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My review score for this album does not reflect my enjoyment of the music or the objective musical talents of the composer, but the average of those factors combined with the presentation of ideas in the album. As such, my score can be broken down into two parts:
Musical quality: 64%
Concept, ideas, and organization: 100%
Back in the day, when I was still a Literature student at university, there was a module offered by my department that focused on the writing of the Anglo-Saxons in England. The module covered some prose accounts, short poems, and longer, epic poems, the most famous of which was 'Beowulf'. Students examined these works both in modern translation and, after a brief process of learning the language, in the original Old English that had been used between about 400-1100AD. Difficult as it was to analyze some of those buried works (many existed only through one copy and several of those copies were irreparably damaged), it was both stimulating and wondrous to become involved in the events and tellings of the age, and perhaps more so because of the obscurity of the texts we were trying to decipher and resurrect, since they afforded only glimpses of stories and snatches of poetry instead of the complete and overwhelming experience of modern books. Yet, precisely because one had to scrutinize minutely and work for every scrap of meaning, it meant that the rewards and imaginative license those texts gave were all the more captivating, alluring the mind by providing only a partial picture, which the mind's eye was left to complete or contemplate, depending on the strength of imagination.
Burzum's 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss' is exactly like that. The building blocks of this album are unquestionably simple and would appear to have some rather obvious omissions, but that simplicity and fragmentary nature can also be part of its charm if one is prepared to work hard in exploring both what is there and is not there. It is rare in black metal, or in music, or in art generally for any work to be quite so focused and fixated as this, since art usually works on the principle of being interesting or attracting attention before it attempts to unload any greater significance upon the observer. What makes 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss' a difficult album to judge is that it would appear that it begins with concepts in hand and, instead of attempting to build on those concepts or to flesh them out, they are presented starkly and without almost any supporting content. In strictly musical terms, the songs are plain, repetitive, and uncomplicated. However, in artistic terms, the music would seem to be a direct manifestation (or as direct a manifestation as possible) of those ideas into aural form. The album is thus similar in many ways to the writings of the Anglo-Saxons, since their works often consisted of blunt bursts of direct meaning that combined to form an overall picture, the impression of which was the macrocosm of all those small phrases.
If one attempts to find the theme or idea or philosophy behind the album, one looks at the music, the lyrics, the song titles, and the artwork and - as far as I can see - comes to the conclusion that 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss' is about the quest for meaning and significance, though also perfectly encapsulates the message that there only exists an absence of meaning and significance. Just listen to the vast swells of void in the title track as that two-note movement rolls up and down or the literal interrogation of emptiness in 'Tomhet', so named because the song represents that hollowness inside words, inside the self, that cannot be filled. Read the lyrics to 'Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen' that are saturated with impotent images and the desperate grasp for understanding, but concede only the ending of the search, not the success of finding. The album title, and particularly the title of the opening song, are incomplete phrases, hinting at revelatory meaning though in fact leaving a yawning chasm of sorrow where that open door of signification cannot be closed. What happens "if the light takes us"? What does it take us to? What does it take from us? Then the haunting conclusion of 'Det Som En Gang Var' ('What Once Was'): "Vi døde ikke.../Vi har aldri levd" ("We are not dead.../We have never lived") forces home the tragic, horrible senselessness of existence that we do not realize, since we are forever seeking our meaning in the what has come before. Burzum, like the Anglo-Saxons, always looks to the past for help in revealing the present, while those from the past looked to the past too...
The moods and shapes of the album make it seem like a concept album, or at least an album linked by a single train of thought. From the grandeur and comparative spectacle of the opening song, through the ominous churn of the title track, through the ugly dissonance of 'Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen', and towards the catatonic calm of 'Tomhet', the struggle for meaning seems to intensify, climax, and be accepted as futile. The opening 'Det Som En Gang Var' contains the pick of the musical parts, with its aged loftiness communicated by means of the repeated synthesizer parts, while 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss' is all brooding thunderstorm and dual-paced oppression, the riffs and keyboards working counter to one another in both pace and mood. The most "difficult" song on the album has always been 'Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen', though it is probably the most typical piece on here: despite the dreadful dissonance of the opening riff and blastbeats, it wrestles with its own awkwardness, fading out in a burst of melody like the last sunset of a dying age. 'Tomhet' has already been discussed at length and is musically rewarding and a calming, though no more optimistic, conclusion of the album's themes.
Though suited well to the ideas and philosophy of the album, the music is only worthwhile if one is fully invested in the pursuit of understanding, since there is little in the way of naturally enjoyable content to be gleaned from the songs here. The playing is neither complex nor catchy, succeeding more by its indistinctness than any positive quality. Atmosphere is of course present in abundance, though the real quality of this release is to be found in its immersiveness and utter, unwavering focus on conveying a single idea, which - because of the nature of that idea - it finds itself incapable of doing more than hinting at. The reason why so many people have proclaimed this album genius or awarded it a perfect score is because one cannot separate the content and the context, so they have concluded that it is as "true" as possible - an absolute statement of undeniable fact. Whatever the musical imperfections of 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss', I agree that it is a near-flawness construction of art, but on musical quality alone actually leaves a great deal to be desired. It is certainly not my favourite album to listen to, nor my favourite Burzum album, but it is objectively the greatest Burzum album purely due to the fact that it never falters in its execution. However, it cannot be listened to as merely music, but must be left open for exploration, of which I still have much more to do.
Burzum has a long and controversial history. Amidst events such as the church burnings in the early nineties, the murder of guitarist Euronymous and the infamy of many stage antics for bands like Mayhem permitted the people of Norway to allow their imaginations run rampant of an infection in the form of Satanism and pure evil to emanate from the dark within the recesses of the Norwegian metal underground.
Varg himself is, at least to me, an interesting person. His politics aside, it is undisputed that Varg is a talented musician and a jack of all trades with the synthesizer, guitar, drums and vocals. And these talents show in "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss."
After the strong debut of "Burzum," and the somewhat weak "Det Som Engang Var," Tar Oss serves as a bridge between Varg's general transition from black metal to a more lower-quality, ambient touch that would come to dominate "Filosofem." The album starts with probably one of Burzum's most famous songs; "Det Som Engang Var," continues with the song based on the album's title that carries a very dark tone, and "Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen," serves as the album's third song that I would say is good, but not as good as the other three. The fourth song "Tomhet," is one of many of Burzum's ambient songs, clocking in at over fourteen minutes and having a tone that is somewhat more upbeat than the other three songs.
By far, the album's first song (strangely enough carrying the title of the second album) is its best: Varg's eerie vocals, pounding drums and memorable guitar riffs coupled in with a clearly skilled usage of the synthesizer keyboard make it the strongest and most memorable song on the album. Despite the third song being somewhat weak in its repetitiveness (but it is a Burzum song, so who am I to complain?) it still is a good one that I definitely wouldn't skip over when listening to it.
The only weakness with the album is simply that there really aren't enough songs on it. All four of the ones on the album range from solid to fantastic, and "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" has a unique tone that applies to all of the band's individual albums, and it is unfortunate that there aren't more with this particular feeling that I can't find showing up again in the band's prior and later discography. Although to be fair, two of the songs alone take up 28 minutes combined, and with any more songs could take over an hour.
All of its problems aside, it is an excellent limbo between black metal and atmospheric music and is probably my favorite Burzum album, despite having only four songs. I would absolutely recommend it to any fan of black metal or ambient music in general.
For an artist commonly maligned as a stylistic 'gateway' to black metal, Burzum's music doesn't really welcome casual listening. You've got to be fully invested in the atmosphere; elsewise, it's easy to let the extent of Vikernes' brooding genius to escape beneath the radar. What's more, I think Burzum needs the span of an entire album to get his point across. A strong atmosphere tends to build upon itself, and the songs on the strongest Burzum records tend to amplify the atmosphere of the tracks around them.
All of this could be said for most great ambient music, but very rarely does it apply to metal. I begin a review of Hvis lyset tar oss with this observation because the all-or-nothing nature of an experience with Burzum is part of the reason why it's taken so long for me to realize that Vikernes' music is far more than the visible sum of its parts. Exposure to a few of the better-known songs on their own did little to inspire me, and I'd virtually assumed the legend and acclaim was a by-product of certain other, explicitly non-musical antics Vikernes had been associated with.
It takes a full, undivided surrender to Vikernes' grasp of atmosphere to appreciate Burzum for what it is. Possibly moreso than any other part of music, it is impossible to achieve atmosphere through structured, procedural means. An atmospheric effect comes together through an unknown proportion of ingredients, and like anything else of a supernatural quality, there is no way to arrive at it empirically. Atmosphere must be conjured as it is experienced; intuitively, and with the insight and willingness to plant one foot in another world. Say what you will otherwise; Varg had an incredible sensitivity to the pulse of atmosphere in music. The music may be associated with Second Wave canon, but there's a timeless, simultaneously ancient nature to Burzum's classics that could not be replicated short of boasting the same inspiration the man felt in the year he recorded his first four full-lengths.
As it happens, Hvis lyset tar oss isn't the first album to spout this ageless atmosphere, but it is the first where his more empirical talents as a composer and recording artist became apparent. Where the self-titled debut and Det som engang var were refreshingly primitive and undercooked in their songwriting, by this third album it sounds like Vikernes was seasoned enough to second-guess his first drafts. His compositions now favoured steady repetition and an increasingly tactical use of his ingredients, all to the benefit of his atmosphere. Hvis lyset tar oss itself would be dwarfed by the ultimately superior Filosofem, but there's no fault in calling this the first 'great' album Vikernes ever made.
Distilling Hvis lyset tar oss down to a handful of longer tracks is indicative of the leaps Vikernes was making in his music. In improving his music, he wasn't adding new content so much as stripping away the unnecessary articles. The redundant factors towards his atmosphere are done away with; it's rare that an idea sounds like it could have been done away with in his compositions from this point forward. Minimalism presents its own set of challenges to a composer; rather than trying to write as much great material as possible, the minimalist must have confidence in a few repeating motifs to relate his message. From the first demo, Varg had always been a gifted riffmaker, but it wasn't until this one that exploited each individual idea to their fullest extent.
"Det som en gang var" may have shared the second album's name, but it sounds leagues beyond a lot of the 'learning process' songwriting that defined the first two. This is the first Burzum masterpiece, a song that ferments a unique atmosphere from the start, and takes its time in doing so. Cold ambiance builds over the course of minutes, making the change into the album's most memorable riff pack so much more of a punch. The calculated minimalism is parried with the ever-raw sound of the music. Varg's screams still sound visceral and nearly inhuman, although there's a solipsistic egotism to the cathartic howls that still place Vikernes' expression as distinctly human, personality-based art. An unfocused handling of riffs at the end of the album sounds like a bit of a misstep on the composer's part, but "Det som en gang var" would still scrape the top of the list if Burzum's strongest works were ever ordered by weight of their inspiration.
Hvis lyset tar oss channelled its successor Filosofem's majesty from the start, but the two tracks that follow it lack the same sense of awe. Neither the title track nor "Inn i slottet fra droemmen" seem to leap out at me, despite the fact that Vikernes made them used the exact same ingredients as the first. He's still just as confident in his use of their motifs, but the motifs themselves aren't as compelling as I'd hope to hear in an album many claim to rank among the genre's best. Try as I might, the centre-section on Hvis... sounds comparably dry to me. While my appreciation for "Det som en gang var" and the fourteen minute ambient "Tomhet" have steadily grown over the course of listens, "Hvis lyset tar oss" and "Inn i slottet fra droemmen" don't burst through the euphoric wall for me. Some of the riffs on the latter are particularly enjoyable to listen to, but considering the sort of pantheonic consideration Hvis lyset tar oss is privy to, I might have been expecting an album that amazed me the whole way through.
A consistently masterful work by Burzum wouldn't arrive until Filosofem, released already a while into Varg's prison sentence. Judging from reviews I've read for Burzum, it seems people will do or say anything to escape potential controversy. Mr. Vikernes' politik is, and was more appropriately discussed alongside Filosofem, so if I still have anything controversial to say here, it would be that Hvis lyset tar oss played a developmental role in Varg's progress more in line with Det som engang var than Filosofem's conclusive mastery. This is a great album; it's got a masterstroke of an opener and a bold ambient track that finally brought his synth ambitions full circle. Even the two less vibrant tracks here boast Vikernes' maturity as a composer. Even so, his progress wasn't over yet, and to compare this with Filosofem as similarly excellent albums seems like a case of mass-adopted hubris.
No matter what Mr. Vikernes says, Burzum's first four albums are highly influential and regarded as essential black metal releases. They contained the much coveted "buzzsaw" guitar tone and raw production that really elevated the atmosphere of the music to huge proportions. It's quite a well-known fact that Varg himself has never considered the music of Burzum to be black metal, but rather simply as "heavy metal", on his early albums anyway. Obviously the sound of this music is very much black metal with dark ambient injected within. "Hvis lyset tar oss" is Burzum's third full-length album. It was recorded in 1992 but wasn't released until 1994, shortly before Varg was convicted for the notorious murder of Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, as well as the arson of several Norwegian churches. This album, along with "Burzum", "Det som engang var", and it's successor "Filosofem", is widely regarded as a classic from the Norwegian second-wave. In addition to that, it elevated black metal to new heights and for its time, really started something new: atmospheric, ambient black metal. With its repetition and minimalism, "Hvis lyset tar oss" is an album that has captivated many fans of black metal since 1994 and since I heard it for the first time back in early 2010, has remained my favorite black metal album of all time. I know there is not too much to be said about this album that hasn't already been put out there, however I feel it is my duty to give my opinions based on this album, not only because it's highly influential but also because it just means so much to me personally.
This is not a complex album in terms of musical composition. These songs focus only on a few musical ideas throughout their fairly long run times. Even so, it is an album driven by emotion and atmosphere. The guitars really don't step outside themselves too much in the first three songs. Take the album's opener, for example, the 14 and a half minute journey that is "Det som en gang var". This song begins with a fairly hypnotic guitar passage that is extremely minimal and simplistic, but changes once the drums make their introduction. The guitar work in this song is really only secondary to the absolutely gorgeous synth passage that sets the standard for this song. My favorite moment of this song is when the guitars imitate this keyboard line with a tremolo riff that almost resembles a guitar solo. Towards the end of this epic masterpiece, we are treated to yet another somber keyboard passage. There really isn't much to note about technicality here, but that was really not the focus of this album. There is one moment that does stick out a bit in terms of technicality with the guitar solo towards the end of "Inn i slottet fra droemmen" which is still not all that complex. This album definitely achieved its goal of reaching an extremely hypnotic, desolate sound that I'm sure has influenced many of the DSBM bands we have today. In fact, even when this album shows its more aggressive side such as with the title track, this music remains extremely emotionally driven. This album is often regarded as a huge influence among DSBM bands and it's quite easy to see why.
Varg truly sounds like a depressed, lonely soul on this album. Whenever I throw this album on and immerse myself in all of its melancholic beauty, I get feelings of absolute solitude. Varg's vocals are absolutely amazing on this album. This is obviously another idea a lot of the DSBM bands, such as Nyktalgia and Sterbend, have adopted into their sound. These vocals are not typical black metal screams and rasps we hear with bands such as Darkthrone, but rather high-pitched wails and screams of despair that sound like wolves howling in pain. These tormented vocals have been a practice and standard element of Burzum's music up to this point, but it's on this album where he really perfects that effect. Thanks to Burzum, we do have a lot of "wannabes" and "copycats" in black metal today of which some sound really good, but they can never live up to this album. This is not an album that set the standard, but rather the album that exceeded any and all standards before they could even be set.
If you are listening to Burzum's records in order beginning with his 1992 debut, the production value of this album really shouldn't be a shock to you. His music is quite lo-fi and fuzzy which all helps to add an amazing tone to the atmosphere. This album was recorded in the legendary Grieghallen Studio which is also responsible for recording dozens of other important albums. Much like his previous efforts, Varg didn't use high-speed recording equipment to make this album. Instead, he opted for a very basic and stripped down approach which really only enhances the quality of the music. If it wasn't for this lo-fi approach to production, this album would not be as effective with its atmosphere. This really is not the rawest, most underproduced black metal album out there. Even those who haven't completely trained their ears for black metal shouldn't have a hard time listening to this speaking in terms of harshness. This can't even be described as his most-underproduced album in my opinion. In fact, it seems that Varg really upped his game in regards to production. He didn't polish this album or anything like that, but it seems to be a much more stable release when being compared to the previous albums. The ambiance is multiplied greatly on this release as well. We are treated to a 14-minute piece entitled "Tomhet" which serves as the album's closer. Out of the four tracks, this is the only fully ambient one. It's extremely minimal and repetitive in nature, like the other tracks, but fully void of guitars, using only keyboards to create beautiful electronic soundscapes. There is a slight folky influence brought forth with this track, but it's not too prevalent and can only be slightly picked up upon.
An album that certainly has survived the test of time and has made its permanent mark on the history of black metal, "Hvis lyset tar oss" is a dark journey through a world of dreams and magic. This album is indeed Burzum's finest output and it's very unlikely any other album will ever top it as far as black metal goes. If you're already familiar with Burzum and black metal overall, I'm sure this is an album you've heard or at least heard of. I highly recommend listening to this for those who haven't, because it is just that important of an album.
Is this a black metal album? If it is, it's downright the best black metal album I have ever heard, but I'm having trouble lumping this into the same category as Darkthrone, Marduk, Immortal, Enslaved or Mayhem, the bands that shaped black metal for me personally. I'm a death metal fan, but I've been listening to black metal far longer than I have listened to death metal. I'm not sure how it went, but I do know that Marduk was at one point in my early teen years my favorite band, largely due to the fact I was looking for speed and nothing else. I knew a lot of black metal staples purely from exploration but never really "bonded" with the genre because I listened to it purely for speed. Now that I'm listening to metal for better reasons, I've long been wanting to give black metal a new chance after having discovered most of what thrash and death had to offer. One of the first albums I listened to was Sons Of Northern Darkness, and there I found out what my main issue with black metal turned out to be; it's painfully repetitive. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but I thought technical death metal was a tired concept...that was before I even gave black metal that chance I so long wanted to give it. Really, nearly every black metal album I've heard so far has 2 or 3 good songs with the rest providing nothing of worth whatsoever, some albums are exceptions and some just do so much right that I can hardly dislike it, but my favorite form of black metal is rooted in blackened death or blackened thrash metal, further proving that in contrary to thrash or death, black metal just isn't what I'm looking for.
Anyway, here we have Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Presumably a black metal album, but in fact more of an ambient release to me. Sure, the bulk of the approach is black metal-based, but this album doesn't have many riffs, it does emphasize on what black metal usually does too, but it's stripped down so far that it basically leaves only the skeleton behind, resulting in this album thriving on its atmosphere more than anything else, much like Transilvanian Hunger, only even more stripped-down and far more ambient. On that album, you can still clearly hear it's black metal more than whatever genre, and while I can hear the black on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, it's far too minimalistic for this to be called a black metal album more than it can be called an ambient record. And thus I consider this ambient. Weirdly enough, this basically focuses on pushing all the problems I have with black metal to a great extreme, which means that I should hate this album, but I don't. Not at all. It's fairly logical that you'll get ambient if you strip down black metal this far, but for some reason I like this more than any pure black metal album ever.
Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is atmospheric, it's beautiful, but it's pretty chilling as well. It doesn't try to put you on a frozen mountain top like a Transilvanian Hunger would, but instead it seems to focus on some of the most minimalistic aspects of metal possible, and it pulls it off flawlessly, even if the result is nothing more than constant fuzz with some occasional drum beats and tortured black metal yelping. I just love the progression of this record, it seemingly drags on forever, but then changes to something that's every bit (if not even more) as beautiful as what came before it. Even during the more black metal-derived material (the title track and "Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen") it's just so captivating and gripping, even when it's simple as fuck. There are arguably 2 black metal songs here, but even these songs feel like ambient with a drum pattern supporting them rather than actual black metal songs. You see, this album is so incredibly barebones but somehow so good as a result. It seemingly drones on forever with the fuzz that the guitars produce, only ever so rarely changing pace or tone, but for some reason I can listen to it far longer than most things black metal. There's no other reason for me loving this other than me just loving it.
The 2 songs that pass the 14-minute barrier are the ones most responsible for this record being so good. Track 1 and 4 are my favorites of this album, presumably because they're the least black metal songs featured here. While this music isn't enchanting or peaceful because it's still moody and relatively dark, it's just beautiful to hear, which says something considering Vikernes' vocals are pretty horrifyingly tortured and insane. There's hardly any technique in what he screams, but my god it fits the music perfectly. He doesn't sound like your ordinary vocalist, he genuinely feels like he's lost in the forest, barely alive while forced to exude and scream whatever he still has left in his already horribly decayed shell of a body. His vocals sound like the helpless screams of a dying man, and that is one of the best vocal styles I could've imagined for an album that already sounds this hopeless on its own, only further solidifying this as one of the best kinda-black metal albums ever made. Funny enough, track 4 is entirely instrumental, but perhaps the best this album has to offer, with an awesome flute section starting around the 9th minute. It's a calm song and pretty sleepy as well, but I like that, a lot. The rest of the album alternates between constant fuzz for a guitar and some pseudo-black metal riffs that are incredibly effective in their simplicity, but the fuzz somehow provides a lot to listen to, even when you barely hear the notes being hit other than the tone shifting. I guess I'm now describing what basically every black metal-based ambient album sounds like, but bear in mind this is the first ever ambient release I've heard in its entirety, but judging by the quality of this release, it's most definitely not going to be the last.
Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is the antithesis of what I usually like about metal, but I love it so much only because it's so unique and beautiful. There's no riffs here to remember, and in fact the whole album isn't very memorable, but the experience once you hear it is just so incredibly great. Yes, currently, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is the best album I have heard that has black metal amongst the genres, and for some reason I believe it will stay that for a while. Every self-respecting metalhead should give this a spin at one time in their life.
Ten years ago, music critic Jim DeRogatis and a team of like-minded young cynics published a terrific volume of iconoclastic reviews known as “Kill Your Idols,” based on the premise that many “classic” albums, considered simply as music, actually suck. DeRogatis laid out his criteria for judgment at the end of his own savaging of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: “Great art stands on its own even if it's removed from the specific context of when and how it was made. The good old days? Good riddance.” I mention all this because if there's any metal album in desperate need of the Kill Your Idols treatment, it's this one.
I should also say that the first time I heard this album, it was as context-free as possible on a recommendation from someone far more experienced than myself. I knew of its creator's notoriety, in the sense of being vaguely aware that the 90's black metal scene had witnessed murder, church-burning, euro-racism, and (less ominous) some dude who played all the instruments on his albums back when that was still uncommon. But it wasn't until later that I discovered that Varg Vikernes was “all of the above” and that the Burzum album I had just listened to was considered by many to be his best work and a classic of the genre.
Let's shoot the elephant in the room and discuss the vocals first: what the hell happened here? Varg uses only one high pitched raspy tone through the whole album and he sounds like a demented old lady shouting at the dead cats in her head to stop meowing. There's nothing even remotely powerful or affecting about his voice – even in the “depressive” sense of projecting pain to stimulate horrifying fascination. The vocals on this album are not horrifying but merely annoying. If I heard the sound of Varg's voice coming from an animal I had just struck with my car, I would return to the car and back over the animal again just to shut it the hell up. His wheezing also has little or no relation with the actual music. Vocals rise and fall, appearing and disappearing, without warning or the slightest coherence, as if he weren't even listening to the song while recording it but just spent several minutes moaning into the microphone and layered it over the instrumental tracks at whatever place looked okay in Cool Edit.
Not to belabor the point, but if you were to actually read reviews for this album before listening to it (as, I should stress again, I did not), you'd know something must be up with the vocals just from how even favorable reviewers feel like they need to apologize for them. “The vocal's aren't everyone's cup of tea,” “for those who can get past the vocals,” “the vocals might take some getting used to,” “the vocals are really love/hate,” etc.. Seriously people. Is there anyone in the metal world who, upon hearing Varg's asthmatic falsetto groan for the first time, actually thought “this is awesome, I want to hear more of this?” I doubt it. (And if there is, that person should refrain from ever offering another opinion to anyone about anything ever.)
As for the parts of the album that don't involve vocals, they are better – not by much but still better. To start off positive, the production is actually really good by black metal standards – especially good by early 90's standards. Of course everything's fuzzy and overdriven with weird dynamics and hilariously loud toms, but you can actually hear every note being played and none of the instruments are completely blurred or distorted out of recognition. It's enough to make one realize how absurd it is that so many modern black metal bands insist on releasing horrid blurry messes of blastbeaten static despite having far greater access to sophisticated recording and producing technology than anybody had when this album came out. To put it simply, the production on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is gritty and lo-fi and yet clear and powerful enough to completely destroy whatever excuses another artist might have for releasing anything sonically weaker.
Furthermore, some of the riffs are actually surprisingly lively and interesting, demonstrating what another musicologist (Alan W. Pollock) would refer to as “avoidance of foolish consistency.” Take the opening (guitar) riff of “Det Som En Gang Var” as an example. Some less imaginative bedroom-metalhead could easily have played the first bar four times and called it a riff, but Varg instead spices it up with subtle changes that stretch it to a more mature (and far more artistically satisfying) four-bar phrase.
The real problem I have with the first track, and the album as a whole, is that the above is about as creative as it gets – ever. It sounds like the “artist” literally spent all his energy trying to turn one unremarkable riff into a slightly longer unremarkable riff and then shifted into neutral and coasted on imaginary momentum for the rest of each track like a child at the bottom of a hill sitting still but trying to convince himself the sled is still moving. The title track is even worse than the first because it uses fewer elements and does even less with them. Ten seconds in, you've basically heard the entire song. In vain will you look for anything interesting to happen for the remainder. It's not that there's anything wrong with using a limited number of musical ideas. In fact, the third track “Inn i slottet fra drømmen” is a masterpiece of minimalism, blasting away at a simple two-chord progression for the majority of the song but introducing more than enough variety and nuance to tell quite an intriguing musical story along the way. By the time it's over, you can hardly believe almost eight minutes have passed. But that's just one track on the album and the other three more than make up for its relative merit by being intolerably dull and unimaginative.
I freely confess that all of the above opinions may be rooted in ignorance. Maybe there's something in this album that I'm simply incapable of seeing. Maybe I'm just not the appropriate audience for black metal, despite finding plenty of enjoyment in the early works of Mayhem, Emperor, 1349. and the like – enjoyment that somehow seems completely absent from most works of Burzum. But then the album arrives at the 14-plus minute slog that is “Tomhet” and that's when I go from simply bored to almost insulted. You see, I may be arguably oblivious to the finer points of black metal, but I've spent more time than I'd like to admit in the tracker/demoscene, and it's hardly an exaggeration to say that back in 1993, every Norwegian kid with a soundcard and a BBS connection was shitting out tracks better than “Tomhet” on a daily basis. If it didn't take less time and effort to compose and render this track than it takes to actually listen to it, the additional effort was surely wasted considering this is what it sounds like regardless.
I actually toyed with rating this album lower than 50% but that would be morbidly unfair. There's real musical merit here, plenty of it. But the vast majority of material is unbearably tedious. I've listened to it probably a dozen times over the past few months – not because I enjoy it but because I'm genuinely puzzled that so many people, whose opinions I otherwise highly value, generally do. It's alternately dismaying and confusing that an album this forgettable holds any pride of place along side the other classics of 90's black metal. It's almost enough to wonder whether anyone would even bother with it today if the original artist hadn't become notorious for things even more unsavory than writing bad music.
Out of all the major second wave black metal albums, none are as controversial and divisive as Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Legions of metal listeners swear by it as the pinnacle of metal's evolution, a brilliant conceptual work relating the fall of European spiritual values to the false light of Middle Eastern religions. Legions more swear that Varg needs to find a real studio and learn how to play the guitar. However, as the years wear on, the criticism fades, the naysayers find something new to hate, and the monumental scope of this album shines through. As commercial acts like Cradle of Filth now play to a shrinking fan base, Burzum appeals to a new generation of listeners and continues to captivate the imaginations of old fans.
Despite being comprised of relatively simple musical ingredients, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss embodies everything that the original Norwegian black metal movement was building towards, and is one of the rare examples of a contemporary musical style in full bloom of realized potential. In fact, it sets the bar so high that every black metal release to come since feels like child's play. Whether one agrees with Varg's ideals or not, they clearly provided him with enough inspiration to carry his music into uncharted territory.
The album opens with "Det Som Engang Var", one of the most well known songs in black metal. After about four minutes of buildup, the song explodes into a melody that is beautifully simple and instantly recognizable. Keyboards soar above the froth of guitar like icy winds on a desolate mountain, while drums alternate between simple grooves and a booming, reverb-drenched tom beat. By the time it's all over, it's hard to believe that almost fifteen minutes have passed.
The next two songs are less individually remarkable but no less worthy - both begin with a feedback-heavy fast section that gradually develops into a cryptic, haunting guitar/keyboard melody. They change form so gradually that you don't even notice it happening. A new melody glides in behind a pulsating main riff, then the main riff drops away and your attention is focused on the "new" melody that's actually been playing for a while already. Listening to these songs is like being outside as the sun goes down - you don't realize the exact moment when it gets dark, you just notice that all of a sudden it is dark.
Closer "Tomhet" is a long piece of ambient electronic that owes much influence to classic Berlin electronic artists like Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream etc. Unlike most of Varg's full-album forays into ambient electronic, "Tomhet" is a fully realized piece with a striking, visual climax. It's almost kind of happy sounding, a suggestion of hope after obliteration of consciousness. After the raging storm that is the first 30 minutes, it's a calm and contemplative ending that gives the listener opportunity to reflect and gather their thoughts, completing the gradually descending mood of the album, and departing from the music in a tranquil state.
I should also mention that this album has proved its longevity like few others around. Although I disliked it upon first listen, something about it drew me back and it eventually grew on me. I have listened to this album regularly for over fifteen years, and by now it feels like an old friend. Even though I know every second of playing time, every little curve of the music like the back of my hand, there is still something fresh and new to discover every time I play it. If you want a metal album you can come back to again and again, instead of some disposable release you will listen to three times and forget, seek out this album. Be alone, turn out the lights, and let yourself be absorbed by Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.
Good old Varg Vikernes at his very best days. Vikernes himself claims his music is for Europeans only, is it so wrong that me as being a yank to enjoy this piece of work wrong? It certainly doesn't feel wrong. This album composes 4 long tracks into one amazing composite opus. Many instances on this record surround its listener with deep atmosphere, complex build-ups and memorable musicianship complimented with agonizing vocals. Much of Burzum's work was recorded within the year of 1992, yet released and scattered about within the proceeding years, which means Vikernes himself put a lot of effort into creating the music he did within the first two years of starting Burzum, but simply leaving Hvis lyset tar oss at simply the best of them all.
This album is a classic for many reasons. Its song structure, variety and elements are almost perfectly laminated into the sheer structure of mid-aged black metal. The opening track "Det som en gang var" is a ritual-esque moderate tempo track with a long intro seduces its listener into a forest of dismay that is Burzum. The following song "Hvis lyset tar oss" is a fast-paced beast, bearing the lines of influence to many bands coming above Vikernes' brainchild. Gorgoroth, Emporror, Enslaved among others can be heard having styles within the realm of simply just this one song. The characteristic elements and atmosphere that the backing synthesizers layered above the guitar work almost entwine with each other in the same sense of sitting alone in a forest during a heavy storm.
Even the concept of the record is deep as its music is, according to Vikernes the record is based about "What once was, before the light took us and we rode into the castle of the dream. Into emptiness. It's something like: beware the Christian light, it will take you away into degeneracy and nothingness. What others call light I call darkness. Seek the darkness and hell and you will find nothing but evolution." The fact that its anti-Christian theme seeps amongst its dismal sound is almost the epitome of original black metal. I do not support or unsupport any type of religion in any way personally, but the purist creation and stance of a true black metal remark truly is something to praise
Every song is very different from the last, while I don't so much enjoy the rough blarings of "Inn i slottet fra drømmen", it's usually other things that save my un-enjoyment from things I do enjoy. In this case, Vikernes' drumming on this song is phemonimal and his rhythm guitar parts are also praisable. I also forgot to mention, the bass guitar is clearly audiable most of the time throughout the album while observing the instruments taking the lead above it. It's not so much to praise, but the fact that it's just there is a delight enough.
Finally, the final track "Tomhet" and all its glory closes the album almost perfectly. It's just as its title translate to in English; "empiness" and here, almost every time I hear this song, I'm granted with the feeling of desolation and emptiness. Atmosphere is the key in hearing projects such as Burzum and I believe what truly makes it so great. Hvis lyset tar oss is a record that never went forgotten once in the realm of black metal and for every right reason at that.
This album is something special to me. It is about as perfect as a black metal album can be, in that distinctive style which Varg pioneered. Other bands have tried but most have failed to match (or even come close to) this album, and most other Burzum works. What makes Hvis so special, then? Well, everything.
First, the atmosphere is perfect and consistent. Partly due to the production, party the overall tones used, and partly just the songwriting and riff construction, the atmosphere is immense and immersive. It is open and expansive on Det Som Engang Var and Tomhet, while the atmosphere becomes harsh and oppressive on the title track, and there is a bit of both on Inn I Slottet Fra Drømmen.
Some will claim that the songs here are repetitive or minimalistic. They would be correct, really. However, like Darkthrone after Soulside Journey, that was the point. The ambience of the records helps produce a grim atmosphere, and is all a part of black metal. If one lets oneself be immersed in the atmosphere which Hvis tries to create, it is easy to become entranced, after the lumbering, long introduction of Det Som… which is exactly what HLTO wants to do. And when that happens, the record hardly seems repetitive. The songs generally work on a few themes, however, they are incredibly well arranged, and there’s just enough variation for it to be interesting throughout and maintain the ambience as the songs ebb and flow.
Every song is a highlight on this record. Each song is fabulously composed, and actually, Varg is a hell of a musician. The drums sound strong and punchy, the guitars crisp, and the bass can even be heard. His vocals, usually a love ‘em or hate ‘em thing, are on top form here. They fit well, and that is what matters to me. They are harsh and distinctive, an unmistakable rasping shriek which DSBM acts would later try to use, with varying degrees of success.
Again, every song is a highlight. It’s only four tracks, but all of them are masterful. A few highlights throughout the run-time for me, however, would include the ending riff of Det Som Engang Var, and the entire outro of Inn I Slottet Fra Drommen. However, this is not a record which is meant to be split in pieces; it is meant to be heard as a whole, in one sitting, with one’s whole attention paid to it. Regardless, an amazing album from Varg. Without doubt a landmark album of both black metal and metal itself.
Much like I've narrowed down the nexus of superior thrash metal to largely dwell within the realm of 1986-88, it really felt like black metal's time had come in 1994. Granted, since that time, there has never been a shortage of the stuff, and quite a lot of it supreme, but as for the second wave, 1994 was the spot. Many of my favorite albums of the genre arrived this year, and yes, most of them were Norwegian. Emperor cornered the market on symphonic black early with their brilliant In the Nightside Eclipse. Darkthrone put out the one-track minded, anomalously awesome Transilvanian Hunger. Enslaved and Satyricon each released a pair of cult faves. Mayhem finally arrived in full-length form. Bands like Gorgoroth, Ancient, Hades, Forgotten Woods and Gehenna were also making their debuts, and the scene was expanding in bounds of impressive expression.
Then, of course, there was Hvis Lyset Tar Oss ('If the Light Takes Us'), Burzum's third album, which served as an antithesis to everything I just listed. While many Norse bands were off exploring the heights of savagery and complexity, Varg Vikernes was concentrating inward, to an even more minimal approach than he had taken on the past works. This is not a short album, necessarily, being around 45 minutes in length, but it focuses in on but four lengthy tracks, two of which eclipse the 14 minute mark, and yet, they never quite succumb to the dull pallor such ambition usually wrests from the author. Gone are the shorter, curving compositions found on Det Som Engang Var. Each individual in this quartet is drawn out to painstaking lengths, fully saturating the witness to worlds of obscurity and antiquity. In today's climate, this is not such an uncommon practice. Unless you're living out in the sticks, you probably couldn't stroll four blocks without encountering a handful of bedroom/desktop black or post-black metal artists who drone their swollen dreams on for far too long, offering next to nothing in the interior.
Back in 1994, it was still pretty unusual to run across such a work. It would have been an act of commercial suicide outside of genres like this one, which were already suicide to begin with. But Varg Vikernes has never been one to dwell on such folly, and so Hvis Lyset Tar Oss stood as his least accessible, but most impressive display of carnage to its day. Thematically, the riffs here are a blend of what we experienced on Burzum and Det Som Engang Var. They're not as dark or groove-thick as several of the tracks on the sophomore, but they bring back some of the piercing cold environment of Burzum. During several segments of this album, I felt like I was actually experienced a spiritual successor to Bathory's Blood Fire Death. Not in the savage semblance of its Viking motif, but just the way the guitars are channeled through a raw, repetitive glory that feels like a people, a nation, or a glacier moving slowly towards some conquest that was once unattainable. A forward motion, if you will, that never ceases through the metallic components of this CD, a wave that escalates until finally breaking at about 30 minutes into the track list.
It begins with a soothing calm. Scintillating keyboard lines with a flute-like tone are measured off against ringing, emotionally charged chords. This is "Det Som En Gang Var". The fact that did not appear on the album of the same name creates a startling continuity. Around 3:00, you hear the war drums erupt and a Bathory like procession of vision, not unlike "A Fine Day To Die", but steadier and longer. There is little else to occur here for minutes, just a repeating of the drum fills, the sauntering in and out of the synthesizer, and at last, 5 minutes deep, the tortured tones of Vikernes' vocals arrive like a strangulated hag. Rinse, repeat until about 8 minutes where an arching guitar melody arrives to mimic the keyboard, with a deviating tail that feels like a blood caked knife being dragged across the solid ice of a forgotten pond in which someone drowned, their preserved corpse staring through the glass miasma at the returned murderer. In its waking moments, the rhythm and ambiance shifts to an even slower pace, and then in closure a final variation on the central guitar riff arrives to carry it out to oblivion.
"Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" itself follows, increasing the pace of the album to a blast, perhaps the most intense and level blast Burzum had yet managed, the drums kept very low in the mix so the minimal variation in the guitar can create a fuzzed out clarity alongside another of the beautiful but effortless synth lines. The vocals here sound even more forceful than the first track, as if the strangling victim had freed itself, to mock and chastise a gathering of onlookers, to curse them for their passive fascination for its own suffering. Slight shifts are carved into this mountain of atrocity beyond the 2 minute mark, minimal but effective guitar lines that maintain the hypnosis Vikernes is striving for, and then around 6 minutes there is a final, desperate rush, before the torch is passed over to "Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen (Into the Castle from the Dream)" and its deceptively jarring monotony. Through this track, Varg weaves Voivod-like dissonance and a gleaming, methodic force until a graceful breakdown half-way in, guitars taking all the weight here until the drums return around 5:30 and slowly gather speed until the lamenting melody of its final act.
Lastly, there is "Tomhet (Emptiness)", which was wisely placed so as not to erupt the rest of the ritual. With good reason: this is not a metal song. No, this is more akin to something Tangerine Dream would have written during their peak of 80s soundtracks and studio albums, a highly saturated, dreaming atmosphere conjured through three primary synth lines. One of them is mere resonance, surviving for several minutes, while the second repeats a vague, spacelike pattern, and the third crowns it all with benevolent, but cold bliss. Before the 7 minute period, these fade into a more somber tone, as if submerged in an arctic sea, the plump and plucky little melodies of the depths queued by the diver's exposure to the wildlife found therein, calm and strewn towards its destiny of predator and prey. Later, around 10 minutes, flute-like sounds and tinny, recessed percussion arrive that seem to leech the listener from that depth and create a glade-like incandescence, as if the diver had drowned and was seeing some arboreal Elysium. It's quite strange, but it's also my favorite track on this album...
As usual, with any Burzum release, you simply cannot expect to experience the same emotions you've found on previous releases. For all its subtle similarities, there are just as many if not more differences found throughout Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Here, Vikernes has mastered the ambient half of his equation for the first time in memory. "Tomhet" is the most rapturous voyage he had yet penned outside his metal material, but its stunningly simple. Just about anyone with an inkling of how to hit a synthesizer chord and press a 'record' button could have performed this. And that's the beauty. The return to earth. To elements. The rustic, puerile charm. It's an enormous contrast to the charge of the first three tracks, and yet ironically the perfect post-script, as if all rising tension and glory led to its necessary calms.
Because of moments like this, Burzum is very often equated with being one of the few 'artists' within the metal sphere. I'm going to tell you that this is utter bullshit. Projected elitism. Bleary eyed snobby smearing. Virtual reality. If someone tells you this, hit them with a stick. Then hit them a second time, for me. Almost all metal through the ages, like other forms of the medium, have been art, just of varying strengths, purpose and size, of which we can argue until we're blue in the face. But that Vikernes is more 'artsy' than some would be hard to dispute. He conjures minimal aesthetics with a clear purpose. He's a masterful composer with few tools. A divisive engineer of aural frustrations. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is with ease one of his most potent statements, surpassed marginally by its successor in my reckoning, and only by a mere elbow's breadth. Armed with lyrics of loss and wrath, this album forms a unique bridge to the more historically, folk driven themes Vikernes would use on further efforts. It's not entirely flawless. There are a few minutes in the first two tracks that often cause some drift (not in the right direction), but on the whole this remains a desperate, delicate, intricate and destructive pleasure to experience.
It seems difficult to base a critique of any work of art upon arbitrary or commonly-accepted standards when such a work is expressly and explicitly intended by design to not fit within the confines of normal definitions. In this case, Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is most aptly described as black metal, and yet, even though that is the best description of the record’s sound, it is not only black metal. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss has been called ambient music, or electronic music, or neofolk, and yet, even though those phrases do describe parts of this album, it is neither completely ambient nor wholly electronic. The music of Burzum was never intended to fully fit within a genre, never meant to allow itself to be defined by a word or a phrase. The goal of Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes, in composing music as Burzum, was to create a sound which was a mirror of his soul, a sound all his own and not identical to the prevailing death and black metal music of the day. Rather than pummeling the listener into submission with a blistering message of death, hate, and gore, pounded into his ears by scathing guitar lines and relentless drum fills, Vikernes’ music insinuates itself into the listener’s psyche. Repetitive themes, unwavering drums, and comparatively simple guitar chords combine magically to create a sound unlike any other. A “magical” combination indeed, oddly enough, as such was the full intent of Vikernes – to try his hand at magic, to create “nachtmusik”, music to be played in the evening (“abendmusik” then, if you will). As one fell asleep, conjured images of high fantasy would cast a Spell upon the listener, revealing to him a world quite unlike his own and yet so similar; displaying for him the darkness that was in truth the repressed goodness deeply latent within our own existence and upon this Earth we call home.
The opening incantation of the Spell of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is the song Det som en gang var (which, translated from Norwegian, signifies What once was). This song opens the listener’s mind to the full Spell of the record, preparing him to receive its message. The songs Hvis lyset tar oss (If the light takes us) and Inn i slottet fra drømmen (Into the castle from the dream) follow, their goal to weaken the listener’s hold upon his way of thinking, his adherence to logic and the accepted ways of this world - to make him the more ready once the final phrases of the Spell are cast. The Spell of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss concludes with the lengthy ambient track Tomhet (Emptiness), and with this song Vikernes succeeds in persuading the mind of his listener, now primed and open for guidance, and once the mind lets loose its hold upon this world, Vikernes has captured the heart. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, perhaps more than any other Burzum record, masterfully fulfills the design of creating magic within the heart and mind of the listener.
The record begins comparatively slowly. Det som en gang var, for the first three minutes or so, moves almost despondently, as though the guitars are being stroked aimlessly, mournfully. But Vikernes is establishing a mood, and these first three minutes succeed in doing just that. Setting the tone for this record as one slightly less angered than the subsequent Filosofem, Vikernes lets us know early that this album will be mournful and contemplative. Once Det som en gang var begins to increase its speed, we begin to see, even though the bard relating a tale to us is saddened and wishes us to be so as well in order to best understand him, that there is something which we must hear and understand. When Det som en gang var has completed and Hvis lyset tar oss begins, we see a more urgent side in our storyteller. We empathize with him as his statements come swifter and more imperatively. Inn i slottet fra drømmen increases the urgency even further, almost frantically pleading with us to hearken, and features considerable discordant harmonies that serve to stir us to thought and wonder even further. By the time Tomhet begins, we are completely and totally in the power of the storyteller, and we are ready to receive his magic tale. Tomhet takes us on a journey through two landscapes, two far-away places represented by sound. The first of these is bleak, and, while interesting to us, is an echo of the despondency which we knew originated somewhere mysterious when we first heard it in Det som en gang var. As we travel from the first landscape to the second, we come to know the full measure of despondency, a moment in time of quiet sorrow. The second landscape opens our eyes to the fact that, though valuable in and of itself, despondency, when tempered with fantastic thoughts and realizations we had never conceived, can only make us stronger. As Tomhet ends and the full spell of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is complete, we finally come to understand that our own world is not that different from the land of magic which we have visited, but that the shadowy things here are not as dark as we have been led to believe.
As far as an analysis of the music itself is concerned, Burzum in general is not a technically proficient, perfect sound, but it was never intended to be. Just as mistakes in life make up the human character, so mistakes in Vikernes’ music define its character and make it personal. But what mistakes there are on this album are negligible. The production is standard for the time and for the black metal to which Vikernes was for the most part adhering. The production is not as low quality as on the album which follows, Filosofem, but neither is it of such a high quality as to make the music sound sterile. There is more distortion during the first three songs than the closing track, of course, but, as Tomhet is digitally produced, this is only to be expected. In any case, it seems appropriate that the “preparation tracks” are more distorted, making them more “difficult to comprehend” and piquing the listener’s interest, while Tomhet is clear and there is no mistaking the intent of the prime words of the Spell. The mood is very well established throughout the album, mainly by the guitar and by the excellent use of keyboards. Guitars are strummed either very slowly and the note held for some time, or are picked tremolo for a continuous sound. Often, the keyboards will take over the main statement of themes from the guitar, the latter fading into the background. The keyboards are not overdone by any means. Quite frequently, especially in this latter day of black metal, keyboards/synthesizers see considerably more use than they should (or at least more elaborate use, or are just plain too loud in the mix), but Vikernes has perfectly mixed them with the guitars on this album. Drums are mainly used for backing, to assist the guitar and the keyboards in the storytelling. There is nothing fancy in the drumming, with hardly any fills to speak of and almost no change throughout an entire song, but the position in the mix of the drum track is perfect, neither overpowering nor too quiet. The drumming, of course, increases pace with the rest of the instruments in the second and third songs, but becomes ever slightly more urgent than it had been previously, even slightly aggressive. Vikernes’ signature vocals, perhaps the most emotive harsh vocals in metal music, combine elements of shrieking, weeping, and angry screams all into one sound. The vocals on this album are particularly clear, the voice and its tone quite distinguishable. We can usually identify quickly our storyteller’s mood. Though still obscured to some extent by the low production, the vocals on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss are quite more distinct that those on Filosofem. The heavily distorted vocals of the latter album fit its mood well, but the clearer treatment of vocals on Hvis compliment the music perfectly. The question of negative comments regarding this album, or things in need of improvement, is a delicate one. Change one aspect of this record, and the music one loves today will not be the same. The drums could be slightly more imaginative - perhaps a few fills to underscore important statements within the music or to signify approaching changes in theme and therefore thought. Guitar solos are not necessarily needed, at least not in the standard idea of a guitar solo, but perhaps in the more mournful sections a lonely guitar playing by itself for a bar or two might have worked well with the overall sound. But even these suggestions are only minor thoughts, and not significant grievances which in any way detract from the experience. It is very challenging to find a legitimate aspect of this album which needs to be changed in order to increase the delight of listening to this record. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss achieves its goal mainly by repetition, in the restatement of a theme with small variations throughout. Guitars state one theme, and then keyboards state another. Drums keep our thoughts continuous, and emphasize the guitar and keys. The vocals let us know that we are not alone on this journey, instructing and guiding us as we fall under the album’s Spell.
Hvis Lyset Tar Oss has been called the greatest black metal album ever released, and its opening track, Det som en gang var, the greatest black metal song ever recorded. The quandary in such a statement is that Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Det som en gang var are not merely black metal. They are Burzum, and Burzum by definition is Darkness, the shining of a unique light into a shadowy world where seas of sound are all alike. The music of the Darkness lights the way of those who care to listen, and the music of the Darkness is Burzum.
Varg Vikernes is without question the most controversial man in heavy metal, but despite being pre-judged by many as being violent and angry, his music in the band Burzum does not deal with the typical conventions of black metal, like Satanism and violence. His music can be thoughtful and metaphorical, and there's no better example of that than in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.
Consisting of only 4 songs, none of which are under 7 minutes, this album is seen by many as one of the best black metal albums ever made, and Varg Vikernes himself said it was the peak of Burzum's musical period. The best thing about this album comes in right off the bat: an atmospheric musical soundscape that he has never matched before or since. There was little to no atmosphere in the debut album (although the cold, sharp riffs and general dark feeling made up for that), Det Som Engang Var had some atmosphere, but this album I can just really sink into, and feel the music more than any other Burzum release. Keyboards are much more present in this album, than in the past ones, becuase they are used in songs outside of the ambient instrumentals. Varg uses them in every song except one to underline the music and carry it along and accompany the pounding exciting drums and speedy tremolo picked guitars.
Det Som Engang Var is the first track, and it opens up with the keyboards moving along on their own, making a slow, drawn out melody with quiet guitars following along with it, and this is how the album builds atmosphere, and it does it really well. It almost feels like I'm being brought into the Theodor Kittelsen picture shown on the album artwork. Then the guitars come right out in the open with a highly memorable riff, and then the drums come pounding in, and I don't know if the drums sound the same on the CD as they do on the record that I have, but they sound incredible. Every drum Varg strikes resounds and can be heard in perfect clarity. The pattern of keyboards, drums and guitars continues until about 4 and a half minutes in, when those harsh, inhuman vocals start up. As most Burzum fans know, these vocals take quite a while to get used to, and I don't exactly blame people for not liking Varg's vocals. It took me quite a while to get used to them, and this is the song that got me used to them. To defend them though, although they deffinitely aren't talented from a technical point of view, it's that relentless emotion that comes from them that I love. That, and the power that they surge through the music. The song pounds, booms, and crashes, and it still gives in an interlude or two that take things slow and bring the keyboards back, giving the song a chance to breathe and develop atmospherically. Even though the song is an impressive 14 minutes, it doesn't ever feel long to me. Actually, the way I get into this song, I can't even keep track of time anymore. It's a really great song, one of Burzum's very best.
The next track is the title track, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, and to me, it's the only blemish on this record and is the only reason I didn't give this a 100%. Don't get me wrong, it's a good song like the others, but it doesn't meet the standard of the other songs by far. I always get into it when it starts, but as the song continues, I begin to get a little bored. Not really that much is going on in the song. It does have a much faster pace than the previous song, but it doesn't really take you anywhere like the other songs do. I did hear that Varg had recorded a song that he was going to use to replace the final track with called En Hvitt Lys Over Skogen, which I have heard before on a compilation of rare Burzum songs, but I think that En Hvitt Lys Over Skogen should have replaced this song instead. It fits better into the whole album and it's just a much better song in general.
Moving on to another great one, Inn I Slottet Fra Drømmen. It starts with a simple crashing guitar riff and some skilled drumming that gets you pretty pumped. Varg's screams come in, and the heavy guitar riffs go along with everything in a much more melodious sense of aggression than the previous songs did. It's definitely much more exciting than the last song, and progresses quite a bit more too. The patterns change frequently enough to ensure that I stay with the atmosphere, and then my favorite part of the song comes in: 3:43 to the end of the song. The keyboards come in and join the guitars in a more progressive riff that just keeps leading you to different places in the music, and the song ends off on a highly headbangable riff at 5:35. The song has all the atmosphere and heaviness that the first track did, although it's concentrated into 7 minutes (the shortest song on the album).
The final song is Tomhet, and it ends the album on a prefect note. Another 14 minute song, with just as much atmosphere as all the other songs combined. It's an ambient instrumental consisting of only keyboards, but it invokes a hypnotic sense of calm. It really reflects this album's range and brings everything together for the album and completes it. It isn't nearly repetitive as the 25 minute ambient song from Filosofem, and it keeps you with the soothing atmosphere all the way through. It's a nice way to let you settle down and consider what you're hearing. It's an amazing song. (The video clip I put in with the review is the final 7 minutes of the song. You'll see what I mean when you hear it.)
All in all, the album is one of my absolute favorite albums I've heard so far in my life. It has a dense atmosphere that doesn't let up and really reflects what Burzum's music is like: thoughtful and atmospheric. This is Varg at his best, and if you're a fan of Burzum or black metal and you can tolerate the vocals, don't let this release pass you by. It really is astounding.
Burzum has always represented a divergent path in the Norwegian scene, and there is pretty much no clearer of an example of this than Varg’s own offering to the 1994 climax of the early 90s in “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”. While most offerings either took the path of extreme vileness (Gorgoroth and Mayhem) or some variant of an epic and majestic atmosphere (Emperor and Enslaved), this album subsumes both of those ideas in very limited amounts under an overriding feeling of sorrow. This could be ascertained by the visual of a corpse laying at the side of a path in the woods as depicted on the album art, but even without the visual aid, the auditory craftsmanship is so obvious on each musical chapter that a similar image of archaic woe and remembered grief leaps right out at whoever has ears to hear.
Like any of Burzum offerings, the stylistic approach to the black metal paradigm relies heavily on atmospheric elements and droning riff work. The songs are all epic in scope, though in overall musical content there is about as much variation as one might expect from a 3 to 4 minute song. But where this one differs is that the combination of a larger sounding production and a solid, pounding guitar tone unleashes a furious wave of agony that rivals anything yet conceived by any metal outfit. The formula that has been resorted to on previous albums is mostly maintained, but in a more ambitious and concentrated form. It comes off as less raw overall, although the depressed and morose vocal wails are equally as telling of a gutted soul, writhing in eternal pain, as they’ve ever been.
Upon entering the opening seconds of “Det Som En Gang Var”, the principle image that emerges is that of a grand castle gate opening. At first sight, the atmosphere is melancholy, almost akin to a funeral for an unnamed, benevolent monarch. What follows the initial 3 minute intro is a completely new theme that is somewhat more chaotic in nature, but generally maintains the overall ambient aesthetic established from the beginning. The guitars generally have a hazy nature to them, although at times they border on a proto-thrash character not all that far removed from early Venom. Varg’s contorted wails pipe in and out in rather abrupt intervals, short in length, and sparsely placed, almost as if seeking to act as a final detailing on a simply designed tapestry. Things generally progress slowly, as a third contrasting theme enters about 5 minutes after the previous one began, though a restatement of the 2nd theme appears in a lead guitar line that sounds heavily influenced by Depeche Mode pipes in to offer a slight variation. One could note a peculiar paradox of a song that is over 14 minutes long and pretty much among the more complex things that Varg has ever created being set around a set of lyrics, in free verse form, that could be read in under 15 seconds yet inspire a much longer period of contemplation. But this sort of a programmatic approach to songwriting is a familiar trait in Burzum’s style, and easily identified with a number of conceptual works by various metal and non-metal writers.
After the massive opening chapter to the intricately simple book that is “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” ends, things take on a slightly more conventional character. The album’s title song continues on a similar line as the 3rd section of the previous song, but presents it in a heavier tone, as the keyboards move down to the bottom of the arrangement, and the rhythmic drive lends itself to a blackened thrash character. This is the sort of droning yet driving song that Darkthrone was probably going for on “Transylvanian Hunger”, but didn’t quite live up to due to a less nuanced approach to sectional development and a barer atmosphere. “Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen” follows a similar driving approach, but doesn’t quite qualify as a droning song as it switches around much more frequently. The melodic ideas shift in and out, keyboards come and go, and in much the same nature as a bizarre dream, it changes in such abrupt ways that it shocks the senses. A loose yet fitting analogy could be made to Enslaved’s early works here insofar as ambitiousness is concerned, although the technical chops of said band are exchanged here for a plurality of excellent ideas that are heavily distinctive, yet blend together perfectly without throwing off the continuity of the whole.
Although the general theme presented throughout the album has been a middle ground between reminiscence and dreams, “Tomhet” (which translates into “Emptiness”, a fitting title) strips away the sorrowful remembrances and nightmares until all that remains is the bare essence of consciousness. Like his other ambient works, the atmosphere puts things into a state of a wakened sleep, as 3 distinct ambient lines enter one at a time, and interact with each other. The melodic voice in the first section carries a theme that is heavily similar to the one that accompanied the distorted funeral march at the beginning of “Det Som En Gang Var”, but the presentation of the whole reveals pristine landscapes in a nebulous manner rather than a woeful procession. At about halfway through its 14 minute duration, the sounds compress into a smaller and quieter arrangement, yet begins to show signs of harmonic movement, as if pointing to something else to come. Sure enough, a beautiful flute melody accompanied by a distant sound of percussion emerges, like a lone piper playing to a quiet breeze at sunset. Although a bit more animated and compact than the ambient masterpiece heard on “Filosofem”, I tend to prefer that one to this, though only by a very small margin.
Ultimately, what is accomplished here is radically different from what became the dominant sound of the black metal genre. It is this difference in character alone that separates it from the blackened trinity of 1994 represented in “Pentagram”, “In The Nightside Eclipse” and “Vikingligr Veldi”, though it definitely holds its own when compared to any of the three. Most who claim to be influenced by it, more so than with any of the emulators of other bands in the 2nd wave, can’t help but fail to properly emulate Varg’s distinctive melodic aesthetics or achieving the surreal atmosphere necessary to reel the listener in. My own preference to “Filosofem” over this one can only be explained as a matter of preference. Both are equally astounding in their own way, and are equally essential to anyone who wishes to become versed in black metal as an art form.
Ideally, this should be listened to at night, alone, in your bedroom, in the dark [etc]. This is the kind of music you fall asleep to. Of course, anyone in the "mainstream" population would say Varg's vocals would keep them from sleeping. Well, if you enjoy any other album (except his last two) it means you're accustom to his vocals. Getting past this is really important, and once you do-- you will thank yourself.
The defining feature of this album is the synth keyboards. Even through the first song, it would feel awkward if there was none of that otherworldly sound that Varg twiddles with. It gives an atmosphere of desolate nothingness; yet at the same time feels like you are looking into the space above. Back at the time where the 2nd wave was emerging, most of the band members focused on landscapes. This album could probably draw a portrait in your mind if you really want it to. In fact, I use this album to get to sleep sometimes, I'll touch on Tomhet at the end.
The first song can sum up Burzum basically. Crushing riffs, tom fills with Varg playing on time (yet he always seems to be off), and a beautiful synthetic background that I cannot describe with words unless you hear it. Actually I'll try. The synth sounds like the noise you would hear if you needed a soundtrack to a deep exploration in space near a supernova in a void.... sorry, give me credit for trying. The guitars are very fuzzy, and do not dominate at all. The lead is always given to the synth when it appears.
The next two songs are moreover the same. It seems to continue the ambiance, but doesn't bring anything special to the table as Det Som Engang Var did. They're still good nonetheless, and would be outstanding tracks on any album; just after the initial track... it seems like a step down because the first one kicked so much ass. I think these songs play a role into leading towards Tomhet. If you take a look at their function, they follow the same formula. The songs contain a few guitar riff spanned over a period of time. Since Varg's desire was to create an atmosphere, this is ideal in doing so... just I tend to find it too repetitive. He must be given credit for trying to add in special effects. On the amp he uses, he tries turning on the tremolo knob to give it the riffs a pulsating feeling. This generally cost some percentage since no deviation is done, and it almost feels as if the lack of keyboards is a factor. He does bring them in at random points; though they definitely do NOT have the same beautiful effect the first.
Tomhet is perfect. This is the reason why no one will touch this album. The synths were balanced perfectly in the other songs, but here it is pure synth. This song is for sleeping to, not to playing before a huge game. If you do that, you are stupid and should die alone. Anyways, I've studied this song a lot, only to find out that Varg used really loud synths at the beginning to make it seem like a clusterfuck of noise. Eventually, towards the 7 minute mark, it all drops down into this really space like beauty, which is amplified by the fact your brain registers a drop in silence. It's the perfect drop, and brings your brain down into a level of beauty I cannot describe. Now as much as I did say it is perfect, I am knocking out some of its score because it is perfect... and doesn't go on long enough. It ends too soon, and Varg could have easily drawn it out to 17-20 minutes and it would still remain as amazing as it would have in the 14 minutes originally. Sometimes I feel it is too short, even for a 14 minute beast of an ambient song.
This can only be experienced by buying and listening [at night]. An album like this has never been done, and will never be done again. The closest album to this is Filosofem. This is what makes it such a jewel.
The brilliance and complexity of nearly all burzum albums is something that never fails to amaze me. The approach is usually quite simple, at least musically, but emotionally the complexity is overwhelming. There is something about Varg's music that captivates and grasps the listener, and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is no different.
After fearing the first song, the title track of a previous album, I knew that Hvis Lyset Tar Oss would be my favorite burzum album. With a magical musical introduction, we as listeners are led into the darker, heavier aspects of burzum that we all know and love so well. The layered instruments on both the title track and Tomhet create an atmosphere that most all black metal lacks. Despite the harshly poor quality of the recording, the feeling and the intention to put the listener into a "spell" is still there, and is felt strong.
As the album progresses, the mind begins to wander as the music takes control. Unlike many burzum albums, the songs on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss are always a perfect mix of ambience and heaviness, dark and light. There are very few memorable "riffs" on this album, simply because all of the music floats in and out if itself and each track is merely a continuation of the previous track. This is one of the many reasons that I enjoy listening to this album on a regular basis.
One thing that I truly enjoy about Hvis is that it deviates from the standard satanist viewpoints that nearly all Norwegian black metal bands of the early 90's shared. Instead, the lyrical content is focused on things like myth, folklore, sadness, and gloom. These are lyrical themes that I can more closely identify with, which makes this album all the more enjoyable for me.
One complaint that I did have, although it is not major, is that the album is too short! With a total of close to 45 minutes of playback, it doesn't closely resemble burzum albums that came before it, which was a dissapointment for me. This is the only reason that this album does not deserve a 100% score.
Burzum always has been, and always will be, a band sorrounded by controversy because of it's founder and lone member Count Grishnack. But regardless of Vikerness' murder of Euronymous, and his endless ideological views related to race, culture, society, and religion Burzum will surely go down as one of the greatest Black Metal bands in history, and this album sounds like their best effort to me.
Burzum do on this cd what almost no other black metal band achieves. A perfect balance of keyboards and guitars, especially on Det Som Engang Var. The 14 minute masterpiece (arguably Vikerness' best) uses synths in such a simplistic and almost boring fashion that you almost begin to recognize them as part of the "sound". And that is the brilliance of the keyboards, they blend with the guitars and vocals, creating an extremely organic sound. They also happen to be playing some of the most melancholic melodies I have ever heard, all while keeping the inherent simplicity and repetitiveness of Burzum. Here is were almost all other bands falter that try to replicate Burzum's use of synth. Either they overdo it and thereby make the synths the primary instrument, or they produce the guitars so horribly that the synths clash with the guitars instead of blending with them.
On the point of guitars, Vikerness also retains his basic power chord and tremelo style guitar lines that he used on the self titled and Det Som Engang Var. The emphasis is on quality over quantity, which is a point many black metal bands do not understand, using the simple structures of Burzum, while forgetting that what makes this cd work is the fact that the riffs are all brilliant. All of the songs flow seamlessly, and the riffs are repetitive to the point that you can't help but think that the music is simply a gateway into one's own visions and thoughts, and that the music simply acts as a catalyst, presenting possibilities and ideas to the mind.
The production remains similar to the previous full lengths, and Varg continues his high pitched and tortured vocal style. Drumming is good and simple, with fairly good production. Guitars are hazy and misty at times, but never overly harsh in the sense that they are equalized too trebly. The guitars have a good midrange sound, and this helps with the synth blend. The synths also get their own song, a song entitled "Tomhet" (emptiness) that gradually builds around a solidary synth theme, building layers over time. The song is beautiful and at the same time melancholic, and listening to this you will probably understand what I mean by the music being a "catalyst" for ones own imagination.
All in all, this is the way that it is done. Copied by hundreds of bands, but never imitated at the same level. You have not heard the full potential of black metal if you have not heard Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.
All of Burzum albums, this one is without a doubt, the most powerful of all. While I enjoy all of Burzum's early work quite a lot, none have captured me as well as Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. While only consisting of four tracks, these tracks create such an atmosphere, unmatched by anything else I have ever heard. This is not an album to headbang to, this is not an album that can be blasted while driving. This album has a very personal feel to it, music one should listen to alone, and take seriously.
The first track, Det Som En Gang Var is easily the best song on the entire album. I usually don't have any patience for long tracks, and despite being fifteen minutes long, there is not a single second of boredom to be found here. All the instruments just are perfectly calculated. This track explores all kinds of emotions. Loneliness, helplessness, reflections of the past. There is not much else that could be said about this track. It's a slow and beautiful song, and flawless in my mind. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is much more aggressive and faster then the previous track, and is not as well composed, but is also a worthy track. It is similar however in that it is also very atmospheric, and uses hyponotic repetition, and can in some ways distract one from reality in a way, as if one were in a dream-like state.
In I Slottet Fra Drommen, from my own estimation, is an underrated track. It lacks the atmosphere of Det Som En Gang Var, yet is also very dispelling listen. This track also has very good structure, it relies less on repetition and changes more often then any of the other songs on here. The last song, Tomhet, is an ambient track. I had avoided this track for awhile when I had heard that, but I eventually gave it a listen. Despite not having any vocals, this track is a true masterpiece. Like the rest of the album, it also uses hyponotic repetition, however, I never seem to get bored despite this. It has such a powerful melody, you will probably wish that it never ends upon listening to it.
This album has all the elements of a great atmospheric black metal album should have. The music takes me to another state of mind, almost losing touch with reality while playing. It tends to make the mind dwell, and touches all different emotions. This is an essential listen for any fans of this type of music.
I think of "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" as a transitional work from Burzum's earlier, more purely black metal recordings like "Burzum" and "Aske" to the more atmospheric trance music of "Filosofem" which I regard as the best album Varg Vikernes has done to date. The first and fourth tracks of "Hvis Lyset ...", respectively "Det som en gang var" and "Tomhet", are forerunners to what Vikernes would do on "Filosofem" and the middle tracks are reminiscent of the earlier material and could actually be an extension of it as they are not very distinct from it. Even so, the music overall is good, there are no filler pieces here and Vikernes has put much care and attention into the details of each song and has synchronised the instrumental parts together well. The drumming can be tinny in sound and the rhythms it marks are perhaps not original or varied and you could argue that if Vikernes had employed a drummer or learnt to play drums himself, the music would improve greatly; but then Vikernes would probably not have explored the more ambient and consciousness-changing potential of black metal and Life As We Know It would not be the same!
Anyway, it's unto the breach we go: "Det som en gang var" is one of the strongest opening tracks a black metal album could have, with a very eerie yet striking keyboard melody, full of alienation and (to me) the pain of being, leading into a robust build-up to the anguished and screechy singing. The keyboard melodies and guitar riffing may not be complex and the musical motifs are repeated throughout the track but the atmosphere is stark and despairing and the strummed-guitar instrumental sends icy chills up and down you spine. The drum machine is perhaps used at its best here, there are good rolls at the beginning to help create tension and then it takes a back seat to the guitars and keyboards, helping to push the track along and giving the flowing music structure.
The title track is very different: frantic in pace and more aggressive, the guitars and drumming dominant over the keyboards. Here the drumming could be considered a let-down as it is slow compared to the rest of the music and doesn't sound inspired in the early part of the song. The guitar has a very cutting edge that penetrates deep into the consciousness. The lead guitar instrumental can just be heard and is a flowing series of notes played very quickly and repeatedly to create a hynotic effect.
"Inn i slottet fra droemmen" is in a similar vein, again fairly fast and with rhythms out of touch with the rest of the music at first but redeemed around the fourth minute by pained shrieking from Vikernes. After this point, the music seems to become inspired: keyboards, guitars and even drum machine start to play almost note for note together and the result becomes a kind of up-and-down rollercoaster that seems never-ending and mirrors the vocalist's mental distress.
Finally we come to "Tomhet" which is an all-synth soundscape affair: the melodies and tones are simple but have a spacious, inviting quality drawing you into the sonic wonderland within. I don't feel lonely or empty actually when listening to this long track but there is a strong sense of "aloneness" so maybe in a way I haven't "got" the point of this piece. There is certainly a brooding atmosphere here. The plaintive melodies have perfect speed and timing, they are not too fast that you can't sense the space and feeling behind the tunes, yet not too slow that the atmosphere gets heavy or the entire track threatens to sag and fall apart. Towards the end, the flute-like tune edges close to New Age ambient music but the sharp and clear tone and production help to keep it cold and a little distant.
I would say that the true genius of albums like "Hvis Lyset ..." is its simple and elegant tunes and riffs combined with a minimalist approach which provide the basis for emotionally complex mood music that encourages listeners to contemplate its message. No fancy special effects here! The synth-generated tones are as pure and simple as they can be and the guitars are played more for emotional and atmospheric effect. Even the production is clear with only the guitars sounding distorted to get the blizzard effect - and yet this is still a highly atmospheric recording! My only wish is that the album could be a bit longer with perhaps an extra track - but then Vikernes is not a man to be pushed too far, is he?
The CD artwork by nineteenth century Norweigan artist Theodor Kittelsen is appropriate to the emotions and moods of this album: the dense pencil lines and shadowing capture the despair and loneliness of rural isolation and poverty, and the mental derangement such desolation could lead to.
One of the unfortunate realities of Burzum is that Varg Vikerne's deeds and disposition has always preceded his music. It's a striking paradox that a murderer and social/political extremist could make this kind of serene experimental but minimalist and poignant expression of our interactions with ourselves and our world. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is one such secession from all things considered archetypical black metal, however we are taken through a tumultuous journey that arrives at a place perhaps more dangerous than good versus evil could ever be.
At this point in the evolution of Burzum, Varg had expanded the reach of his music, but at the same time had simplified his means. The format of black metal was potent in delivering a message with a certain emphasis to it, but aside from its aesthetic means there wasn't much finesse to it. Unorthodox production was a finite resource, and dark aesthetics, imagery, and themes were powerful if used with an aim. Aside from some striking works within these margins (the legendary De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, In the Nightside Eclipse being the best examples in my opinion), and other striking works that would follow, Vikernes was thinking ahead and saw that the genre had the potential to bankrupt itself within a short amount of time. So Vikernes took some of his familiar tools and composed a new palette for his next work.
The sound of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss bears a striking resemblance to 1991's landmark, Loveless--the crowning achievement of British shoegazer group My Bloody Valentine. The open structural format contains simple phrases fleshed out through a dissonant guitar tone, pulsing out thick chords that build strong but etherial and airy textures. Unlike Loveless, however, the phrases are stated but left alone to interact with organic space. With Loveless, the pitch of a phrase is bent and warped within an immersing production. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss widens its scope in acknowledging its existence and effect on space outside of the recording. The production values are clear and represent all of its instruments, however they are somewhat distant in the recording space to create ambience, an aforementioned interplay with space, and an organic feel to the music. The steady tempo, simple beats, and linear development are reminiscent of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. There is a definite destination and although the journey does not have any particular obstacles or surprising twists due to the fluidity of transitioning, it feels familiar and inviting. The sense of melody is still that of Burzum. It can be at times perverse, drenched in anguish, turmoil, but it deviates from the last string of releases in that it can also at times be folky, slightly bouncy, reminiscing of the purity of a long gone and simpler time, or it can be hauntingly vague, acknowledging both infinite possibility, or inescapable and absolute nonexistence. And of course, Vikernes is still his recognizable self, offering another tormented and still shattering performance. However, compared to other releases, Vikernes seems deliberately withdrawn from the music, appearing minutes into the music, and then leaving with minutes left to spare. It seems kind of expected that as Vikernes strives to explore other possibilities with his music, his vocals, not being very adaptable, would become limited and only used when the mood called for it.
The album is comprised of only four tracks, but all four are lengthy enough to put this album into a total playing time of forty-four minutes. The album opens with Det Som Engang Var (“That Which Once Was”), a fourteen minute departure from serenity and peace into bitterness and anger as we are forced to realize the purity of ancestors has been forgotten and forsaken by time. The song opens with a serene pulsing chord building on its own dissonance and a gentle, wandering keyboard passage highlighting the shifts of the chord. The result is like being carried through a deep mist toward an unknown destination. The section ends with a short but very foreboding guitar passage, finally ending in a thunderous and anthemic drum line. Somewhere around five minutes in to the song Vikernes finally chimes in. The persona of the song seems to carry the burden of telling these simpler people it’s time to move on--the age of their glory is now over. And with a forced sense of indifference, the persona withdraws from the pain of reality and shuffles on through this meaningless existence toward somewhere undefined, not knowing or caring what will come next. Around the eight minute a striking but still airy and ambient guitar passage repeats the verse phrase, with a subtle almost subsonic emphasis from the keyboards slowly increasing in volume, creating a body to the passage which makes the simple harmony between all three instruments (one guitar, two keyboards) befittingly grandiose. The section that follows seems to lack resolution or certainty, until a minute before the song ends, and an almost conflicted sense of momentum and duty carries us through to the song’s end, perhaps suggesting the track should draw on more with its lamentation.
Regardless, the next place we arrive is not a pretty one. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (“If the Light Takes Us”) is one of the most visceral cuts of the album. Where the last track was sorrowful, this one is full of anguish and torment. We are taken to a place of conflict and turmoil, where opposites do not exist with harmony, but where one has a disgust and contempt for the other. Vikernes in his time has written plenty about dark, shadowy figures and beings. But they are not always foreboding for the reasons we think they are--they seem to hide the ill intentions of what we perceive as good rather than any ill intentions of themselves. They have always had a quaint sense of virtue and peace about them. In this track these beings seem to live out the pain and punishment of their existence--not as those who seek to perpetrate evil, but as those who have contradicted the establishment. The track carries on for eight minutes with a single chord progression over a violent tempo, played loosely and then deconstructed.
Inn I Slottet Fra Drommen (Into the Castle of the Dream) begins with a masculine building of energy but in time descends into a plane of existence more or less similar to the previous in its aimlessness. However the blasting tempo of the song seems to carry us through to a place of more intense suffering and conflict, highlighted by sharp tremolo runs on the verse, instead of the agonizing purgatory of the previous track. The persona of the song seems to watch as a Lord leads his people away from the light of the world, away from the suffering of the forest, to their own promised place. The time of coexistence has either passed or never existed, and the time to establish their own place in this world of perverse and deceptive good has finally come. The song rises to a majestic note through darker melodies, and we are met with an ending to the song that suggests some kind of success or resolution.
Or does it?
In one final and masterful commentary perhaps on life itself, Vikernes ends this saga with Tomhet (“Emptiness”). It’s a vast and immense fourteen minute keyboard piece that brings no resolution, but the realization that nothing absolute has truly existed in this tale. We are taken to a place free of light or dark, where infinite possibility is suggested for the first six minutes, and then with a slow shift of mood, taken to a place of longing, a place where their souls demand some sort of absolute value and purpose to their life of struggle, only to be unanswered and then returned to the void. It is perhaps one of the most dangerously potent works of nihilism--the belief that there exists no true value or absolutes in life, only what has been suggested and accepted by those seeking purpose and meaning. It is both a declaration of freedom and one of futility, depending on how you have lived your life.
On this album Vikernes breaks free from black metal’s limitations by exploring fundamental simplicities in a manner modern music seems unwilling to acknowledge, and reaches a conclusion about life we are all as equally unwilling to acknowledge. And the great tragedy of this work is that not only has the removed observer watched as a people struggle to find a truth that never existed, but much in the same fashion we will all probably live out our lives seeking desperately to disprove what seems to be the most logical conclusion of our existence. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is perhaps an album every one should hear and own, but it is an album only few of can fully understand the grave implications thereof.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to mention the name Burzum without the adverse and decisively tactless ideological outlooks of the project’s creator Varg Vikernes becoming the subject of concern and debate. However, before his infamous imprisonment and the following enhancement of his extreme fascist viewpoints, the man more often known as Count Grishnackh was creating some of the most inspired and evocative music ever known in the Black Metal genre. His undeniable creativity, paired with an overriding sense of originality and experimentalism, perhaps reached a pinnacle with the release of “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”, Burzum’s third full-length album.
The epic “Det Som En Gang Var” opens the album, with its strained ambience resonating immediately from both the ghostlike keyboard melody and the considerably subdued, yet harshly distorted, guitar tones. The extensive, although never overly dominant, utilisation of keyboards throughout the album to create a more chilling atmosphere than on previous releases is instantly perceptible. Furthermore, as the drums eventually kick in along with the simplistic but powerful main guitar riff, the true purpose of this album becomes noticeable- to produce a defiantly mid-paced yet wholly unsettling atmosphere within these four lengthy tracks. Vikernes’ vocals are as harsh and unrelenting as on previous Burzum releases but they are this time the accompaniment to music which portrays a far deeper and more intense environment. The virtually minimalist composition of this opening track, lasting over fourteen minutes, draws the listener directly into the album from the onset and the particularly simplistic keyboard melodies seem almost to lead the song through its dark and disconcerting mood.
The subsequent title track wastes no time in continuing this dejected atmosphere, starting with an indefatigable blast beat, but over eight minutes develops more restrained keyboard complements and various guitar tracks blending with one another almost discreetly amidst what becomes a solid mid-paced drum pattern. Again, Vikernes’ fierce vocals are more of an auxiliary function, practically hidden behind this wall of Black Metal sound as if he is trying to convey a sense of confinement and the subsequent desperation which has become a part of his temperament. “Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen” has more of the chaotic nature of earlier Burzum work prevalent throughout, with faster drums and some more simplified guitar riffs, but still manages to break off into elongated passages of despair and sorrow with perhaps the best vocal performances on the album, again emphasising this one man’s apparent struggle to accept humanity and the banality of existence.
Closing track “Tomhet” is a fully instrumental track utilising keyboards and synthesizers, hinting at a more experimental musical path which would be more closely followed and certainly bettered on 1996’s “Filosofem” album but it is nonetheless fitting closure to an album which created one of the most dark and aggressive atmospheres ever experienced within the Black Metal genre.
Ultimately, it is questionable whether anyone will ever be able to improve upon the epic moods portrayed throughout this undeniably fundamental work of art.
Originally written for http://www.blastwave.co.uk
Seeing reviews of this album that claim it to be "a work of total genius" and "the greatest black metal album of all time" has always severly pissed me off. If there's one thing that burns me up, it's when something gets at least ten times the praise that it really deserves. In this case it's made even worse because there is rarely anyone to provide a different viewpoint that doesn't sound fanatical and/or blown totally out of proportion. I'm not sure that I've ever seen a better case of something being widely and highly over-rated with the exception of maybe Metallica's black album. That said, I find that this release has it's moments, but my ears and knowledge tell me that it's nothing great or innovate. For starters, "Hviss Lyset Tar Oss" did nothing that hadn't been done before or done better. While I'm not saying that it's terrible, that alone deters it from being rightfully defined as "genius" since it would suggest some type of advancement over other similar works of that time. I'd say that the better moments are roughly below the level of say, Enslaved's "Yggdrasil" demo, recorded that same year and containing somewhat similar styles, with the listenability (that's probably not a real word) of both recordings suffering a little due to the occasional riff/section that is repeated needlessly and without variation for what seems like minutes on end. This (not the album as a whole) is a great example of poor composition, or in other words: bad music.
It all begins with "Det Som Engang Var" and soon you notice that the production values have risen from the previous releases providing a better foundation than before. While the "Aske" EP had a very clean sound, the guitars lacked a certain clarity and many excellent riffs (like the ones in "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit") were sadly reduced to an almost indecipherable mush. Two other things to take note of: Varg's musicianship has finally become solid and the keyboards now play a more important role instead of being isolated to instrumental sections between the other guitar, bass and drum oriented tracks. Everything developes as it should and the now more prominent keyboards, while simple add to the slightly subdued melancholy that the vocals create while nicely complementing the riffs. This certainly would not work without them (the keys) as they provide vital melodic depth that ties everything together and would otherwise be lacking. A fair start that meets the expectations and progresses slowly while never boring you despite the track's incredible length.
Track two starts well enough and when the keyboard came in it got even better because the music was starting to build tension, but all this was destroyed after he played what is essentially the same riff for two and a half minutes. With this song the album dips down and starts to sound a little sloppy so at this point I'm wondering if that aforementioned tightness was simply him putting all of his energy into the opening track, paying less detail to those which followed. It goes on for a while without going much of anywhere and as the track ends I'm left saying "well, so what?" There just isn't enough to save this from becoming another generic Burzum song. To me, it sounds more like the kind of stuff that Burzum clones write. I'm giving this a "one, out of five..."
When track three arrives I'm left shaking my head at first because of the, again very generic riffing, but when it kicks in I usually have a nice chuckle as it sounds odd and simple-minded in a reckless, brute type of fashion. (After saying that I should probably point out that it was not an insult to Varg's intelligence as it is obvious that he is a very sharp, albeit misguided individual.) I let it go it because the way the drums kick in just sounds kind of neat and unexpected. It's nothing too special considering that it's a two note riff... The noisey, dischordant lead that is played over it not-so-soon after is pretty cool, but nothing really happens until the verse finally comes around. Even then that damned opening riff that sounds like the theme from Jaws keeps popping up every few seconds. After three minutes it gets much, much better and the song starts to finally go somewhere. Around four minutes or so Varg makes some noise that sounds like a whimper. He also made this noise in the first track as well as "Key to the Gate" and it sounds just as akward here as it did then, but from here on this song is classic Burzum.
When "Tomhet" started I thought to myself "oh god, not another one of those songs" since most Burzum ambient tracks bore me to tears with their sheer mono-dimensional sounds that leads to nowhere. Much of the time they suck because they basically sound like the same "riff" played for 10-25 minutes. I'm not sure where to stand on this one. Like the previous track, it starts out sounding pretty dumb, but it gets so much better when the third keyboard part comes. After a while the rhythm of the second keyboard part loosens up a little and this makes the song sound a little better, but it just keeps playing the same thing basically. You can hear him screw up a few times so now my assumptions where correct. He did put everything into the opener. Around 6:30 the song finally changes just as I'm starting to say "Man, fuck this" and the song is saved for the time being. The little synth beat that comes in eventually does wonders for this song and adds some extra depth which is something that I've always believed his instrumental tracks after the first album have seriously lacked. It could have been pretty good had it not been 14 minutes long. Because of this I'm not sure I'll be listening to it very often as it is a little boring, but I acknowledge that it's better than most of his attempts at this style.
So there you have it. One great song, another good one that starts out bad and then two more that just don't cut the mustard. To sum things up, in relevence to the year it was recorded I'd say this record is pretty much on par with the budding black metal scene at the time, but considering that it wasn't released until two years later in 1994 I'd have to say that by then the genre was leaving this one in the dust and had been moving onto greater things. See early works of: Emperor, Arcturus, Ulver, Sigh and many others. Bottom line: it's worth checking out, but it's not worth the endless worship that the fans always vomit into/onto the web and will continue doing so until the end of time.
5 points for improved sound quality, 10 for the lyrics on tracks 1 and 2, and 35 for two cool songs. -45 for the two snoozers and -5 for the terrible opening to track 3.
When one really thinks about it, 1994 sure was THE definitive year for black metal. Look at the albums released: De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, In The Nightside Eclipse, Transilvanian Hunger, Pentagram, Vikingligr Veldi, and last but not least, Burzum's Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. A pretty incredible list to be sure, but does this album deserve to be mentioned among the rest in terms of quality? The answer is a yes, but a shaky one at best.
Many Burzum fans are divided as to whether this or Filosofem is Varg's best work, and while I am definately on the Filosofem side, I can somewhat see the merit for those in support of this album. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is most certainly a special release, showcasing not only in full the man's burgeoning love of pure ambient music but also of his increased compositional skills, as the long track times indicate. However, in case you couldn't tell by my review title, I consider half of this album to be a complete waste, which on a work containing only four songs, is a huge problem indeed. So, is the weight of the remaining two tracks enough to make Hvis Lyset Tar Oss worthwhile? I believe so, but barely.
The album opens with the fourteen minute epic "Det Som Engang Var". People, this is the song Varg Vikernes was born to write. An eerie two minute keyboard intro leads into one of the most depressing, moving pieces of music in metal history. Varg's simple keyboard melodies and shockingly tortured screams send chills up the spine-I've honestly never heard vocals this frightening and anguished from anyone, and coupled with the simple melodies and drums, makes for an immensely powerful listening experience. His guitar mainly takes a backseat until the astounding solo at around the seven minute mark, a defining moment in Burzum's career, after which the songs slows down considerably, winding up with more haunting shrieks from Varg before finally closing on a suprisingly rocking Bathory riff. Varg's songwriting skills shine on this song in a manner that is without compare, repeating riffs and melodies enough to captivate but never too much to bore, and changing things up just when the listener begins to be able to predict what's coming. I consider this to be the best black metal song of all time, and one of the best in any genre of rock. You haven't heard real metal until you've listened to Det Som Engang Var.
Now we come to the title track, and this is where it all falls to pieces for me. "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" is honestly one of the most mind-numbingly boring songs I've had the displeasure of hearing. Varg literally alternates between one and two chords for an agonizing eight minutes, barely creating recognizable riffs, let alone any sense of atmosphere or melody. There are no keyboards at all, a huge mistake in my opinion, and Varg hardly utilizes his unique guitar skills at all, instead continually plodding along on the same two notes, while equally boring drums pound away in the background. Put simply, "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" is a chore to listen to, and after the amazing emotional high one recieves after "Det Som Engang Var", is tantamount to a slap in the face. It's beyond my comprehension how Varg could go from the aforementioned brilliance to this early demo quality material, and personally, the lack of energy that obviously went into the writing of this song is inexcusable, not to mention a big dissapointment.
Next up is "Inn I Slottet Fra Drømmen". While not as bad as the previous track, this is nevertheless another lackluster and boring song that relies far too much on extremely simple chord progression with next to no variety, and not enough on keyboard melodies or song progression. While the first five minutes are as substandard as described, the song saves itself from the level of the title track in the last two minutes, in which Varg finally throws in some effective keyboards and riffs and a wonderful solo to close the song. Not quite as bad as "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss", but still not nearly as good as it should be.
The album finally closes on fourteen minute ambient track "Tomhet", and on what a good note it closes. "Tomhet" is my favorite of all Burzum's ambient tracks-hypnotizing and captivating, without being so incredibly long and weighty as to be a burden on the album as a whole *cough Rundgang Um Die Transzendentale Säule Der Singularität cough*. The song can be divided into two main stages, with the second half even including some simple percussionn to move things along. I don't have much more to say about this song, as there really isn't that much there, but rest assured that "Tomhet" is an excellent song, and serves as a great palette cleanser after the previous two cuts.
The lack of balance overall on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is certainly frustrating, given that had all four songs been on a level even close to "Det Som Engang Var", this would probably be the best black metal album of all time, rather than a very good one. While the two middle songs are definately crap, I believe that the amazing quality of "Det Som Engang Var" and, to a lesser extent, "Tomhet" are enough to carry this release based on their strength alone (hence my relatively high score). The question you need to ask yourself is, "Is it worth my $35 (the average asking price for this on Amazon or eBay) for only two good songs?" Its a hard decision, but whether by purchase or download, just know that hearing these two songs is an absolute necessity. While Burzum would go on to release what I consider to be its definitive classic, and a much more full fledged and complete work overall, in 1996's Filosofem, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss stands as an interesting, and slightly annoying, look at what could have been, rather than what is.
"Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" ~ Burzum
I can clearly remember the day I listened to this album. I was looking for new music to listen to, and I came across this CD. After doing a bit of research on the CD, I became highly excited and couldn't wait to listen to the CD. Soon, I had the CD ready to go and I started listening. The album is a pure classic that seemingly cannot be topped by anything in Black Metal, no matter how much is released. Though some albums may, and are better, for Varg Vikernes, this is his opus.
Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is just one of those CDs that once you listen to, it captures you, and forces you to listen. As you sit and listen, you tend to question "My, how can anything top this?" and then soon the question is answered by either a new riff, or some sort of synth notes that help to move these four long songs on forward. The album is one that creates a wall of sound that just pounds you from beginning to end with a bleak atmosphere, hitting riffs, and screams from Vikernes that tend to make you fear for your sanity.
The album begins with the song "Det Som En Gang Var," whch opens with about a minute or two of a very faint, atmospheric guitar sound. This early in the album, Vikernes establishes the atmosphere as he begins to take the listeners on a the journey. Soon, the beating of the tom drums begins and helps to mold the song until the main riff comes in and makes the song it's own. Varg's shrieking joins in and easily makes this song a very memorable one for a Black Metal fan as this song just runs through torment and pain through a beautiful atmosphere.
Next is the title track that ends up starting right from the opening gates with a hypnotizing riff and driving drums. The track seems to almost sneak up on you after the opening ambience of the first song. Varg's trademark screaming once more helps to drive the song on as the atmosphere is still not lost.
"Inn I Slottet Fra Dromemmen" starts with a slow double bass rhythm followed by the guitar riff. Soon, the drums kick into a rhythm that seems to perfectly meld with the guitar riff even though it seems off beat. Varg quickly lets his voice join in with a surprising scream of total agony. That vocal work never ceases to amaze me in this album, and neither does the guitar work. The riff for this song just seems to fit with the structure.
The final song is the all ambient synth track "Tomhet." Even though this song is very interesting and soothing, and helps to mold the atmosphere even more, I often find myself fast forwarding further into the song to the middle, where the song really becomes great. Even though this song is not an onslaught like the previous three, it still has it's place amongst them because of the atmosphere created by the earlier tracks in the album.
"Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" is one of the albums that got me into Black Metal, and what a wonderful way to begin such a journey of life with a journey in music. It practically changed the way I looked at music. The album is completely definitive to the genre. Every riff is memorable, and the harsh screams of Vikernes will stay in your brain. Vikernes proves his genius with this album, his opus.
‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’ is the third coming from Black Metal's prodigal son, Varg Vikernes. Gradually, as time has gone by, Varg and with it Burzum has evolved into what we see on this record. A dark undertow surrounds the soundscapes of the band giving this record in particular a fairly mystical nature. The majority of the content on this record plays out it’s themes using simplistic ambient tones produced by keyboards and highly distorted guitars with Varg’s unmistakable screams of anguish, hatred and pain. As well as every other negative connotation one can muster. This record speaks volumes about it’s era and the content itself. The very fact that, even by today’s standards, this record has been and will be regarded forevermore as one of the best and most influential black metal full-lengths of all time. Even as the genre, with it’s many sub-genres, continues to stride forward and evolve in it’s pursuit to blacken our world, ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’ will provide newcomers and old timers the ride of their lives to this day.
A highly emotive journey through the depths of the human mind, body and soul is the attempted aim of this record and it is achieved to such high standards. This is an extremely ambient piece, focusing a lot of energies on producing entrancing atmospherics which are shown aptly in all the songs, not just one. ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’ is methodical and very melodic in it‘s approach to black metal. Varg Vikernes, in when incarcerated, was known as a good composer of music, which shows in the assortment of ambient work driven forwards by the stunning keyboard work. Production is clear but unique with a slightly eerie twist. The sinister vibe that surrounds this mystical piece of music is one that still inspired to this very day. The ambient sound generated by the keyboards and the distorted guitars produces a distant feel to the music, as if you're gazing out upon something beautiful which is about to be destroyed. As stated previously, as each song plays out to it’s close, you're left with the feeling that Varg has created a very dark, sad and angry masterpiece. One can only hope this is merely the beginning of what this highly esteemed musician and composer can produce, one hopes that there is more to come in the future of this nature which, he has said in recent interviews, might be the case.
The record itself consists of four hate-filled tracks which have been covered again and again by those influenced by this highly talented man. As time ticks by, the listener becomes aware of how important atmosphere is to this release. Atmosphere, in general when it comes to black metal is everything. Varg's use of keyboards become extremely important throughout. The glorious nature of the soundscapes, which often aims to inebriate the listener with influential textures and tones, particularly on the lead guitar and whilst this isn‘t considered the darkest record by the infamous Norwegian act, it should be considered the best. The keyboards create ambience which, even with it’s own simplicity, is divine and melodic. Varg proves to the masses that simplicity can be as effective, if not more so, than overblown and complex music. However simplistic ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’ may come across as, the complexities that dwell deep within the emotional content of this record overshadows the very fact that expansive duelling guitars, prominent bass and even explosively dynamic percussion sections won’t often come into play when listening to the material that Burzum creates. This is however, as stated, emotionally complex. The intensity of not only the instrumentation, but Varg’s typically rasping vocals don’t allow for anything other than enjoyment when it comes to ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’. One cannot explain how dark and emotional this record is, it can only be discovered through listening.
"Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" is loneliness. That is all you will find here - a distant stare into nothingness, amplifying any feelings you had that you were alone in life. The opening track, "Det Som En Gang Var," has this very feeling from the opening, which has a duration of nearly three minutes. Beyond this opening, which consists of a synthesizer and lazily played guitar chords, lies a war cry for solitude, expressed in drum lines focused on playing the toms.
The atmosphere in this album is startling, and this is probably the closest Varg got to his "evening music," with the intention of lulling the listener to a dreamlike state. However, on this album, one can reach this state no matter what time of day it is. All you need is a CD player, tape player or MP3 player, and absolute silence beyond that. This album is probably most easily understood if played on a cloudy, dismal day when one is alone.
With "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss," you find yourself confronted with unreal, beautifully simplistic music that sets the perfect atmosphere, and almost instantaneously triggers a sense of melancholy and hatred within you. The repetition one finds in this album is used as a means of achieving this dreamlike state that Varg wishes to express. The shifts grant you nothing more than another expression of the same emotion - as though you're looking in a different direction, hoping to find someone else, but are still confronted with a painful loneliness.
Each song holds something different. "Det Som En Gang Var" was the perfect starting track, and there is simply nothing wrong with it. It moves slowly through its shifts, with subtle effects found throughout the piece.
"Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" is an attack using metal, and even though it lacks the same atmosphere as "Det Som En Gang Var," it express the same feeling: Loneliness. This track is amazing as well, and I have no complaints regarding it.
"In I Slottet Fra Droemmen" is a track I skip rather often, though I know that I shouldn't. It feels too... intense for this album. On any other album, this track would be acceptable, as it is a fine specimen of black metal, but on "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" it seems rather off. However, it does redeem itself between 3:30 and 4:00, giving you a feel of loneliness and sudden disconnection from the activity found in the beginning of the piece.
"Tomhet" translates to "Emptiness." This track is simply amazing, and is best hear while looking outside into a dismal void of fog or darkness, allowing its three simplistic melodies to settle in. This track is unbelievably powerful in its atmosphere, and I can't think of anything Varg could have done to improve it. This is what I consider to be the anthem of the album, as loneliness can be found here in its purest form.
Buy this album; I'm lucky, because I could obtain a copy from a user on Amazon. The new copies cost north of $20, so I recommend looking around for used copies. After all, the music is the same whether or not someone else has experienced it from the same disc as you.
Whether one views him as an intentional genius, an idiot savant or even a media whore, it is hard to deny the creative legacy of Varg Vikernes and his artistic outlet, Burzum. Like a looming mountain range, shrouded in mist and legend, he has cast a dark and forboding shadow across the face, not only of black metal, but all subsequent extreme music. And, among those mountains, "Hvis lyset tar oss" stands as Everest, towering above all that came before it and dwarfing all that has passed since.
Metal, as a genre, has excelled beyond all modern forms of music in its passion for transcendence and its embrace of the epic spirit of the glorious past. But where most metal found the epic in grandiose gestures, pomp and circumstance, "Hvis lyset tar oss" wraps itself in the mystery of the Void, becoming metal's most sublime expression by reaching inward, into dream and memory, to find both eternal sorrow and joy in that which has been lost.
"Hvis lyset tar oss" is the suspension of time set to music. It is that simple. It is that complex. The infinite past is reimagined as the eternal future; the future is the endless present that never was. Nothing is hurried, nothing is forced. Four songs are stretched across 44 minutes, and while none lingers too long, all echo through the imagination long after they are finished, each unfolding naturally, in its own time. This is an album that entrances with through sheer grace; driven by deceptively simple, but gloriously beautiful melodies and harmonies whose motion is the purest of elegance, themes evolving so subtly that even the attentive listener is quickly enveloped without ever discovering quite why.
But the magic of "Hvis lyset tar oss" is as much about the space between sound as sound itself. The album opens with the dreamspace echoes of the intro to "Det som engang var," perhaps the greatest single masterpiece of metal ever produced, a song built of the controlled but explosive energy of longing and the almost unbearable weight of eternity condensed into its many contemplative pauses. It closes with the fading heartbeat and forlorn keyboard melody of "Tomhet," a prayer offered up to the darkness within, the very essence of its sound hinting at the crushing silence of the void without. In between, the title track and "Inn i slottet fra drømmen" seethe with rage against a world that has turned away from the beauty of its past and burn with hope for a rebirth of ancient wisdom.
Always, "Hvis lyset tar oss" is locked in struggle. Between silence and sound, despair and hope, defeat and victory. Struggles that do not and cannot end, but form the very basis of any life worth living or universe worth living in. This is its genius, and its curse, to pose the questions and wrestle with answers that never quite come.
Burzum, a band that has been cause for quite a stir the world round, and though unacknowledged by a rather religious like fan base, has always been the constructor of it's own demise. Shall we recall the statements of how metal is blues based and there for mongrel music? Shall we recall that little Christian was literally one of the least talented guitarist to rise to prominence in his era/ sub genre? No, let us just focus on this album, in all its failings and mediocrity, and attempt to digress there.
This review rating reflects my opinion today (updated 1/31/11), and I am rather thinking it's still too generous.
If you look at certain points in contemporary music history, you will notice distinct changes in musical style, almost in reversion, or aversion to what once was. There was: the Rock of the guitar gods from the late 60's to mid/early 70's, then came the early off shoots of both Metal, and Punk. Following the late 70's early 80's Heavy Metal, and Punk movements came the Thrash(etc.) Metal of the mid to late 80's. Which then saw the emergence of Death, and Black Metal hordes of the late 80's/ early 90's which is where we find this record emerging. Brief as it may be, I would say that run through is generally a valid account. With said, Burzum are the cliche of the 90's Black Metal movement, as much of their fan base hinges on the subjective pop culture model of sheep following sensationalism. With the self propelled relationship to media outlets, criminal justice, nationalism/ racism, and the esoteric I would say attention whore, and deluded egotistical prick are a few descriptors which come to mind first. But on to the music...
Basically consisting of a handful of raw Black Metal tracks matched to some Ambient portions, this release locks in at mediocre at best, but in all actuality would have been forgotten long ago if it weren't for the sensationalism surrounding the composer. This records historical importance is highly debatable, and in no way was this essential to the survival of this genre. In fact in little time this album would be easily over shined by much more competent musicians, and bands going, musically, beyond what Burzum was even capable. The music on here is trite at best; a far cry from genius. Take the first 3 minutes of Inn I Slottet, which I find rather headache inducing, and utterly boring due to repetitive riff suicide of a banal structure that wasn't interesting to begin with. Then take the musicianship that, in general, lingers between sloppy, and poor most of the time. Seriously, I just do not see how people can wank on this one so feverishly, when you look at how incompetent the composer was in all standard aspects of craft.
What some people are labeling as genius is really just simple chord progressions with tinges of ambiance, an underlying level of pseudo-profundity, and mixed in ever so lightly, some European thrash influences. Now consider that those variances built around an abundance of repetition, novice guitar skills, and there you have it, so called genius. That's really the best way one can sum this up with. Fresh, hey garbage has its better days, when it was released, this album has not stood strong, and remained untarnished by the test of time,...and sadly with its ever growing market for demand it seems to keep getting worse. If the worst by product of Burzum was simply to inspire a wealth of talentless losers into picking up guitars, I'd say its was pretty forgivable. But, from its fans alone, who endlessly shit all over hundreds of far superior Metal albums in the futile charge that this is the 'end all be all' of true Metal-hood, Burzum is left as legendary hype, a bad cliche, and pathetic hipster trash. Almost ironic to think about what a trend Burzum became, and is, when you consider how against trends it started as. Though I'd argue that was nothing more than a child's posing as rebellious.
Again, I'll repeat, the worst part of Burzum is the undeserved over kill its fans give it. Probably has lowered my opinion of the band numerous times, as if Vargs continual simple minded neurotic antics weren't enough. I'd recommend a lot of Norwegian Black Metal releases over this one, at least fifteen sit on the top of my head, but it'd be about as pointless as buying this album. Speaking of pointless, the horrible ambient music that is Tomhet on here is a perfect example of Varg attempting to craft something along the lines of post 70's Tangerine Dream music but failing due to an inability to play cleanly, and actually write overlapping melody with out droning into death by repetition. Building an atmosphere is one thing, but your build up has to actually go some where, not just drop out into another over dub of multiple minutes of repeating boredom. Oh, I give up, this album is just too difficult to make through again (as it has been a while since my last play, though I've heard this album many times).
In closing, this is not genius, I'm not impressed, and by today's standards has grown rather stale, and childish due to the less than stellar musicianship, and musical ideas that just weren't that strong. Do not buy this garbage.
I consider every Burzum album nothing short of a masterpiece. I would listen to each one, and I would like the next one better than the one I listened to previously, but this album, it just takes the term masterpiece and goes beyond it. Everything is great about it, the vocals, guitar, drum and bass. Best of all this album establishes a dark atmosphere that can plunge you into the black metal world and never let you go.
The first song you get on this CD is 'Det Som En Gang Var' and it is a black metal song of epic proportions, it starts out with somewhat of a long intro and then eventually leads into droning black metal riffs, sometimes that would be a bad thing, but Varg finds a way to make it work and just creates darkness with every riff he hits, the bass is well heard enough and the drumming is standard, but that is all you need for this song to be perfect, it would never have to go above and beyond. Also worth mentioning is a neat drum effect that is used a couple of times in the song. Vargs vocals sound like they usually do, very shreaky and very awesome, this is Varg at his bes.
The next song 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss' is more of a standard black metal tune, but when is coming from this man, nothing is standard. The riffs are of course awesome to listen to, more great vocals, bass and drumming. It doesn't stand out or anything, but it goes along with the rest of the album perfectly.
The same can be said for the next song pretty much 'Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen', it's more of the standard stuff, but it just works with the album so easily, and I really like the translated english title of the song too.
'Tomhet' The last song on the album, is nothing like the rest of the CD, but that is what makes it great. It serves as the perfect closer to a perfect album. It's more of the synth/keyboard stuff that Varg is known for with his later albums. It's a very simple track, but it also keeps the dark atmosphere going and will just engulf you with the emotion and the darkness that is present in the track.
So, the main thing I have to say with this review is that you need to hear this album, if you find it in a store one day, and are interested in Burzum or Black Metal, you have to give this one a shot, it's just an amazing piece of work that should never be forgotten in the Metal world. Go get it now!!
Burzum's third full length, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, is one of the few albums I would describe as a "musical journey" or any other hokey bullshit like that. There's four songs, and they are all fairly long, coming to a total of around 45 minutes.
The production is typical Burzum, or I guess I should say was typical Burzum, as this is the last album to feature this style. It's often described as "dissonant", which is a pretty accurate description, and somewhat onomatopoeic as well. The guitars have a good buzz to them, the drums are not overpowering like they are in so many metal albums, and the vocals are still the trademark Varg screeches. It's a very good production, without being good as defined by mainstream standards...but I could rail on all day about modern attitudes towards production values, so I'll stop there.
The first song, Det Som Engang Var, is a whopper. Varg not only made the best song of his career, but made what is quite possibly the best black metal song of all time. Words can't describe how good this song is. Even if the rest of the album was filled with crap, this one song would make it worth buying. If it were a single with only this song on it, I would give it a 100, or damn near close to it. It's that good, folks.
The next two songs are somewhat similar in their sound. They are both midtempo, moderately long, extremely repetitive pieces. That being said, I prefer Hvis Lyset Tar Oss...it's one of those songs that you can just put on and kind of sink into for its duration. The warm production helps a lot in that case. Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen is more dynamic, which some will prefer. I prefer the hypnotic songs myself.
Anyways, the last song, Tomhet, is a keyboard instrumental, and a pretty damn good one. It is essentially made up of two parts: the first a droning piece of the same essence as the title track; and the second a more peaceful style that sounds extremely familiar to me. I don't know if I've heard it before, or if I'm just insane, but at any rate it is very good, and a perfect ending to the album.
In my opinion, this is Varg's most cohesive work, and also his best. If you are looking for an intro to Burzum, I don't know if this would be it, as it is somewhat unorthodox. Det Som Engang Var the album would be a better starting point. However, one should not finish their exploration of Burzum's discography without listening to this. It's the best of Burzum.