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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.