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Dark and varied beginnings. - 88%

hells_unicorn, November 29th, 2011

Back in the primordial sludge of black metal's evolution in the early 90s, particularly in Norway, there was a bit of stylistic ambiguity as to what direction things would go, as was largely the case with the early thrash efforts from a decade prior. Whereas Metallica's and Slayer's debuts, along with the early Exodus demos still had a strong remnant of the NWOBHM sound, so too did the early efforts of Mayhem, Darkthrone, Immortal, and the subject of this historical excursion Burzum with the still largely thrash infused death metal scene that many of them came out of. Suffice to say, the respective 1992 releases in the style were marked by an obvious nod to the past, be it the one lived by Bathory, Hellhammer, Venom or Sodom, and the self-titled debut out of Varg Vikernes' one-man project was no exception.

To be clear, "Burzum" does strike a bit closer at the streaming, flowing, melodic tremolo character that has come to typify the style than "Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism" or "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" do, but it has a near equal musical memory of the 1st wave 80s conventions and slight tendency towards the more occult oriented death metal sound that predated the gore-obsessed scene of the early 90s. But the greatest point of contrast is Varg's utterly raucous almost to the point of torturous vocal display. Unlike the deep grunts or goblin-like ravings that typified most contemporary offerings, what is heard is very human sounding, albeit an exaggerated dose of what a human being in a state of utter suffering would sound like. For many, it's a bit too much to handle, as was likely the case with a number of early grindcore/goregrind releases, but it generally suits what is going on musically, despite being a little too high in the mix at a few key points.

From one song to the next, it is clear that while Varg is very much situated in the musical climate of the year, his own unique quirks and fascination with droning and ambient ideas are very present. In addition to a rather creepy and dissonant sounding keyboard instrumental in "Channeling The Power Of Souls Into A New God", contrasting with the largely contemplative and restful numbers that were on subsequent albums, many of the riffs contain tuneful tremolo melodies that are very different from the largely thrash infused riffs common to Bathory's 80s offerings and earlier Mayhem works leading up to this point. Particularly in the cases of "Ea, Lord Of The Depths" and "My Journey To The Stars" these lead guitar ideas have an almost singing quality to them, and were probably very influential in shaping what became the early offerings of Gorgoroth.

This album's outlier status doesn't end with the rest of the early Norwegian scene, but also takes shape with regard to subsequent releases. With the remnant of earlier thrash infused blackness from the 80s comes a somewhat more virtuosic musical character, resulting in more ideas being jammed into shorter songs and having more of an accessibility factor for anyone not necessarily into the drawn out, droning character that became standard with "Transylvanian Hunger" and "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss". There is also a short thrasher in "War" that sounds a bit closer to a late 80s Mayhem song, complete with a guest guitar solo slot by Euronymous himself, channeling his usual influences from the Slayer and Bathory formula and shredding in a disjointed, choppy fashion for the last 30 seconds of the song. It's auspicious in that it's probably the closest to an out and out throwback to the 1st wave, in contrast to a set of songs that, while still tied in with the older paradigm to an extent, are far more advanced towards the commonly recognized sound than otherwise.

Pure in a musical sense, this is the weakest of the early Burzum full length albums, for no other reason than that it's the least consistent from one song to the next. The focus is definitely on the English translation of the band's Tolkien black-speak name of darkness, but the darkness is not the peculiar niche that Varg is more readily know for. From a historical standpoint, this album is probably the most monumental as it seems to be the most widely imitated, especially by some prominent Norwegian bands that cropped up soon after. But for all the distinctions that anyone else may or may not make, this is definitely a top notch representation of the seemingly endless wellspring from which many rawer black metal bands continue to flow.