without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
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.