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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.