without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
With "Fallen", the second Burzum album recorded and released since he left jail, Varg Vikernes signals he's not just back in the business of churning out melodic folk-tinged black metal but is seriously carving out his particular minimalist niche within it. Apart from the two instrumental tracks that open and close the album, "Fallen" sounds like a continuation of the melodic first half of the previous comeback "Belus" album which itself was a continuation of the "Filosofem" album, way back in 1996: the songs usually have simple structures based on repeating guitar riff loops laid over equally repetive percussion loops, topped with lyrics that are sung, chanted, spoken or whispered. At least Vikernes has retained a knack for creating distinctive and catchy melodies that capture and hold a variety of moods, often in the same song: melancholy, anger, despair and utter hopelessness can follow each other in the same song just through the repetition of one riff over and over, with only changes in vocal style from grim-voiced aggression to clean-toned indifference indicating any direction and tension build-up; this knack is the music's saving grace.
The album relies heavily on Vikernes's vocals and lyrics for variety, direction and unity. The vocal work is good but not varied with the singing bouncing between a lead vocal of grim throaty hoarseness and a chorus of clean singing that usually lacks emotion. A case could be put forward for having synthesised voice choirs or an additional singer on this album and future Burzum albums if Vikernes persists in his particular musical style and direction. Not knowing any Norwegian - I remain grimly monolingual in spite of having reviewed music from nearly every corner of the planet - I can only guess from the CD booklet illustrations and some words that the lyrics deal with a personal descent into darkness of some kind. If taken literally, the illustrations suggest the descent of Odin from Asgard to Earth and Hel. (When I first wrote this review, I was unaware that the album actually deals with descent into madness.) Overall the songs are quite good and consistent in their playing and emotional expressiveness, and technically they may be more complex than they might appear to non-musicians like myself, but with the exception of "Vanvidd" which features an episode of screaming and werewolf howling, the songs individually are not very outstanding and could be considered as parts of one work.
The real gem on this album is the outro track "Til Hel og tilbake igjen": it's completely left-field in its amateurish, neo-primitive, almost shamanic nature, just a drum thumped rhythmically by hand and a stringed instrument that sounds like a wire strung between two tin can being strummed or plucked while a ghost mouths barely audible whispers. The whole set-up sounds like a half-hearted after-thought to the rest of the album and in the context of the album's theme, that most likely is the intention. I'm surprised the last track isn't more chaotic than it is, it actually sounds quite orderly and well-mannered, but I shouldn't presume that if a mind has descended completely into madness that it should be full of "noise" and "chaos" in the way such concepts are conventionally interpreted in music. A mad mind can still generate "order", just not in the way we understand "order". The track is proof that Vikernes, if he wants to, can pull out something original and still be a force to be reckoned with.
Not a great Burzum release but there is potential there for Vikernes to grow into a more folk-oriented and refined melodic style of music and away from black metal pop.