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Kitsch music with a deadened feel and emotion - 35%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, September 30th, 2012

This album was intended to be the first of a trilogy based on old Norse myths and legends about how the world would end. A black metal sensibility definitely exists in the tone and melodies used here although all instrumentation is entirely synthesiser-based. This is not out of choice on the artist's part: at the time of recording, Varg Vikernes was in prison serving a maximum jail sentence of 21 years for the murder of Oystein Aarseth (Euronymous, of Mayhem) and acts of arson, one of which led to the death of a fire-fighter. Initially prison authorities had allowed Vikernes to keep guitars in jail but confiscated them after he attempted to break out of jail. (Some people have suggested to me that Vikernes might not have been allowed to keep guitars in jail for the same reason that shoelaces and neck-ties aren't allowed - there's a suicide risk.) So here is a unique opportunity to hear black metal or something like it without the instruments most associated with the genre and discover whether the music can stand on its own without those instruments. From the results on "Dauði Baldrs", the answer is very definitely yes so on that level, the album is a success; but whether Vikernes can build on that style and add something that no other black metal musician can do, that's another problem altogether and this is where his reputation as a composer and performer lives or dies. Sad to say, the album quickly reveals the limitations of Vikernes as a composer and arranger of music and music pieces.

The title track is an example the problems of the album that other MA reviewers have referred to: for such a long piece and a pivotal one at that, it is endlessly and maddeningly repetitive, with no variation in tone, texture, intensity and volume among other things. Vikernes has ignored, either wilfully or otherwise, most aspects of what we'd call the dynamics of sound in his attempt to construct music on minimalist principles. What can be done with electric guitars can't always be done with other instruments like pianos whose range of sound and potential to express mood and emotion might be great but fall on other sound criteria because the tones produced are always pure and can't be distorted for texture or modulated for volume. So you would try to compensate by experimenting with sound and through trial and error come up with something interesting that might take you on a different path but there's no indication that Vikernes has done that here. The result is that the mood and emotion expressed on this and other tracks here are fixed, and over several minutes become frozen and blank. Imagine talking to someone whose face assumes a look that stays the same the whole length of time you're both chatting about the same topic, and which only ever changes when the topic changes, and you would soon think your poor companion was autistic or was missing a brain cell or two. This is what I feel about the album: with the music fixed at the same level of volume and each track only able to express one mood, the overall effect becomes cartoonish and kitschy.

There is no suggestion that the music is striving for anything: it's merely retelling the events that began with Baldr's death in the competition when he challenged the other gods to try to kill him with weapons fashioned from all the trees that had promised not to harm him, only for him to fall from a weapon fashioned by trickster god Loki from the mistletoe which had made no such promise, to the point before the battle of Ragnarok begins. There is no interpretation of those events, nothing to suggest that Vikernes had studied his source material and found something that resonated very deeply with him and which he believed might mean the same to others so he tries to communicate what he found meaningful through this recording. At this point, listeners might well wonder: does Vikernes feel anything at all? If he calls himself an artist, what is he trying to communicate here? The legend of Baldr is not being done any justice.

Some might argue that given the conditions that Vikernes recorded this album in, we should be more forgiving; let's not forget though that a lot of black metal as well as other music has been composed, played and recorded in equally bad and often worse situations, and performers have often forced their instruments to do things that they weren't made to do, or had instruments that were cheap, broken or missing parts. I'm sure that if I knew what conditions most albums I've reviewed here were recorded under, I'd probably award another 10 percentage points at least for sheer effort, ingenuity and sweat that didn't make it onto the final result.

It's not a long album but the music grows stale very quickly. There are good melodies and even a bit of drama, especially on the last track "Moti Ragnarokum", but the relentless circularity deadens any emotional effect. There's little here that moves the listener and that's a pity because there's a lot of potential in the melodies to express drama, complex mood and intensity. Not for the first time have I wondered if there's much substance and character to Vikernes, from the evidence I find here and on some other recordings he's done.

If there's any worth to the "Dauði Baldrs", it's demonstrated that there is an art to being an arranger of music and music instrumentation as well as composer, and that for all Vikernes has given us in the past - and he has given us some very good music in albums like "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" and "Filosofem", there's no doubt about that - there's something lacking in his artistic development that I feel will continue to hinder his music career and that this lack tells us something about his personality and moral being.