imbeds its ideas and mesmerising sound into the individuals brain with its longevity. This record definitely serves up a number of qualities which have proved to be a hit for Varg in his earlier discography, particularly with the likes of ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’ and ‘Filosofem’, my two favourites from his career. Having skim read through an interview or two on Varg’s own personal take on his direction with ‘Belus’, I had already expected a record that wouldn’t deviate much from the one’s which established him in the first place and this was a smart move on my part. If I had expected something different from one of black metal’s first and finest sons, then I may have been disappointed, but with my knowledge of what he was aiming to achieve, I have found I have been able to appreciate what he has had to offer with ‘Belus’ more so than I might have if I shied away from the media interest surrounding his character.
He had stated this record would be like the one’s that came before it, but with a few new touches here and there and that is precisely what ‘Belus’ is. For years people have raved about the “Burzumic” style being ripped off by other bands who were doing the same thing only after Varg himself. To me, this seemed like a cry for black metal musicians to do something different, something unique with the genre and to leave the 1990’s where it belonged - firmly in the past. With that in mind, unfortunately, ‘Belus’ doesn’t offer much in the way of a new direction that Varg hasn’t already explored years previous to its release. Parts of the record and songs in particular, especially those like ‘Belus' Doed’ are almost carbon copies of songs he produced many, many years ago on records like the aforementioned two and perhaps some of his earliest records like the self-titled one, ‘Det Som Engang Var’ and perhaps even the ‘Aske’ EP of 1993.
Songs like ‘Belus' Doed’ would fit perfectly onto older records which, to me, sort of makes them redundant in the modern day. I accept that Varg has his techniques and that he likes sticking to them, but when an artist begins to recycle a sound, then I have to wonder whether it’s warranted anymore. I’m leaning towards the conclusion of no, it isn’t. Though songs like this do showcase the main ideas of the record in general, such as an emphasis on entrancing and repetitious music akin to that of the evil 1990’s, a stage which allowed the genre to flourish and fluctuate into what it has become today, but it doesn’t feel necessary when I consider some of the other songs which take precedence over this one, such as the infectious and bass orientated ‘Morgenroede’. However, though the instrumentation itself may point towards a comparison to the olden day material on ‘Filosofem’, in particular, there have been some alterations, as expected.
In an interview with Varg that I had read, he said that he had wanted to change his vocal style, which he mostly certainly has done. His rasps, or shrieks have altered, but not only that, he has taken inventive measures on ‘Belus’ by supplying an unforeseen use of clean, mesmerising vocals which work particularly well against the backdrop of the instrumentation, which is also mesmerising in approach due to the repetitious stylistic methods and dense production. The production is actually an element which seems to have been called into question with numerous people speaking out about their hatred of it. It isn’t as clean, no, but I think it perfectly suit’s the style of the record and the elongated feel of the atmospheres which stretch into infinity, folding over onto itself and taking on a thick formation which gives the overall sound a real feeling of power and prowess. Although the production feels somewhat dirtier than usual, I actually think it sounds oddly more mature than previous, which works well with the vocal change, particularly when it comes to Varg’s new distorted vocals.
Though I consider them somewhat less agreeable than his previous style, they work well given the alterations. If they were placed onto a record like ‘Filosofem’, then they wouldn’t suit the biting style of the distortion and production, but in this environment, they begin to flourish alongside reinvigorated elements like the bass, which is prominent on songs like the expansive ‘Glemselens Elv’. Although there hasn’t been much of a change when it comes to Varg’s song writing, he still has the capabilities to produce some top drawer moments on songs like ‘Glemselens Elv’, which place an emphasis on mind altering riffs and entrancing riffs. Songs like ‘Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning’ instead opt for the same infectious sound through the use of cleanly spoken vocals which, again, shows an increased sense of invention by Varg, who did state that this is precisely how he always wanted to sing, but didn’t know how to go about doing it. Having spotted several positive traits in ‘Belus’, a song like ‘Sverddans’ comes along and once again places a grain of doubt in my mind over Varg’s presence in today’s black metal scene.
Songs like this wouldn’t be out of place of his self-titled work, for example, and given my personal dislike of his earliest material, I wasn’t at all pleased with this songs presence on the record. It gives ‘Belus’ a somewhat dated feel, as if, once again, he’s simply recycling material which didn’t have a place on older records, or demos. However, I can old school fan lapping this up given its conjuration of the early to mid-1990’s emphasis on evil within black metal atmospherics. However, though this song serves only to grate on my nerves, the one’s which follow it do leave me with a generally positive feel, especially ‘Morgenroede’, which reminds me of post-punk epics given the importance of the bass to the song and the instrumentation in general. The production, though it has a muggy feel, doesn’t detract from the good work of the “smaller” elements of Burzum’s style, like the bass and percussion aspects. Though these areas may not project themselves as explosively as the guitars, or distorted vocal range of Varg, they make me sit up and notice them more so than on previous occasions. I would certainly rate ‘Belus’ amongst Varg’s better records, though I feel nothing can topple the mighty ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’, but it certainly whitewashes over his prison works, which were awful, and his earlier records which I have never come to appreciate as classics.