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Riffs and screams thrown haphazardly together. - 68%

ConorFynes, July 26th, 2015

I listened to the albums canonically referred to as Burzum's 'masterpieces' before getting around to the project's self-titled debut. As tends to be the case with then-future greats with such classics in their futures, Burzum set the stage on a less refined, less intentional note than the carefully crafted master's atmosphere Varg Vikernes would be recording just a year later. While every incarnation of Burzum has been about upholding an unfashionable degree of primitivism in the music, there's no denying Vikernes became ever more meticulous in the way he brought about his raw sound. I see Filosofem get compared favourably with modern classical minimalism. The debut isn't going to warrant associations like that any time soon.

It is interesting to hear Burzum's debut; this is where a lot of it all started, and you can still hear bands coming out today that have tried to replicate the archetype he made here. With that said, it is surprising that I don't feel I have too much to say about it, especially compared to Filosofem, which carries enough weight in its atmosphere to inspire multiple volumes. Is it because the debut necessarily suffers by association with its better-crafted cousins? Not necessarily; although everything of Vikernes' making inevitably carries a distinctive Burzum character, the style here is much different than what came after it; comparisons only go so far. Put simply, this is early black metal at some of its most intuitive. It is raw in every sense of the word, and that includes the way it was written. Burzum sounds like it came together in a flurry, without regard for what does or doesn't work on the record. That rawness-- paired with Vikernes' natural predilection for great riffmaking-- is more than enough to carry his first full-length through, although it would still be an album or two before his vision hit its stride.

Starting off, Vikernes was more riff-focused than many of his contemporaries, and the debut essentially sounds like a bunch of solid riffs thrown together onto a cassette, with markedly less emphasis given to other parts of the music, like the structure or the songwriting. "Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown", "Spell of Destruction", "War", "The Crying Orc" and "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" all wield instantly memorable riffs, but whether they're all necessarily great songs is another matter. Particularly with the two longer songs on the latter half ("Side Winter"), it doesn't feel like Vikernes made the most of their greater scope. While great riffs are immediately possible to write for someone with the right innate talent, things like tact and structure are learned with time. Keeping in mind again that it was only a year between this and his atmospheric masterpieces, it's clear his black metal education was swift and effective.

Grimy heavy metal-flavoured riffs, fearsome drumming and some half-effective early attempts at adopting dungeon ambient form the musical core for this debut, but it's Vikernes' vocals that leave the strongest impression. His rancid shrieks are possibly the best representation of his musical objectives: primitive, personal, and utterly void of bells nor whistles. Burzum sounds like it was written and recorded by someone who was still learning to write and record. If his musical objectives remained constant throughout Burzum's early years, then he hadn't quite reached his mark here. There's nothing in the way of profound epiphany to be experienced listening to this, but the quality of his conviction and riffs is enough to excuse the abundant obvious flaws throughout the album.