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Burzum has always represented a divergent path in the Norwegian scene, and there is pretty much no clearer of an example of this than Varg’s own offering to the 1994 climax of the early 90s in “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”. While most offerings either took the path of extreme vileness (Gorgoroth and Mayhem) or some variant of an epic and majestic atmosphere (Emperor and Enslaved), this album subsumes both of those ideas in very limited amounts under an overriding feeling of sorrow. This could be ascertained by the visual of a corpse laying at the side of a path in the woods as depicted on the album art, but even without the visual aid, the auditory craftsmanship is so obvious on each musical chapter that a similar image of archaic woe and remembered grief leaps right out at whoever has ears to hear.
Like any of Burzum offerings, the stylistic approach to the black metal paradigm relies heavily on atmospheric elements and droning riff work. The songs are all epic in scope, though in overall musical content there is about as much variation as one might expect from a 3 to 4 minute song. But where this one differs is that the combination of a larger sounding production and a solid, pounding guitar tone unleashes a furious wave of agony that rivals anything yet conceived by any metal outfit. The formula that has been resorted to on previous albums is mostly maintained, but in a more ambitious and concentrated form. It comes off as less raw overall, although the depressed and morose vocal wails are equally as telling of a gutted soul, writhing in eternal pain, as they’ve ever been.
Upon entering the opening seconds of “Det Som En Gang Var”, the principle image that emerges is that of a grand castle gate opening. At first sight, the atmosphere is melancholy, almost akin to a funeral for an unnamed, benevolent monarch. What follows the initial 3 minute intro is a completely new theme that is somewhat more chaotic in nature, but generally maintains the overall ambient aesthetic established from the beginning. The guitars generally have a hazy nature to them, although at times they border on a proto-thrash character not all that far removed from early Venom. Varg’s contorted wails pipe in and out in rather abrupt intervals, short in length, and sparsely placed, almost as if seeking to act as a final detailing on a simply designed tapestry. Things generally progress slowly, as a third contrasting theme enters about 5 minutes after the previous one began, though a restatement of the 2nd theme appears in a lead guitar line that sounds heavily influenced by Depeche Mode pipes in to offer a slight variation. One could note a peculiar paradox of a song that is over 14 minutes long and pretty much among the more complex things that Varg has ever created being set around a set of lyrics, in free verse form, that could be read in under 15 seconds yet inspire a much longer period of contemplation. But this sort of a programmatic approach to songwriting is a familiar trait in Burzum’s style, and easily identified with a number of conceptual works by various metal and non-metal writers.
After the massive opening chapter to the intricately simple book that is “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” ends, things take on a slightly more conventional character. The album’s title song continues on a similar line as the 3rd section of the previous song, but presents it in a heavier tone, as the keyboards move down to the bottom of the arrangement, and the rhythmic drive lends itself to a blackened thrash character. This is the sort of droning yet driving song that Darkthrone was probably going for on “Transylvanian Hunger”, but didn’t quite live up to due to a less nuanced approach to sectional development and a barer atmosphere. “Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen” follows a similar driving approach, but doesn’t quite qualify as a droning song as it switches around much more frequently. The melodic ideas shift in and out, keyboards come and go, and in much the same nature as a bizarre dream, it changes in such abrupt ways that it shocks the senses. A loose yet fitting analogy could be made to Enslaved’s early works here insofar as ambitiousness is concerned, although the technical chops of said band are exchanged here for a plurality of excellent ideas that are heavily distinctive, yet blend together perfectly without throwing off the continuity of the whole.
Although the general theme presented throughout the album has been a middle ground between reminiscence and dreams, “Tomhet” (which translates into “Emptiness”, a fitting title) strips away the sorrowful remembrances and nightmares until all that remains is the bare essence of consciousness. Like his other ambient works, the atmosphere puts things into a state of a wakened sleep, as 3 distinct ambient lines enter one at a time, and interact with each other. The melodic voice in the first section carries a theme that is heavily similar to the one that accompanied the distorted funeral march at the beginning of “Det Som En Gang Var”, but the presentation of the whole reveals pristine landscapes in a nebulous manner rather than a woeful procession. At about halfway through its 14 minute duration, the sounds compress into a smaller and quieter arrangement, yet begins to show signs of harmonic movement, as if pointing to something else to come. Sure enough, a beautiful flute melody accompanied by a distant sound of percussion emerges, like a lone piper playing to a quiet breeze at sunset. Although a bit more animated and compact than the ambient masterpiece heard on “Filosofem”, I tend to prefer that one to this, though only by a very small margin.
Ultimately, what is accomplished here is radically different from what became the dominant sound of the black metal genre. It is this difference in character alone that separates it from the blackened trinity of 1994 represented in “Pentagram”, “In The Nightside Eclipse” and “Vikingligr Veldi”, though it definitely holds its own when compared to any of the three. Most who claim to be influenced by it, more so than with any of the emulators of other bands in the 2nd wave, can’t help but fail to properly emulate Varg’s distinctive melodic aesthetics or achieving the surreal atmosphere necessary to reel the listener in. My own preference to “Filosofem” over this one can only be explained as a matter of preference. Both are equally astounding in their own way, and are equally essential to anyone who wishes to become versed in black metal as an art form.