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Reflecting on speculations regarding any famous or infamous artist’s up and coming work can get boring after a while, and the atmosphere surrounding the release of one of the more infamous black metal maestros Varg Vikernes is among the more extreme examples. It’s a strange thing how a person’s biography can get so overblown in underground circles that you find yourself not caring yet anymore, and simultaneously the music just keeps roping the listener back in. But whatever the hidden charm is behind the fuzzy guitars and Norwegian dark speak, the creature that is Burzum is among the more addictive of extreme metal creations out there, particularly in low-fi circles.
“Belus” is more a reassertion than a new experiment, a reminder if you will that the dark winds of Mordor still blow is heavy gusts despite being locked away for just under 2 decades. Gone are the days of ambient experimentation with keyboards while in the solitude of prison, and back are the frostbitten tremolo guitar melodies and esoteric ramblings of the paroled poet. And just like the good old days, the songs are long and involved, though the actual content is presented in a minimalist manner, emphasizing repetition with little variation or contrast, and maintaining the meditation music tendencies that have always been present in Varg’s creations.
But as much as this is an album marked by a loyal conservatism, it also shows signs of growth and evolution within its allegedly strict and narrow template. The melodic material seems partially borrowed from older material, and in the case of the “Belus' Død” is an actual quotation of one of Varg’s creations from his ambient days, but it has also been varied and elaborated to the point where it almost comes off as progressive. “Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning” particularly combines a few early 90s blackened thrash ideas with this new melodic, almost post-rock character present here, which is basically a higher fidelity version of the sound that cropped up on “Filosofem”.
The biggest changes in the format, however, are to be found in Varg’s vocal delivery, which has taken on a duality of sadness and viciousness. Gone are the piercing cries of agony with a latent hardcore punk character, and in their place is a multifaceted mixture of orthodox blackened barks that are a bit closer to Nocturno Culto’s death-like wolf growl, alongside a mixture of spoken narrations and a fatalistic baritone chant with a flat, hopeless melodic character. Particularly in the case of the long winded, shimmering musical dream vision “Glemselens Elv”, this clean vocals function almost like the stand-ins for the now absent keyboards, tempering a rough edged ripple of blast beats and nebulous riffs with a soft, sustained counterpoint.
As a whole, this is another classic release from someone who obviously doesn’t qualify for human being of the century, but is good at what he does regardless. It’s a bit less distinctive of a part of Burzum’s history and occasionally listens like an updated version of “Filosofem” with a different production and vocal display, but as an individual album it is a strong offering for a year where black metal seems to be about genre expansionism rather than getting back to basics. It is understandable that based on a formula that is somewhat derivative of the past that a few fans with really high expectations might not consider this an accomplishment, but speaking for myself, it’s about as good as one can expect from a buy whose been out of the game for over 20 years.