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About the only characteristic not in dispute of Burzum's 2010 album Belus was the vast amount of curious anticipation that it incited in not only those who had been following Varg's music since the 90s, but the wider range of hangers on and the irony crowd that his work sadly draws like hipsters to a keffiyeh vendor. A circus of mock admirers drawn to a controversial history. As for the actual content of that album, I was quite disappointed, as I found very few of the guitar passages to inspire me. In retrospect, I believe it is the very worst album of the entire Burzum lexicon: not innately terrible by any means, and nearly capturing the raw fervor and intensity of a Det Som Engang Var or Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, but falling well short in the dust.
I was thus pleasantly surprised that Vikernes has followed that act with Fallen, an appropriately mesmeric experience that has exceeded my expectations for his post-incarceration material, reducing Belus to a mere warm-up towards a heightened, creative expression. You will recognize the staples of his past here: tortured and direct rasped vocals with almost no filtration, long passages of repetitious guitars, and a rare ability to entrance you with a musical subtext. But there are a few new tricks here, like the numbing and soothing vocals that add a new layer of unexpected accessibility to the material, or the curving, delicious bass grooves that hover off to the edge of the guitar rhythms, content with the slightly strained perception that the listener will require to absorb them. As for the guitars themselves, they're delivered in a caustic, glittering range of higher pitched notes that simply leap out of the recording as if you were catching them on your own set of strings, your own shining amplification.
Nearly the entirety of Fallen provides an absorbing experience, but in particular I was enamored with "Vanvidd" for its somber, sullen clean vocals that contrast the razor thin tremolo picking; "Jeg faller" for mutation a fairly standard onslaught of black metal notation into a fabric of bright pain, with bass/spoken word vocal segues, a hypnotic curve to the bass and a strangely catchy, if predictable chorus; or "Budstikken", the longest track at over 10 minutes, which wonderfully carries a number of riffs through a thick bass line and gentle spikes of variation and torture, like watching a frost settle over quivering, muted water color hills. "Enhver til sitt" also borders on stunning, with cautious, eerie guitars delivered in haunting simplicity, and vocals that range from a forced whisper to an outburst of agony. Perhaps the one central track I'm not fully feeling is "Valen", though the vocals are again worthwhile and there's a decent, descending melody in the guitar line that does affix the ear. I think in the end I just didn't feel like it filled out its 9+ minutes to contentment.
The album is book ended by a pair of ambient tracks, "Fra verdenstreet" involving a ritual-like repetition of whispers over rising dissonance and dripping; the much longer "Til hel og tillbake igjen" a skilled and sparse balance of traditional percussion and strings that proves Vikernes is still on top of his experimentation. Neither distracts, not interrupts the steady flow of the core metal compositions. Then there's the partial use of Bouguereau's classic painting 'Elegy' on the cover, which only too well suits the music within. Fallen is likely to distance those who would probably have enjoyed a more abrupt return to the harsher environments of Vikerne's past works, or even those who think with longing on the pure ambient, glorious tones of the late 90s synthesizer albums. But to these ears, it's ultimately a finely wrought fabric of melodic indulgence through which the knives of dissent and isolation still stab out.