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1992 is the year that the second wave of black metal began to take shape. While Quorthon had already laid the foundation with the first three Bathory albums and Mayhem had been revving up for a while, it was the trio of Darkthrone’s “A Blaze in the Northern Sky,” Immortal’s “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” and Burzum’s self-titled debut that really kick started golden age of black metal. These albums are dark, raw, evil and chilling. Burzum’s debut is no doubt the most extreme of these albums.
Structurally and conceptually ambitious, “Burzum” already gives a peak into the complex artistic vision of Varg Vikernes. At the same time, this is an album that is as raw as they come. Varg takes Bathory’s buzzing guitar sound and sharpens it to an absolutely piercing pitch. Keen as these riffs are, they still fill a lot of space through resonation and humming feedback. The minimalist production does not stop these riffs from sounding big and full. This creates the perfect landscape for Varg’s maddening screams. Varg’s vocals on the first three albums are simply without peer. He sounds like a crow that just returned to its nest to find its eggs missing and is pissed the fuck off.
Conceptually, the album swings high, but it doesn’t always hit the mark. The album is split into two sides: “Side War” and “Side Winter.” Beyond being a fairly asymmetrical pairing, the two sides do not really fit the bill. For example, the dreamy ambient piece “Channeling the Power of Souls into a New God” appears on “Side War” while the thrashy headbanger “War” appears on “Side Winter”. More problematic, the album doesn’t have the greatest flow. Unlike some of the masterfully arranged albums that Varg would produce in the upcoming years, the debut is somewhat of a grab bag. There are three longer, emotionally complex tracks and there are three shorter, visceral tracks. While these differing types of tracks could conceivably be interwoven, Varg doesn’t actually manage to achieve that here.
Varg really shows his brilliance as a songwriter on the two closing epics, “A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit” and “My Journey to the Stars”. These two songs do feel like side winter with sweeping melodies buzzing around like gusts of ice cold wind. The tracks interweave between fast, pulsating rhythms and slow, tribal beats, constantly bringing new sounds into their web. Actually, the headbangers are damn good too. “War” is a great tribute to the Bathory song of the same name and “Spell of Destruction” is absolutely riveting. Varg’s devastated, retaliatory wails on the later track are some of the most beautiful and horrifying vocals in the history of black metal.
Still, when it’s all said and done “Burzum” mostly feels like a collection of innovative songs from an excited and inspired young artist, but it doesn’t quite feel like an album. The structure is too erratic and the songs sometimes clash. While this doesn’t make the songs themselves any less excellent, it does put Burzum’s debut a notch or two below its sequels.
(Originally written for http://listenwell-nocturnal.blogspot.com)
Back in the primordial sludge of black metal's evolution in the early 90s, particularly in Norway, there was a bit of stylistic ambiguity as to what direction things would go, as was largely the case with the early thrash efforts from a decade prior. Whereas Metallica's and Slayer's debuts, along with the early Exodus demos still had a strong remnant of the NWOBHM sound, so too did the early efforts of Mayhem, Darkthrone, Immortal, and the subject of this historical excursion Burzum with the still largely thrash infused death metal scene that many of them came out of. Suffice to say, the respective 1992 releases in the style were marked by an obvious nod to the past, be it the one lived by Bathory, Hellhammer, Venom or Sodom, and the self-titled debut out of Varg Vikernes' one-man project was no exception.
To be clear, "Burzum" does strike a bit closer at the streaming, flowing, melodic tremolo character that has come to typify the style than "Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism" or "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" do, but it has a near equal musical memory of the 1st wave 80s conventions and slight tendency towards the more occult oriented death metal sound that predated the gore-obsessed scene of the early 90s. But the greatest point of contrast is Varg's utterly raucous almost to the point of torturous vocal display. Unlike the deep grunts or goblin-like ravings that typified most contemporary offerings, what is heard is very human sounding, albeit an exaggerated dose of what a human being in a state of utter suffering would sound like. For many, it's a bit too much to handle, as was likely the case with a number of early grindcore/goregrind releases, but it generally suits what is going on musically, despite being a little too high in the mix at a few key points.
From one song to the next, it is clear that while Varg is very much situated in the musical climate of the year, his own unique quirks and fascination with droning and ambient ideas are very present. In addition to a rather creepy and dissonant sounding keyboard instrumental in "Channeling The Power Of Souls Into A New God", contrasting with the largely contemplative and restful numbers that were on subsequent albums, many of the riffs contain tuneful tremolo melodies that are very different from the largely thrash infused riffs common to Bathory's 80s offerings and earlier Mayhem works leading up to this point. Particularly in the cases of "Ea, Lord Of The Depths" and "My Journey To The Stars" these lead guitar ideas have an almost singing quality to them, and were probably very influential in shaping what became the early offerings of Gorgoroth.
This album's outlier status doesn't end with the rest of the early Norwegian scene, but also takes shape with regard to subsequent releases. With the remnant of earlier thrash infused blackness from the 80s comes a somewhat more virtuosic musical character, resulting in more ideas being jammed into shorter songs and having more of an accessibility factor for anyone not necessarily into the drawn out, droning character that became standard with "Transylvanian Hunger" and "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss". There is also a short thrasher in "War" that sounds a bit closer to a late 80s Mayhem song, complete with a guest guitar solo slot by Euronymous himself, channeling his usual influences from the Slayer and Bathory formula and shredding in a disjointed, choppy fashion for the last 30 seconds of the song. It's auspicious in that it's probably the closest to an out and out throwback to the 1st wave, in contrast to a set of songs that, while still tied in with the older paradigm to an extent, are far more advanced towards the commonly recognized sound than otherwise.
Pure in a musical sense, this is the weakest of the early Burzum full length albums, for no other reason than that it's the least consistent from one song to the next. The focus is definitely on the English translation of the band's Tolkien black-speak name of darkness, but the darkness is not the peculiar niche that Varg is more readily know for. From a historical standpoint, this album is probably the most monumental as it seems to be the most widely imitated, especially by some prominent Norwegian bands that cropped up soon after. But for all the distinctions that anyone else may or may not make, this is definitely a top notch representation of the seemingly endless wellspring from which many rawer black metal bands continue to flow.
The lone wanderer in mist. The shade itself. The black and white image which graces the cover of the 1992 Burzum s/t debut could not be more suited to the musician behind its conception, for Varg Vikernes (Count Grishnackh) has always seen fit to tread a path apart, of his own making, for better or worse. But outside of the notoriety this individual has created through his statements and actions, Burzum is actually a pretty poignant album because of the fundamentals it established. Vikernes is by no means the first human being to write and perform all instruments on an album (even a metal album) himself, but as far as the solitary aesthetic within this particular genre, the 'one man' black metal band, its obvious that the breadcrumb aspirations of many future suitors could be traced back to this particular Norse granary.
For another, Vikernes had set out to separate himself from what he considered dangerous trend and mediocrity within the reaches of extreme metal, the ever technically inclined gear whoring that death metal had become in its incessant strive towards brutality. Burzum is not the work of a man hanging out about his local music store offering fellatio to the latest brand name wizardry, but that of a minimalist. One who enters the audio market with nothing other than a daring imagination and whatever instruments are on hand. I've got no particular gripe with musicians who are particular about what equipment they use, mind you. To each his own. Engineering, tonal quality and the visual aesthetics of instruments and amplifiers are obviously of great importance to a great many composers and performers. However, I would be lying to say that I didn't find Varg's ethics for the time to be refreshing; the Burzum album itself is ample proof that such a philosophy could translate into memorable, important music.
And memorable this debut is, as one of the most primal offerings of its variety, yet satisfyingly structured. This is a cut above demo or rehearsal level quality, but implicitly simple. You won't hear the crashing calamity of Venom at the dawn of the 80s, or the first three ripping Bathory LPs, but a contrast of calm, flowing melodies and Varg's wraith-like, shrieking vocals which felt borne more of direct pain than pleasing harmony; as if he was stabbing himself in the foot while hurtling dark promises into the studio microphone, howling as often as delivering the lyrics. The drums are competent but dry, tinny cadences delivered through slow to mid paces, heavier on the snare and cymbals than the bass and toms. The axes shorn of repetitious, carnal melodies that eschew complexity for dramatic desolation; the few lead lines kept close to the rhythmic skeleton (as in "Ea, Lord of the Depths"). The bass is the antithesis of rocket science, as it too hovers very near the guitar passages, a shadow of certainty.
The consistency of its content is the one region in which this album suffers, albeit a very mild ailment. The first 5-6 tracks are captivating, but once it spins off into its more expansive pieces like "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" or "My Journey to the Stars", I got the impression that the riffs were overwrought and slowly lost their gathered luster. Not the case for "Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown", with its immediate charge into harrowing, belligerent agony, or the subtly shifts in "Ea, Lord of the Depths" (the alternating chord pattern at 2:20 is stupendously eerie and enthralling). Not the case either for "Spell of Destruction's" bleak crawling, or the abrupt shift towards straight, dirty heavy metal that is "War" (with a central riff reminiscent of Destruction's "Curse the Gods", or the bridge of Sabbath's legendary "Symptom of the Universe"). But "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" taunts us with a few mesmeric passages and then beats us in the face with them until we're numb of being numb; and the same could almost be said for "My Journey to the Stars", 1-2 decent riffs and transitions but ultimately the guitars and double bass drive are not all that appealing.
Burzum also features a few ambient excursions, perhaps an unintended prospectus on what was to follow on ensuing efforts, but tasteful enough. "Channeling the Power of Souls into a New God" is simply a pair of primitive synth lines, one droning powerfully the with backing notes, the other repeating a melancholic, softer pattern alongside, almost like some mausoleum in a primitive video game soundtrack. "Dungeons of Darkness" is the more interesting, with a dark swell of implied subterranean atmosphere that slowly erupts into loose percussion, tumescent synthesizers capped off in freakish electrodes. There's also "The Crying Orc", which is less than a minute of simple guitar melodies ringing off into the mists, but the notation here isn't given the time it would need to manifest the listener's sorrow.
In the end, I found there to be about 40 out of 48 minutes here which have compelled me through the years to revisit. This is raw imagination, stripped of excess ballast and sincere in its reproach towards humanity, evoked here through lyrical libations to Babylonian myth ("Ea"), fantasy, destruction and dour mysticism. Burzum is not the most impressive of Varg's albums in hindsight, but it lays much of the brickwork that favorites like Filosofem and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss would stand upon, and it speaks with a voice of its own, a frightening and permeating chill at any depth of comprehension. As a work of influence, it drowns even that.
Varg’s formula has always been pretty basic in m opinion, especially on his early work. It basically consists or several riffs, basic drumming/bass part, and some cool vocals that build a bit of an atmosphere in the music. Anyways, his S/T album is pretty standard black metal through and through, so I don’t really have much of a problem with it other than it can get a bit boring after a while.
The first thing that is rather interesting for a one-man band is that Varg does all of the drumming on this, no programmed drumming at all. The drumming itself is rather simple, consisting of basic rock influences and early black metal, like first album Bathory or so. The production is very raw on this album, very basic (the word bland comes to mind). So the production kind of makes it drums sound somewhat artificial at times.
The riffs themselves are exactly what you would expect, very simple. Songs consist of about three or four riffs that alternate in verses sections. The length of the songs is what makes it rather boring though. Some songs are rather lengthy, “A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit” is over nine minutes, and the simplistic riffs/drumming make the longer songs get boring about half way through. Varg sometimes screams at random throughout that song and I just tend to let my mind drift into no-mans land getting bored of the album.
Don’t get my wrong, its not that is voice is boring, I actually like his vocals. Some of his screams just feel random as if he’s just adding them to the song for a haunting atmosphere (which he pulls off sometimes at least). The vocals are mixed in almost in between the guitar and drums, basically the guitars drowned his vocals out and his vocals drowned the drums out. His screams sound almost as if he’s being tortured or something likes that in my opinion. He does some long, chilling screams in a lot of the tracks on here.
It’s not a bad album, I actually like it. It’s a rather average black metal album that most fans of the genre can get into, although if I listen to the entire album in one sitting I can’t help myself from yawning either. Rather it is the boring ambient tracks here and there, or the repetitive songs. Either way, it’s a decent album with some cool vocals.
This self-titled LP debut by Burzum competes with Transilvanian Hunger for best black metal record of all time in my opinion. Every other Burzum influenced band no matter how good they might be (and there are few to none) sound downright silly in comparison to this misanthropic mastery of Norwegian heathenry. The concept behind this album is simple: to entrance you with pagan legend in the starkest possible sense of Norse context. It may sound complicated in idea but here it is simple in design. Works of genius are never elaborate; only honest and original. This was made by someone who is in touch with his heritage and knew how to express it in accordance with the simplicity of nature which he was in tune with. That someone is none other than Count Grishnackh. I will not delve into the man’s already well documented notoriety except to say that his reputation outside the studio is the consequence of a spirited conviction vice the other way around. Whether that facet of him is misguided or not is for none of us to decide since we don’t know him personally nor present when and where any of those events actually took place. This is about Burzum. The music. The haunting sounds of…
...Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown. The blasts beats on this first track make it pretty clear that this is one straight forward black metal album unlike Varg’s later albums which incorporated more ambient details. The layers of his guitars are profound. The speed is fast and the riffs are primitive tones of blunt atmosphere. There is a combative sense of urgency in the percussion. Varg is a very good drummer for this kind of black metal. He has established his own rhythms and variances when the song slows down and it never seems off. No surprise that the bass is not very noticeable but it is more functional than what you might expect even though it is nowhere near as hypnotic as his playing of the instrument when he recorded with Mayhem. The speedy passage on this song toward the end is a black metal clinic. This shows off the thin production quality and it sounds evil as ever. Blazing through and down until you can no longer fathom what can possibly be encountered only then when you are swallowed up by…
…Ea, Lord of the Depths as he lurks the chasms of the Baltic. This song feels like a celebration of pure Tolkien. I’ve always found it to be one of Burzum’s trademark-like songs in sound. There is a little wobbly honk of feedback right after the beats kick in and the diminished chords ram this beast through. It’s all so perfect and so organic. This the type of Burzum song that makes me picture the band’s album covers because the sound is so stark and ancient. I mentioned the bass earlier and it’s invisible but effective presence but here if you listen perceptively, the bass on here is what gives the song aggression. I would describe it as a sort of audio illusion since the riffs are what will grab you the most. The mix of the bass on this is ringing all the way through in a very “aquatic” way. People are so used to not even paying attention to the bass on most black metal now because it is typically marginalized in a lot of records in the genre but you cannot underestimate Varg’s trickery in using it as a secret ingredient to project even more dissonance on these riffs and blasts. I was one to pick up on it though as it seemed to be the musical representation of the mythical beast in the title as it slithered and slurped up any seafaring souls of yore. Even if those souls could chart a course around him in those dark waters they might not be as fortunate to stave off the eerie…
…Black Spell of Destruction! Melancholy and foreboding chants of disharmonic serenity awaits in this cold skinned black metal movement. While Vikernes’ vocals are not the greatest in the genre, at least they are different than most of what other bands were doing at the time. His are torturous and primal but terrifying all at the same time. This song is very slow and is driven by pertinent beats while chromatic values are placed throughout one serpentine scale. This song sounds like a medieval tale of torture and you will feel it as such as the drum pattern guides you along what sounds to be a labyrinth of cold, dark air where much suffering takes place and where no one comes out! It’s an atmosphere that can only be created by a tyrant mind and while the captives of his creation lament their own presence, the mastermind is already busy…
…Channeling The Power Of Souls Into A New God and that deity is getting restless. This mood piece is actually the ambient conclusion to Side Hate. Burzum is the band most prominent for including these synthesizer pieces to go along with his track lists in black metal. As simple as this song sounds, it actually probably took a long time to come up with since there are actually a few complex loops overlapping each other and drifting in and out of several notes with mystical pace. It’s very soothing and hypnotic but creepy at the same time. Don’t get to comfortable because Burzum declares an all out…
…War! What is it good for? Well, absolutely nothin’ except for a chance to enjoy a token thrash song by Burzum! We are now on Side Winter but that doesn’t mean it is time to bundle up and call a temporary ceasefire until spring. This song is a nod to Bathory from the sounds of it but I did not recognize it as such right away due to the vocal presentation by Varg. The pace is about accurate for what is typical of Bathory’s early work. This is a track that is overlooked in Burzum’s discography since the material in Filosofem is more recognizable than this black thrash type of effort. Euronymous cameos with a ratty raw guitar solo at the end that was interesting to hear. Once the fields have been wasted and the bodies of soldiers strewn all throughout the forests, you can sense misery and fallout by the surviving victims and one of them to be found is…
…The Crying Orc as he contemplates suicide. This is a short interlude of brilliant Norwegian black metal darkness. It feels like it was authored by a long ago Pagan woodsman who made music to accompany his Norsk woodcut artwork. Maybe Varg felt like such a figure and he shows it through with this song. I would not be surprised at all if he conjured up this tune while sitting in the middle of the shiny and quiet countryside as he reflected back in humility his own existence as…
…A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit in the grand scheme of Odin’s fleshed out frontiers of forests, fjords and foreboding rivers where trolls bathe and tribal lands divide. This original rendition is so much better than the Aske version which I always felt had too clean a sound. This version though is rougher and truer to form. It’s a dour tour-de-force about death and immortality throughout the lands where Christian imperialism has raped the pride of Norway’s landscapes. The bass-y slowdown toward the end emits dread and loss but may the ghosts of Nordland avenge? That’s the idea behind the vigor in this song as Varg screams and beats his way through the elongated passages of depressive dissonance. Varg must have envisioned the fallout from this tale when he dreamt up…
…My Journey To The Stars. Whether Valhalla is that place or some other astral realm of enshrinement is unknown but the trip is a furious one. The opening riff sounds a little like Ea. It’s a blazing assault of grassroots black metal. The drumming is concise and agile. The bass is more aligned with that which was played on the previous song in that it follows more traditional patterns of conforming structure. Varg is a well organized musical compositionist. Every song on this album has a purpose in the track list. If My Journey To The Stars is thought to be the final place of rest, then it seems likely that you would be wrong because there lies cruelty and unending solitude at the end of this violent jaunt. So many sacrifices and adventurous turns only to find yourself naked, freezing and forever chained up in…
…Dungeons of Darkness where you will go insane with solitude and helplessness. Yes, even the Gods keep such places for their own whim. Another electronic/ ambient track, many will dismiss this one as nonsensical minimalist atmosphere but it is impressively engineered to sound like such a rickety forebode. If you want to know what harsh, three dimensional drone might sound like, this is a very good example. Not only that, but it’s perfectly long and echoes the solitude of ages! This is a fantastic ending to a perfect album. Filosofem was a huge achievement from Burzum, but this album is more upfront, take-no-prisoners type of aggression in pure black metal.
A personal pet peeve of mine has always been when (even by my other favorite) bands proclaim themselves as not musicians but “artists”. This has always annoyed me because it reeks of self-importance and arrogance in pretentious fashion no matter how good their albums are. But this record by Burzum is probably the only piece of work that I would call pure art and music.
As one of the most notorious bands in the Norwegian black metal, Burzum emerged from the darkest thoughts of abysmal misanthropist known as Varg Vikernes. Due to his extremely delivered taste of raw black metal, this self titled debut is perhaps the most essential record that one must have in their possession. The album kicks in with “Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown” which in my estimation is a combination of raw and aggressive old school black metal. At first when I was listening to it, this album rather annoying and very in comprehensive in terms of song writings. Unknown to me that Vikernes quickly became one of the most genre bending godfathers in the early Norwegian black metal scene.
When it comes to touch the aspect of Burzum’s music, I could only say that it is straightforward in – your – face heaviness. Varg’s ultra ear piercing screams and savagely distorted guitar pummeled with insane drumming pattern have totally blown me to bits! Not to mention the undefined volume of his double bass drumming that really sticks out behind the music. To me, it sounds more original and unique without sacrificing the speed since it preserves the most authentic sound which could rarely be enjoyed by many of unappreciative listeners. I really enjoyed reading through the lyrics, as can be found in the opening track followed by “A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit” and “My Journey to the Stars”. Frankly speaking, I’m not worried about Varg ideologies or beliefs. Let them be Odalist, paganism or whatever it is as long as I could sense his ingenuity through the music he produced. Most importantly, Varg highly imaginative thoughts have been such a good deed for him to write the lyrics. My favorite track as well as its lyric is “A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit” whereby the music is unrelentingly fantastic and its lyric keeps flowing with enrichment of mystique. While “Channeling the Power of Souls into a New God” and “The Crying Orc” are far much longing and I wish the latter would span more lengthily therefore I could indulge with Varg softly tuned synthesizer whenever I feel like cannot sleep. Before I forget, Euronymous also did some good job with his solo in the track “War”. It is clean and surely to pierce your ears even for a brief moment.
As far as I’m concern, this album shall forever remains as one of my greatest black metal record. I highly recommended this album to add to your collection in which I think it won’t complete without any presence of Burzum’s releases.
This is Burzum's debut, and definitely the least unorthodox of all the releases. He actually plays what might be called standard black metal on this one (though he would do that some on DSEV too).
The production is actually pretty great. Raw as hell, much more so than any of Burzum's other releases. The drums can have this annoying ticking sound to them at times though. You have to love Varg's screams though; totally primal, and never more so than here.
So as the title says, when Varg writes actual songs, and isn't farting around with some ambient bullshit, it's pretty good. The first three tracks are real songs, and while I can't remember any of the details of them at the moment, they're all good. And then we have some ambient crap, Channeling the Power of Souls yeah yeah. When you listen to Daudi Baldrs, god help you, never say Varg didn't warn you. After this one is a really bad song, War. It's short, but it sucks. It's like Varg wanted to rock out or something, but he fails. Next is some more ambience, in the form of the minute-long The Crying Orc. Pointless, and forgettable, as I had to be reminded of its existence just before writing this.
After that, Varg kicks it up a notch with My Journey to the Stars. He apparently thought that the intro to this song kicked so much ass he would repeat it like five times during the course of it. Luckily, he's right, it does kick ass, and so does the rest of the song. So, following this great success, what does he give us? Right, more ambient poo. Except this time, sucks even harder. I suppose Dungeons of Darkness is supposed to give you the impression of being in a dark dungeon. It gives me the impression of being near a chain link fence during a hurricane. Really, just terrible.
As a final note, I'm a big fan of listening to albums, rather than just selected tracks. With that in mind, burn one of these that doesn't have the Aske EP tacked onto the end. The addition makes it overlong.
I'll start off by saying that Varg's drumming and vocals are a joke. He can't sing and can barely drum. This album and nearly every Burzum album (except for Filosofem) are really nothing special (his synth albums aren't metal so I won't worry about them during this review) aside from a handful of tunes. Originality is certainly lacking as most of the guitar playing sounds like a pathetic and cheap Thorns immitation mixed with a little Celtic Farce and some elements of new-wave/post-punk shit from the 80's like Billy Idol. The bass can be ignored as it is only playing boring roots notes and such. Nothing even worth recording. What does that leave? Song structure. Here's something Varg seems to know a little about. Some of the songs such as "My Journey to the Stars" and "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" have long winding stuctures that take you on a nice little adventure through some interesting and slightly tragic fantasies. Others though, like "War" and "Ea, Lord of the Depths," though are unimaginatively bland and follow a verse/chorus arrangement or worse. Let's not forget about "This is, heh Waawr." haha Makes me laugh just thinking about it. It almost sounds like he was making fun of Tom G. Warrior. He probably killed Euronymous just to draw attention away from the fact that he was a complete dork and totally clueless to boot. Anyway.. As I said, this and most other early Burzum albums are nothing to make a fuss about since the musicianship is so poor and the vocals are awful. I'd only recommend this if you're into goofy, lazy, sloppy stuff like post-Ablaze Darkthrone that only makes black metal seem like more of a joke than it has already become.
And so begins the twisted tale of everyone’s favorite Nordic white supremacist Nazi black metal Viking Satanist Odin-worshipping incarcerated nut-job. Let’s face facts here people. In the years since Christen Vikernes, a.k.a. Varg Vikernes, a.k.a. Count Grishnackh came to public notice in the metal world, this guy has garnered more spilt ink in the music press than he will ever deserve over several lifetimes of misadventures. He murdered one of the black metal scene’s foremost architects (Oyster “Euronymous” Aarseth of Mayhem fame) and gloated about it, then claimed self-defense when on trial for said act, claimed to be a Satanist in his formative days, then claimed to be a Norse pagan, then claimed to embrace national socialism, and ultimately has marginalized himself as a self-obsessed violent narcissist who will serve many more years in a Norwegian prison for committing a very stupid act.
Trying to chart this guy’s guises and poses throughout the years is a frustrating and useless act, as he seems to feel the need to re-invent his persona in order to continue to receive attention every few years or so. But somewhere in that criminally idiotic mind is also the vision of some of black metal’s most authentically bleak and somberly inspired sounds. I really can’t bring myself to dwell to deeply on the man, so I choose to concentrate on the music he made, which some may see as irresponsible, but hey, this site is about MUSIC after all.
After performing with some marginal death metal bands (Old Funeral) in his native Norway, Vikernes became impressed with the vision of black metal foisted by the aforementioned Euronymous. Said vision of dark images, wailing humorless souls, and faces painted in the manner of plague victims flew in the face of current trends and was decidedly provocative. Acting in kind, Vikernes formed his own one-man band Burzum (from a Tolkien inspired word meaning darkness, originally Uruk-Hai) and began recording primitive but effective recordings the evoked sorrow and pain at their most acute. The self-titled debut album issued on the infamous Deathlike Silence label is testament to that vision of anti-human music.
Whatever his personal wackiness, Vikernes is a composer of emotional abandonment like few others. His melancholy riffs and forlorn sounds are almost without equal, the tortured wailings of a truly disturbed soul. It’s rumored that Vikernes screamed himself hoarse before recording the vocals for these songs and I believe it. His shrieks are unsettling indeed, the perfect match for his mournful riffs. “Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown” is a collection of just that, alternated as it is over thrashing and alternately pounding tempos. “War” conjures up perhaps the album’s most obvious antecedent, Bathory, but only in spirit. Remorseful instrumentals dot the affair, most especially in the form of “The Crying Orc” and “Channeling The Power Of Souls Into A New God.” The overall feel is one of bleak despair, and it may very well have been in this state that Vikernes future violent urges sprang. Whatever the truth, Burzum’s debut is an unforgettable experience.
Again, the man behind the music is one to be kept at arm’s length ideologically and clearly one not playing with a complete deck of UNO cards. But at this point, he had what was simply the most personal and foreboding vision of black metal music to date. This counts for something.
I like a lot of the so called tr00 bands but I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and rave about this album. I really don’t understand the great popularity. I fail to get sucked into Varg’s world. I do like Burzums later releases though. Filosofem anyone? But yet I just find this S/T fairly dull except for a few points.
This is the most straightforward black metal put forth by Varg. Varg made the right move into transferring his style involving much more keyboard work as he manages to create a much greater atmosphere.
The same guitar riffs are played over and over again but instead of putting me into a trance as much of this style does it just bores the hell out of me especially in Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown and Ea, Lord of the Depths. I get hardly any sense of dark atmosphere that many people seem to find. Ea, Lord of the depths opens up with an almost happy riff that sounds like it would be in some oldskool videogame such as Golden Axe. In fact I think it may well have been. This riff is then dropped into a much more boring one which is a pity cause it started out better.
The guitars are played a little on the sloppy side at times and the vocals sound like almost any bloke off the street could have performed them, just random screams over and over again. It is really nothing special. It could drive almost anyone to insanity or even worse, suicide (or maybe insanity is worse, it’s your call). I do like some suicidal metal such as Silencer (Swe) or Abyssic Hate’s Suicidal Emotions. The difference is with those bands, is that they manage to create some great atmosphere so there is the possibility of getting sucked into their world, and with Burzum that is mostly not the case.
The vocals seem to greatly suck on My Journey Into The Stars, which otherwise is an incredible track as it is quicker in pace and much better riffing. The guitars here actually sound really grim and atmospheric, but as I said before the vocals ruin the track. The same goes for The Black Spells Of Destruction which is quite possibly the most covered song in black metal, including covers by the likes of Beatrik and Nargaroth. In fact I have a compilation devoted entirely to covers of this one song. My favourite track on this album would be The Crying Orc, simply because it is an instrumental and doesn’t feature Varg’s horrible screams.
How other people can decipher Varg’s lyrics from his vocals is beyond me. If I listen really hard I can sometimes make a word out here and there but to do that I have to use all my attention and divert it from everything else but I don’t listen to black metal for the lyrics in the first place so this does not bother me.
I don’t totally hate this album, it has some nice riffing in here but Varg doesn’t quite manage to capture that atmosphere that he does with his later works. If the vocals were better then this album would be a fair bit better but still nothing spectacular, but as it stands this is fairly mediocre. I recommend listening to some of Burzum’s later works such as Aske and Filosofem instead as he began to find his potential.
Varg Vikernes, aka Count Grishnack, is well-known throughout the metal scene for his private life, which included a murder that sent him to prison for fourteen years. Aside from that, the man was a brilliant black metal musicianship and songwriter, and he plays every single instrument on this debut album. The music is very dark and depressing, and the production is terrible which many people feel enhances the black metal listening experience.
The vocals on this album are equivalent to the sound of a demon shrieking, but they actually make the music more enjoyable because you feel the torture in his voice, and you can relate that to the music. The lyrics are all fantasy-based, and most are referenced from the Lord of the Rings. The drumwork is tremendous, especially on "Ea, Lord of the Depths." Really experimental on the drumming, as he mixes it up quite a bit from fast to slow tempos. The bass is not turned up loud, so it is basically a nonfactor. The guitars sound okay, not much of what you would call riffing, but just that black metal style of atmosphere creating guitar sound.
One of my favorite black metal songs ever is “War.” Well, I guess that would be because it doesn’t sound like black metal at all, hehe. It sounds like a typical thrash song with a punishing riff that totally drives the song, great vocals, and outstanding drumwork. It is one of those songs that every time you hear, you just want to bang your fucking head until you can’t anymore. Excellent, excellent song. Other highlights include “Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown”, “Ea, Lord of the Depths”, “Spell of Destruction”, and “My Journey to the Stars.” Althought the latter tends to drag on a bit, it should have ended around the five minute mark. “A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit” is an epic black metal song, it is very good but also it tends to drag on. The two songs on the Aske EP are simply just average.
A fine debut by Varg, the music remains true to black metal while also expanding his own style. The musicianship is pretty good, the guitars could use a little work, as well as the bass, but all in all a pretty solid album.
Track by track:
1) Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown 8.5
2) Ea, Lord of the Depths 8.5
3) Spell of Destruction 9.5
4) Channeling the Power of Souls into a New God N/A
5) War 10
6) The Crying Orc N/A
7) My Journey to the Stars 9
8) Dungeons of Darkness N/A
9) Stemmen Fra Tremmet 7.5
10) Dominus Sathans 6.5
11) A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit 9.5
I could start this review talking about Varg Vikerness’s (the one man behind this band) deeds but that topic has been covered so often already. I’ll just say that in the case of Burzum, one would do well to separate the man from the music. On to the review.
(Note: I wrote this review at the time Burzum/Aske was entered as one release in the archives, and I own only that one. The difference between Burzum and Aske is hard to notice. Aske has a slightly more muddled and darker sound, and if I would view it as a seperate release, I think it would come out on top, though by a very small margin.)
This reissue consists of Burzum’s self-titled debut and his only EP, Aske, which was released after his second full-length. The songs on his first three releases were all written in the same period of time, so there are songs on Aske and his second full-length that predate the songs on this one. The original version of ‘A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit’ is cut from the tracklist, but that’s no big deal because we have the remake on Aske.
Burzum was one of the first bands to play an atmospheric variant of black metal, and his later releases would be even more focused on atmosphere. Burzum/Aske is Varg’s most “ass-kicking” release, and Black Metallers who can’t enjoy atmospheric music will probably like this one the most.
Like most BM, the guitar sound on this album is very ugly. Burzum doesn’t yet use as many layers as on later albums (his trademark ‘guitar-drone’), and riffs are very recognizable. Compared to most BM albums there is a lot of variation in the guitar sound too. There are two solos on the album, both really adding to the songs.
The vocals are screeched and sound incredibly inhuman and otherwordly. Most of the times you can’t make out the words, but the emotions are very strong. The lyrics are dark, sad and dreamy and handle a variety of subjects. They are definately worth reading and add to the songs.
The drums aren’t the tightest in the world but are very enjoyable and driving (Track 2). Fans of clean production and clear sounds will probably hate this release, but ugly sounding instruments are a necessity in dark atmospheric music. Varg even adds some sloppiness on purpose: the slips in the solo and vocals of the ‘Bathory influenced’ War add to the fun. The production is clear enough to hear everything. Burzum is quite subtle though, and only multiple listens will reveal everything the music has to offer. The speed differs a lot both between and within the songs. Slow-downs in the songs are well-applied and don’t interrupt the flow and feeling.
Burzum/Aske doesn’t contain just metal tracks: a gloomy keyboard song (the only use of keyboard on the album), a creepy noise track and two guitar-only tracks add more variation. This variation (a trademark of Burzum) is probably the strongest point of this particular release. Another trademark is the unity between the title, lyrics and music of the songs. For instance ‘A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit’ is a wandering, doomy composition with some frantic and desperate sounding moments, justifying the title.
As an aside, I think the cover art is inspired by that song. I really like it but most people don’t. The well-known cover art for the Aske EP, a burnt church, is used for the CD art.
The difference between Burzum and Aske is hard to notice. Aske has a slightly more muddled and darker sound, and if I would view it as a seperate release, I think it would come out on top, though by a very small margin.
The high amount of variation, original and subtle songwriting and the unbeatable dark feeling of this CD make it an all-time classic. For a BM album it also has the very reasonable length of about an hour. This is the best album to start getting into Burzum, and one of the very best albums Black Metal has to offer.
This debut LP of early Scandinavian blackmetal is without a doubt a definitive release. Playing is somewhat raw and simplistic, as Varg (a.k.a. Count Grishnackh) has never been an aspiring technical wonder; on this album, as on most of the others, he handles all instrumentation as well as composition. Song structures, however, are quite complex, as the trademark structure of a Burzum song unfolds in its unique way. This album was quite innovative at the time for black metal, in its constant alteration between fast double-bass blastbeat sections and slower, more drawn-out passages; the overall impression is that of a primitive, evil work, as the tremolo-picked, blastbeat-accompanied passages, offset by the more accentuated, punctual power-chord riffing of the slower-paced ones create the framework for the communication of the message contained within this work: a feeling of omnipresent sadness bubbles to the surface, as the angst and nihilism projected by the artist through his utilization of the characteristic structure of his unique brand of music allow the listener to see into what filters through - emotive, immensely atmospheric music, effectively communicating at all levels the artist's message: a tapping of the listener's imagination, a subtle manipulation of thought, urging the listener to follow along the lines of the author's dream; eschewing reality by creating its own, in the musical and artistic wholeness of this work. Traces of this can be found in the blatant plugs to the works of Tolkien, such as the album/project name (meaning "darkness" in the Black Speech of Mordor) and in "The Crying Orc", and, naturally, in the lyrics.
Simple-by-comparison riffing gives way at most situations to a multi-layered sound, with single notes played over the riff accentuating either the melodic or atonal structure, which is inherently counterpoint music despite the relative simplicity of composition, with sometimes weirder tones blending into the mix in a far subtler manipulation of harmonious structure. Songs are composed in the way of a theme repeating itself in different variations, changing in nature and progressing to unfold the composition in its entirety. Simple drumming, minimalistic in the extreme, at times monotonic and droning, alternates with fast double-bass machinegun-drumming rattling crazily forward; then, a relative calmness permeates, as menacing acidic distortion oozes far above and all drumming stops except for the omnipresent double-bass rattle pounding underneath, as if gathering energy, momentum and tension, before springing forward again.
The approach to singing is quite extreme and unique, the vocals being the long, high-pitched hoarse screeches of a wounded demon, stretching the lyrics and making them hardly intelligible. The album is divided into two sides, each ending with an atmospheric dark ambient synth instrumental; the mood running like a thread through this entire composition remains that of wistful sadness and despair, yet of salvation in imagination, offering the sought-after alternative. Some of the more obvious influences by proto-blackmetal ancestors shine through on some tracks (Bathory on "War" or Mercyful Fate on "My Journey to the Stars"), but still this album offers enough uniqueness, being surprisingly consistent and coherent for a debut release. In a first glance this album might seem to be nothing but juvenile crap; people whose interest in blackmetal stems solely from the lilting musical beauty and aesthetic appeal of artists like Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir will be handicapped when trying to stomach this release. People whose interest in music is that of artistic appreciation will praise this work for what it is - a winsome, remarkable piece of art.