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After hearing " Fallen", I was not disappointed at all with Varg keeping true to what he does; True Norwegian black metal in your face. With that being said I went to my local store a few months later and found another Burzum album thinking, I didn't know he was making another for this year. So of course, without looking at the back for song titles, I definitely assumed I was in for another treat. A treat alright, more of a surprise to find out it was one of those danged re-recordings.
Luckily it didn't turn out as bad as I thought. 1. Few of my favorites were on there, "Ea, Lord of the Depths", "A Lost Sad Forgotten Spirit", and "Key to the Gate". 2. The instrument track recording was still the same raw power as before with original recordings. So that right there was a huge plus in my book. Now towards the "not so kind" part per say, the overdubbed voice recording. I just feel that a lot of parts were not timed so well like the actual classic recordings. Some instances, I swore I heard key of the microphone in parts of songs, almost like those real primitive do it yourself black and death metal bands that record in their bedrooms. And lastly, his dubbing smudged with the music, pretty much cutting the sharp edge to the assault he dealt with those songs twenty years ago.
So there you have it, more or less a "greatest hits" album, versus an original album. For anybody that is new to Burzum, I'd highly recommend getting the "Burzum", "Aske", and "Det Som Engang Var " to hear these timeless classics. Actually hear these songs in their truest form, not re-recorded.
For the record, this is going to be a review written by a Burzum fan, for Burzum fans. Please kindly leave all complaints with the MetalReview.com public relations department, or simply move on if the band doesn't already interest you.
The very least that anyone can say about Varg Vikernes is that he's been a man of his word ever since his prison release. Since last year, he's graced us with Belus and Fallen, which were far from disappointing to already-converted lovers of Vikernes' music. The second release of this year, From The Depths of Darkness (not "Deeps"), features re-recordings of the most coveted Burzum works pre-Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Thankfully, "War" was left out of the mix.
To these ears, Varg chose to use the exact same instrumentation that exists in the original recordings, but changed the album's mixing drastically. The result is old Burzum songs recorded in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss fashion. What would a Burzumite want more than to hear the old tracks recorded with the same intensity of what is one of the most powerful and influential black metal albums of all time?
Although From The Depths of Darkness is as perfectly justifiable as it is enjoyable, it lacks some of the "magic," if you will, that exists within the confines of the original Burzum/Aske and Det Som Engang Var LP's. Varg Vikernes once said that the whole point of the musical rebellion that is black metal is not to care about brands of instruments, types of studios or the "in" music at the time. To quote him:
"A few mistakes make the music more alive and personal -- it simply gives the music some "soul" and originality, so I never bothered to correct anything. The music on the Burzum albums is simply an honest and sincere, unvarnished and clear representation of me. Certainly I am not flawless or without mistakes, so neither is my music."
A musical visionary, Varg is absolutely correct in his practically prophetical statement as a sign of things that were to come in the extreme music industry. If there's one thing that's true about what most musicans consider traditional soul music, it's that the music is certainly not without mistakes. That's what gives the notes character. It wasn't the notes that were being played that attracted so many people to Burzum in the first place. It was how they were being played. That's what was so revolutionary about black metal at the time, and that's what separates extreme metal from any other form of rock music today.
Vikernes didn't exactly fail to live up to his standard of what is soulful music on these re-recordings, but two of the trademark sounds of the original recordings -- the wails of a soul in dire agony in the original "Spell of Destruction," for example; and the incessant pounding behind the drum kit featured in songs such as "Ea, Lord of The Depths," and "My Journey To The Stars" -- are completely missing in this supposed re-vamped re-recording. Still, it's nearly a worthy sacrifice given the increased intensity of the sharp-as-hell riffage on all of the new album's songs.
So if you're stuck trying to choose which song versions you prefer, you've missed the point of this release entirely. The most positive thing about From The Depths of Darkness is that we now have both recordings. If Hvis Lyset Tar Oss was too short for you, you now have an additional seven songs you can enjoy. If you think it's blasphemous and too profitable to be trve, nobody is forcing you to listen to this. On top of that, if the ferociousness of the old Burzum with such a fresh production is a sign of what's to come, do not be surprised if Burzum manages to pull an Album of the Year contender out of its hat, or burn down a church or two. Hell, at this point, anything is possible.
Originally written for MetalReview.com
From the Depths of Darkness is not a new full-length Burzum album. It is a compilation of re-recorded tracks from the self-titled L.P. and Det Som Engang Var. These represent Varg's favourite songs from those releases, and this effort is merely a reinterpretation of those early works. Of course, the decision to revisit this material has generated a considerable amount of controversy. Some people have labeled this as a cash-grab, while others are simply angry that the classic songs are going to be tampered with. Naturally, such powerful and influential music is going to elicit strong reactions from fans. In my view, there is nothing wrong with this release, in itself. The problem with re-recordings comes when an artist attempts to use them to replace the original material, thus robbing future generations of the opportunity to experience them as they once were. However, countless bands have gone back and revisited their early days by making updated versions of classic songs. Ultimately, it is the band's right to do whatever they wish, so long as the original music remains available, as well. That way, if people disagree with the latest interpretation, they are free to enjoy the original. In the case of Burzum, it would seem that Varg is a perfectionist and, rather than trying to give the music a modern feel, he just wanted to correct things that he felt to be mistakes and to present his songs as he meant for them to be heard, in the first place.
He has done this before. The Aske E.P. features a re-recording of "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit", since he thought the version from the debut album did not turn out as it was supposed to. It is quite likely that, had he not lost so much time in prison, Varg may have included more re-recorded songs on his albums, throughout the years. Given that he recorded the early Burzum albums at a young age and with little experience, he may have felt strongly about this material the entire time. It is both a gift and a curse of the perfectionist to find fault with everything that they create, eventually, whether or not they act on those urges. Released in November 2011, From the Depths of Darkness is the product of such impulses.
The material on this compilation remains true to the originals, as much as possible. The faster sections are hardly any different than before, though the slower parts are where one can see the most disparity between old and new. In general, the pace is slowed down even more and the atmosphere takes on an increased sense of dreariness and morbidity. Anything that was remotely catchy or upbeat has been completely neutralized and rendered even more cold and lifeless than before. This really gives the songs a darker vibe and unleashes the untapped potential that some of them had, long ago. While immersing yourself in something so abysmal and unforgiving, those lighter moments almost make it seem a little more safe. This time around, there is no sanctuary from the utter black that is set to consume your very soul. This is most evident on "Spell of Destruction". Predominantly, the playing is a little tighter, which is really neither good nor bad, as the previous approach suited the music just as well as this does. In other words, the somewhat sloppy feeling that was on the first couple of records, at times, worked just fine within the context of the album just as much as the tight sound benefits the newer versions. Everything is really crisp and precise, leaving no room for errors. That said, the music still has a lot of feeling and has not been drained of all emotion. Regarding actual changes, they are so minor and infrequent that it is not much of a concern, except in the case of "My Journey to the Stars". This track is butchered, to an extent, due to a handful of alterations that seem to make no sense. While the overall structure endures, there are enough small differences to kill the spirit of the song. There are times, especially during "Key to the Gate", where you can hear how much the old stuff inspired Varg as he was writing the material for Fallen. Actually, it was during the process of creating that record that he took a break and entered the studio to record these songs. Overall, the music stays true to the spirit of the originals, from the intense opening riffs of "Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown" to the hypnotic and mournful atmosphere that is present as "Snu Mikrokosmos' Tegn" reaches its conclusion.
Contrary to what many would expect, the production is not as plastic and modern as some seem to imagine. Obviously, it possesses a bit of an improved sound, compared to the originals, but it is not overdone in any way. The guitar tone is still frigid and morose, carrying the listener off to another world. In fact, the mix is slightly more appropriate in that the drums are buried a bit more and thus allow the guitars to remain the primary focus. This is how Metal should be, anyway, but especially in this case.
One of the most glaring differences is found in the vocal department. To the grief and despair of many fans of the early Burzum records, Varg's voice is nowhere near what it was back then. Any hopes that he would return to the anguished screams and tormented shrieks of the past were shattered from the very beginning, though this should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Varg's voice is quite similar to what is heard on later albums, such as Belus and Fallen, and it is a shame that he has no fondness for his previous vocal style. It added so much more to the overall atmosphere and was one of the truly unique things about Burzum, in the first place. Perhaps, it also came from him no longer being able to get such a sound to emanate from within and choosing to change instead of offering up some pathetic attempt at recreating that sound. On the old albums, he sounded as if he was dying in agony, whereas his current voice sounds like it has been dead and bereft of life for quite some time.
A lot of fans will be disappointed in From the Depths of Darkness, since most people despise change and Metal fans are usually even worse about this. Though the changes are minimal, with the exception of the vocals, the truth is that the original spirit of the songs has been honoured and there are even some points where the alterations of timing or pace actually improve upon the old versions. While the majority will still prefer the originals (myself included), this is a fascinating release and offers a unique re-interpretation of these songs that have meant so much to so many for such a long time. For those that disapprove, there is always the option of ignoring the existence of this compilation and continuing to listen to the old records. However, if you have even the slightest bit of an open mind, it is quite likely that you will find something enjoyable about these new versions. Out of all of the musicians that came from the Norwegian Black Metal scene, as much as he would like to distance himself from it, Varg Vikernes has remained true to his roots much more than the rest.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
What I am having here is a severe attack of conscience and reason. On one hand I’ve been a Burzum fan for nearly 20-years and generally enjoy most of what Varg Vikernes has artistically put out. That said I’m not a fan of any artist redoing a past album, especially one that had a charm and resonance like the early DSP Burzum work. So here in From the Depths of Darkness we see Vikernes offering his take on the old classics “as they were originally intended”. I’m also not a fan of this statement; if they were originally intended this way, they should have been implemented as such accordingly back when with no excuses. I fully understand financial constraints, equipment issues, what have you; this adds to the serendipitous airs around the Burzum, Det Som Engang Var and Aske EP and, in my opinion, would not have been revisited in such a manner. Still, I admit to a certain excitement when I heard some samples of some of the tracks simply for, if nothing else, posterity’s sake.
When I first heard the Burzum album in 1992 I was astonished at how low-fi, thinly-produced and downright primitive it sounded, from the haphazard instruments to the insane vocals. After one shocked go-around I had another listen and found the absolute destitution and bleakness Vikernes was going for in that album, and it was magical to say the least. What we have here in this compilation is, at best, a retooling that was both unnecessary and wasteful, while the worst case scenario shows Vikernes shamelessly cashing in on some of the infamy of his name. While the latter is possibly less of the true picture in my eyes, I do hear a very interesting reworking of some classic tracks. However, the original sound of “Ea, Lord of the Depths” has some of the most horrific and tempestuous black metal sounds ever committed to vinyl, sickly disturbing production values notwithstanding. With this new version, for example, the polished and buffed essence that was the early Burzum work has been casually ‘repaired’ where a bandage was clearly not needed or wanted. Whereas the 1992 Varg Vikernes was a 19-year old visionary back in the demo days, the older man who now sees those classic tracks as inferior might have miscalculated his own value and worth in the classic Norwegian movement of the early 90’s. While he has never been shy with his opinions about himself or the world around him, I’m guessing this is how the 38-year old man views his vision some 20-years past.
To be perfectly honest these tracks pale in stark comparison to the originals, and while I understand this is the desired effect Vikernes had in mind the originality and honesty has lost some luster throughout. Yes, the tracks are widely of better quality, sonically and by design, subtle nuances and alterations be damned. Somewhere in this exhaustive foray lies the blatant picture of Varg Vikernes becoming one of the mass milieu of artists that are not only a dime-a-dozen but widely uninteresting and too similar for any real resonance. The vocals, now a breathy all-too familiar gasping, attempt to overshadow the agony and despair of the originals, failing in every aspect accordingly. The simplicity and immaturity of the original issues can never be replicated and, in all good conscience, should never have been tampered with in such a fashion. In typical straight-forward inquiry - what is the point?
I admit to liking some of the visions that Vikernes has fashioned for these tracks in the modern day, even though I find total and causal reticence in this record. What I will ultimately praise him for is that, while his current take on these songs might not sit well with long-term fans, he is keeping the original issues in print and not pulling them from circulation. Had he done this Varg Vikernes would have committed the ultimate sin in everything the Burzum name stands for in the present day. Aside from that, I’m not so sure these tracks are necessary in the line of releases, but they do provide a reasonable alternative that longtime fans will undoubtedly find insipid or egregious.
Don’t take it seriously and you’ll be just fine.
(Originally written for www.MetalPsalter.com)
Revisiting the past is a dangerous game, but it is doubly so when one's past works are considered sacred relics of an artistic genesis of sorts. This is the dilemma that most would like to thrust upon Varg with the release of what are largely his most widely influential works in a modernized format. Granted, the Burzum concept of modern could be analogized as the difference between late medieval Gothic architecture vs. early renaissance era architecture with a similarly Gothic feel. That is basically what "From The Depths Of Darkness" is, a rehash of olden warriors with swords drawn who just happen to have discovered gun powder and are being supported by a handful of primitive cannons.
Anyone with a clear memory of the sonic characteristics of "Burzum" and "Det Som Engang Var" would expect any kind of a compilation of various songs from each respective album to be a jarring affair, shifting back and forth between various low-fi manifestations in a manner not all that dissimilar from Darkthrone's largely panned compilation "Preparing For War". This re-visitation, however, is a frighteningly consistent one in respect of production, coming off almost as though the exact same mixing levels and settings that gave us the recent "Fallen" were employed here. While definitely dark and misty sounding, it has a mellow smoothness to it that contrasts with the olden frost character of the early 90s.
But the real departure to behold here is in Varg's vocal interpretation. Whether it be a shift in sound preference or a necessity resulting from a fully matured voice, what is heard on here is more akin to recent Darkthrone releases where a low end growl replaces the high pitched shrieks of Burzum's past. With it comes a sense of moderation of character, something that is probably alien to most long time adherents to the cult of the 2nd wave. To put it plainly, the former overwhelming sentiment of agonized suffering has been replaced with a somewhat vindictive, but largely focused anger that is likened to a wiser man still being pissed off at the modern world.
Beyond the upgrade in production practices and a revamp of the instrumentation on the ambient keyboard number "Channeling The Power Of Souls Into A New God" into a slightly more menacing, guitar dominated beast, there is little change to be observed here. For all the talk of Varg allegedly profaning his former fits of brilliance, this is largely an inoffensive tribute to his own past. In fact, the biggest flaw that this album suffers from is that it doesn't really go much further than remembering the past. This is not something that can be counted as essential, nor is it some unworthy fit of pandering. It is more a sufficient rendering of already explored territory, and whether it was a necessary one largely terminates on whether one prefers the new production practices that were adopted after Varg left prison.
You would think that a compilation of exceptionally good songs (some of them are among the most mesmerizing in metal history) would not alter much in their essential quality even when re-recorded with the basest intentions. I was wrong.
The track "My Journey to the Stars" is case in point. Originally this is a song whose compositional imagination always gobsmacked me. The riffs held the logic of the song in one piece yet shifted in emotion with such dramatic impact that it made the listening experience chillingly "unsafe". It was as though the greatest horrors of life were played out in a world that made them make sense and suddenly... life had new meaning.
After hearing the version on From the Depths of Darkness, however, I have come to understand that you also need a profound understanding of the subtleties in the song in order for all that magic to reveal itself when actually played. Back in 1992, Burzum seemed to have a communicative intention behind every single note played and knew how to achieve the desired effect. The single bass notes, for example, were treated like heavy droplets of significance and Burzum never feared to let them linger.
On FtDoD, all nuances have been run over. The tempo of the music has been flattened to a dull medium, every note has been given an equal value as though they cannot be trusted, and the harmonic distance between instruments is smothered into a lukewarm glob. The adventurous storytelling that was Burzum and Det som engang var is now turned into a mere texture, a bland stream of monotonous rock 'n' roll. Experiencing Burzum's old recordings was like discovering every dark corner of a cavernous ancient stronghold. With these re-recordings, Burzum has brushed itself off of all dangers, any sharp points have been sawed off and we’re left in a place which is clean, safe and very, very boring.
Ultimately, FtDoD is worthless as art and an indication that its creator has (at least at this point in time) lost touch with what motivated the original compositions.
I was quite perplexed when the announcement was first made for this compilation of repurposed and repackaged Burzum tracks. I'm sure I am not the only one. Those who follow Vikernes' in interviews will likely recall his statements to the nature of wanting his music to originally sound as bad as possible, with the worst instruments, the worst microphones and the worst amplifier; to really let the talents and the emotions of the individual shine through in the crudest array of musical devices. So it seemed to me a bit 'flip flop' that the early recordings Burzum and Det Som Engang Var would ever retrieve a treatment such as this one. But really, when it comes down to the line, it is Varg's music and his business what he does with the music. If the man wants to record his dishwasher on an endless loop for 80 minutes, then I'm sure there would be an applicable market...
Despite this hesitation, From the Depths of Darkness does not sound all that 'polished' or all that bad. Varg had mentioned he was never happy with particular elements of the original recordings, like the vocals, and thus he's gone on to adjust them without losing most of the music's primal underpinnings in translation. These sorts of releases are rarely much good for me. An artist might come along and blow the original recordings out of the water (like that recent Satan's Host collection); or simply complement the originals with a fresh coat of paint (Destruction's Thrash Anthems) that remains entertaining; or flop along uselessly with some unwelcome new vocalist present on the classics (Exodus' Let There Be Blood). In the case of this record, it's the same man, the same vision, only tweaked with a few components he wanted to hear, but may have muddled up in the original incarnations of the songs.
Now, this is not the entirety of Burzum or Det Som Engang Var, but a selection of tracks affixed with a few ambient intros and interludes. As such, one should not go into it expecting the same play order, and the alternation of the tunes creates a mildly different atmosphere. The guitar tones are more propulsive and brighter in pieces like "Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown" and "Ea, Lord of the Depths", and the screams a bit more brash. If anything, he's updated the level of production to that of his more recent efforts Belus and Fallen: not at all the sort of poppy, studio glamors one might expect, but a solid representation of where he's at today. To be sure, I don't think those original albums could EVER be replaced. Their importance to millions of fans, followers and clones is not in dispute, and part of their charm was their moral distance and the dry, downtrodden architecture of sound. If there is anything noticeably missing from these new versions, it's that same, somnolent spiral of agony.
The ambient pieces here are really just used to extract their ancestors from the originals, and create a separation. The best example is right up front, as the emergency-warning sounds that once inaugurated "Feeble Screams..." have been sliced, and a new intro "The Coming" is given its own, sparse, admittedly worthless existence. Same with the low, cavernous ambient rumbling of "Sassu Wunnu" which is placed before "Ea, Lord of the Depths". "Call of the Siren" is a bit more substantial, with some warped guitar loops and residual ambiance, but it too feels barren even for Burzum. I could have done without all of these, but as far as the more important metallic tracks, I found that some were still pretty exciting despite the facelift. "Key to the Gate" sounds positively thrashing here. "Channeling the Power of Minds into a New God" has a nice buzz to the two droning guitars. "My Journey to the Stars" sounds quite atmospheric and powerful...
To sum it up: Do you love these Burzum tracks so much that you're excited for their marginal mutation into a fresher form, with none of the dreaded onus of studio glitter or overproduction? Then From the Depths of Darkness will not prove a disappointment. Or does your devotion reach so exceedingly far that the very notion of this is of heresy and alienation? Well then, you probably aren't going to derive much amusement from this album. Personally, I'm on the fence. The new recordings were not completely offensive or unwelcome, but I just don't see them as necessary or all that compelling, since they largely follow the originals and only deviate in a few of their underlying details. I'm much more interested in his new ideas and material (I quite liked Fallen), and so I hope he will turn to that fertile territory next, rather than some future splicing and retreading of, say, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem.