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There’s little I can add to all that has been said about this man and this musical project that has lasted for over 20 years now, despite all the adverse circumstances we’re all well aware of, and that Varg himself had had coming in the first place. After being in jail for such a long time, apparently now he’s in conditions to release an album per year, something many of his fans had been having wet-dreamt of for a long, long time.
Personally, if not a fan, I’ve deeply enjoyed ALL Burzum’s works, and I mean every single one of’em. It’s true, if anyone liked “Burzum” from 1992, don’t they take for granted “Filosofem” is their kind of shit, and I wouldn’t even need to explain why “Dauði Baldrs” was meant for a very different kind of audience. Check them out if you haven’t, they all rock and hard. Ignore the lyrics if you happen to be a proficient speaker (listener, understander) of Norwegian language, and unless you’re a Neo-Nazi wotanist or something. No offense there.
Something I caught a glimpse of when listening to “Belus”, and now I’m positive of, is that strictly with regard to the musical aspect “Umskiptar” is third in a series that started out precisely with “Filosofem”, skipped a couple releases and continued with “Belus”, and that again jumped to our days to keep making us go trippy with the record I’m writing on at the moment. You may say I’m being delusional, yet there are plenty of common elements in the three of them that support such a statement.
At this moment, dear reader – yes, I’m addressing you directly, you could go and get a glass of your fave liquor, for I’m about to start. Thank you.
What is there to be found here? Atmosphere. That’s all “Umskiptar” is about, creating a thick dream-like atmosphere. And no, the way I see it, you won’t have nightmares after listening to it. As decades have passed, Vikernes has refined his sound up to the point he doesn’t need to produce in you a scary feeling to have a terrific huge effect. And don’t you be mistaken, the word atmospheric doesn’t always mean overuse of keyboards nor lame weak guitar playing. Thick I said, THICK, godamnit!
Being sort of a musician, one of the mandatory check points for any piece of music to be judged is songwriting, and more specifically, the way the such called composer manages the themes and leitmotifs. In that department, good ol’Varg has become a fucken master. For me, there’s a precious balance among the part every instrument carries, and that includes vocals, you know. Songwriting is flawless song after song, and that’s that.
I’m starting to believe it’s just me, but again I felt as if, although each one of the songs is great by themselves, the album works as a whole piece, rather than a compilation of tracks as it usually happens with non-conceptual records. Truth be told, I could listen to this beast all day long once and again without doing absolutely anything but being in a trance state, trying to figure out if its fury or profundity the idea behind it.
Something that I think might come to your mind when reading this is “atmospheric equals boring“. First of all, let’s remember it’s black metal were talking about, so yes, for the lovers of the genre there’s gonna be enough to praise; and second, the thickness I’ve been mentioning once and again, is perfectly well grounded and solidly built out of a perfect knitting of consistent guitar and bass riffs, appropriate drums playing and SOME keyboards every now and then, all this providing a rich and stable base for Varg to almost pray along during an hour or so.
If you’ve been reading so far, at this time you know, YOU KNOW I loved listening to “Umskiptar”. It makes great trippy listening, and no wonder this will be in the Class6(66) ASAP. After the mediocre album “Fallen” was, this feels like a new breath, and every fan should joy. Grab all the miserable coins you’ve got and go get it next 21st.
Originally written for www.globaldomination.se
Wow, this is bad. In fact, I can hardly believe it. Umpskiptar is more than an hour long and I can hardly imagine anyone listening to the entire album without skipping any part or smashing their own stereo. If anyone managed this exploit, I can only think of a Buddhist monk. Good luck to those who dare try.
Now let's get to the point. Like many of you, I'm an early Burzum diehard fan. I bought Belus and Fallen and found both albums pretty decent, despite being inferior to the '90s classics as well as somewhat repetitive.
Umskiptar is far, far worse. All the good elements from the former works are gone. This is just a series of boring arpeggiated riffs played on a slow tempo and being repeated through more than 7 minutes on each song with Varg quoting the lyrics in his normal voice and occasionally using harsh vocals. Sometimes he sings in a clean voice, but his clean vocals are as uninventive (they follow the main melody) as they are weak (so are the harsh vocals).
Wait, the guitars and drums are uninventive, too. They keep on playing the same pattern on and on. The lead guitars are completely forgettable. The whole full-length sounds like a guitar practice method or like a long incomprehensible, unrhyming poem recited over a melody-rhythmic background. No inspiration, no variation, and no emotion (except boredom).
Add to that all the flaws of the two former albums (which still had at least catchy melodies and trance-inducing moments) and you have Umskiptar. Fortunately, I listened to the full album before blindly buying it. Had I bought it I would have sold it back after the first listening session. I don't really want to try and go for a second session, enough is enough.
My mark is 5% because I liked the beginning of "Valgaldr" (the first 20 seconds).
Naturally, there has been substantial controversy surrounding the latest effort by Norway's finest one-man black metal band, Burzum. Seemingly, you will either love or hate most of his work. I place myself firmly in the former camp.
Burzum is a constantly evolving band that reminds us all that music is, in its purest form, highly self indulging and that it is the expression of an individual. Varg Vikernes has not made "another Burzum album" with 'Umskiptar'. Rather, he has spoken what's truly on his mind. It seems that people were expecting 'Umskiptar' to continue in the style of the previous album, 'Fallen' with its folk influenced black metal. Instead, Vikernes adopts a far more brooding, melancholic vibe which is effectively used throughout the work. This will undoubtedly be very alienating to much of Burzum's fan base. Yet, the more open-minded fans will probably respect this for the fearless musical stand that it is.
Musically speaking, 'Umskiptar' is phenomenal. It feels grand in scale, yet strangely minimalist at the same time. Largely, it abandons the black metal style of old in favour of a very earthy, ambient folk-metal hybrid. The opening track starts the album off with some narration by Vikernes backed with a highly reverberated drum pattern. Abruptly, we are then led into a harsh, yet flowing black metal riff with more cryptic chanting for the second track. Simplicity, repetition and texture are key elements here. Vikernes is intent on lulling the listener into a trance whereby he may creep into your mind. The third track, 'Alladanz' is incredibly powerful, while retaining these elements. It starts off with a beautifully simple piano melody which brilliantly transposes to the full band and changes to a parallel key. The more traditional black metal rasp is present here, though it offers more of a narrative function.
Pauses and silences are used effectively which often progress into a new riff or another layer is added to the music. Sparingly, Vikernes applies a meditative clean vocal line here and there, interspersed throughout the chanting and rasps. These clean vocals add another dimension to the sound but are not overly relied on. They appear where they are needed, no more, no less. On the second last track, 'Gullalder' they add a lovely backdrop to the sound. On the fourth track, they add a more sorrowful, reflective feel to the rather sad, mesmerizing guitar melody. On the eighth track, they almost sound like plainsong.
The production of 'Umskiptar' is excellent. The guitars have an authentic feel to them. They can in places sound very harsh and in others they can sound more soothing. The bass has a place in the mix where it can provide melodies of its own as well as add overall thickness to the sound. The drums have that very earthy feel to them. On this album, they mainly supplement the sound as evidenced by the lack of blast beats or double bass. This is in keeping with the album's nature. The vocals are produced in a way that they are both in the foreground and background. The spoken narrative sits comfortably behind in the mix, where the rasping and clean singing is more prominent when it shows up. It all sounds very natural. Reverb is applied nicely to the music and vocals which make 'Umskiptar' sound like it is being performed in a hall.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with 'Umskiptar'. I found it to be wonderfully authentic and breathtakingly refreshing. Varg Vikernes has outdone himself here with his best work for many years. In my humble opinion, this album stands right up with the greatest albums by Burzum.
One-man controversy machine Varg Vikernes long ago sealed his fate in the eyes of most but since his release from incarceration in 2009 the man has been busy - "Umskiptar", his third full-length, plus a rerecording of many of his earlier classics, says he is on a mission to make up for lost time. Similar to the first of those, "Belus", we are witnessing a more stylistically free Burzum than was ever the case in the early 90s, and one which backs up his protestations at having heard nothing from the genre he helped create by subtly pushing the boundaries of the genre. This is not done through sonic extremity or orchestral pomp, but by the simple, slow-paced organic nature of Vikernes' songs. It may be a tad one-dimensional at times but choose any song from this album and this plaintive, dare I say relaxed feel, is the quintessential offering.
The trademark Burzum recording dissonance is instantly apparent in first song proper "Jóln" although just as prevalent is his spoken word vocal style which across the album's span features more greatly than the hissed variant, the closest we get today to the hysteric shrieks of old. "Alfadanz", with a simple piano opening retains an earthy beauty in its uncluttered style and accessible song structure. As comparators fellow Norwegians Darkthrone come closest to matching the special kind of bleakness in "Hit Helga Tré" and "Æra" as their stripped-down production also similarly benefits the depth of feelings but this by no means suggests the two bands have a great deal else in common. There is no punky, heavy metal spirit to be found here - just the soulful laments of a man making music for his own sake with no aspirations of a return to premier BM glory (though such is the pull of his name that status could come looking for him).
By the time you reach "Galgviðr", "Surtr Sunnan" and "Gullaldr" the pace slows to a dissonant crawl, with percussion replaced by the clarity of Vikernes' Norse spoken word. I can't understand his words but carefully nuanced and laid out so sparsely gives them a cold, disconcerting edge. Burzum these days are not an extreme BM act but these songs help provide a dose of bitter sadness that trumps a good many conventional BM bands.
Less musically diverse than "Belus" but a more cohesive whole, "Umskiptar" actually does what few other 'reformed' metal acts have managed to do in recent times - expand on their legacy with new and worthwhile material without tarnishing the past. And whatever your thoughts on the man, that is a fact that cannot be argued with.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
I would have reviewed Burzum’s latest album sooner, had it not been for the fact that this release is such a hard bite to swallow. There’s a lot to get used to here; a lot that’s done differently from previous Burzum releases. From the day my pre-ordered limited edition vinyl copy came in the mail and I put the thing on my turntable, I knew it’d be difficult to review. It took me the better part of a year to ‘get’ Belus. After a few months of listening to the record I’m still not quite adapted to the album, but I think I’ve managed to understand the better part of it at this point. Running sixty-five minutes with eleven songs ranging from complex and adventurous to mind-numbingly simplistic, there’s a lot to love, and there’s a lot to dislike. Experimentation is usually trial-and-error, hit-and-miss, and Burzum’s Umskiptar is no exception. It has material on it which would comfortably have fit onto Burzum’s earlier works like Aske or Det Som Engang Var (except for the dissimilar production), and I daresay some of the more atmospheric works of Burzum’s post-prison career can be found here as well. Also here are some of the more wishy-washy songs of Burzum, or songs that painfully remind me of the atrocious Dauði Baldrs due to their mindless plodding. Some songs are transcendent and meditative, tonally similar to Filosofem, and others reek of lack of inspiration. Let’s break this album down.
One thing Varg’s kept consistent since he got out of prison is his habit of kicking off every album with an unnecessary intro track that does little other than plod. This one is the best, probably, featuring a droning horn over war drums and a quiet chant. This intro unlike the rest actually got me in the mood right off and built my anticipation up even with such a short run-time. Jóln is the next track. Much in the vein of Belus by its primal black metal sound and hissing guitars, it quickly becomes evident that this album is conceptually and tonally similar to Varg’s previous albums, and naturally works as their predecessor. The riffs here are great and powerful; the guitar production is perfect. It sounds as primal as any black metal fan would want while still maintaining a clean, professional mix sound. Bass work is once again great and perfectly audible, weaving patterns of its own and sticking to the guitars simultaneously. The drums are varied and aggressive (I’ve always really appreciated Varg’s drumming), though the drums fade into non-existence with the latter songs of the album.
Umskiptar is very interesting in terms of the risks it takes and the identity it strives for. Varg tries a lot of things here. He dabbles and experiments. Far now from black metal but not quite past integrating elements of the genre's style into the music, Varg lays down many twisting, winding riffs that seem to be a cross between some of the material from Det Som Engang Var and Filosofem, alternating between dense, slow-strummed riffs of brooding emotion and airy tremolo-picked black metal riffs to weave interesting songs that seem to really compliment his Old Norse mythology addiction, as in Hit Helga Tré. Though he definitely relies on spoken-word vocals more than any musician should, he does not leave out singing and growling. The result is a blend of medieval atmosphere and metal, and it wouldn't surprise me if Varg had lifted music-writing techniques from the ancient Norse he seems to revere so much. On the other hand, he makes some choices here that leave me scratching my head even after several listens. A schmaltzy, cringe-worthy piano intro shoe-horned onto one of the album's best songs; three songs in a row that all could have worked as the album's closing track in their own right; a song that Sunn O))) could have written (with the exception of the spoken word vocals fucking with the atmosphere). These things seem to be cracks in the face of the masterpiece Varg wants to create and prevent the album from beating Belus or Fallen in terms of quality.
I wonder also whether this album's length is justified. I'm a guy who is fine with long albums if they're done right. Burzum's '96 effort 'Filosofem' is a mere minute shorter than this and features a 25-minute minimalistic keyboard riff, but there the nuances of Varg's creeping, unsettling layering came in to play masterfully. Here, I can't say the same thing. Again, Filosofem, 64 minutes with only 6 songs, comes to mind. Umskiptar has 11 tracks, at least two of which could have been taken off to bring the album down ten minutes. Unlike some people who loathe this album, I don't feel exactly 'tortured' by the long length of the album but it does begin to wear on me. I am at least thankful that this album DOES in fact seem to have a specific structure and goal, taking the listener from Point A to Point B without recycling similar-sounding tracks. While it's true that some songs don't belong here as they are not much more than filler, each song is at least has its own identity and you do not hear the same song twice. The album seems to start the listener off with mid-tempo, atmosphere-laden songs with searing black metal riffs and occasional bursts of speed and breaks and interludes here and there to supply variance and depth to the tracks, and as it goes on the album seems to mellow out with long, winding riffs that are journeys in and of themselves. The album dips then into a handful of shorter tracks that pull tricks that Burzum has not tried before (Heiðr being the prime example), before bringing the listener into melancholic hypnotic songs that are repetitive and simple in their execution. In this way the album almost mimics Filosofem (this is the last time I'm going to bring that album up, I promise), first starting off with the stuff people are more likely to be into and ending with stuff that a lot of people will have to sit around and wonder whether it is juvenile or artistic and bold. I find this late part of the album hit-and-miss. Sometimes the repetition and hypnotic atmosphere works with aplomb for me, such as in Surtr Sunnan, but in other cases (Galgviðr), I am baffled with Varg's decision to write the songs AND include them in the final mix of the record. But I'll get more into that song later.
This album's major fundamental issue lies in the way it's written and how it's written. Varg Vikernes has always said that his music was written for himself and was never meant to pander--it reflected his present state of mind and current interests. I never paid that much mind to this as (almost) every Burzum album to date has impressed me in many ways and are full of things that attract me. But here, Varg's interests are so overblown that they somewhat distract from the actual music. Not one word of the lyrics is of Varg's writing; rather, they are from some really old Norwegian book or something. I think the book is supposed to express some nationalistic ideology, but long story short, this was a crappy idea on Varg's part. It wouldn't be so bad if the lyrics were just another cog in the ultimate result, written for the music as most other bands do. But here, it's the other way around. The music has been written for the lyrics as opposed to the lyrics being written for the music, or so it would seem. This results in Varg using spoken-word vocals almost exclusively. He does not try to sing or growl most of the time. His voice also doesn't match the rhythm of the music on occasion, and this is quite distracting. In the past I've seen musicians take passages of books and use them for lyrics and do it well, but here, Varg seems so hell-bent on referencing that Norwegian tome that some of the musicianship is smeared. On some songs, such as Jóln, Hit Helga Tré, or Valgaldr, one can hardly notice this problem as the music is too enjoyable and works as a whole with the lyrics. However, in the case of Galgviðr (easily the worst track of the album), it is painfully obvious that the song exists for the sole purpose of spewing out more passages of that Norwegian book, as the song is composed of one laughable riff and seven minutes of spoken language bullshit. This song would have been pointless if it were thirty seconds, let alone seven minutes. Varg also seems to be trying much, much too hard to make the lyrics of his precious book match the melody in the song, like a child reading a Dr Seuss book to Metallica. On top of that (though I can't verify it as I know nothing about the book), I've heard from fans of Burzum that Varg Vikernes mispronounces much of the book's outdated dialect, so apparently he isn't even being that loyal to the material in the first place.
Now we come down to the part where I sum up what I think of the album, and I must admit I’m hard-pressed for a definitive rating. On the one hand I think Varg’s struck an interesting balance of music, ideology and atmosphere, but there are places where these three things begin to struggle with one another and some of the craftsmanship is buried as a result. There are definitely songs here to impress Burzum fans, even those of the “tr00 kvlt” early Burzum fanatics, but it’s hard to ignore the awkward decisions I brought up earlier, and I felt this album could have been very tight if a couple of songs had been left off the bill entirely. However, this album is definitely a complement to a whole work and branches off from where Belus and Fallen left off. I feel, in the end, as if the album was worth it, if only for a handful of tracks. It’s definitely worth a few listens. When I first heard the album, I didn’t like it, and a few other listens seemed at first to solidify my opinion, but eventually I started to come around to it. Umskiptar is an album that is a bit hard to swallow, but there is certainly material here that even an old Burzum fan will appreciate. I give this album a 15/20. When it’s good, it’s really good, but its dragging points are still a bit hard for me to accept.
Jóln: A song of heavy black metal proportions that packs a punch as the album’s opener. Some of the riffs here sound as evil as any riff from Burzum’s self-titled album, and here the spoken word vocals work with the music instead of against it. Varg makes use of his ability to vary a song and progress it with finesse and subtlety.
Valgaldr: Bizarre riffs very unorthodox and unexpected for Burzum are used here amidst a twisted structure whose mix of low and very audible bass riffs, hypnotic, harmonic sustain notes, and chanted vocals create an otherworldly dream for the listener. The song has a depth to it and a variance to it that makes it an easy standout. This is a song of melancholic meditation for those minimalist nuts.
Gulaldr: Coming in right after the beautiful Surtr Sunnan, this song continues the last stretch of the album in sleepy hypnotic guitar chords and scales. Though written very simplistically, the atmosphere is perfect here, and though the song lasts ten minutes, I feel that it deserves the run time it got, even though it took me a few listens to accept it. The spoken-word verses are perfectly varied by a simple vocalized chant and a haunting melody. Underlying electric guitar tones come and go and crash over the listener like waves. My only complaint here is that the song that follows Gulaldr is completely unnecessary and takes away from the already well-established atmosphere. I wish Gulaldr had been the last track of the record.
As we all know by now, this album is an interpretation of the old norse poem “Völuspa“. This being kept in mind and also minding the amount of tracks on this record, one could come to the conclusion that this one might not be too much about the single songs, but should probably be seen (and rated) more as a continuously flowing entity in eleven chapters, so to speak. After about twenty listens, I am fairly sure that this is a legit approach, leading a bit further than a conventional song-by-song-analysis. Thus I will make my rating depend mostly on the question, whether or not Varg manages to “convince“ me with his approach to this poem (and not, for example, whether this album is still black metal or not). So: Does “Umskiptar“ catch the density and the somewhat crude, metaphysical aura of the Völuspa? Do the songs link organically, resulting in something, that is more than the sum of it's parts? Do the instrumentation and the vocal arrangement appear to be appropriate?
While both “Belus“ and “Fallen“ satisfied me in an instant, “Umskiptar“ certainly needed time to reveal all it's qualities to me. However, it still seems a bit like a mixed bag in terms of the crucial questions above: Large parts of the album really manage to transport a certain mood or atmosphere which is distictively different from other BURZUM albums and – as far as I‘m concerned – matches the sentiment of the underlying poem very well. Especially the last quarter of the record, mocked as being too lengthy, barren and plain boring by other commentators, simply struck me; reminiscent of great “storyteller folk” such as CURRENT 93, Varg really evokes some strong emotions as the album constantly calms down, clinging out in some minimalist, yet powerful acoustic chords during the stellar “Gullaldr” (easily the best song here). With that being said, I don’t think that Varg’s spoken word parts are boring or unfitting. All I could complain about is the still too bashful use of his singing voice: there are still some treasures to be retrieved.
However, other parts, such as the utterly underwhelming opening track “Jóln”, rather feel like uninspired leftovers from the “Fallen” sessions, corrupting the albums attempt to appear as a compact unity. Looking at the album as a whole, I’d even say that it’s mostly the more “metal” parts that tend to come across a bit dull and superfluous (apart from some songs like “Valgaldr”, that are capable of transfering the albums general atmosphere into the structure of a metal song). By the way: the production isn’t helping to rectify that impression: While sticking to the the overall recipe of “Fallen”, it appears to be even more transparent with all instruments being extremely distinguishable in the sound spectrum, unfortunately resulting in a rather driveless (and even a bit clinical) sound, not quite matching the requirements of heavy metal. Oh, speaking of heavy metal: Am I the only one who got a certain MANOWAR vibe while listening to “Heiðr” (the bass!) and “Níðhöggr” (the first minute of “Spirit Horse of the Cherokee”)?! Nevermind...
Let me conclude by saying that maybe on the next album Varg’s “Metamorphosis” (which is what “Umskiptar” translates to; well, it means “Metamorphoses”, but what the heck...) will be complete, with him serving us pure, otherworldly folk music “the BURZUM way” (similar to what ULVER did with “Kveldssanger”), while “Umskiptar” remains “just” a very good album with a few minor flaws, mostly resulting from a certain half-heartedness in terms of composition.
One of the virtues of Burzum has been the project’s constant reinvention. While the overarching vision has remained relatively stable, Varg has constantly found new ways of expressing it. As a result, every Burzum album has its own distinct identity… at least, until 2011’s Fallen. While the album did contribute some minor changes to the Burzum sound—lots of clean vocals (good) and hyper-compressed production (not so good)—for the most part it felt conspicuously typical and predictable. The song structures and melodies felt all too similar to what we have heard on prior albums. While the songwriting was for the most part strong, Fallen was ultimately, “one for the fans.”
While Fallen raised concerns that Varg was reclining into a comfort zone, Umskiptar does everything possible to dispel them. Umskiptar is anything but safe; it is conceptual, experimental and on a number of occasions, quite strange. The lyrics are taken from the Poetic Edda Völuspá. The primary voice in the poem is a female prophet who is summoned by Odin to tell the future of mankind. The prophet proves her powers by retelling the story of the creation of the cosmos as well as telling Odin of his own personal search for knowledge. She then warns of the coming of the battle of the gods, which will lead to the death of Baldr, the bravest of the gods, and Odin himself. However, out this destruction comes the rebirth of the world in a more beautiful state than the first.
Umskiptar means “metamorphosis” and that is certainly what this album undergoes. It begins with faster, more upbeat pieces, but continuously transitions to slower and bleaker compositions, unraveling toward a bare core. The album is bookended by two primordial ambient pieces (which are way better than the god-awful closer on Fallen) which tie together the cyclical nature of the album.
Musically, Varg tries out a lot of different ideas on Umskiptar. He provides a wide range of vocals including chants, hums, dry rasps and spoken word. While Varg’s growl sounds a little aged, his clean vocals are surprisingly warm and textured. The percussion is sharp (the jittery patterns on “Jóln” are especially impressive) and the bass is full and bouncy. The guitar work is pretty typical Burzum; lots of hypnotic melodies, spidery scales and repetition. Umskiptar sees Varg play around with undistorted guitar, which is basically absent from prior Burzum releases.
The result of all these new sounds is a quite varied album. Most of the conventional metal tracks are excellent. Tracks like “Jóln,” “Hit helga Tré” and “Galgviðr” center around emotionally charged melodies that entrap the listener through repetitious patterns and impassioned vocals. The more experimental tracks are less consistent. These songs, which are mostly near the end of the album, lack percussion and sometimes even bass. Of these, the penultimate track, “Gullaldr,” is the highlight. The song consists of nothing more than clean guitar and a mix of clean and growled vocals. The somber folk melody and gentle singing recall Ulver’s neofolk classic Kveldssanger. On the other hand, “Galgviðr” is tough to sit through. Varg chants in a strange, quasi-operatic style while the same progression is strummed—sometimes with and sometimes without distortion—for over seven minutes.
While there are one too many tedious tracks on Umskiptar, it is predominately an engaging recording. It is like watching a primitive opera or hearing vivid story being told by the fireside. Varg effectively uses the variety of vocals and gradual deceleration of tempo to reflect the process of destruction and decay that occurs in the Edda. Certainty the most ambitious of Varg’s post-prison recordings, Umskiptar is an exciting and creative album. While a few belaboring moments hold the album back a bit, it’s nice to see that twenty years after releasing the self-titled debut Burzum remains a creative force.
(Originally written for deafsparrow.com)
Ever since the notorious Varg Vikernes has been released from prison in 2009, his musical taste seems to be drifting away more and more from the old Burzum style and is in search of something different, a new horizon to cast, and a new journey based on his vast knowledge of the Norse mythology.
This record, "Umskiptar", means "Metamorphoses" in old Norwegian and is the third full length after his "freedom", and on this record it seems that Varg is becoming more experimental. The music is more obscure, cinematic, and spiritual. All the lyrics are basically based upon the epic poem "Völuspá", telling stories of creation and epic journeys in the deep darkness of the north.
The music reflects these ideas significantly; the guitar riffs and drumming are still very hypnotizing, but this time in a different way and gives you a feeling of an ancient breeze blowing in your face, especially with songs such as "Jóln" and "Galgviðr". The bass line also plays an important role in this procedure, though the bass line isn't quite clear in some songs.
Probably the most important element on this record is the vocals. Vikernes is trying to create a feeling of storytelling, trying to take you through a journey with his spoken vocals echoing deep in his chest, creating a shiver as if you are standing in the presence of ancestors. Such a feeling can be generated in most of the songs, but clearly in "Alfadanz", "Heiðr", and of course the highly powerful, yet incredibly simple intro "Blóðstokkinn".
The element of experimenting is clear in the song "Níðhöggr", which is an ambient outro that is simple and extremely deep. After listening to the whole album, this outro will make perfect sense and it only shows Varg's tasteful addition. No outro would fit this record as this one does.
So this record basically creates a brand new atmosphere, completely different from his previous records and even different from anything found in the metal scene. It could be the dawn of a new era, the era of "skaldic" metal.
This album, at least to me, is not black metal. While it does have some black metal tendencies, such as harsh vocals and black metal tremolo picking, it's pretty much more folky than it is black metal. Hell, there is not one blast beat to be heard anywhere on this album, and most of Varg's vocals are clean singing. Some of these tracks do not contain ANY drumming, and I'm not talking about the ambient intro and outro...
This is definitely, as stated previously, NOT a black metal release. So people are going to be complaining about it. Saying something like "Burzum's not kvlt anymore! He's a poser!" ...or some stupid shit along those lines. Well, in reality, one could have seen this transition coming with his dark ambient prison albums "Dauði Baldrs" and "Hliðskjálf." The folkiness of the music sort of went away with "Belus," with which we saw Burzum going back to a raw, lo-fi overall black metal sound. This album got some bad reception, however, probably from the newer Burzum listeners who hadn't heard his older black metal records. The muddy production and repetition shocked them. However, a lot of them seemed to come around when "Fallen" was released just about a year ago. That album had much better production, while still maintaining the rawness of the music. That album, at least to me, contained some more folk influence than "Belus" did. This new Burzum record, entitled "Umskiptar," is a complete change from the aforementioned two. Already, I have seen very negative reviews about it. While some points those reviews made about this album are agreeable, most aren't.
First off, let's talk about the overall sound of this. Again, it is very folky. The drums, when even played, are completely different than any other Burzum releases. There are no blast beats... At all. Not one, zip, nada! There are actually a few tracks not counting the intro "Blóðstokkinn" and outro "Níðhöggr." The tracks on this album that are devoid of drums are "Heiðr," "Galgviðr," "Surtur Sunnan," and "Gullaldr." These are all fairly repetitive folky pieces, primarily "Galgviðr," which actually contains one of the best riffs on the entire album. Another thing that shocked me was one of these tracks used keyboards!!! Keyboards had not been used on a Burzum album since 1999's "Hliðskjálf." The track on this album which boasts some keys, is "Alfadanz." It is the third track on the album. This track is one of my personal favourites, it has some of the most memorable riffs on the album, and it not boring at all. Plus Varg's clean vocals really shine here, along with his quiet, raspy whispers. Keyboards are heard in the intro of this track, as well as again at around the 7 minute mark, and they are played until just a little passed the 8 minute mark. And the track after that, "Hit helga Tré" features some of the album's most memorable riffs overall. Amazing tremolo picking in this one, and again, Varg's clean chants with his raspy black metal vocals are great.
Now, there are some negative aspects of this album, that I feel need to be addressed... One is that the album tends to focus more on quantity than quality. Now, this album does feature some very good quality songs, in terms of atmosphere and structure. However, 11 tracks on a Burzum album? This is Varg's longest album, clocking in at around an hour and five minutes, only about a minute or so longer than "Filosofem" was. This album, however, does contain the most tracks on a full-length Burzum record. These songs are also all very repetitive. This leads some people to call this album "boring." Although I don't fully agree with that, I sort of see where they're coming from. This album does tend to drag a little bit. One more negative for me personally would be the lack of drumming in some parts. No blast beats? Fine, I don't mind that. However, some of these tracks that contain no drumming at all would benefit a little from a drum line here and there.
Now, just because this is not a black metal record, does not mean it should be overlooked. Anyone who was impressed with "Belus" and "Fallen" will most likely eat this up! This really shows a different musical side to Varg, and exposes his folkier side very well. Solid record with only a few flaws.
I must admit that I have always hesitated to check out the music of Varg Vikernes and Burzum. I simply can’t ignore the fact that he is a criminal mind that has burnt several churches, murdered his ancient band mate and promoted strange racist opinions over the last decades. I don’t want to support this kind of human being in any financial, promotional or whatsoever way.
On the other side, I heard so many comments about his music and became somewhat curious. It’s a well known fact that insanity and genius can be really close. I ultimately fought my inner demons and tried to be open minded enough to have an idea of this guy’s musical universe. I decided to listen to his new record “Umskiptar” after many reviews I have read about his last two regular studio records “Belus” and “Fallen” that he released when he got out of prison.
Concerning this record I must admit that this is much ado about nothing at all. This is simply overlong atmospheric ambient music with somewhat intriguing poetical Norse lyrics. The artistic approach is authentic and works very well in the beginning of the record but it gets redundant after a while. The emotions are there but they are not deep enough from my point of view and are rather repetitive, too. Despite its title, there are no big metamorphoses or any kind of surprises on this record.
From time to time, the sleepy flow is then interrupted by some short blackened metal passages that I would not call traditional black metal. To my big surprise, these moments are the most emotional ones on the album and kept me listening to this record to the end. The harder stuff like “Hit Helga Tré” or the refreshingly short “Æra” featuring disturbing vocals between floating and spiritual vibes and aggressive or desperate undertones as well as slow but heavy riffs with some disturbing sound is where Varg Vikernes convinces me the most.
The strongest songs are definitely in the beginning with the airy, progressive and yet angry and dark “Jóln” and in the end of the record with the melancholic epic grower “Gullaldr” that invites you to dream yourself far away. These are the moments when I begin to understand why this controversial personality is also respected by some for his musical input. Even though the record has a very coherent flow and a clear guiding line, there are too many lengths in here that can’t compensate for the boring moments.
If there would only be more quality tracks like this one on the album instead of pure chewy quantity, I would really feel the need to check out his older works after all these years. But overall, this is only an average record with very few sprinkles of genius that is hard to sit through after all. There is almost as much boredom as there is potential in this album but I think that it might grow on me as time goes by and it your listening experience also depends a lot on your personal mood, too. This record should have been released in autumn or winter time. Apart of the numerous Varg Vikernes fanboys, fans of blackened ambient stuff and pagan metal might like this but anybody else shouldn't follow the hype. In the end, sixty-six percent seem to fit perfectly to the lyrical topic, the music and the man behind this release.
If it were my goal to convince anyone why they should or shouldn't like the latest Burzum album -- or any album for that matter -- I'd be failing so miserably that I'd put Steve Urkel's dress sense to shame. That is not, and was never the point of exercises like these. I am, however, here to tell you that Umskiptar is not only a good album, but is also very much worth listening to. This is, of course, my opinion; and as such it can be taken, left behind, remembered, forgotten, spat upon, laughed at, argued with or ignored. Just remember that yours can, too.
First and foremost, it's important to realize that Varg's interpretation of songwriting and music in general is that it should be a reflection of the self. As such, a more honest and heartfelt production quality will usually result in an accurate and soulful portrayal of the composer, provided it's executed effectively. Vikernes' mastery of this practice is what has always set Burzum apart, especially as far as the music is concerned. Since most of the metal world has already made up its mind on who Varg Vikernes is and what he's about, i.e. a self-absorbed, rambling ex-convict who, although at times is capable of creating or saying something profound, lives primarily in the shadow of a small handful of great albums, and who was unfortunately brainwashed into thinking that people of other races are less intelligent human beings, should it be of any surprise that the more "in touch" with himself Varg becomes, the more his music will do kind of the same thing he does -- that is, to wander from time to time in order to eventually find small fragments of lost wisdom and enlightenment under the metaphorical rock or bog...? From the eternally long and meandering tracks such as "Rundtgåing Av Den Transcendentale Egenhetens Støtte" and "Tomhet," to long album beginnings such as the new "Alfadanz," self-portrayal through music is what Vikernes has always done, especially in his most brilliant moments of creativity. Umskiptar is one of those moments.
In a strange sense, Burzum has always been a very childlike project. Most children, given a marker or a crayon or a paint can or a piano, will simply do whatever the fuck they want with said utensil. Generally, it's not until the adults come in, criticize the shit out of what they're doing, tell them all the right and wrong ways to do things or just tell them that they suck and shouldn't be wasting so much time, that the children stop becoming children and start acting like adults. By this, I mean to say that they all start acting the same. The incredible thing about Burzum has always been that it sounds like nothing else. Aside from being quite skilled at playing a wide variety of musical instruments, arranging songs and sound production, Varg's unquestionable ability to simply not give a fuck what anyone thinks is, far and away, his strongest and most valuable attribute. Whether this prized characteristic is used as a strength or a weakness is all up to him.
Amidst the many arguments over which Burzum album is best, some people tend not to realize that Burzum, Aske, Det Some Engang Var, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem were all recorded within a year's time. Regardless of personal favorites, all of those albums are very different from one another, and Umskiptar is finally an album about which the same thing can be spoken. Two awesome characteristics that come into play right off the bat in "Jóln," the second track off Varg's latest effort, are his added emphasis on layering soft vocals and shrieks on top of one another (and the offsetting of the two), and his ability to write hooks capable of reeling in Moby Dick after just one attempt. After "Jóln," comes what might be the make-or-break song for many of the album's listeners, because the aforementioned "Alfadanz" is roughly nine minutes of anticlimactic folk music that Elves could only write if they were tripping on acid with Jerry Garcia. Remember, the wandering must come as a predecessor to the enlightenment, both for the artist and his observers, so don't go skipping over it. In the next handful of tracks, "Hit helga Tré" returns to Burzum-ic form with slow, dark and heavy riffs coupled with some serious tremolo melodies, as "Æra" takes the listener into what might be their final decline in interest before leading into Umskipar's latter and more consistent half.
Along with the next handful of tracks come a few more interesting attributes that help continue to make Umskiptar much more interesting than its post-prison predecessors. One unique aspect is the feeling of sacredness the album gives off. Most should concur that old Norse is a beautiful language, and the way Varg chooses to deliver his sixty-six stanzas of poetry gives off the impression that the lyrical content means a lot to him. Another attention-grabber is the way the bass guitar is incorporated into lengthier tracks such as "Valgaldr." Not unlike early Ulver, the long-prodding bass notes don't really seem to care about what the rest of the instruments are doing and, as a result, send the listener into a relaxing dream-like state. This hypnosis of hypnagogia doesn't possess the exclusively electronic programming of past albums, and instead is accompanied by some pretty slow, evil-sounding riffage.
Varg has said in the past that he typically uses album openings to tire the listener so that they may be more susceptible to the more spiritual and atmospheric elements of the concluding tracks. Though Umskiptar possesses nowhere near the amount of outward intensity of Burzum's past works, the attentiveness that is given to the record's first eight tracks really does affect the way the closing will be received. To put it simply, "Surtr Sunnan" and "Gullaldr" are packed full of pure emotional honesty that all point back to one thing: Varg Vikernes. Say what you want about him, but at least the man admits his many faults. He knows he's far from perfect, and that his music is as well. Quite frankly, that's the beauty and uniqueness of it, especially given that we live in a world where people just aren't comfortable with themselves at all. Some have an impossible time admitting their own faults, while others spend the majority of their day pretending that they have none. The truth is, whether we like to admit it or not, we hate. Other times, our actions simply aren't in line what we know is the right thing to do. If you take a quick view of the world in which we live, you're just as likely to see that this is undoubtedly the case as you are to witness hypocrisy that surrounds it all. We may be neither inherently good nor evil, but we are inherently dishonest. So what's to be done when someone comes along admitting all of this to himself and to everyone else? Do we shun him for not pretending to be perfect like the rest of us, or do we listen?
Originally written for MetalReview.com
Though the title of Varg Vikernes' ninth full-length album as Burzum might translate to 'Metamorphoses', I was actually surprised that Umskiptar was more or less a direct continuation of the aesthetics found on its excellent predecessor Fallen. Last year's From the Depths of Darkness collection of re-recordings revealed a Vikernes in touch with his career roots, but this new material traverses more or less along the same, wintry course of his ancestry he explored with the prior full-length; only the folksy swagger is more pronounced, the binary use of black metal snarls and cleaner chanting more evenly distributed and the whopping 65 minutes of composition heavily favor a slower to middle pace with an occasional transition into faster rhythms (only on the guitar).
The lyrics here are drawn from Völuspá, the creation myth of the Poetic Edda, and the music is well attuned atmospherically to its ancient script, nearly each piece flowing like an individual river of ice carved from the solid rock and hardships of antiquity and approaching apocalypse. I absolutely love the guitar tone Vikernes uses through this record, soaked in just enough distortion to create these shimmering effects in both the chords and tremolo picked patterns that feel as if you're being blinded by the sun and its glare off a morning frost. The percussion is likewise appreciable, from the minimal, echoed thunder of the drums in the intro "Blóðstokkinn", to the stick-like repetitions used to support the airy chords and bass of "Jóln" and beyond to the steady clap trap rock rhythms found in something like "Valgaldr". The bass also adds to the album's naturalistic feel, with a stolid plunk to it that is alternated with swooning, melodic fills. Entwined with both the harshness and soothing of the vocal lines, Umskiptar creates a coherent 'live' impression, as if you were experiencing its performance at some rustic, log-built tavern on a sobering, somber afternoon.
Despite this, there is a good deal of variation present on the record, necessary for such a large swath of content. Some tracks offer more of a narrative melodic structure accompanied by only a few of the instruments at any given time, like "Heiðr" with its alternating floods of bass and guitars; or "Surt Sunnan" with its drawn out, cyclic phrasing and deeper, 'storytime' vocal sensibility. One of the pieces, "Gullaldr" takes this to the extreme, ten and a half minutes of vocals and guitars only, with a few sequences of rasping, and I did feel like it was a drag on the album's momentum as a whole. The more metallic oriented tracks fare better. "Hit helga Tré" with its lilted step, textured vocals and crunched rhythms, or the memorable "Jóln" and its hypnotic, swaying stream of guitars, stuffed to the brim with subtleties in the multi-tracked vocals, bass, and the subdued, shifting patterns of the rhythms. Varg even emits a fit of deep, pitch shifted laughter in there which took me by surprise. The pianos and doom-like licks in "Alfadanz" were another treat, as well as the yawning ambiance and whispers of the closer "Níðhöggr".
I must say, though, that in lieu of a rather strong start, Umskiptar definitely lost my attention span at several points throughout the run time. I realize the subject matter demands a rather grandiose treatment, but I could not help but feel that the songs could have been broken down into highlights and fillers. I think a few instances of more accelerated rhythms interspersed through the record could have helped in breaking up the sullen monotony manifest by the longer hymns. Also, the drizzle of the more atmospheric guitars can also grow tired, far better are the pumping, active sequences like the opening to "Valgaldr" and I wish that these had been spread into the nether regions of a few of the tracks so that there could be some unexpected turns. As it stands, a number of the songs open strongly and then spiral down into a less mesmeric facade, and in the end I did not experience quite so positive a response as I did with Fallen before it.
Stylistically, I admire what Burzum has brought to bear these past few years. I realize that, in addition to the usual detractors of his statements, actions and beliefs, there exists a sizable crowd of naysayers who, like some cloud of irrepressible gnats, will carp and moan at every record the guy releases that isn't Hvis Lyset Tar Oss II, many times without even listening for more than a few seconds. The light at the end of the cave might forever elude a few of these folks, but beyond that, Burzum has always been about evolution, even from the first few records to, say, Filosofem, and it's clear he has no intention of endlessly repeating himself for the remainder of his career. Just not going to happen. Umskiptar is not so much a complete transformation of Fallen, perhaps, but it expands upon a few of the tropes present there, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, and even if it's not one of his most consistent efforts, there are still enough alluring, atmospheric tracks here that fans of raw and simplistic black or folk/black hybrids should pursue it.