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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.