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'Det Som Engang Var' appears to be a very cherished full-length amongst black metal fans. It's held up there with the best of them. Whenever a discussion rages on about the 'ultimate' black metal full-length of the early 1990's, 'Det Som Engang Var' always gets a mention. Burzum's support has never really dwindled, despite the fact that Varg is associated with so many negative acts. Though, I think it would be unfair for a fan to not support an act because of a well documented bad lifestyle.
'Det Som Engang Var' is a national treasure for Norway. It signified a giant leap towards the infinite abyss that is black metal history. Norway are by far more often associated with the greatest black metal bands and the greatest black metal records. It's a country as cold as the black metal reputation, though in recent years the underground scene has almost ceased to exist. The acts of yesteryear don't cut it when it comes to the material spewing out of countries like Germany and France in Europe, as well as the United States, of course. Burzum's reputation was somewhat marred by the solely instrumental ambient works Varg produced later in his career, but as I said, the first four records are held in such high esteem.
When it comes to 'Det Som Engang Var' I tend to feel it's a little off the pace. The two records that followed it produced a far better sound, the production suited Burzum's style more and Varg had matured away from this highly derivative offering. Burzum were obviously developing when 'Det Som Engang Var' was issued to the adoring fans, but yet, it's still highly regarded. To me, 'Det Som Engang Var' is lacking that something special which made Burzum what they are, or were on full-lengths like 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss' and 'Filosofem'. The ambient style was just beginning to poke it's head into Burzum's music.
We can see this more clearly on such tracks as 'Han Som Reiste'. Monotonous keyboards slowly trudging along like we have all day to sit and listen. Uninspired keyboards ruin this particular track and don't really do much justice to Varg's musical abilities. Whilst I can appreciate this was a transitional period for Burzum, I simply cannot appreciate the content. It's primitive and passé. Though I suspect for the time it was widely accepted as a phenomenal addition. Time hasn't favoured some of Burzum's material on 'Det Som Engang Var'. It feels somewhat jaded, especially the production.
'Det Som Engang Var' is oddly enough one of the most original Burzum full-lengths, though. It's not as repetitive as everything else Burzum have created. The leads do tend to repeat themselves a bit, but not as much as one would expect. The percussion is often simple blast beats, but when it does alter, it's effectively hard and harsh in sound. The production helps give this cold feel to the music and it's hazy. The vocals are far more used on 'Det Som Engang Var' than the two records that followed it. Vocals are an important part of black metal if you're trying for a largely distant atmospheric sound.
Varg's rasping vocals achieve this well, but they need improving, which they did do after this record. When the vocals change to a more operatic clean form, I get rather confused. They don't suit Burzum's bleak atmospheric tendencies, although they do form a good partnership with the lead guitar. Ambiance is just beginning to make it's way into Burzum's music, and not to great effect. It's rather weak at this moment in time, but it does improve. However, we're focusing on this work, not what came after it.