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Varg goes to prison, his music goes to Runescape. - 41%

ConorFynes, August 13th, 2015

No one can say Dauði Baldrs was recorded under the best circumstances. While the most infamous murder in rock history most directly robbed us of Euronymous, who had only recently hit his stride on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, but Varg Vikernes' incarceration put a considerable handicap on his musical output. Consider this: Varg had gone from the primitive sketches on Burzum to a timeless mastery come Filosofem in the space of a year. What kind of music might we have expected to hear from him, had he kept his nose out of the dirt, free to record without the constraints of a prison cell? No matter the path he may have chosen, chances are it would be nowhere near as disappointing as Dauði Baldrs.

In most other cases, it seems I'm actually a rare supporter of Burzum's ambient material, new and old. While there's no comparing The Ways of Yore to, let's say, Hvis lyset tar oss, I think Vikernes' innate ear for ancient atmosphere comes across no matter which side of the tracks he's coming from. His skill with ambiance was apparent from the start too; the self-titled debut ended on an eerie note with "Dungeons of Darkness". Had I been anticipating Dauði Baldrs before it came out, I wouldn't have any reason to think it was going to be bad. Keep in mind this is the same guy who managed to keep me enthralled for 25 minutes with the minimalist "Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität" off the album before.

People who hate on Dauði Baldrs simply for not being 'metal' undoubtedly fail to understand Vikernes' character as a musician, and I'm sure he laughs at them. No, the real problem with Dauði Baldrs is how far it fell short of what it should have been. There's no doubting he had challenges; he wasn't permitted use of 'real' instruments, and the artistic capacity for a prison-sponsored computer in 1997 is no doubt horribly limiting, but that can't fully be to blame for this. Dauði Baldrs sounds like it was recorded largely with the cheapest MIDI sounds Varg could find. The chosen sounds clearly mean to approximate 'real' instruments, but it's as if the man was still up to his 'worst is best' doctrine when it came to recording the music. The palette of fake horns and lifeless percussion on the title track is almost laughably hollow. If I were to play devil's advocate with this, I might suspect Vikernes imagined it as a soundtrack to an unmade computer RPG. I could see some of the stuff here possibly working in that regard, but even then I could see a lot of it getting annoying as all hell if it were looping endlessly while I dungeon crawled. Varg's penchant for repetitive minimalism didn't go anywhere when he went to prison, so the given loops here even manage to get grating.

The cheap MIDI palette on Dauði Baldrs makes the Runescape soundtrack sound like a von Karajan production by contrast, but there is some authentic atmosphere that exists in spite of the fakeness. The title track is undoubtedly the worst offender o the lot, and though it's one of the most laughably bad songs I've heard from an otherwise brilliant artist, the rest of Dauði Baldrs gets a fair bit better. "Hermoðr á Helferð" is simple and quaint. "Illa tiðandi" actually hints at Vikernes' genius as a composer with an incredibly basic but evocative piano line that sorts more realized than the faux-orchestrations. I'd say "Móti Ragnarǫkum" actually holds up to the rest of his ambient material; it's a sign of how good this album could have been in spite of the budget restrictions.

Dauði Baldrs is interesting as a historical artefact, and I'd say there's even some solid material here for those who don't mind its damning flaw. I can even hear good intentions on the album, and the corresponding mythological concept even suggests some thoughtfulness. Varg can attach paragraphs of supposed significance to each of these pieces if he wants to, but at the end of the day, I can't see myself feeling an urge to return to this at some point in the future. As much as I'd like to defend this album, it's an almost completely unworthy successor to Filosofem.