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Burzum's "Belus" album shocked more than a few, some expected a dismal album of uninspired music from a former musician, who had created a specialized style of black metal that was based on lingering, ringing chords, punk riffing, and ethereal melodies. Other, I assume, would expect the album that would change their lives, the power of the music overtaking them--they had waited so long for the return of Burzum.
Predictably, this album doesn't really pacify either category, the naysayer nor the sycophant. After a strange intro that sounds like a paint can being shaken before use, we are offered the return of Varg Vikernes via the track "Belus' Doed." In an interesting gesture from the black metal star, we are introduced to a return to form, executed with intent. The intent? To recapture early glories, of course! The track more than resembles the track "Jesus' Tod" from Filosofem, but with a mature and more polished studio sound. Be sure of one thing, the old man's riffing hand is more precise than ever.
Recorded in Grieghallen Studios, the sound is professional and studied, yet the production is tame. There are no unexpected elements for the most part, which is a rather large detriment to this release. The album moves along with nice sounding greyscale black metal. It's not too raw, it's not fragile in any way, nor does it wield a fury. However, the songwriting in Buzum maintains the touchstone melody and thought provoking chord progressions and meditative aspects. That being said, there isn't any poor tracks on this release, and yet there are no exceptional creations either. The signature repetition is there, along with a nicely added pagan "sung" vocal addition on some tracks ("Glemselens Elv").
One facet of this release which does not cheapen it, that also would have been very easy and timely to co-opt, is the complete lack of "atmospheric" black metal ponderousness. This is the style of black metal cheapened, used, and abused by pot-smoking Californian black metal fan-boys like Xasthur and Wolves in the Throne Room. It was heartening to hear a more aggressive and speedy take on black metal riffing, a no frills and no delay effects approach. As the essential innovator behind that more ethereal, ghostly and epic ballad style of metal, this Burzum release could just have just as easily tried to "cash in" on the success of this trend.
Instead, this Buzum album goes along well with the current batch of songs churned out by the re-vitalized Gorgoroth, lead once again by Infernus. "Sverddans" displays a thrash metal fetish that must still be buried in the mind and flowing in the blood of the creator. Nearing the end of the album, "Keliohesten" is another subtle, minimal, quietly raging track of trance-like repetitiveness with some "call to arms" riffing that eludes to the charge at the onset of battle.
Much of this album is status quo for a Burzum release, but there are a few mild surprises. There are a few interesting twists added on this release. Earlier in the album there is a repeated sample employed during "Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning" which lends the track a gothic, 80's appeal. Interesting sounding, and yet kind of funny, the track "Morgenroede" features verse music that employs what I could only refer to as an 80's 808 bass beat groove similar to those employed in explicit miami bass rap music. Considering that this is Buzum, once you consider this the track is kind of hilarious. Despite this, the track succeeds, as the bass flourish is, lke the album as a whole, under-stated. In the end I believe that the album works because everything is understated, it's a minor flaw, but if the ideas were presented in a more gratuitous or overwhelming manner, the album could have failed under that additional weight.
Overall, this is a very listenable, albeit uneventful Buzum album which proves that Vikernes still has strong songwriting skills, mastery of his chosen instrument, and, now, a lot of money as well. He has aged gracefully.