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A Tale of Two Sides - 100%

marktheviktor, February 24th, 2009

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.