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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)