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Have you dared to wonder? This work has. - 100%

Ghost_in_the_Machine, January 28th, 2007

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.