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Where Burzum is concerned, it is very difficult to separate the musical content of an album from the aura of controversy surrounding the name. Perhaps the only people who are gifted with not being swept away totally by the mystique of early 2nd wave history are indifferent individuals like myself who can’t be bothered with the nationalistic/political causes tied in with a particular scene. Even when most adherents tend to say that black metal can not be separated from the message, I say otherwise, and it is often to Varg’s eccentric concoctions that I turn to as an example of how my own side interest in minimalist music and Norse legends is sufficient to enjoy the music created by a man known affectionately as the Charles Manson of Norway.
From a historical standpoint, “Fallen” doesn’t really stand out as having a particular tie to anything in Burzum’s past, though the post-rock sounding guitar tone is heavily reminiscent of “Filosofem”. This is more a collection of narratives than an excursion into atmospheric depths as was the case with “Det Som Engang Var” or his widely heralded masterwork “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”. Repetition is a key factor, but there is a layering of contrasting guitar parts that simulates the waves of an ocean as they toss a boat to and fro. But in spite of a very dense collage of minimalist guitar melodies and broken up chords, the feel of this is very straight-lined. Though there is a charm in this strict consistency in that it plays into the general trance character that Varg has continually kept with him since his ambient releases and was a definite factor on “Belus”, which I regard as a somewhat lesser yet still powerful work.
Perhaps the biggest point of contrast at work here is the highly prominent clean vocals, which do much to shape the narrative character of the album. Through much of the full length compositions that occur between the opening and closing ambient works, there is the feel of introspective thought that is articulated through spoken and grunted verses, but they always seem to come back to this notion of a latent liturgical chant. This is particularly the case on “Jeg Faller”, where the hypnotic restatement of a melodic fragment in a thoughtful and somber baritone almost mimics an ancient Gregorian chant sound. Other longer passages of melodic yet minimal singing phase in and out of the mesmerizing epic “Budstikken”, which is unto itself a dreamy mix of shimmering tremolo melodies that function almost like a 10 minute lullaby into the waiting arms of an inevitable grave.
While this doesn’t really reach the caliber level of the pre-prison era of Burzum, it is very clear that Varg has a consistent and worthy approach to continuing his musical vision, and it is something that can be appreciated by most fans of the older material. Aside from a little venture into a mishmash of tribal and avant-garde music on the closing instrumental, this is a very conservative compilation of musical elements that acknowledge, though don’t attempt to relive the past. It is slightly more enticing than “Belus”, but largely follows the same general format, and while surprises tend to be few here, the quality of the consistency at work here is enough to send notions of compulsory innovation literally “To Hel And Back Again”.