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"Come on, Varg. Seriously? We don't hear from you for 11 years and now you're popping out two albums within 12 months? You're smothering us, man. At least the intro this time doesn't sound like Charlie Sheen's breakfast table."
So we have another Burzum album, humorously titled Fallen. Its a black metal album, no getting around it, but it's highly questionable whether it's really a Burzum album. A lot of hardcore fans think there hasn't been a real Burzum album since '96, and as much as I'd like to believe they're wrong, Varg isn't exactly disproving them here. Rumors that the once-great Count Grishnackh has gone soft are flitting about everywhere and yet the man continues to take steps away from his glory days. Question is: Are these steps a forward march? Or is Fallen just an ironically-titled rung on the church burner's ladder downward into irrelevance?
The latter will seem most likely at first. Disappointment will most likely set in within the first few listens. The album isn't horrific, but it's not exceptional either, and it's difficult to accept that from such a high-expectations name as Burzum.
Fallen is an extremely light album in comparison with the dismal gray of classic Burzum. It's less coldly desolate and more wooden, gnarled. On his website Varg commented that he'd produce this album as one would produce classical music, which is an interesting concept…but also completely contrary to the basic concepts of black metal (shoddy production is a must if you wanna be kvlt). This particular recording method makes everything sound crystal-clear, which in the case of the genre is A BIG NO-NO. It's not the poppy gloss of Abigail Williams, but the riffs lose a lot of their misty distortion and become more bright than bleak. The vocals have for once called shotgun and are near the forefront of the mix, which unsurprisingly shatters their former ethereal quality. Varg exponentially increases his use of chanting and clean singing, and he sings quite often. Yeah, we're talking about the guy who howled his black lungs out on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Hearing it without that signature fogginess, Burzum's music as a whole loses a lot of its old krieg persona. It's not pretty, but it's not ugly either. So what happened? Something about the murder conviction and prison (probably the wife and kids, too) has aged Varg, and dealt a severe blow to his angst. The man's no less capable, just far less intense. Its apparent the grim 20-something Varg is gone. In his passing he left behind several pivotal black metal albums, an infamous legacy, and the vaunted name of Burzum. An older Varg is now picking up the pieces, middle finger nonchalantly raised.
Fallen is definitely not the Burzum of old. It's a shame that this means the loss of the unholy shrieks and the cold fury of albums like Hvis Lyset, but it also adds a sort of subtle folkiness to Varg that manages to stay well away from cheesy "cascadian" bullshit. There's still a bit of that old tinny feel to the guitars, and raspy screams are far from absent, but the songwriting comes off as almost catchy, as if it's not meant to rape your soul. The motifs Varg uses are melodic, forming segments almost like choruses, most noticeably in the V tracks, "Valen" and "Vanvidd". The hypnotic repetition is nostalgic rather than depressive, and the closer "Til Hel og tilbake igjen" is a valiant attempt at tribal ambient. Varg is no longer a pissed-off youth hefting a mace in front of a mirror. He's become black metal's Dylan or Springsteen, swearing a solemn but unspoken oath to practice his craft till he keels over. This is Varg nearing 40, recording in his cabin rather than his basement, playing to dark folk tales and a fireplace instead of to Satanic seances and a burning church. This is black metal given unapologetically from a jaded Norwegian mountain man to his unsuspecting audience.
-originally written for www.sputnikmusic.com