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Well Worth the Wait - 94%

Zephyrus, March 14th, 2010

Introducing the most anticipated Black Metal release of the millennium. Imprisoned for murdering Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes is now free to take his infamous musical legacy to magnificent new heights. With a back catalogue widely regarded as the best albums in Black Metal, "Belus" proves that Varg's talents as a songwriter never faded after all these years.

As for the controversy, it's best to treat Burzum and Varg's crimes and writings as separate. He himself assured that the band stands only for music and not the right-wing extremism of his published views. A recent interview states, "if those who are not like me are able to enjoy my music that is all fine by me. Be a Christian-born black gay feminist converted to Judaism for all I care, or worse, a Muslim. Just stay off my lawn."

"Belus" is an all-Norwegian concept album centered on its eponymous solar deity, whose familiar manifestations include Baldr and Apollo. The introductory track "Leukes Renkespill" chimes in with the hammer and anvil of the Loki, a.k.a. Hephaistos, stressing the common ancestry of Indo-European mythologies.

The first real song, "Belus' Død," is a sinister march into the past, right back to early 90's Norway. In fact it would fit perfectly on his second album "Det Som Engang Var," though with tremolo harmonies that bring "Filosofem" to mind. On the one hand this is classic Burzum, with simple drumbeats and signature melodies. On the other hand, it‚s immediately evident that Varg's prowess as a guitarist has not only survived prison, but has also taken a quantum leap.

Vocal-wise, Varg's still got it, though his trademark screams have matured into an echoing shriek that suits the warmer, but still raw-as-hell production, likely due to the use of digital and no longer analog equipment. At parts, he seems in dialogue with himself with clean-sung chants and an incredibly effective use of spoken word verses, which often introduce new themes within songs. For example, "Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning" oscillates between an angry blast-beat riff and a chanted refrain before launching into perhaps the most majestic moment on the album, where Varg's guitar work shines brightest.

"Glemselens Elv" may be the most beautiful Burzum song ever written, with a melody guaranteed to make you sway to and fro in a meditative trance. All the while tremolo riffs float above the rhythm in perfect harmony. It clocks in at eleven minutes, one for every year since we've gotten a release from this stellar songwriter.

This mastery should be noted in the album's perfect structure, which with each song increases the tempo, peaks at "Sverddans" (featuring an old school guitar solo), then decreases till by the final song the drums have simply melted away.

A key feature of the early 90's albums was the presence of ambient tracks, here absent. This is well forgiven by the fact that his prison term gave us two full electronic albums in the form of "Daudi Baldrs" and "Hlildskjálf."

In short, this is not your typical comeback album. This is the product of a decade-and-a-half of refinement and meditation, and we all knew it would come one day. So here it is, a landmark release that should set the standard for extreme metal in the new decade.