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Hands down, this is my least favorite Burzum disc and hardly qualifies itself to be mentioned among the rest of Varg's black metal catalog. That said, there are a few things to enjoy on this album... and I say this after having listened to it many times throughout it's 14 year lifespan (mostly in attempt to fully digest this complicated material). I'll admit, it was instantly unfavored by myself at an age when I was just discovering black metal around 1994. At the time, I just couldn't believe how incredibly shitty this album was when weighed against the "riveting" and milestone releases of other Scandinavian heavyweights such as Immortal, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Satyricon, Gorgoroth, and Emperor. This album is one I've tried countless times to get into over the years and for the life of me can't find entirely too much to get excited about.
There happens to be an upside however, and it mostly comes in the form of Key to the Gate, Naat Himmelen Klamer, and select moments from the other purely metal tracks (#s 3,4, and 7). This isn't saying a whole lot considering the quality and power of Burzum's songs & albums over the years though. Perhaps it's just bias on my part, but I found the simplistic approach to Burzum's S/T a much more satisfying and cohesive listening experience. The brilliant simplicity of staple black metal classics like Ea, Lord of the Depths, Spell of Destruction, and My Journey to the Stars pack quite a wallop even to this day. Not to mention the looming melancholy of tracks like Channeling the Power... and The Crying Orc which help round out that black metal milestone known as Burzum. Det Som... comes as somewhat of a let down in my mind. Though now that I mention it, (with only 8 or 9 songs on the disc) half of the songs (or half of the running time of the disc, since the shitty & quality moments are peppered throughout different parts of the metal tracks) are quite acceptable while the other half are just atrocious.
While Varg's synthesizer/ambient noodling may not be many fans' cup of tea, I find the featured ambient tracks quite adequate; from the opener Den Onde Kysten to Han Som Reiste... I feel they could easily accompany some dreary horror movie as part of the soundtrack. But that's not the real focus of a Burzum album when examining it's metal discography. What I found extremely pleasing was Naar Himmelen Klamer... it's basically an extension of The Crying Orc and is perhaps my favorite instrumental Burzum piece ever. To me, the last ambient track Svarte Troner (a seeming extension of Dungeons of Darkness) is a complete waste of time.
DSEV is rather brisk and discordant on the opening moments of Key to the Gate, very much reminding of War or Feeble Screams from the S/T... lending itself to a novice attempt at sounding evil or aggressive. Thankfully the song gets more and more melodic, gloomy, and supreme... finally winding down with one of Varg's most brilliant riffs to date. This alone qualifies it as a quality song amidst his discography and rendering it very important to the Burzum fans and purists. It is followed by En Ring... which marks a unique milestone in his discog. in that it utilizes creepy sounding "clean" vocals that, more or less, could be described as subdued Gregorian-esque chanting. All in all it's a pretty slow and depressive track, but it is chock full of ambiance and really isn't half bad (just a little less than half, and quite boring at times). The following track, Lost Wisdom, is a mid-paced track with some really bland and (somewhat) discordant riffery at the beginning. Thankfully it drops that soon enough for a slower and depressive riff which, while structurally based on the opening one, is much more melodic and pleasing. The unfortunate thing about this song is that it never really abandons that opening riff. However, the favorable moments really highlight Varg's escalating song-writing ability from simplistic and holistic black metal dirges to expansive walls of dark atmospheric, trance-inducing brilliance found later on Hvis.. and Filosofem.
As I mentioned earlier, Han Som... is a decent ambient track that follows, while Naar Himmelen Klamer stands out as, perhaps, Burzum's best instrumental piece to date; featuring plenty of gloomy, drawn out riffage that made The Crying Orc so impressive (really a companion piece to that track). This is followed by the final metal track Snu Mikrokosmos Tegn which starts out with favorable thrashing riffs at a decent enough pace (and perhaps a companion piece to My Journey to the Stars*). This song however fails to make the same impression as My Journey... did and begins to bland quite early on. A lot of the same things that make En Ring... or Lost Wisdom so mediocre are on display here as well. Just a bunch of gloomy, depressive riffs interspersed between some quicker, thrashing riffs (though this seems to be the opposite in that the thrashing is favorable and the slower riffs seem more run of the mill). In the song are some interesting moments that herald of things to come. Basically experimenting in atmospheric breakdowns of the song structure which come off a bit otherworldly, but mostly pale in comparison to what was to come on Hvis and Filosofem.
Overall I don't think this disc is worth it's weight in salt. If you want pure raw black metal aesthetic, go with the Self Titled debut... it's really quite pleasing. If you're into the hypnotic, dark atmospheric stuff Burzum would later come to be known for, stick to Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. And for an added treat to some of Varg's most expansive, enthralling and crushing material to date, seek out Filosofem. The first three tracks are amazing pieces of black metal history with quite a unique, cold & fuzzy industrial tinge about them. Not to mention Varg's most pleasing and raspy vocals which happen to be aided by that industrial-esque quality, rendering the perfomance one of his most memorable and accessible ever. Det Som Engang Var is just marred by what could only be acknowledged as a transformation from one style to another, and as such, just comes up sounding way below par. My advice is to stick to one of Burzum's styles at a time because this marriage of the two earliest styles stands out in my mind as a failure.
Pros: Key to the Gate and Naar Himmelen Klamer.
Cons: disjunction>quality moments ruined by mediocrity and downright crap.
* Funny thing to note, it seems the more I analyze this disc the more it seems like Burzum S/T part 2 or a sister album.