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A winsome, remarkable piece of art. - 95%

VileRancour, July 29th, 2002

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.