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A non-atmospheric ambient album. - 51%

VRR, May 31st, 2007

Orchestral. Neoclassical. Metal. Three words that will play no further part in this review. What we have here is instead a collection of half-finished melodies and malformed ideas that are offered up as ultra-minimalist compositions of Grand European Tradition. Given the liberating constraints offered by prison life, Vikernes has been able to escape the milieu of Norwegian black metal that, having helped spawn two undeniably classic albums from this solitary rogue, led also to his eventual incarceration.

The fifth full-length Burzum album, as this was to be, seeks to avoid the reality of imprisonment and instead struggles to become something greater than the sum of its parts. It barely succeeds. The rejection of guitars is just one example of Burzum's long history of side-stepping reality. They have been excluded entirely from this album; a decision made on the theory that the guitar is of unsound heritage. Truth be told, Vikernes will not have had access to the necessary recording facilities and has been forced instead to settle for tinkering on loop-making software and sequencing programmes. There is little to suggest that even midi keyboards have been used here: the mechanically quantized rhythms and note velocities suggest music created by mouse clicks alone. Seemingly to his advantage, Varg's (widely praised) previous album "Filosofem" was composed using a similar technique of multi-layering short phrase groove arrangements. Whilst that abstraction of electronica production norms into the world of harsh fuzz box black metal helped establish Filosofem as a pioneering record, the results on Daudi Baldrs betray a general inadequacy of compositional ideas and approach.

Each track comprises between two and four separate layers, each layer voiced by the synthesis of some stereotypically medieval instrument. The predictable, formulaic presentation is, at times, excruciating in its naivety. Some moments are laughably twee, (Hermodr A Helferd comes immediately to mind here), as our tragic anti-hero struggles to mangle a meagre two parallel phrases together with sufficient shifts in arrangement and velocity so as to earn the dubiously-awarded title of "composition". Arrangements themselves are a purely binary affair: each voice is either playing its one phrase, or it isn't. No introduction, no coda, no elaboration or development whatsoever. That each phrase on each instrument on every track can itself be broken down to a paltry four bars, (where bar one and bar three are always identical), offers some idea of the level of repetition found in this work.

Nothing on display here fits that oft-regurgitated "neoclassical" hyperbole that lazy journalists use to label Vikernes' later recordings. The individual tracks are works of pure repetition and stop/go melodies: A motif ceases to be a motif when it is the sole element of a composition. The predictable and staid implementation of cadences coupled with the purely homophonic interplay from the individual voices robs the music of any potential for hidden depths within the melody. It lacks every defining characteristic essential to the identity of neoclassical composition (there's that word for the last time)!

What we are presented with is an amalgam of the Baroque musical elements found in plainsong and the sparse, reductionist approach of twentieth century Electro producers. This curious juxtaposition fails simply because Vikernes is unable to navigate past the pitfalls of each approach. Baroque composers would avoid the endemic blandness of homophonic scoring by employing constant variation and ornamentation in the melody. The minimalism of electro pioneers was itself largely an illusion comprising dozens of layered micro-loops played simultaneously. The arrangements on Daudi Baldrs only emphasise the flaws of the chosen form by ignoring these essential techniques.The end result leaves the listener struggling to find meaning in a work of ambience that is, perversely, devoid of any atmosphere whatsoever.

What is this album then? It is certainly not the continuation of previous Burzum music in either style or execution. It is difficult to argue that it is the result of progress and maturity either, given that the compositions here are woefully unsophisticated in comparison to those on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss or even Det Som Engang Var. It is also a certainty that, if you have acquired this record on the strength of Vikernes' earlier albums, you will be disappointed by your first listen. Some consolation can be taken from the fact that this album has not been adversely affected by the limitations of the recording process. It is difficult to believe that the ideas on display here could have been executed with any greater success in a studio environment as there are simply no ideas to begin with.

Where exactly does this record score its points then? First and most obviously, it is a document of one of the most dramatic sagas in modern music. The Death of Baldr, the archetypal hero; the eternal innocent, and the unsettlingly hollow and dead-inside nursery rhyme melodies offer a more convincing insight into the mindset of Vikernes at this time than any number of rhetoric-laden interviews or carefully contrived memoirs could ever hope of conveying. Understanding this record as the soundtrack to one man's retreat into his own subconscious explains those nightmarishly repetitive toybox melodies. The monotonous, single-minded tracks become sonic mantras, comforting in their familiarity. The impact of this album is subtle, slow-acting but lasting. As music, it communicates with neither emotion nor reason, but through the Pavlovian principal of conditioning by over-exposure. Having sat dormant in my own musical collection for a number of years, a recent playing transported me back to the instant when I first heard Daudi Baldrs. Here is an album that says nothing to your ear, but speaks volumes directly to your subconscious self. For this reason alone, it has value.