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This album is a special one for me, as it is one of the absolute first “true” black metal records I ever bought. “Aske” really is the ultimate black metal album, as it not only ignited my passion for the extremity of black metal music, but in general, this album really is pretty flawless. Every single song is unique, and it’s not often an album is like that. However, each piece is still undeniably familiar to the last, with great patterns to it. However, each song deserves its own review, so I will try and best describe them, keeping in mind that no words can do justice to this masterwork. Everyone who knows Varg’s works even just a little bit knows that each of his albums is starkly different to another. This one here is the most “true black metal” of his works, no keyboards at all throughout the metal songs, only on the ambient tracks. Add to this raw tremolo picked power chords, searing and agonisingly harsh vocals, and you have what sounds like a fairly normal black metal CD. But as we shall see, this is much more than just another black metal album. Apart from being a classic, even if released today, this anthology of music would be a fantastic seller due to its originality, quality and the fact that each song contains some fresh and new ideas from the last.
The opening track of this maniacal and tortuous hour of music is the epic “Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown”. This song is not brilliant in a technical sense, but it is brilliant on a large number of levels. It’s common knowledge that Burzum was the first metal act to incorporate ambient elements into its music, as is done in all his works, but this song in particular experiments with progression as well. He plays a riff however many times, and then it’s almost never heard of again, bar a couple of examples. The intro here is faster than is commonly heard, and the first example of Varg’s horrendous and bone-chilling vocals are included in here. The slower verse riffs are written perfectly and flow together nicely. The rest of the song follows as either mid-pace or slow, and it executes itself nicely. The slower pace highlights his voice perfectly well, and especially when it goes into the part which is only guitar and voice. Otherwise, the riffing is a great mix of high-range power chords, tremolo picked.
Put simply, “What a way to kick start a black metal career!”
After the sheer brilliance of the opening track, we go into the shorter “Ea, Lord of the Depths”. This track starts off with the drum beat which doesn’t change at all over the next five minutes, showing Varg’s awesome consistency and power with the kit. I would have said coordination, but the drums aren’t the most coordinated I’ve ever heard – some of them are a bit out of time with each other, and this song is no different, but it’s no problem, after all this isn’t a goddamn drum instruction video with a drum-off with Flo from Cryptopsy. Anyway, back on the topic of this song, there are few riffs in this song, but this works to a best effect. The verse riff is extremely catchy, not changing much in pitch, but still highly listenable. The lyrics are short but great, as always, and those maniacal vocals are even better than on the opening track of the album. This track will have you banging your head all the way through, and after the second chorus, there is even a little solo, though it’s not really as much of a solo or a lead as it is an additional melody. Whatever you like to call it though, it’s still good. Then we finish with just another playing of the rhythm, and this neat little track is over.
“Spell of Destruction” (or “Black Spell of Destruction” on the older release) is simply fanatical. Imagine the holocaustic racket that would be made if all the eternally tortured souls from an underworld asylum, were set free on the earth. Now multiply aforementioned racket by 10. What you have now doesn’t even come close to this piece. This song is quite slow all throughout, and this works very much in its favour. The dissonant and juicy guitar riffs are not repeated many times, but their lack of pace makes them perfect. Varg’s vocal performance early on is again top-notch. But if you think those vocals are twisted, you haven’t heard anything yet. There is a vocal solo, backed only by single sorrowful guitar notes, which is exactly the perfect part to back up my pervious analogy to a tortured soul asylum. This is being written for a review in 2006, where the progression of extreme and experimental music is of course at its own forefront, so when you think back to the original release of this being in 1992, it’s really not a wonder that this release was so hyped and so well received by the black metal community and Euronymous’s label Posercorpse/DSP alike. This would have been very well ahead of its time I imagine.
Following this unholy pandemonium, we see the earliest example of Burzum’s ambient works, the calm and soothing “Channelling The Power of Souls Into A New God”. There are only two passages of music in this piece, which is three and a half minutes long, but it is still a very majestic and beautiful piece. The keyboard tone is perfect, and the music, while simple, is effective and executed flawlessly, with a great transition, and then the fade-out to a very faint whisper of “Worship….me….” – concluding an essentially perfect interlude.
Track 5 on this album is simply titled “War” and it only lasts for 2 and a half minutes, but it’s goddamn…CATCHY!!? Black metal, catchy?? Whoever heard of such a thing! Well, this is indeed damn catchy. This is possibly Varg’s most musically technical effort to date (which isn’t saying much, haha), and this faster-paced tune again shows his willingness for experimentation, and furthering the boundaries instead of sticking to the same old formula. In the opening seconds, Varg tells us “This is, heheh….WAR!” and then the rest of the instruments come in, and let me tell you ladies and gentlemen; YES, THIS IS WAR. Cheesy lyrics, but again those twisted and miserable vocals take your mind off things. The same riff is essentially repeated, or at least is only varied slightly, the rhythm remains the same, but it’s not a problem as the track is still great. “War” is capped off with a little solo that isn’t any great Slayer or Iron Maiden piece, but its simplicity complements the rhythm well and fits nicely over the song.
Another interlude is next, “The Crying Orc”. Simply consisting of two layered guitar tracks, this lugubrious and emotional interlude is only a minute long, which is a damn shame because for all it does inside this minute, it could have been made into an extremely excellent track. But, it is still a fantastic break track.
After this little rest, we’re back into the black onslaught with the wicked “My Journey To The Stars”. This, along with “Spell of Destruction”, contends for the position of “most evil song on the album”. The song starts off with tremolo picked tritone notes, before flowing into the higher range of the guitar, and going into a fast drum beat. This all takes over a minute to build up, and by leaving nothing out, it is the perfect build-up to a song of this wickedness. The lyrics are very strong again even for today, so imagining the brutality and impact of these lyrics on an unsuspecting Norwegian scene in the early 1990’s would have been colossal. This is also one of the fastest tracks on the album, and very, very lengthy, counting in at just over 8 minutes. The guitar tracks are harmonised very well, and this song contains the greatest riff ever written, at 4:53. EVER. BAR NONE. FUCK EVERYTHING ELSE. The song slows down towards the end however, and contains another part of only guitar and vocals. The distortion isn’t as present on this effort and so the vocals aren’t quite as vicious throughout this tune, but they still shit on 90% of the other black metal that I’ve ever heard. “My Journey To The Stars” is a killer.
“Dungeons of Darkness” is another ambient track, but it is much darker and much more pure ambient than the previous ambient piece on the record. This is a track which I very much enjoy, but others may not take such a shining to it. This is essentially, as I said, a pure ambient piece, and that is not something you can just pick up and listen to and instantly appreciate its musicality. This, honestly, wouldn’t sound out of place on a Shinjuku Thief or Verhagen album, but that’s one of the reasons I love it. This was another part where Misanthropy Records fucked up in re-releasing this album; they could have, and should have, put much more thought into the tracklisting. On the original self-titled debut this was the outro, and it would have made a perfect outro here as well, but it is reduced to being merely another interlude, when it could have had brilliant justice done to it after the re-release included a few extra tracks. Not to take anything away from the content though, it’s a great and extremely atmospheric piece.
The first track on the original “Aske” EP, but the 9th track on this compilation, is Stemmen Fra Tårnet. Another progression from the previous tracks, as this is the first song we hear that Varg recorded in his native Norwegian. Fading in, you can tell straight away from the different production that this is going to be a little different to the rest of the stuff. This song has possibly the best range of paces, as they are changed on a fairly frequent basis, yet manage to flow completely well together. Beautiful lyrics too, if you have the English translations on hand. This is a pretty decent track, but isn’t as good in comparison to the rest of the material.
The next track is instrumental, except for a single scream early on, the slow, mournful and funeralistic “Dominus Sathanas”. This slow and emotional track is like an extended version of “The Crying Orc”, but there isn’t as much range in the guitars in terms of octaves. Sad and beautiful riffs are repeated, taking time away, and 3 minutes feels like about 30 seconds. I can’t imagine what its purpose would have been in its original form on the 3-track “Aske” EP, but here, it just serves as another excellent interlude.
And the album comes to a close after the epic “A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit”. Clocking in at a massive 11 minutes, this is one of Varg’s longest pieces, but as with Burzum’s works, the entrancing atmosphere of the piece makes it seem timeless and endless, but in a good way. The tracks title and length would make it seem, at first glance, like the most misanthropic or despondent piece on the album by a long shot, and that it is. Heartbreaking lyrics about a lonely soul are excellent, but the music, while excellent as usual, doesn’t quite seem to fit the mood as perfectly as the other songs on the album do. Maybe I’m just being picky having been raised on a diet of the best black metal, but something is just a bit off. It’s harsh, it’s dissonant, it’s very dark and evil, but there is just something missing that could have been fixed by the inclusion of a melody. Still, this track is as good as any to close the album, unless there was another filler or interlude track at the end, but this does nicely.
There really is no flaw for me on this album. Some might say that there are too many filler tracks, but the interludes and rests are of such a high quality that I really can’t see a problem with them. It involves opening your mind a bit, but if you can do that, this is pure and simple fucking genius. This really was an album ahead of its time, but its now 14 years after its release, and it still holds up well against newer and inferior bands that weakly attempt to clone this and emulate the sound. But for those few bands that do surpass it, “Burzum/Aske” also holds up as a clear source of inspiration, laying the foundation for the inspiration and furthering of more extreme forms of black metal.
The tracklisting of the album was fucked up, but as this is a re-release, I am not going to count the order, and I’m only going by the contents of the actual music. Which are simply and utterly perfect. Way ahead of its time, and still selling well today. 100%. No less. This seriously fucking shits on anything Mayhem has done, and by the looks of things, that Mayhem will ever do. Finally, as much as I hate clichés, there is a classic that needs to be used here: If you don’t own this CD in some form or another, don’t bother calling yourself a black metal fan.