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Oh boy where to start with this one...since it was announced last year that following his 16-year spell in prison Varg Vikernes was going to be releasing a new album under the Burzum name, and a 'metal' one at that too, I have found myself eagerly anticipating it's arrival, keen to know how someone who has spent so long behind bars will adjust to the vastly different scene to what he was last exposed to. Much like a new release from Slayer or Metallica always does, it is often difficult to see through the hype and speculation with such anticipated releases and "Belus" has been no exception, everyone with a mouth keen to air their views on a man who is by some distance the most controversial man in the history of that most controversial of music genres, metal.
I never did quite 'get' Varg's two fully-synthesised albums, "Dauði Baldrs" and "Hliðskjálf", so the near-immediate introduction of his perennially grim guitar tone in a haze of feedback and darkness in "Belus Død" is a most welcome one. Having read recent interviews with the man in which he declares a complete disinterest in (black) metal, (apparently not listening to a single BM record since 1996), it would've been mighty foolish to expect his sounds to be even the remotest bit modern and as such anyone turned away by the bleakness of classic records "Filosofem" and "Det Som Engag Var" will be just as offended by the mix of "Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning", probably the best song on the album. The archetype repetitiveness that was the keystone of Burzum's earlier works is again at the heart of "Belus", with riffs and drum patterns ignoring conventional song structures to plug away seemingly endlessly to form a number of songs that though simple in nature require a few listens to fully become immersed in, before even then still being puzzled as to their effectiveness and worth.
Unlike the old metal Burzum works, which often relied upon glacially slow ambient passages segueing into mid-paced black metal hammering for significant portions of their time, "Belus" does away with the pure ambient and has replaced it with a number of moments that are close to being the fastest Burzum has ever offered us. The 2-and-a-half minute "Sverddans" is effectively a grimly played and produced thrash metal number, replete with dodgy soloing, while "Keliohosten" and "Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning" are no slouches either, utilising a more varied vocal performance from Varg, which, sadly, never reaches the unsettling demonic howl which graced the earlier works. Nine-minute closer "Belus' Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon)" is the closest that "Belus" comes to a passage of ambience; more relaxed in nature than any other song it is still however led by guitar and repetitive drum beat in an interesting, if not wholly effective song.
Given Vikernes' separation from the metal world there did exist the small potential for "Belus" to be another classic in waiting, steeped in Norwegian BM history and early 90's aura, but the spark that lit works like "Filosofem" is absent through the less densely constructed songs to be found here. Depending on which way you like at it you'll either be chuffed or disgusted that Varg has recorded an album that sounds like it could be from the glory days of early '90s Norwegian BM, but separating the man from the band is clearly not possible. This is how Varg Vikernes sounds in music, and frankly it's a wonder it's reached this level at all. "Belus" is not perfect but it is certainly worthy of standing amongst the indisputable classics that are often forgotten about when discussing the band known as Burzum.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net