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Take off your glasses, GURL - 59%

Valfars Ghost, June 14th, 2017

Have you ever seen a movie or a TV show where a female character hides behind glasses and turtlenecks and whatnot only to have a wardrobe change and a makeover in the third act reveal that, guess what, she was actually a bombshell the whole time? Of course you have. You're clearly not Amish. Anyway, Burzum's debut is that character in album form. What we have here are the makings of some brilliant music that just aren't being allowed to shine like they ought to, partly because of the horrid production, partly because of Varg's lack of experience with recording, and partly due to his habit of dragging his ideas out longer than they need to be.

If there's anything Varg loves more than making creepy Youtube videos of himself talking about whatever the hell comes to his mind while his young son is either nearby or in his arms, it's atmosphere. The effectiveness of the ambient qualities in Burzum's self-titled debut is quite spotty. Sometimes the atmosphere is brilliantly rendered despite (or maybe even because of) the murky production. ‘Ea, Lord of the Depths’ is carried on the back of buzzing guitar passages only made more sinister as they marinate in the murky production. 'Black Spell of Destruction', meanwhile, is built on eerie droning that creeps slowly along. Both reek of the sort of foggy, mysterious menace implied by the album’s cover art but not every track is so effective. Opening song ‘Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown’ isn’t very impactful, nor is the dungeon synth interlude ‘Channeling the Power of Souls into a New God’, which has a mildly mournful tone but doesn’t provide anything noteworthy.

Varg must not have been all that focused or entirely serious in his attempts at making music at this point in his life because there are a few parts where he clearly forgot to even try to inject any of the creepy and/or grandiose atmosphere he's known for. 'War' is the most obvious example of this because this, constituting straightforward Bathory (circa 1984) worship where the simplistic rhythm is accompanied by incoherent yelling. And let’s not forget that laughable bit at the beginning where he says, “This is war, huh? Wow!”

Additionally, Varg's occasional inability to realize he needs to move on to the next musical idea whittles away the album’s value as an atmospheric journey. There are a few parts throughout the release that wander without going anywhere or repeat themselves many more times than they need to. The opening track is guilty of this, with a section in the middle that plods onward with a bland, droning texture, the guitars an unengaging buzz of minimal, midpaced activity and the drums just following along without throwing any interesting patterns or fills our way. ‘A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit’, meanwhile, is some kind of scientific breakthrough, as the main riff somehow bends spacetime around itself, allowing Varg to cram 45 minutes worth of repetitive droning into roughly nine minutes of actual elapsed time.

Both the production and the instrumental performances leave quite a bit to be desired. Sure, they manage to create an oppressive atmosphere sometimes but more often, it just makes the album seem rushed and poorly thought out. The drums follow basic patterns that are generally effective at maintaining a song’s momentum but sometimes sound mechanical in their simplicity. The way they’re produced also leaves the cymbals sounding tinny and the snare and toms like drumsticks striking paper bags. The guitars are this album's main strength as far as the instrumental performances go, often having a somber, meditative quality to them as they weave simple, sometimes hypnotic and eerie patterns. When the album speeds up, the guitars shuffle along competently but feel strangely hollow because the tone is so thin. The award for weakest performance goes to Varg's mouth, though. None of the anger or hatred that’s supposed to be there is present. Normally, black metal vocals elicit some kind of cold malevolence but throughout this album, everyone's favorite church arsonist yowls hoarsely and tunelessly and sounds like he’s putting his vocal chords through quite a lot of undue stress.

While Varg's talent as a songwriter is certainly here on Burzum's debut, its distribution is uneven and its execution is shoddy, even by TRVE KVLT standards. For every passage as inspired as the energetic and catchy main riff in 'My Journey to the Stars', there seems to be a long-winded mid-paced bit that takes too long to get where it’s going. A good number of the songs switch back and forth between the two, sometimes helped and sometimes hindered by the unholier-than-thou production. The songwriting brilliance that make the three Burzum albums that would follow this one so enjoyable is here but it’s too frequently shoved to the side. This is a decent effort, considering the entire thing is the product of one 19-year-old’s imagination but that 19-year-old, for all his ambition, had yet to master the art of channeling it into something uniformly captivating. Like the young woman in that movie/TV show mentioned in the first paragraph, all the crucial ingredients are already here, but their utilization and presentation just aren't ideal for showing them off.