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I must admit I was very disappointed with Belus. I thought that it needed more polish, better production, and some more effort put into it. For almost a year I thought, "I wonder what Belus would sound like if it was more polished, better produced, etc.". My answer came in March 2011. Fallen is, to me, is a cross between Filosofem, the better parts of Belus, and Det Som Engang Var, which is a great thing.
The album opens up with "Fra Verdenstreet" (From the World Tree). It is the worst song on the album, providing little more than background noise. It is boring. The same can be said for the outro, "Til Hel og TIlbake Igjen (To Hell and Back Again)". I mean, c'mon. These two songs have no emotion attached to them, no atmosphere, and subpar playing for all instruments on these two pieces. These two songs make "Dauoi Baldrs" look like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
That aside, this record improves drastically with "Jeg Faller (I'm Falling)", a testament to Varg's sheer songwriting prowess. When listening, a huge smile spread across my face. It was recognizably Burzum, but at the same time different. One of the first things I noticed about the new album is the production. While it is still rough, it is a lot cleaner than "Belus." The guitars were longer a good 90% of the track and the drums and bass were heard clearly. Varg adopted the vocal technique he used in Filosofem, but makes it deeper and with that a lot more threatening.
Perhaps the biggest change on this record than his previous works is real legitimate singing. Varg decided to have about half of his lines be cleanly choral (almost Viking) sounding singing, which reminded me of folk metal band like Korpiklaani. It's not just that there are clean vocals, it's that they are extremely well executed. They are powerful and harmonize well.
After the awesomeness that is "Jeg Faller" comes "Valen." It starts out with a basic guitar riff, then comes the drums and a very catchy background riff that slowly becomes dominant and a meaty bass track. The verses are sung in a raspy growl while the chorus is sung with clean vocals, but they retain some of the harshness of the growl employed in the verses. The result is really fun to listen to while the steady layering of instruments creates a surreal atmosphere.
"Vanvidd (Madness)" is another solid tune, but the raspy vocals don't really work in this song while the clean vocals seem weak. The first two minutes of the song is solid blastbeating which does get tiring, but the guitars and the last five minutes of the song redeem the travesty that is the vocals. The song sounds similar to "Jesus' Død" and there is an interesting layering of vocals that sound like someone puking, howling, fighting a bear, and having his arms removed from his body slowly while the drums change to a fast groove.
"Ehnver til Sitt (Each Man to his Own)" starts off sounding like the first twenty seconds of "Sweating Bullets" by Megadeth, but very soon becomes its own song. The harshness of the vocals (both growled and clean) coupled with the melancholy tones of the guitars creates a haunting atmosphere and has evil written all over it.
"Budstikken (The Message)" is the best song on the record by far. It starts out with a minute-long intro before diving head first into a rapid tremolo-picked riff with the bass and drums adding meat onto its bones. The vocals compliment the song nicely as the raspy and choral style of vocals mix together nicely. The song changes tempos frequently from the mid-tempo intro to the fast verses and slow choruses. They change effortlessly as well. While the verses are great, the song truly shines during the slower parts. The guitars (note the "s") harmonize well as each plays its own melody while borrowing off one another while the twangy bass sets a dark atmosphere. Where the slow sections really stand out are Varg's clean vocals. It sounds like a choir of warlords. I find it hard to believe that it came from just one guy. It's incredible.
The album overall is a masterpiece, up at the top with legendary black metal albums "Transylvanian Hunger", "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas", and "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss." The songs are well structured, the songwriting is phenomenal, and the songs separating tracks are dubbed over so nicely, you would think there are four to six Varg Virkenes playing in the studio at the same time.
The only beef I have with this record is its shortness. Other than the forgettable intro/outro, there are only FIVE tracks. I came away from this wanting more because what is here is truly great. If Varg continues to expand on this release on his next record, I will support him 1000% as this is an amazing piece of work.
+ great songwriting
+ varied songs
+ clean vocals
- too short