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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.