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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.