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Essential black metal and perfect thinking music - 95%

TrveKvltHeathen, February 1st, 2019

(I am using the German song titles because those are the ones I am used to, and are more widely known)

Filosofem is an album that changed my life, and one that has been massively influential in extreme metal as a whole, and for very good reason. This album bleeds atmosphere from every pore, and from the first buzzing note of the guitar, the listener is drawn in. Varg once described this album as something that one is meant to fall asleep listening to, and perhaps that is the best way to describe it to someone who hasn't heard it. This is not technical or aggressive, nor is it particularly progressive. If you want fast, violent black metal, the album cover alone should push you away.

The first song, Dunkleheit, sets the standard perfectly, as it starts with a fuzzy-sounding guitar riff and some basic drumming. Burzum wasn't known for the percussion, and it certainly takes a back seat here, as the riffs and keyboard take the lead. These are repetitive, hazy, and rather hypnotic, and they draw the listener in. Then, the vocals start, vocals that are so badly recorded that it is kind of amazing, and this further adds to the dreamlike, hazy feeling of the music. Later spoken word sections add yet another odd element, as Varg repeats the lyrics in a much more easily understood way. The next few songs are equally interesting, with Jesus' Tod being another standout, as it is faster and a bit more aggressive sounding, with another long runtime (the shortest song on here is still seven minutes).

The album continues alone these lines, until you reach "Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität", also known as "the reason that copy-paste exists". I have listened to this album many, many times, and I could not say that name without reading it. It is, however, the most divisive song on here, and arguably in Burzum's career, as it is not black metal. If you expected a 25 minute epic, you would be wildly mistaken. It is an ambient, electronic song, with no vocals or anything to tie it in to the rest of the album, at least not at a first glance. However, the keyboard parts are similar enough to the previous songs to be great, and, perhaps most importantly, it is good, really good. This song is the reason that dungeon synth exists, and it fits the sleep theme a little too well, as I have fallen asleep to a playlist that composes of just this song many times.

After that, the music starts to sound more like black metal, but to many people, that song marks when they finish listening to the album, and it is a serious shame. Burzum is a band built on the ideas of a man who doesn't like to follow conventions, and whether or not you like Varg himself, you cannot deny that this album is essential black metal listening, as the amount of bands following in this style is truly staggering. Turn off the lights, shut your eyes, and listen to the album from start to finish. It will not disappoint.

Good, But Flawed - 70%

eletrikk, December 21st, 2018

This album is a bag of mixed nuts, along with the band, but that's for a different day. My most major problem with this album is the length of the damn songs. I like my albums to have their songs vary in length, not all seven to eight minutes. The biggest offender for me in terms of song length, and probably with many others, is definitely "Rundgang Um Die Tranzendentale Saule Der Singularitat," hence forth I won't talk about it as it has probably been ripped apart several times by other people. Besides that, the other track that I have a huge problem with is "Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament." It is definitely one of the more glaring issues with this album. All tracks on this record are very repetitive, but this one is the worst offender besides a 25 minute "instrumental."

The vocals and lyric content are monotonous at worst, and enjoyable at best. Varg Vikernes is not my favorite vocalist, and hasn't really impressed me at all, and whenever I listen to a Burzum record, it is my least favorite part of the listening experience. On this album, they are something that I kind of look forward to. I am not sure if it is how they are mixed, but they kind of compliment the "quality." On "Jesu Død," when the vocals come back on, they sound a bit more quiet, more so than when they first came on. The lyrics are what get me, both in a good and bad way. They aren't the greatest, but they have a small bit of charm to them. It is naturalistic, not in how they sound no, but in their composition. They read as if Vikernes didn't go for the whole "Christianity is bad!" and "Hail Satan!" shtick on this record, but "Jesu Død" does fall into this category, as it does translate to "the death of Jesus" in Danish. Besides that, the rest of the tracks have a very "spiritual" feel to them.

The atmosphere is really what keeps me from giving this a 60%, as it is really unlike anything that I have heard previous or since I decided to listen to this record. It is also where a lot of my praise lies. Filosofem is dark, moody, and heavy with a depressive weight over the tracks that lingers with you well after you are done listening to it. The vocals accompany the fuzzy, repetitive guitars and the drums give a feeling of doom and gloom that sustains itself through each song. It is honestly something that I truly can't explain well enough that it frustrates me. The only plus for "Rundgang" is that it is peaceful and and adds nicely to this album's atmosphere.

The conscious decision to have the production be one of the worst is very confusing to me, but it works, surprisingly. It gives that feel of "TRVE KVLT" while also sounding like the master tape was worn down by sand. A lot of black metal bands at the time were going for a "lofi" recording quality, but some sound like rip-offs of this record in terms of production quality. These normally don't work for the bands that are doing this, but with Burzum's Filosofem, it works very, very well.

A steep decline - 30%

Blackmetalman666, December 3rd, 2018

I should probably start this review off by stating the fact that I am not a Burzum fan. Leaving his politics out of this, and for good reason, Varg Vikernes struck gold on 1994's Hvis Lysset Tar Oss, which in my opinion was a masterpiece in black metal/dark ambient, blending the two with an almost expert demeanor. 1996's Filosofem, however, begins things on a black/ambient route before declining slowly into just pure ambient, as the black metal aspects of the record slowly phase out.

While I'm reluctant to even call this a black metal record, I am willing to admit that the first two tracks, being Dunkelheit (which is easily Burzum's most known track), and Jesu Død, are simply beautiful pieces of sonic art that transcend even what could be heard on Varg's prior masterpiece. Dunkelheit is gorgeous, with that beautiful synth chiming in the background while the white noise like guitar & echoed drums crawl along. It's a beautifully atmospheric track, further exemplified by Varg's vocals, which sound notably different than anything from the first 3 Burzum records. Where once stood a maniacal, shrieking demon, now stands a decrepit, frozen corpse whispering it's final words. It further adds to the atmosphere and what makes these first few tracks so great.

Jesu Død is also great, picking up the pace with some double bass drumming and faster guitar riffs, focusing less on the ambient synth in the background and more on just being a straight up mid-tempo black metal track. The first three tracks are however very misleading, and this is where my problem with Filosofem lays: the rest of the album is boring, tedious atmospheric wank/dark ambient that goes nowhere - and unfortunately, the next two records of Burzum would go on to follow this sound. I know Varg was in prison, and this effected the quality and style of his music very greatly. This isn't even good ambient, it's just... empty. It's filler.

There really isn't much else to say about this record, sadly. If the ambience took a backseat ride to the far superior atmospheric black metal, I think we could've had another masterpiece on our hands - especially with the cold production and Varg's terrifying new vocal style. Filosofem starts amazing, and ends very poorly, with very little payoff for its wonderful setup. The artwork by Theodore Kittelsen is almost synonymous with Burzum's music at this point, and for good reason - it really fits, but when the black metal falls out of the mix and we're left with boring ambience... it loses it's effect.

I recommend this record to only the most diehard of Burzum fans, as well as the insomniatic. This will put you to sleep, so on the contrary - don't listen to this record when you drive at night.

Who'd want to listen to this shit? - 0%

Demiror_Moritur, November 29th, 2018

Filosofem is a ludicrous exercise in utmost distaste. It's a weird kind of untalented, uninspired non-music. The man behind the project, here going under his “real” name Varg Vikernes (born Kristian Vikernes), takes care of every instrument, the vocals, and lyrics on this album, as it has always been the case for him on every album of his aside from some contributions from other members of the early Norwegian black metal scene on his earlier efforts. This, of course, guarantees that every single thing he makes will have a very distinct, almost trademark style and sound to each and every one of his creations. Unfortunately, as much as this could be a good thing if he were to be creating something of worth, you’d actually only be capable of enjoying his releases if you were looking for sounds that only serve to further the feeling of being dead inside, since the most characteristic trait these tracks on this album have is the fact that they’re slow, boring, dreamy (not in a good or actually pleasing way), repetitive, droning, uncharacteristic. However, when I say dead inside, I’m not at all implying that the music on this release is in any way depressive or sad-sounding, since it doesn’t quite evoke any kind of emotions successfully whatsoever, neither positive nor negative, but rather numbs the listener into ultimate boredom instead, as it slowly flows clumsily into the most simple, less skilled black metal performance to be witnessed on a black metal album as popular as this one is. I honestly can’t understand why anyone would willingly put themselves through this martyrdom.

How can it be that a song such as Dunkelheit, most likely Burzum’s most famous composition, can be enjoyed by people who otherwise completely dislike black metal if it’s black metal? Well, the fact that it’s easy to consume by the masses (the shitty video for it even having been aired on fucking MTV of all places) is granted by the fact that Vikernes plays every instrument and lays the vocals down in a way that grants making everything sound extremely frail, uninteresting, uninspired, and weak, without this ever changing much throughout the record. Every component of this release is so basic it takes nothing to gather or understand what he’s doing, because he’s not doing much.

I’m going to start out by mentioning the drums because they’re a key element to every black metal release of any worth. On Filosofem, they are barely even present. I just listened to the full album twice while gathering inspiration on how to accurately describe my dislike of this album and I can’t even remember a single moment of the album when drums were featured, and if they were, what they were doing or what they even sound like. They’re buried so deeply in the mix that they can’t be distinguished from the rest of the noise, and their sound is just too weak for me to have any kind of recollection of them anyway, which obviously is a bad thing. Having the drums play a minimal role in a black metal record is akin to preparing a salad without lettuce and tomatoes, or drinking cola without caffeine and sugar: it’s just useless, and nobody in their right mind should want it. I honestly can’t get over the fact that this album is so praised in the genre when he can’t even get the drum section to have a meaningful role in the overall composition of it.

Now, the guitars. They don’t sound necessarily bad, but he made the mistake of giving them a warm tone instead of a cold one. Sure, they do sound raspy and there’s more than enough (way more than enough) of a drony, buzzy reverb to them, but they don’t have a solid tone to them that they should have if he wanted to lay down a composition that had any kind of direction or groundwork upon which to build or place the rest of the elements, but again that’s not happening on Filosofem. The guitars are very drony, very spacy even, but the riffs they play are nothing interesting, nothing original, nothing shocking. They’re tired, rehashes of his own old riffs (which he has done and used even more of on consequent releases). They lack any kind of force or power to drive the tracks forward. The lead guitar shouldn’t even be called lead here, since it leads nothing nowhere, but instead just infinitely circles around pointless intervals of single notes (or tritones, which the man seems to love to try and give the listener the impression that something is going on musically on the track), prolonged for a too long of an awkward amount of time for me to ever even think about getting any enjoyment from listening to them. Quite the contrary, they are so lame and tiring that they annoy me, as opposed to relaxing me or making me curious for what’s coming next.

The vocals are probably the worst part. They easily take up the most space in the mix, and that could potentially be acceptable if they were in any way something interesting to hear, but they are not. The only parts I hate less of Filosofem are when the vocals aren’t present, and even then it’s still not a good instrumental piece (don't even get me started on the "ambient", which I'll reference soon). The vocal work is composed of unintelligible screams of high-pitched tone that all feel the same. They never change, he easily could’ve spared himself the duty of having to hurt his vocal chords over and over again by making the same sounds on each of the actual “black metal” tracks on the full-length and conveniently looped the first two or three screams, and the end effect would’ve been 100% equivalent to what we ended up getting. They not only make it impossible for the drums to be heard (when they’re playing at all), but also the guitars are overpowered by the empty, shallow, unemotional shrieks coming from what sounds like a sore throat with a cold. Also, if we’re getting guitars without drums, or vocals without drums, or just guitars without anything else aside from a couple of bass notes and some horrible ambient, cheap sounding keyboard to back it up, what is this even? Why call it black metal when it really doesn’t sound like it and doesn’t feature its instruments properly? I’m shocked.

To get to the end of the review, I can’t forget to mention the pure ambient piece contained in the album, which is over 25 fucking minutes long, and it only has three notes (yes) that are played at different speeds (two speeds, to be precise) throughout its duration. This is in no way an exaggeration, but exactly what the track “Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte” is. Yeah, it’s a “rundtgåing” alright, one that feels like a never-ending one at that, but it’s not “transcendentale” in the slightest. I have never liked Burzum’s ambient work, and this is no exception. How could I? Anyone can do this, but, again, I believe this to be an example of who’s behind the music giving the music a certain significance and a cult-like following of the author's every word, praising everything he does and says, even if what does is make bad music, such as is the case here.

To summarize, this is “black metal” mixed with “ambient” without the basic black metal elements and without any knowledge on how to actually create proper ambient music as opposed to something that you’d hear looped playing in the background at an esoteric nature shop at 17:00 or something. Everything here is a stereotype of a stereotype, and it’s so self-referential and self-jerky that it comes off as non-sincere and just plain valueless to me.

I absolutely despise the music, sound, and style of Filosofem. This album was one of the first, clearest, undeniable symptoms of the black metal genre's unstoppable decline concerning quality and authenticity.

Document of courage - 80%

Felix 1666, September 28th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1996, CD, Misanthropy Records (Limited edition, A5 digibook)

If proof of this were still needed, the previous reviews demonstrate it in a very clear manner: I am absolutely narrow-minded, at least in terms of metal. I cannot understand how people really appreciate this classic so much that they give a rating of (almost) 100%. As one of the colleagues said, it's an album of two halves and they are so different that I do not have a clue how anyone can love both parts so deeply. But I have to realize that twelve reviewers have given 95% or more - I beg your pardon that I cannot join the ranks of these well-respected dudes. Varg Vikernes fascinates me with his metallic monuments, but the artistic idea behind the ambient excursions remains hidden for me.

Be that as it may, "Filosofem" is an outstanding work. The large format of the limited edition with the fantastic drawings of Theodor Kittelsen indicates the exceptional quality of the music. No doubt, the folkloric monochrome pictures and the music of Varg are a perfect match. With both the cover and the booklet, Varg makes clear that black metal has a multi-layered structure - and a traditional, almost somewhat romantic facet. Black metal is a worldwide phenomenon, but it's no global style and much less internationally compatible than, for instance, thrash metal with its US American character. Of course, no law without exception, but hopefully you know what I mean.

But let's get back to "Filosofem". To be honest, "Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität" (forgive me for using the German name of the title, sometimes I am a patriot) is one of the most boring pieces I have ever heard - and it lasts 25 minutes! This is a violation of the International Bill of Human Rights, isn't it? Admittedly, keyboards can be used cleverly, but their sound was not the reason why I begun to listen to metal. Aggravating the situation, Varg does not use them in an intelligent manner. The fragile, wannabe-mesmerizing tones of the song with the moronic title create an atmospheric atmosphere, but even this description is almost an euphemism. In spite of this atmosphere, the 25 minutes give me absolutely nothing. This means that almost 50% of the album make no sense, at least in my humble opinion. There is not even the smallest bit of metal in this song and inter alia because of this fact, it is just a waste of time.

Thank Odin, the first three tracks are light years away from this sonic soporific substance. Better still, their brute force is combined with truly hypnotic, coarse and irresistible melodies. To avoid misunderstandings, I am speaking of really minimalist yet extremely efficient melodies. They are accompanied by the prototypical, charismatic and raw voice of Varg and convey strong emotions. For example, the stoic and cold "Dunkelheit" reflects deep despair and apathy, but it casts its spell on the audience in a matter of seconds. By contrast, "Jesus' Tod" has more verve. Just like its neighbors, it avoids tempo changes and breaks wherever possible, but its speedy approach makes it unique in the context of the here presented material. The guitar riff seems to consist of thousands of spines that intend to torture the listener. The very distorted voice expresses hate and misanthropy, the double-bass guarantees the heavy groundwork and the devastating aura of this tune is simply second to none. And to close this ingenious chapter of Varg's creativity: "Erblicket die Töchter des Firmaments" lies between its two predecessors. It's great, voluminous, slow-paced and driven by an impressive guitar work. All songs profit from the dense, direct and icy sound of the album. No doubt, the guitars play the main role, nevertheless, the sound is well balanced.

The remaining two songs have one big advantage. They are shorter than the 25 minutes plague, nevertheless, these bastards of ambient and (some) metallic sounds do not really convince. Varg's lamenting voice gives the first part of "Gebrechlichkeit" a certain degree of brutality, but all in all, these tracks stand in the shadow of the big Norwegian spruce which is created by the opening trio. Honestly spoken, it doesn't matter. "Filosofem" spreads incomparable vibes, it was an identity creating work for broad parts of the scene and it definitely does not lack courage. Varg was a brilliant musician and his (unfortunately pretty sick) brain created an important milestone, regardless of the fact that I did not like each and every tune. So I give 75% for the music (but three times 100% for the songs of the first half), but let me add 5 percentage points due to the historical relevance of "Filosofem".

A Philosophers Atmos-Black - 100%

Morbe, May 17th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2008, 2 12" vinyls, Back on Black (Reissue)

Burzum’s Filosofem was easily one of the albums that drew me into black metal. The overbearing volume, the molding of the distorted dissonance together to build atmosphere alongside the reverberated synth resonated with me like no other album to date, the underproduced vocals and the inspirational lyricism is forever a bastion of what good atmospheric black metal is to me.

The instrumentation of this album is minimalistic and precise. The drum tracks are precise and; albeit minimalistic, very memorable. The guitar riffs both dissonant on songs like “Jesu Død” or melancholy on songs like “Dunkelheit”, and the experimentation on tracks like “Decrepitude II” is unbelievable. He got away with playing an Am chord with a soft melancholy melody for 8 minutes, and it sounds fucking cool as hell. The overbearing dissonance on the album is elaborately atmospheric, whatever fuzz pedal he’s using really sounds like rain at some points.

The lyricism on the album is inspiring and represents the “atmospheric black metal” genre is the way that it incorporates darkness, nihilism, and paganism. The vocals coincide very well with the already overly distorted guitar, the underproduced nature of them is very desirable and I wish I heard it more from more modern bands of the genre.

Filosofem is an incredible ode to what atmospheric black metal should be. Bands like Ulver, or Agalloch turned the music a different direction from dark ambient, more aligned towards folk metal. But the aspects of atmospheric black metal that birthed with Burzum did not die with him, and many artists like Leviathan continue to approach atmospheric black metal; and black metal in general, with an experimental-dark-ambient fervor like Varg himself.

100%, without a doubt 100%.

An Album of Two Halves - 98%

DrSkullfuk, December 13th, 2017

There are two kinds of great albums. There are albums that have some truly brilliant songs that make the album great even if you never listen to it fully through, and then there are albums that might not have the greatest individual songs but as an album work perfectly to make a truly great album. Filosofem fits perfectly into both of these categories, albeit in a very interesting way. Filosofem can very easily be broken up into two halves, part one containing three excellent pieces of atmospheric black metal, and part two comprising of three ambient tracks. Part one reads like the former kind of great album, with each song really being as close to perfect as you can get when it comes to this particular strain of black metal. Part two reads like the latter kind of great album, while each individual track from this part might not fully stand on their own when combined they work together incredibly well and elevate each other to a place of greatness. With these two halves combined, the result is a masterpiece of an album both in terms of songs and album structure.

On your first listen to the album you might will feel that the second half is somewhat of a disappointment and that the raw energy of the first half just kind of puttered out with an anticlimactic ending. This could be said to be true if you view Filosofem only as one unit instead of two separate halves, and so I feel that one must listen to both halves independently of each other in order to appreciate the album fully. When approached like this, the second half of the album makes complete sense. The three ambient tracks were never supposed to be the end of the album, but the beginning, middle and end of their own mini-album. So if at first you feel that Filosofem just has three great tracks and then kind of loses the threat, try just listening to the second half on its own and you might find your opinion of it changing.

The album is all about atmosphere and it has that is spades. From the strange, horn-like call that opens the album (which makes the brilliant album cover art even more fitting) the cold, sombre atmosphere is maintained perfectly throughout Filosofem. The production of the album is just perfect in adding to this atmosphere. That's not to say the recording quality is really that good, as Varg went out of his way to make sure the production quality was as low as possible (he recorded the vocals on a headset microphone after requesting the worst possible microphone from his sound technician, for example) and this works wonders for the atmosphere of the album. The production is never thin, verging on a 'wall of sound' style production during the first half and while there is much more sonic breathing space in the second half there is still a lot of depth to the production. All of the instruments are balanced perfectly with the subtle synth notes being a particularly nice element in the opening track Burzum. The vocals are excellent, strangled and harsh and quite low in the mix compared to other black metal albums. The spoken word segments are also very effective, and overall the production really elevates all of the compositions on the album.

Two thing that define Filosofem are minimalism and repetition. Throughout the album both of these traits can be found,largely through the use of pretty much only one simple riff in each song being repeated with only minor variation. These are not short songs either, the shortest track clocking in at 7:05. It's a testament to how perfect these riffs are that Varg manages to never let a song get boring with such a minimalistic approach. Not only is repetition found within the songs, but Decrepitude I and Decrepitude II are basically copies of each other with changes made to production (Decrepitude II is softer in tone with the guitars lower in the mix and no vocals amongst some other subtle yet very important differences). This isn't laziness, however, and in the context of the album this is a perfect example of how repetition works so well in the right hands.

From my review score you can see that I couldn't quite bring myself to give Filosofem the full 100%, and the only reason for that is the running time of the sprawling, minimalistic ambient piece Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte, which comes out to 25:11. While I don't have any problem with this track as many others seem to from reading other reviews (again, when taking this album as two halves this track makes perfect sense), I feel that shortening it to 10 or even 15 minutes in length would get the same effect across and make it a little less time consuming to get through when listening to the album fully through. Shortening would take away from the almost endless, drone-like nature of the track so I can happily live with it as it is, but if I had to have one criticism (a very minor one at that) of the album it would be have to be that.

Finally, the great thing about Filosofem is that after taking both halves on their own, evaluating them on their merits separately and treating them as two mini-albums, they really do go perfectly together. They manage to have in stark contrast with each other while also fitting together so perfectly in terms of tone and atmosphere. I believe that while Filosofem could easily have been released as a two separate EP and while both of them would have been excellent in their own regards, it's the combining of these two halves that really make Filosofem what it is: brilliant, challenging and truly unique.

Stand out tracks: Burzum, Erblicket die Töchter des Firmaments, Decrepitude II

Suddenly... Life has new meaning... - 100%

BlackMetal213, September 4th, 2017

"Hvis lyset tar oss" was the greatest black metal album to ever be created and, by that notion, was also the best Burzum album to be created. Well, I know that can be argued, so I'll say "Hvis lyset tar oss" is my FAVORITE of these albums crafted throughout black metal's near 33 years of existence. "Filosofem" was the album which followed and, like its predecessor, many people consider it to be Varg's finest output. I myself consider this to be second. However, it is still, by all means, a perfect album. This was Varg attempting to make an "anti black metal" record. And in a way, he succeeded. This is not the blasphemous, aggressive, fast black metal that was "all the rage" in 1996, as well as the time of this album's production and recording in 1993. Varg's last metal album until 2009's "Belus", "Filosofem" is a perfect mix of lo-fi metal and ambient. It's more ambient than "Hvis" and less metal, yet, there are 20 more minutes of music to get through this time around.

As we are very well aware of here, Varg's opted production job on "Filosofem" is one that is often either criticized or adored by black metal fans alike. The guitars are extremely fuzzy and contain this buzzing atmosphere that sounds a little more clear this time around but also quite a bit more layered. I'm not sure how many guitars are playing at once but it sounds like more than two. There is a lot of distortion on these songs aside from the pure ambient piece "Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte". This song is "Filosofem's" "Tomhet". It's about ten minutes longer though, at 25 minutes long. It's more than a third of the album's length in a single track. While it can be a tedious, repetitive listen, it's very hypnotic; the entire album seems to focus on repetition and hypnotism as musical ideals which shouldn't be surprising coming from a Burzum record. It's elevated quite a bit more here. Aside from this dark ambient piece, there are keyboards throughout the rest of the album. "Dunkelheit" has some simplistic keys amongst the distorted guitar riffs, which are also repetitively droning.

I do apologize for going off track from the guitars to discuss the keyboards. As I was saying, these guitars sound very layered and distorted. It's probably Burzum's most distorted album along with "Belus" except this has more ambiance. "Dunkelheit" is an extremely dark track and is the German translation of Burzum which, of course, means "darkness". This song starts the album off at a very high level and luckily it doesn't manage to tank throughout it's just over an hour long runtime. "Dunkelheit" ends and goes into what I beleive to be the actual crowning jewel of the album, "Jesus' Tod", which is the German translation of "Jesu død" in Norwegian and "Jesus' Death" in English (from here on out, I think I'm just going to use the original titles of these tracks. My version of the CD happens to have German song titles). This song has riffs in it that were re-used in Burzum's next album "Dauði Baldrs" in a dark ambient style. Here, they sound way more effective and eerie. The repetition works really well here and the pace of this song doesn't change, staying at a fast-ish mid-pace the entire 8 and a half minutes. "Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament" also contains some great riffs, a bit more on the melodic side, that slow the pace down a bit before that 25-minute ambient excursion. I think the lower points of the album are the two "Decrepitude" tracks, though the second is a bit lower in quality than the first. Either way, these songs are still very good and effective in what they evoke musically. There isn't one single bad music idea to hear on this album.

"Filosofem" is also one of Varg's best lyrical adventures with which to walk down a barren winter path just before hypothermia sets in and your life ends, numb and frigid. The lyrical passage in "Dunkelheit" repeats the same verses twice:

"When night falls
She cloaks the world
In impenetrable darkness
A chill rises from the soil
And contaminates the air
Life has new meaning"

This meaning of life Varg speaks of must be one of the "impenetratable darkness" one experiences as their body is completely frozen by the "chill" which "rises from the soil". "Jesu død" is the only track of the four featuring lyrics to contain Norwegian lyrics, which aside from the 1992 self-titled album, are extremely common in Burzum's music. Aside from "Dunkelheit", "Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament" features some of my favorite lyrics here, which seem to be about a man as he wonders what he will miss in the Spring and Day, and alludes to an eternal life of immortality, remembering his past adventures. It's an interesting concept and Varg's harsh, screaming vocals are done in less of a depressive scream and more of a standard rasp.

This is not music to listen to when you're casually trying to experience black metal for the first time. For that, I'd go with Mayhem or Darkthrone, or perhaps Carpathian Forest, if you're going the non-Dimmu Borgir route. No, this is an album to experience if you're serious about this style of music and want to hear something completely haunting and frightening, yet so beautiful at the same time. This record "Filosofem", which means "philosopheme" in Norwegian, is just that. At philosophy. This is genius, and this is art. "Filosofem". Suddenly, life has new meaning.

A Strange, Satisfying Slice of Black Metal - 80%

A Friendly Observer, January 28th, 2017

Unlike certain murder-associated black metal acts I could name, Varg has had enough good ideas to produce something that could justify the mystique. Filosofem is his best effort: a strange slice of atmospheric black metal and brooding synth work whose coherence arises from its hypnotic, hazy ambience.

The album begins with the dreamy "Dunkelheit" (known on some editions as "Burzum"), which sets the tone for the record as a whole as well as doing it best: representing the album's template well, synth notes fall like raindrops into a pond over the chainsaw buzz of guitar work. On this song, the black metal genre itself delivers on its promise of catharsis through the exploration of bleak and depressive emotional states: precisely because it is subtle, it is capable of stirring an intense reaction. Varg's vocals and lyrics are rightly sparse -- though by no means bad or distracting; they simply are not what drive the music, and he is wise enough as a musician to let them take a back seat.

The songs of Filosofem, including "Dunkelheit," can be repetitive, and all could afford to have had 1-2 minutes shaved off of their run time. But they avoid becoming dull because Varg deftly embraces the hypnotic character of his musical approach. Nowhere is this more evident than on the divisive, odd, and unique 25-minute centerpiece (by run-time), "Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte," a completely synth-driven, dreamy, delirious whirlpool of a dark ambient track. It has absolutely nothing to do with black metal and is best appreciated as powerful meditative or contemplative music.

Nothing else on the record reaches the heights of these two tracks -- and even on their own, those are worth the price of admission -- but they sometimes come close: the icy "Jesu død," which features some of the best drum work on the album, is another highlight. But at other times, the remaining tracks do nothing but revisit old territory only to uncover inferior results, like the plodding "Decrepitude II," which tries and fails to evoke the same mystique as "Dunkelheit."

I must give highest honors to the cover of this album, which manages to perfectly capture the atmosphere, with its hazy, earthy coloring and evocative imagery. This is one of those delightful albums in which the album art enhances the listening experience.

After a decade of listening to Filosofem, I still find myself returning to it at least once a year, and that has to say something. While far from being a masterpiece, it is must-listening for black metal fans and a strong, representative slice of the genre for outsiders.

Good start and then... - 80%

DSOfan97, August 27th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2010, CD, Byelobog Productions (Reissue, Slipcase)

Burzum was prolific back in the early 90's. Varg released four albums within five years and they all brought something new to the table. After Burzum and Det som engang var, which were good but not perfect, Varg released Hvis lyset tar oss, his best work up to date. Filosofem had the chance to continue the streak and succeeded, at least partially. Because the fresh, energetic and dynamic start was interrupted by the latter three tracks, which are mostly ambient.

Filosofem features three classic songs (four, if you count the 25-minute fifth track), 'Burzum', 'Jesu død' and 'Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament'. Every one of these tracks, while being monotonous, has a great atmosphere. And this minimalism works in the best possible way for the album, as it leads the listener into a trance-like state. Those cold, hypnotic riffs hold a well deserved spot among the greatest of the genre and I could keep listening to them forever. I mean, the guitars always play some kind of looping riff that crawls its way into your mind, the bass compliments the overall result really well and the drums... Well, the drums are out of this fucking world (especially in 'Jesu død'). Varg's voice has this usual torn-apart-vocal-cords feel that granted him his uniqueness (and which he ungratefully threw away in his recent releases), so until the fourth track everything is perfect.

The three final tracks have no drums. At all. No bass either, but there is a guitar riff in the fourth track, 'Decrepitude I'. The two Decrepitudes have their moments as well, but compared to the rest of the album, they are way below the already raised stakes. As for that fifth track, it's not sub-par but it feels like a very long way from start to finish, probably because it is a very long fucking way from start to finish. But still it's not bad. It could be shrunken though, to a length suitable to those of the rest songs in here and that is one of the cons. If we divide Filosofem in two, the second half is way longer than the first, while the style that should hold the greatest portion is the one displayed in the first half of the record.

But again, the overall result remains well written, actually it is so carefully composed, that it remains relevant twenty years after its initial release and that's what makes Filosofem special and all its flaws, not easy to ignore but easy to forgive. It might not be the heaviest of its kind, or the fastest in terms of execution, or even the most atmospheric, but it's a great album and deep inside you know it. And I know it too.

Favorite tracks: 'Burzum', 'Jesu død', 'Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament'.


Pure atmosphere as a manifestation of passion. - 91%

ConorFynes, July 26th, 2015

"Do you think Filosofem and Hvis lyset tar oss would be considered masterpieces if they were released this year?" I asked a friend of mine a month or so ago. My experience with Burzum up until that point had been remarkably shallow, and the single-serving listens I'd given some of Vikernes' best-known songs had not done a lot to convince me the music had earned its status without the help of some over-discussed arsons and/or stabbing party that happened in Norway some years ago.

"Yeah I do," he replied; "The music has a timeless quality to it." Another friend noted Filosofem as the perfect embodiment of 'cold' atmosphere. I'm glad I've known folk who could interpret and experience this music outside the bounds of sensationalism; experiencing Filosofem has been a long time coming for me, and it's with self-admitted regret that I've let a monument like this pass me by for so long.

First off; it has been a nagging pet peeve to read review after review of Burzum's music that tries to separate an appreciation of the music with the ideas behind its making, much less the man himself. You see this kind of pussyfooting whenever someone's talking about an unfashionably right-wing group but it's never so pronounced as it is with Burzum. The appeal of mystically-inclined ambient black metal is arguably wider than Varg's politik, but a willingness to explore the music without opening oneself to the ideas behind the work is to miss an essential part of the point. Filosofem wears its intention in the very title; this album is a manifest philosophy, and though the music and lyrics don't touch upon the political specifics of his Odalist pro-racial agenda, that intent seeps through every minute of Filosofem.

Possibly moreso than any black metal album I've heard, Filosofem truly evokes a longing for an ancient past. For music crafted with the most minimalist, simple and repeated ingredients, the atmosphere is richly evocative; it is as if the music was robbed from another time, real or imagined. I do not believe Filosofem would be felt so powerfully, did Varg not feel so powerfully about his vision for a pure(r) Norway. Atmosphere in music is often intangible; it is as hard to replicate as it is to properly write about. In Burzum's case, Varg Vikernes managed to create an incredible (and, indeed, timeless) palette of sound with the seemingly laziest elements at his disposal. Foregoing the use of proper microphones or even a proper amplifier (the guitar tone was brought about using distortion pedals plugged into his brother's stereo) he created a sound that's all too easy to become lost in. Compare that to the tens-of-thousands of hours of mindless bedroom demos that have spawned forth since. Some of them might be decently imagined, but it's not likely any manage to spurn a session of contemplating your own philosophies in life. Filosofem manages to do this, and more.

Though it's easy to confuse his musical priorities with laziness, his tactical use of keyboards in his music enforces the notion of Varg as a brilliant composer. For one of the simplest motifs you'll ever hear in music, the brooding three/four note keyboard overlay on "Dunkelheit (Burzum)" is instantly and greatly memorable. Varg has a penchant for these hook-bearing 'earworms' that you almost never hear in an atmospheric or ambient context. "Jesu død" is just as impactful a track as the first without help of keys at all, with little more than a few repetitive guitar riffs to see it through. How Burzum's best work manages to do so much with so little is virtually indecipherable on an academic, objective level. It is music that can, must, and will be felt by whomever listens to it.

The sense of Filosofem doing intense things to the psyche with so few concrete ideas is best represented in "Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte", the album's twenty-five minute centrepiece, and apparently still the thing most listeners (outside of the PC whiners) have the toughest time grappling with. As a fan of progressive music long before I came into black metal, I instantly loved how Vikernes' ambient music sounds so close to the Berlin School of electronic music, in the minimalist vein of Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream. The first half builds up a single motif; the second half is spent dwindling it down.

Of course, that brief description tells little of the way it affects the spirit while listening to it. "Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte" feels both like a denouement to the 'metal' side of the album and climax in its own right. As a composer and musician, Vikernes' work on Filosofem is defined by how he economizes the use of ideas, and this 25 minute sprawl stands as a definitive realization of that intent. Bookended by parts one and two of "Decrepitude" (which seems to bridge the gap stylistically between the black metal and full ambient chunks of the album) the album's sequence doesn't place it as an afterthought so much as a full-bodied other part of the music that should be regarded just as intently as the three-or-so songs people are originally coming for. In a sense, Vikernes was already recognizing the close-mindedness of the lion's share of the black metal scene and was already playing against it pre-emptively.

Though the ambient centre of the album does seem to go between five and ten minutes longer than might have been optimal for atmosphere's sake, Filosofem still sounds bold and relevant. Even today, there are so few artists that decide to fuck what all others think or will think of their art. I don't get the impression Varg's artistic choices were done as a way to seem 'cool' so much as the behaviour of some of the Second Wave's other star players... He simply felt something deeply to the point that it defined him as a person, and he possessed the musical talent to bring that psychic energy into the material world with his music. I'll say again; those who wish to avert their fragile eyes away from the essential meaning of what he was trying to say are losing sight of what this music is really about. Without feeling something so specific so strongly, the supposedly 'universal' atmosphere here would not have existed to begin with.

Impenetrable and captivating - 83%

gasmask_colostomy, May 17th, 2015

Sometimes, the moment you hit play, something happens. A wave of feeling, of intangible signals, of general escape, comes over you and you are no longer listening to music: the music is happening and you are happening with it. Such a thing occurs when 'Filosofem' begins. The opening screech of 'Burzum' (I'm going with the Norwegian songtitles here, since it seems silly to always talk about the popular German edition) hits you and then you are under; some spell or curse becomes active and you should leave the room and enter a world of atmosphere and lonely, primal archaisms. The cover image is ideal for this kind of music, since it is something extremely simple yet untouchable for our modern understanding. Who can explain why the woman sounds the clarion from the top of the hill or why it fills us with such inscrutable emotions? The clarion is a medieval instrument which was sounded to signify the commencement of a hunt or to rally a resistance in battle; it's also an adjective that means clear and ringing, while the verb means to proclaim loudly.

Much can be taken from that image and the album title 'Filosofem'. This is Vikernes's defining statement of his mission and, lest we forget, was released (though not recorded) while he was in prison for the murder of Euronymous of Mayhem. There is something defiant about the woman with the trumpet bellowing loudly across the hills, while there is also something profoundly mysterious about it that will not allow us to fully grasp its significance. The same goes for the music on this album. There are some incredibly bold statements and there are some willfully perverse moments as well. The most common distinction is between the first three tracks and the last three, which are often separated by listeners because of the starkly opposing sounds they use. Personally, I do not see such a strong distinction in the composition of these tracks, since the atmosphere remains regular enough to complete the experience that began unfolding with the opening song.

The black metal actually only extends 23 minutes into this album, with no particular metal influence (vocals aside) on the other tracks, which are primarily atmospheric or ambient pieces, almost sounding industrial at times. The black metal is very much in the early Darkthrone vein: repeating riffs, fast pace, ragged guitar tone with a lot of distortion, plus fairly long songs. However, Vikernes has always been able to create a hypnotic effect to the riffs, utilizing what I might term minimalist blastbeats that lower the aggression of the song instead of increasing it, in the punky, rock and roll way that Dartkthrone would. This makes it easy for a song like 'Jesu død' to fall into a very simple riff structure for four or five minutes without any special changes - the fury of the riff is so focused that it leads to ritual repetition and ritual states of mind. As such, Burzum is never tiring to listen to, because the length of the experience in fact enhances the effect of the music. Those first three songs are almost perfect, especially the details that prevent the songs being generic: the slow keyboard in 'Burzum', the subtle riff change in 'Jesu død' - there's really nothing you would change.

The latter three songs are tougher to work out. There are two parts of 'Decrepitude', which are quite similar, while 'Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte' is a lengthy ambient piece made of incredibly minimalist keyboard parts. This song waits 10 minutes until its first change, dawdling on the verge of near silence, yet there is something captivating about it, as if it were the centre of the storm and the perfect point at which to see everything. I think that 'Tomhet', the ambient piece from the previous album, was a greater achievement and generally a better piece of music, but 'Rundtgåing' is calming and reassuring, whereas 'Tomhet' tried to be revelatory - they both suit their parent albums. I don't like 'Decrepitude' much (especially the first part) because I don't find it pleasant to listen to, though I will say that Vikernes chose exactly the right name for it, since it sounds like the interminable clatter and longing of old age.

As with any album like this, 'Filosofem' really only works as a complete piece. If I add up the sum of its parts, its net worth is three great songs and a couple of reading songs, yet if one gives the album their time, it can engulf everything and be an immensely positive experience. Whatever his more extreme views, I have always found Vikernes's lyrics and albums reassuring and intricate, and 'Filosofem' is a worthwhile investment, though an occasionally impenetrable listen.

The utmost journey to the inner self - 95%

mad_submarine, March 21st, 2013

"Filosofem" is one of these albums that, however famous and influential for the metal scene, still manages to create this minimalistic, intimate feeling of being surrounded by yourself and Mother Nature only while you listen to it. I regard it as an absolute masterpiece and I can state my reasons.

Firstly, I think of something as a real work of art when it has proved itself throughout the years. You can listen to this record many years after the time when the songs where created and still get the message of it and enjoy it. Secondly and most importantly, I consider a piece of music brilliant not when it's too long, too professional, or too polished, but when it evokes real emotions in you. "Filosofem" manages to wake up really weird and mixed emotions in me, but it does make me feel in a certain way, which I believe should be the purpose of every album. Thirdly, I regard it as real masterpiece because it does the latter better than most albums I've ever listened to.

People sometimes ask me, "how can you listen to the music of someone who burns churches?", as if I have sealed a deal with Satan. I've also been asked, "how could I listen to music with such brutal and violent lyrics such as black metal?". I've tried explaining several times, then after meeting a wall of complete lack of understanding, I just give it up. Some people will never understand Burzum. I will simply state why: this music is not supposed to be understood by the general public. I also think that most people who are "into metal" wouldn't understand Burzum as well because to some bands there's just more to the music. There are complex ideas and not just the plain "rock your asses, fuck women, drink and enjoy yourself" ones, and this is the case with this album. To fully understand it, you have to live with the music. I'm sorry if you're one of those people who listen to black metal and then go drink coffee in a fashionable bar in the mall. You better stop reading and leave the page.

"Filosofem" was created to contradict the already excising black metal scene in Norway. As both Fenriz and Varg said, black metal turned into what it shouldn't have turned into: a trend. People began listening to the music just to go with the flow and dress up. Opposing all that, Varg wanted to create something so distorted, obscure, and against the mainstream as to annoy and dissatisfy the other musicians in Norway. Unfortunately, to some extent, as he himself says, it became an absolute cult.

Being the fourth full-length release under the name Burzum, "Filosofem" is in many aspects very different from its predecessors and in many is quite alike. While "Burzum" reminds me more of early Bathory with its thrashy and raw black metal style and "Hvis Lyset tar oss" delving into more atmospheric and nihilistic approach, yet still possessing huge amounts of hatred, the one we have here is more likely trying to look toward folk traditions, nature, and the folklore as a whole rather than focusing on primal hatred. However, just like the previous albums, "Filosofem" has a distinguished character of its own that makes it stand out from the crowd. The opener, "Burzum", "Dunkelheit", or "Darkness" is one of the most characteristic and recognizable Burzum songs, a seven minute kvlt journey through an absolutely moonless night. It starts with the most distorted guitar riff that ever was, soon accompanied by the repetitive drum section. Not too long after the keyboards also join, creating the most haunting and mysterious atmosphere. Varg's vocals are also not clear and sound as distant as possible, almost buried below the instruments. Around minute three there is something like a solo, which sounds as if coming from somewhere very far away. While in most normal songs a solo is something which is emphasized on, on "Dunkelheit" it is only a distant mystery. The lyrics are just like the song - freezing the blood and utterly transfixing. Varg has that unmatched ability of writing short and simple, yet absolutely fucking incredible lyrics. I can't think of many songwriters that are as good in writing the lyrics as well as the music. Always covered in a shadow and a veil of mystery:

"When night falls she cloaks the world in impenetrable darkness.
A chill rises from the soil and contaminates the air.. has a new meaning. "

The second track, "Jesu Død" or Jesus Death is the only song on "Filosofem" in which Varg's vocals really remind of previous Burzum records. His distinguishable singing like in "War" or "My journey to the stars" is also remindful of the singing in "Jesu Død". However, what I find really great about this track is the guitar riff - it is the fastest on the record and very easily one of the most hateful riffs I've ever heard. What I really like about this band's early work is the ability of the guitar to represent more anger than any other instrument, including the voice. While most black metal bands try to keep their "evil standard" with a hate spawning vocalist the real masters can do that with the guitar.

"Beholding the daughters of firmament" as beautifully as the title sounds has my favourite lyrics ever. It channels towards the human existence and is one of these highly philosophical songs that really make you stop and think. It again is as distorted as the other songs on the album, but sounding even colder and it just casts a gloom upon the world. The text is so beautiful, I can't just go on without quoting:

"In every winter there's a different cold
in every winter I feel so old
so very old as the night
so very old as the dreadful cold"

If you enjoy dark and morbid poetry, I bet you would find some of Varg's work really inspirational.

"Gebrelichkeit" I & II or "Decrepitude" are two really slow and ambient songs. The difference between Burzum's ambiece and many other bands is that the one on this record really creates atmosphere of sheer isolation and hopelessness. Both aren't different in sound from the other songs on "Filosofem", being truly distorted and are my least favourite on the album. "Rundgang um die transzendental" or "Circumambulation of the transcendental Pillar of Singularity" as it is named in English, is my favourite of the three songs, it's a 25 minutes long and while many might find it boring, I really enjoy the bleak and calm comfort in creates. It's the only song in which the use of distortion is completely lacking. Being created by keybords only it's very calming instrumental track.

As beautiful and magical as the music on this album is, I think that possessing a physical copy of it is essential, because it contains a really great artwork and some very interesting stories that fully help comprehending the album. On overall, I think that the hype and cult towards some works of art is deserved and this album is one of these, regardless of the fact who understands it and who doesn't. After all, to each their own.

A masterpiece - 100%

Rasc, December 9th, 2012

When one creates a masterpiece, it doesn't mean it will be seen by everyone as such, but it will be realised by anyone that listens to it as something different, far from everything the artist has already done. This is clearly the case of Filosofem, since the feeling passed by this particular album is something elsewhere still unfelt.

While Varg Vikernes would, in his previous releases, try to the utmost to provoke darkness and fear with very heavy songs, Filosofem would have a rather enlightening and astonishing sound made over minimalism, living up to the album title, "Filosofem", a Norwegian word meaning "philosopheme", a succinct philosophic argument, emphasising Burzum's philosophic style. This specific album is about the duality between the Sun and the Moon, light and darkness, day and night, illustrated by the wonderful Nordic mythology, that sees the Sun (the goddess Sol) and the Moon (the god Mani) as brother and sister.

As soon as you have the album on your hands and you see such a cold and desolate cover, you can start having a feeling of what you will be listening to. This impression is strengthened after you open it and see the amazing art, both on the CD and on the inside. If you get the album phisically, I highly recommend you to open the booklet, take a look at the amazing art inside, beholding it while you listen to the album. If you understand Norwegian (or have spare time enough to translate it), you should take a look at the texts as well, and you'll understand more easily the concepts behind the music.

The guitars overall are destructive, they interact in some kind of organised chaos, since the purposely low-budget effects used made them at the same time chaotically distorted and clear, while previous guitars in Burzum would be more "natural", as in with less effects, however, rawer, hence not as clear as in Filosofem. Another instrumental point that was sharply defected in this album was the presence of keyboards and synthesisers. While these had little to no importance in the previous albums, they would give a last touch in the high end of the guitar sounds. The songs where this characteristic goes stronger are Burzum and Rundtgåing Av Den Transcendentale Egenhetens Støtte, both with keyboards getting contrastingly mixed with the rhythm guitars, that play basically the same melody.

However, the accompanying section, formed by the drums and the bass, seems to be much weaker in this album, for a good reason though, since this album had a much greater focus on the melody. The bass is barely heard overall while the drums play an entrancing rhythm. The result of such a strong melody with such a simple accompaniment is the trance caused by the captivation of the song by the listener, the great Filosofem-feeling.

In the songs Burzum (the oldest one ever recorded to the project but previously unreleased), Jesu Død and Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament, to cause such a feeling, Varg would use some heavy distortion and many chaotic sound effects on beautiful and interesting melodies led by clear guitars and keyboards. This contrast involves the listener in such a way that it's impossible not to feel mesmerised by their result. I call attention for the self-titled song. Since "Burzum" is, in the Lord of the Rings series, a Black Speech word for the Mordor evil and the lyrics quite resemble the concept on the books, our first thought is that it's the sole meaning of this song. However, we can see Varg creating a parallel. Here, the night that falls would be the Dark Ages, while the darkness would be the horror the Catholic Church installed, or maybe even the "darkness" Varg sees religion to causes in a religious mind.

In the later recorded songs Jesu Død and Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament, Varg creates another kind of atmosphere, making a much heavier and more serious sound, without stopping from being thought inducing as the first track though. Both songs use ice cold melodies all along the structure. Jesu Død is played with a destructive riff, with lyrics that contrast the sacred and the unholy antithetically, at the same time drawing a parallel to Nietzsche's famous sentence "God is dead", while the song's title means "Jesus's death". That could be because of the criticism of direction and rationalism used by both Varg and Nietzsche. "Beholding the Daughters of Firmament", though, are the thoughts of a dying man beholding the duality between the night and the sun, the main concept of the album (as we can see on the chart).

Meanwhile, the long instrumental tracks "Decrepitude II" and "Rundtgåing Av Den Transcendentale Egenhetens Støtte" are around the minimalist essence of the album, are both well written and, despite being big, are not tiring at all. Decrepitude II has a strong structure and is focused basically on the guitar, letting one just trip on their distorted raucously played power chords. Its falling structure makes it the perfect closing song for such an album.

Summarising my text, it's a simply amazing thing to see how, as in everything ever made through Burzum, everything fits in this album. Each note, each centimeter of art, each word of the texts. That's the best example of how a genius Varg Vikernes is. Both his big though recent fame and his polemic acts and declarations may have outshined his supreme talent, but there's no other word that could describe him but genius.

Difference and Repetition - 100%

CrimsonFloyd, July 17th, 2012

"In every night there's a different black."

This line encapsulates the essence of Burzum’s fourth full length album, Filosofem (meaning, “Philosopheme”). Filosofem is an expression of Varg’s overarching philosophy. Musically, that philosophy is grounded in the concept of difference and repetition. Progressions slowly, almost without being noticed, differentiate over extended durations of time. The listener is lost in a paradoxical middle ground where sound seems to be simultaneously stagnant and morphing. While Varg plays with difference within repetition on all Burzum recordings, it is here that the technique is employed in its purest form. Each song contains only a small number of progressions that that are repeated for extended periods of time with subtle changes slowly but surely emerging.

The same concept is expressed through the lyrics and accompanying stories (the booklet contains a number of stories in Norwegian; the English versions are only available on the Burzum website). Filosofem is a concept album loosely based on the interplay of light and darkness: two oppositional forces that contrast each other but are also dependent on one another for meaning. Varg explores this interplay at both the literal and metaphorical level. For example, the story “Creeping and Crawling, Rustling and Fluttering” and the lyrics to “Burzum” explore the way in which night and day reveal the world through two oppositional filters; the story “Mouse Town” and the lyrics of “Gebrechlichkeit” describe a decrepit world in which the darkness has been removed and only light remains, an allusion to the Christian God of light.

Filosofem also marks a sharp change in production and execution for Burzum. The production is much cleaner and sharper than on prior recordings. It is the first Burzum album that does not in any way qualify as raw black metal. All the instruments are crystal clear and the performance is tight. While prior albums had a sense of uninhibited fervor, Filosofem is a work of precision. Every note is on point and every tap of the drum is on time. Even Varg's signature howls are replaced with a more reserved, raspy growl. All these changes could hint a gross misstep in Burzum's development, but as a matter of fact, the cleaner style is the perfect medium for the songs of Filosofem.

The album can be divided into two uneven parts. There are the opening three tracks which are lively and vivid; then there are the closing three tracks which are slow and contemplative. Certainly, there are multiple ways to interpret the relation of the two parts of the album, but considering the emphasis on light and darkness, it feels as if the first three songs represent the day and the last three songs represent the night.

The opening half contains a trio of energetic cuts of black metal. “Burzum” (which is actually the first song Varg wrote for Burzum) centers on a hypnotic riff that slowly slithers back and forth while hollow keys release notes like drops of water. Background layers of guitar sneak in and out of the composition. Then, in an absolutely exquisite moment, the notes are rearranged and Varg shifts from growl to spoken word. It’s a subtle but highly effective change that typifies the compositional techniques used throughout the album. "Jesus Tod" is absolutely enthralling. After a wicked guitar intro, the song breaks out into a ravenous pairing of sprinting drums and scathing guitars. Though there is very little change in the progression, the song still manages to build toward cathartic overflows. On “Erblicket die Töchter des Firmaments” a hard rocking riff and a steady drum beat are accompanied by ghostly keys. The sharp and steady percussion provide all three songs with a dynamic, fluid movement that hints at primal drives such as hunger and lust.

The second half of the album is quite a shift. The percussion disappears and the songs become even more repetitive. The centerpiece is the massive, twenty-five minute ambient piece “Rundgang um die Transzendentale Säule der Singularität,” which begins in a curious and playful tone but slowly shifts into a deep and solemn mood. It’s like watching a spiritual epiphany unravel; the melody initially seems simple and banal, but by the end has transformed into a brilliant choir of shimmering keys. Yet, even at its most profound, the music remains gentle and solemn. “Rundgang…” is bookended by “Gebrechlichkeit” parts I and II, which are basically the same song, only the first one has vocals while the second is instrumental. “Gebrechlichkeit” (meaning something along the lines of “frailness”) is a highly depressive song that centers on somber progressions on guitar and keys. The lyrics describe a world in which darkness is gone and only light remains—the world of the Christian God. In lieu of the dynamism of light and dark, all power is drained and one left in a state of absolute frailty. The song effectively depicts the Christian heaven as the most horrific realm fathomable. By blanketing the multifaceted, paganistic “Rundgang…” with the hopeless monotony of “Gebrechlichkeit,” Varg resoundingly depicts the spiritual superiority of paganism over monotheism.

Black metal has always been a genre tightly bound to ideology, but few black metal acts have created an album that is as ideologically complete as Filosofem. It provides a doorway into a paganistic worldview, in which darkness and light are at constant play with one another. Appropriately, Filosofem is a significant moment not only in the musical development of black metal—the employment trance-inducing repetition has caught on like wildfire—but also in the philosophical development of the genre. Filosofem maintains the critique of Christianity that is so central to black metal, but moves beyond the contrarian obsession with Satanism and into the realm of paganism. While Filosofem is by no means the first black metal album to take up paganistic themes (to one degree or another they’ve always been around, at least in the Norwegian scene), Varg’s use of repetition is the perfect tool through which to express an ideology that is grounded in the cycles and patterns of nature. For achieving a total unity of ideology and sound, it is fair to describe Filosofem as a perfect black metal album.

(Originally written for

The burden is being lifted once and for all - 93%

autothrall, March 18th, 2011

It's interesting to me that Varg Vikernes has been quoted as stating the Filosofem album is not his favorite, but then it wouldn't be the first time I've disagreed with a creator about his/her work. What's also curious is the fact that, like most Burzum albums, the material here was recorded several years earlier than the actual release. The reason it's so fascinating is that each of his full-lengths have been markedly different, so to track them over such a smaller span of time shows either blind coincidence or strong foresight before his imprisonment. Not all of the tracks here were meant for Filosofem. "Burzum" aka "Dunkelheit", was an old track originally intended for inclusion with the previous album Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, but wound up here. Regardless, they all incredibly well together into what I consider Varg's most compelling, nightmarish work.

Before getting to the music itself, though, I'd like to point out how beautiful the packaging for this CD is. Up to this point, Burzum albums had more or less been represented by dire, black and white images which effectively mirrored their grisly content. But Filosofem sees not only a mild injection of color, but also creates a powerful rustic cohesion, composed of artwork by Theodor Severin Kittelsen. Now, having admittedly little knowledge of Norse painters and illustrators, I might have found this more aesthetically pleasing than those who were accustomed to the style of imagery, but either way, it was pretty impressive for a black metal album in 1996. The lyrics here are half Norse, half English, and the explanations are in Norse. This is a rare case where the German track list is as prominent as the 'official', Norwegian titles, most notably "Burzum", which many to this day prefer to call by the German translation "Dunkelheit". Pretty unusual, especially since it didn't seem to be the case for the other albums.

As for the overall production values, Filosofem must seem a step down from the decidedly clean power of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. The guitars are ruddy and distorted enough that they pierce the listeners' arteries, the drum mix a murky thunder, the synthesizers quaint and the vocals more grueling, spiteful and distorted than any of the prior albums. But oddly enough, this is one of the reasons the album is so damned good, despite Vikernes' own attempts to sabotage it with cheap microphones, fuzz pedal, and whatnot. As I've been revisiting and reviewing the whole Burzum catalog, I've probably made a number of mentions of just how influential these records were and remain. Well, I think it's safe to say that as far as the sound itself, Filosofem must have been the most inspirational of the lot; I've heard more underground black metal records that I could ever think about counting in the past 15+ years, and the structure here is incredibly common among the younger bands. It's probably just as often a subconscious tribute as an open libation, but also because such primitive tones are simple to achieve.

In particular, a lot of the depressive black metal bands you'll today take their queues from tracks like "Burzum", and it's not a strain to reason why. Incredibly crude, pathological chords woven slowly along the steady, solemn drums, conjoined to the plump, minimal glitter of the synthesizers and the repressed vocals, repeated and repeated with only slight deviations to the formula arriving in clean, downtrodden vocals and tweaks to the keys and guitars. "Jesu Død" moves at a more slicing pace, the opening, bloody melody affixed to feedback before the transition to chords, and then swerving around 1 minute to one of my absolute favorite Burzum riffs in history; like a wall of sanity and comfort dissolved into sheer menace. "Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament" follows a similar course to "Burzum", but even more repetitious and desolate. It is the two halves of "Decrepitude", however, that win the award for the most barren and bitter pieces Vikernes has ever included on an album. Jarring distortion, acidic vocals that sound like a crazed, stray cat's final testimonials before freezing to death, unable to find scraps of food anywhere in the winter. And no percussion! Just waves of death ebbing at you like Merzbow manning a suicide hotline.

Then, of course, there is the ambient piece, "Rundtgåing Av Den Transcendentale Egenhetens Støtte (Tour Around The Transcendental Columns Of Singularity)", a monster at over 25 minutes in length. This has long been a divisive element to Filosofem: some love it, some just don't understand it, and some understand it and fucking hate it. I fall firmly into that first batch, and of course anyone familiar with "Tomhet" from Hvis Lyset Tar Oss would not be surprised by its inclusion. Perhaps just the breadth. It's an amazingly repetitive but hypnotic synth journey which takes the listener on a tour through spaces external and internal, with scintillating, sparse and shattered melodies offset in thudding, implied bass lines and more of the ringing, fat synth used in other songs like "Burzum". If you're huge into 80s horror soundtracks (John Carpenter), Tangerine Dream, or others who once proudly boasted the day's hardly cutting edge pads, then there's no reason you can't be hypnotized here. Does it stick out like a sore thumb? Yes and no. The duration is a challenge, but the synth tones are not outlandish among those used in the metal cuts.

The cohabitation of the folksy art aesthetic and the almost mocking, drab raze of the composition were both impressive and unique, and there is no other Burzum album I would turn towards for a guaranteed audio mecca into agony. This is the tops for me, just narrowly edging out its predecessor. Once again, in a short framework, Vikernes offered something fascinating that you were unable to discover elsewhere, and Filosofem stands at the nexus of being not only his final black metal recording for over a decade, but also the last that was recorded before he would begin to serve out the murder sentence. It's breathtaking, but not the breathtaking of sunny vistas and dandelions; the breathtaking of having a knife stabbed inside you and turned about, the death of a culture and a history draining through your wounds. Let it be a poignant and ghastly reminder.


Cool production, sweet songs, HORRIBLE AMBIENT - 75%

caspian, April 23rd, 2009

Honestly, while this is a cool album it seems that the main reason why people love Burzum is because the production’s so unusual but yet so good. The thin, trebly guitar tone that many people would confuse for static, the way all the instruments combine into this rather alien thing; some extremely weak transmission beamed from a few galaxies away and not quite put together right; an ethereal sort of white noise with the bass hovering underneath it all.

The production is probably the best thing about Burzum but overall it’s pretty clear that Varg knows how to write a melody or two, and I can see why some people are gay for him. The songs are fairly minimalist throughout; a few different riffs follow some rather straight-forward patterns, the static-y, mid paced churning slowly gets really hypnotic and luckily for all Varg (most of the time) has a knack for ending songs before the hypnosis ends and boredom begins.

Repeated listening does suggest that there’s a bit more album then you’d first think; it’s hardly a symphony but there’s often some synths mixed way down and the constant undercurrent of bass is extremely cool. Overall the whole thing just flows really well; constant tension is built up by the repetitive riffs and themes, the synths way back in the mix add a barely perceptible sense of progress that keeps thing interesting. It helps that some of the riffs are of a really high quality, of course; "Erblicket Der…" a particularly cool song with a bunch of riffs all rotating around some similar sort of motif, "Dunkelheit"’s slow and mysterious synth line. Varg’s not afraid to chuck in a few more left field type songs, too; the drumless, enigmatic "Gebrechblahblah part 2" being a pretty good example, minimalist synth lines echoing over some really ominous, heavily distorted arpeggios. It’s a classic song, no doubt; perhaps Burzum isn’t entirely about production, after all.

One thing that’s really good about this album is the fact that it doesn’t reveal all of itself straight away. Whereas one listen to, say, Drudkh will quickly reveal "these guys like Burzum and forests", this album just isn’t that simple, especially as I don’t understand any Norwegian. It’s much more opaque then a lot of music; it doesn’t show itself that quickly. What’s his inspiration, here? Space? Odinism? Nature? Hatred of non-Aryans? Love for Jesus? Skate shoes? It’s great! I don’t know, that may sound kind of dumb but I love the way that this album is a real challenging listen, even though it’s perhaps not the harshest thing around. Certainly, this album rewards replaying over and over again, not only because the music’s enjoyable but because it’s an album you can lose yourself in. Shit is deep, man.

So, I’ll happily agree with those who call Varg a very talented songwriter, but those who say he can write good synth-based ambient are in need of a bitch slap and possibly decapitation. "Rundgang Um…" is even more boring then the entire Dauoi Baldrs album, no mean feat. It’s the kind of thing that would be fine as a 30 second interlude, a kind of spooky three note figure getting repeated over and over again. However, it goes for 50 times that length, and surprisingly enough it wears thin fairly quickly. What the hell possessed Varg to write this? Surely when he was playing the record back he would’ve went "Wow that’s really boring, perhaps I should just delete that song". It’s not good on any level; an ok arpeggio with some spacey synths repeated a few million times, with some other layers very, very slowly coming in. Ok, so it might’ve worked as an 5 minute long outro if it built up to some sort of super layered freakout. As it stands, it just sits there, and after a minute or so of going "this is kind of cool, here’s hoping the song kicks in soon" you’ll likely get very bored and perhaps a little bit angry that Varg let his last decent album (for now, anyway) have such a pointless, long, infuriating tune in it.

I’m a bit conflicted about what to give this. If the long, pointless ambient tune wasn’t there somewhere around 90% would be appropriate, as it’s pretty freaking good. As it stands though there is a 25 minute long bit of boredom, so in protest of that it gets a 75%. It’s a good album and worth getting, certainly, just skip the last track.

Experiencing a philosophy. - 100%

hells_unicorn, December 20th, 2008

Perfecting a work of art is not necessarily a manner of creating something that is universally accepted as great by all, in fact I actually believe the opposite is often true. It is more a manner of taking the image/sound within oneself and translating it exactly as it was envisioned outward. Whether or not it is recognized as such often depends on what the listener is looking for. Insofar as Varg’s heavily philosophical and atmospheric, six chapter offering “Filosofem” is concerned, the goal is to force the listener to loose himself in a somber haze of ambient sadness, in many cases leaving the realm of metal entirely in the process.

Unlike most albums that are so consistent and lacking in subtlety, there is the potential for a listener to view this as middle-of-the-road quality rather than the extreme of sheer genius versus horrid failure. The first half of this album is situated well within the black metal paradigm, though it is heavily minimalistic in comparison to previous works and is so utterly fuzz drenched that it seems to induce the pain followed by equalization that the ears experience when under water, particularly to ears already familiar with Varg’s former works and other renowned black metal releases of the Norwegian scene. The layering of guitar tracks produces a sound that is very much similar to the experience of being submerged, though the presence of the drums anchors the sound and gives it appeal to those who prefer the metal oriented works of “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”. The opening song “Burzum” (aka “Dunkelheit”) is a particular point of interest because even absent the historical knowledge of it being an earlier work of Varg’s, the character of the song and the riff-oriented nature of the guitars contrasts with the rest of the album, despite being tweaked with the same atmospheric keyboard drones and fuzzy mixing job as the rest of the metal works on here.

As things progress, Varg’s intentions to move away from the past and into uncharted territory become more pronounced. The second and third compositions of the black metal side of this release don’t so much consist of riffs, but of varying degrees of atmospheric and melodic elements. “Jesus’ Tod” is densely layered with guitar noise, but primarily functions through slow changing tremolo guitar melodies. They lack the meandering nature of many melodic death acts that picked up on this technique, as well as the neo-tonality of the earlier epic progressive death metal that was also being explored when this was written, and take on a static yet beautiful character. “Erblicket Die Töchter Des Firmaments” carries a somewhat implied melody within it, but mostly coasts through a series of slow changing, snowy sounding chords, while Varg’s vocals sound distant and buried, akin to the depressive state preceding suicide as it appears to the ears as insignificant next to what is going on around it.

Although everything on here is fairly long and drawn out, when the transition occurs and the second half of this begins, everything seems to become twice as long and dark. There is no actual time difference between “Gebrechlichkeit I & 2” and the last song mentioned, but the now absent drums put forth the illusion of being stranded, not moving forward or backward but simply floating in still water. The keyboard presence takes on more of a prominent role in the mix, but the principle focus shifts to the sea of guitar fuzz and Varg’s woeful and distorted wails. It could be described as the incoherent screams of the last pagan exile against the Christianization of his homeland while dying of hypothermia in the woods during a brutal winter storm and still leave a bit to the imagination.

The fifth song on here is probably the hardest one to get into, be it concerning black metal fans or anyone else outside of pure ambient keyboard music. Part of my own reason for not being a particularly huge fan of this genre is not so much because of how long and drawn out it tends to be, but because of how such utter simplicity will expose the true credentials of a composer. It is the easiest style to write in, but quite possibly the hardest to write well in, because few ideas or small groups of ideas are worth repeating so many times. But every time I hear this, something clicks after the first 2 minutes and the slow births and equally gradual deaths of 2, 3 and 4 note ideas while intermingling with each other becomes a serene landscape of self-contemplation. It’s my personal favorite of all of Varg’s dark ambient keyboard works, and to the dismay of many fans of his older work became the dominant influence in his music, though likely caused more so by his imprisonment than anything else.

Perhaps perfection is a subjective concept, but that is what I’ve consistently heard after about 8 months of this album challenging my premises about metal music. It is definitely not an easy album to listen to, especially when considering the active effort at making its production quality both a razor to cut away superficial listeners from its presence and a non-issue in the determination of this album’s merits. It’s a testament that musical greatness is not solely found in how much you put into something, but in the quality of the ideas that make it out of the mind and onto the canvass, and ultimately how honest the final product is in articulating the ideas that it came out of.

Immaculate album - 100%

girionis, February 7th, 2008

Every time I listen to this LP it confirms the saying “the thin line between madness and geniusness”, for I am not yet sure if Vikerness is a madman or a musical genius. The truth is that the music he has written is one of the most distinctive ever made in the metal.

One of the best groups ever, with the characteristic distorted sound and grunting vocals, Burzum released this album in 1996 and it is the last one recorded before Vikerness was put to prison. Bursum are a unique group, not only because they were something black metal had never seen before but because they put the ideology into metal, the pre-christian tradition with the ancient gods that died to the forceful imposition of christianity.

Musically the LP is exactly what we would expect from a group like Burzum. The vinyl comes into two pieces (with fantastic artwork from Theodor Kittelsen) and is separated into metal and ambient sounds, more or less like its predecessor. Very distorted sound, gruntings, eerie and misanthropic drums and dreamy riffs that keep repeating with slow and very heavy sound. The music is not very fast (it is certainly slower than their previous records) and you don't get many speedy riffs, although Burzum were never famous for their fast music.

I believe that the epitome of the LP is the self-titled song (Burzum or Dunkelheit in german) where the mix of black metal and uncanny keyboards is unique. I knew from the previous works that Vikerness was experimenting with keyboards but I could never have imagined that he could manage to tie them so beautifully with such extreme sound. They keyboards are so eerie that they create weird feelings, like you become one with gods, one with the distant path, in desolate and deserted places. Truly this work abounds in images.

It is an excellent work, icy and depressive, cursed and black. “Life has new meaning” as the self-titled song says. Burzum managed to take black metal one step further. Simply immaculate.

Good but inconsistent to say the least. - 80%

Jochem, November 14th, 2007

So, for me this album could be considered the album that suffers from inconsistency more than any album I have heard. Never have I been so absolutely in love the first half an album and at the same time despised the latter half although with such a difference between the 2 sides it seems as no real surprise that that could be a possibility here.

So, the first half is the Burzum I love; heavy, atmospheric and actually better than I have ever heard him before. The album takes off with “Dunkelheit” which is a very slow and mean song to say the least. The riffing might seem pretty generic (same for the drumming) but somehow it really is a fantastic song which atmosphere is well translated in the video he made for it. Jesus’ tod is my favourite song on the album and probably my favourite Burzum song as well. It’s fast, aggressive and contains the best riffs I have by Varg so far. And Erblicket Die Tochter Des Firmaments closes the first half of the album also being a tremendously good song. The great part about the record so far is probably the atmosphere which is more aggressive than on any Burzum record. The vocals have also changed significantly to a somewhat lower and raspier voice in contrary with the high weird screechy vocals he had on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Yeah, if the record had continued in this vein or had it been a 25 minute long EP, it would have definitely been a contender for best black metal album ever and worthy of a 10/10 but no because up next are 3 song that completely kill this album for me.

They are 3 Keyboard tracks which are supposed to be mood pieces that will get you in this trance. Great huh? Maybe I just don’t get the brilliance of it or maybe I’m just to sober to really get in such a trance, I don’t know. I do know is that what I hear are 3 long pieces played mostly on keyboard which do nothing at all for me. Well track 4 and track 6 are not that bad really and the guitar noise still makes it worthwhile to listen to. By the fifth song however ,Rungang Um Die Transzendentale Saule Der Singularitat, I get so genuinely bored and annoyed. The thing is, it lasts for 25 minutes. Why? I don’t know, but Varg must have thought it was an absolutely fantastic tune to listen to, so why not listen to it for 25 minutes. If you heard the first 2 minutes you pretty much heard it, since it’s just a keyboard looped which changes perhaps a little during the song but not much. Great huh? If Varg just made the song about 3 minutes or just replaced it with 1 or 2 normal length black metal songs with the same quality as the first 3, this record would really get a higher rating from me, a much higher rating. Still, the first 3 songs are that good, and the 4th and 6th song aren’t that horrible either, this album still gets an 8/10. This is Burzum at his best and worst.

written for

Veiled Complexity - 90%

okkvlt, September 10th, 2007

It can be reasonably inferred that Burzum’s music developed from the being aggressive in nature to becoming ambient even before “Daudi Baldrs”. “Filosofem”, as a part of this transformation is slower than its predecessors with a higher level of experimentation and is mellow in character. Hence melancholy is the chief mood in this album helped by the lyrics showing wishful aloofness.

What strikes the listener first is the highly distorted guitar sound which at first sounds simple and abrasive. But closer listening reveals the myriad of riffs layered under the “fuzzy” sound. Hence the enchanting nature of the songs appears. The cleverly integrated keyboard sounds add to the beauty of the songs (“Dunkelheit” being the best example of this). This goes hand in hand with the simplistic poetic lyrics revealing the detachment form the present reality. What is most noticeable is the change in the vocals from harsh screams to whispers which is perfect for the album. “Jesus’ Tod” is an exception being fast in nature and with slightly different lyrics (its about the death of Jesus). However, it is one of the catchiest songs by Burzum because of the chilling riffs and the “thumpy -electronic-ish” beats. Listening to the first three tracks reveals certain industrial sound. “Erbelicket Die Tochter Des Firmaments” is another gem with its consistent beat and synth melodies hidden beneath the fuzzy guitar sounds accompanied by Tolkein inspired lyrics.

What is problematic is the second half of the album which can be criticized as being too long. These three tracks (“Decrepitude”, “Rundgang um die transzendentale Saule der Singularitat,” and “Decrepitude II”) do test the listeners’ patience but do make a mark in the listeners’ minds with the experimentation put in. In a way Varg has always experimented in his albums as there have always been such tracks in the previous albums. But I reckon this is where the black metal Burzum transforms into the ambient Burzum. “Rundgang …” is a highly abstract piece running along for 25 minutes. It seems to be in the same vein as “Tomhet” in “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”.

All in this entire album’s brilliance lies in its veiled complexity and its ability to change the listeners’ mood. I think this album can be called as the black metal equivalent to Keats’ “Ode to Melancholy”.

The end of an era - 95%

Darkwinterdweller, April 9th, 2007

Here we have the final black metal related release by Varg Vikernes, before being imprisoned for the murder of Euronymous. This album seems to be an appropriate ending of his legacy that he created with Burzum. The end of an era in a way. This release was exceptionally original for when it was released, incorporating much more atmospheric and ambient elements then previous.

One of the most distinguishing qualities of this album is the vocals. The vocals of Vikernes on earlier albums mainly express anger and hatred. While the vocals on Filosofem tend to express sorrow and pain. The vocals have a static-like sound to them, which was intentional, but they actually work very effectively.

The album is often divided into two sections. The first three songs are purely atmospheric black metal, all with something different to offer. Dunkelheit is a rather slow track, with a haunting feel to it. Vikernes even does clean vocals towards the end. Jesus' Tod is fast paced and aggressive, and the third track is mid paced in tempo. They seem to focus on hypnotic repetition, and have long periods without vocals.

The last three tracks are a bit different. Gebrechlichkeit I does not have any drumming, with only guitar distortion and keyboards, along with vocals. Rundgang Um Die Transzendentale Saule Der Singularitat is a twenty five minute long ambient piece. This track is composed of a few simple notes, repeated over and over with little change. While many will no find the patience for this song, those who enjoy atmospheric music will find this track great for self reflection, and exploring the depths of loneliness. Gebrechlichkeit II is the same as the first, without any vocals, and some other changes in the song structure.

The lyrics here tend to be about desire and longing, and incorporate much imagery and personification. Overall, this is a memorable release, and reachs out to all kinds of different emotions, just as all Burzum releases tend to do. This would be in my opinion the best overall Burzum album. We can only hope that future Burzum recordings, if any, are created in the vein of this album, as has been claimed.

Pyro-Murderer's Black-Ambient Half-Classic - 50%

Frankingsteins, March 12th, 2007

The final album recorded by infamous Norwegian Varg Vikernes before he was imprisoned for murder, ‘Filosofem’ represents the peak of the self-styled Count Grishnackh’s achievement at creating ambient black metal, largely because his project has been put on hold by incarceration.

The fourth album written and performed entirely by the Count, ‘Filosofem’ was a surprising success outside Norway, even reaching the indie charts here in Britain, clearly benefiting from the notoriety of its creator. The twenty-three-stab-wounds murder of Vikernes’ former bandmate from Mayhem, Euronymous, tends to overshadow reviews of both these bands… including this one, clearly. However, this album itself is partly excellent on its own merits, and dealing once again with ancient Norwegian mystical themes and a dash of Tolkien, is free of any trace of the Count’s political leanings. Still, I’ve gripped you now, haven’t I?

1. Dunkelheit (Darkness)
2. Jesus’ Tod (The Death of Jesus)
3. Erblicket die Töchter des Firmaments (Behold the Daughters of the Firmament)
4. Gebrechlichkeit I (Decrepitude I)
5. Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität (Tour Around the Transcendental Pillars of Singularity)
6. Gebrechlichkeit II (Decrepitude II)

The album consists of six tracks, and can be easily divided into two uneven parts on first listen. The second half of the album consumes most of the playing time, thanks primarily to the efforts of the 25-minute fifth track. Vikernes has explained that Burzum’s music was always intended as evening music ‘to fall asleep to,’ rather than to headbang along to at a live show or club. Intended to conjure mystical dreams of ancient times, the structure is consciously designed to become more ambient and less musically diverse as the album goes on. To paraphrase the Count’s own idea of how to approach this record, the first few songs are intended to invoke susceptibility to ‘magic,’ while the rest continue the journey into sleep. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the album ends up becoming boring, though in this case that’s precisely the outcome.

The first three songs share similarities with more traditional black metal in their relentless, treble-heavy guitar riffs and raspy vocals, but with a more fully realised hypnotic ambience than anything in Burzum’s earlier offerings. ‘Dunkelheit’ especially is the most spectacular, an incredible six minutes of repetitive guitar overdrive contrasted with plodding drums and a simplistic but engrossing keyboard melody. Vikernes’ vocals sound like they’ve been thrice-processed to rid them of anything human that remains, a radical departure from his pained shrieks on the previous albums. While not reducing them to the mechanical coldness of contemporaries Dimmu Borgir or Immortal, this effectively places them more subliminally in the mix, and prevents them from distracting from the flow of things. The two songs which follow continue in this same formula, but are less impressive as the repetitive riffs and melodies are less interesting, and can become noticeably overlong if listened to casually, rather than under the subdued engrossment the record really demands.

The two-part ‘Gebrechlichkeit’ that bookends the monstrous fifth track still possess traces of black metal, and conjures the same images of frozen landscapes and depressed pagans, but on a more relaxed note. There are no vocals in this part of the album, but the guitars and drums still back up the dominating keyboards, which have now been liberated from their subordination in the opening songs. Taking up half the album, ‘Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität’ is a complete departure from metal, consisting only of a repeated piano melody that barely changes over the course of a long twenty-five minutes. It’s very successfully spooky, but the effect doesn’t last out. If Count Grishnackh has been successful, you will be asleep by now, and not even notice how boring this is.

This isn’t an album for black metal purists, veering wildly away from the frozen hellish sound developed by Venom and Bathory in the 80s and defined by Mayhem and Immortal in the early 90s, but it still shares enough similarities to be labelled as such. Rather than subject the listener to a torrent of screaming guitar treble, under-produced paper drum blasts and tortured guttural vocals, Burzum has always taken a more relaxed, atmospheric and existential slant, and for now this continuing evolution has been halted at this 1996 half-classic. ‘Dunkelheit’ and ‘Jesus’ Tod’ would be essential additions to compilations of the finest Norwegian black metal, but the remaining forty minutes aren’t nearly so impressive.

‘Filosofem’ starts off incredibly, but soon tails off into overlong tedium, even for an ambient release. Burzum’s future releases will likely continue the formula practiced here, but with more interesting and diverse results. The two ambient albums he was permitted to produce in prison – using only keyboard – are far more disappointing, even for the fallen Count himself. However, his failure to report back on time after a week of freedom, and his subsequent capture in possession of a false passport and a gun, have extended his sentence somewhat, as one would expect. Where’s the justice in that?

An album of paradoxes: simple yet complex - 95%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, February 26th, 2007

All right, it's not technically sophisticated and most of the keyboard playing sounds as if it's being done with just two fingers plus a lot of tape looping but in its own way, Burzum's "Filosofem" album is an advance in music composition for mid-1990s black metal: the repetitive and austere minimalist approach, the emphasis on dark and brooding atmosphere in the bulk of the album and on portraying extreme solitude and desperation generally, and the integration of synthesiser-based ambient elements into the guitars / bass/ drums set-up is a combination that was probably unusual at the time of the album's release though it is something we take for granted these days. Like "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" before it, "Filosofem" is a perfect illustration of the "Less is more" cliche: the almost ridiculously simple approach to song-writing, playing, arrangements and production has created an album of very dark and complex emotions, wide spaces and cold, melancholic beauty, and as can be seen in the reviews below, this can result in a variety of reactions and interpretations with the same track engendering feelings of peace in some people and loneliness or emptiness in others, and surely this outcome is what we expect of great albums.

The pivotal track of "Filosofem" in my view and the one referred to just now is the fifth track "Rundgang um die Transzendentale Saule der Singularitat" which is played entirely on synth and initially comes across as a too-long maddeningly repetitive piece with no apparent development, climax or resolution. However, if you listen to it a number of times, the track does change quite a bit in some of its details and the plaintive melody, repeated over and over with clear pure tones, has a trance-inducing effect. You can float away in a serene peace (the music can seem a bit New Age-y for some people) or you can be awestruck by the level of bleakness, emptiness and nihilism revealed. This is most definitely a track you cannot feel indifferent towards! "Rundgang ..." is bookended by two shorter pieces, "Gebrechlichkeit I" and Gebrechlichkeit II", which have the same melodies but musically are different, the former featuring wild shrieking vocals and the latter being more keyboard-based but without any vocals: I see these tracks as representing two sides of the same thing, possibly ascent and descent respectively or vice versa, and when all three tracks so far mentioned are considered in their proper order on the album, I would say a ritual involving a life-changing transformation is implied here. Incidentally "Gebrechlichkeit" can mean "decrepitude" but according to a German-English dictionary I have, it can also mean "fragility" which seems more appropriate to "Filosofem".

Now for the other three tracks on "Filosofem" which I prefer personally (I'm nowhere near as kvlt-as-fvck as I might have sounded earlier): "Dunkelheit" is a strong opening track and establishes the album's style straight away, with rough yet clear production, distorted guitar fuzz all the way through the song, strummed-guitar instrumental, dead-simple keyboard melodies and heavily distorted singing / shrieking that almost merges with the guitars. Having the keyboards and the guitars playing the same melody together shows up the contrast between the harsh guitar sound and the smooth, almost sweet tones of the keys, and this helps to produce a feeling of pain, depression and loneliness with a minimum of effort.

The next two tracks are more black metal but like the other pieces are still repetitive, minimalist in structure and trance-like. "Jesus Tod" is the most aggressive song, an emphatic rejection of Christianity and all it stands for, and has a blistering pace and rhythm to back up the hatred Vikernes feels towards this religion. After this track comes the embrace of Odin-worship in the piece "Erblicket die Tochter des Firmaments" ("Beholding the daughters of the firmament", that is, seeing the Valkyries of Norse myth come down from the skies to collect the dead heroes) which is mid-paced with a basic rhythm and a more resigned, even contemplative mood.

At this point we run up against the trio of "Rundgang ..." and the "Gebrechlichkeit" tracks, and I can now see with the hindsight of writing woffling reviews that (for me anyway) the album traces the inner struggle with darkness, the rejection of old and outmoded values and ways of thinking, the willingness to embrace a new ideology and code of values, and the consequences of changing one's ways. As most of us are already too aware of, Varg Vikernes himself more or less followed through on what "Filosofem" suggests and found that indeed, the consequences were life-changing and transforming but not necessarily in the way he might have expected; for him, I think, the inner struggle of individual values versus society values (and I am not suggesting one set of values is to be preferred over another - I suspect that Vikernes's Odin-worship is a cover for his neo-Nazi beliefs but that's my opinion) will continue and the consequences of that which he will have to live with for the rest of his life are still to come.

And I guess this is the paradox about "Filosofem" that makes it a classic black metal album: it is at once a personal journey and struggle of a particular kind, and yet one we can all understand and relate to, so the album becomes an example of the journeys and choices we must make, and the suffering we must accept and bear when we make them.

Burzum - Filosofem - 92%

Technogoat, January 18th, 2007

Whilst discussing the so-called classic albums of the original Norwegian Black Metal period, many people look at the first three Burzum albums (“Burzum / Aske”, Det Som Engang Var” and “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”) as prime examples of ingenuity within the scene, alongside albums like Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” and Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger” for examples. However, most fans of the genre regrettably tend to overlook Burzum’s fourth studio album, “Filosofem”. Released after the infamous imprisonment of Varg Vikernes, the sole member of the band, it remains a mystery whether or not he was actually satisfied with the final outcome of these recordings, as he never heard the final masters.

It is safe to say that this is a Burzum album like no other; an album that could perhaps be seen as a transitional piece between the harsh, primitive Black Metal of the first three albums and the two Black Ambient subsequent albums, recorded during Vikernes’ incarceration. Opening with the slow paced “Dunkelheit”, it is immediately palpable that the Burzum sound has changed rather drastically, with a far more severe guitar sound resonating around simple, yet extremely haunting, keyboard passages. Vikernes’ drumming is also far more stripped down than on previous efforts, certainly highlighting his growing yearning to create an austere atmosphere rather than to concentrate exclusively on extremity. The vocal performance throughout the album is also altered, with a far more distorted, forthright sound as opposed to the notorious veiled shrieking of the Burzum main man. Furthermore, the poignant ambience of the opening track is accentuated as Vikernes’ fractured spoken voice utters the words, ‘When night falls, she cloaks the world in impenetrable darkness. A chill rises from the soil and contaminates the air. Suddenly, life has new meaning.’ The words, although straightforward, almost expose the troubled soul of Varg Vikernes who appears to be using this album as a method of venting his anxieties and utter dissatisfaction of existence.

The following tracks, “Jesus’ Tod” and “Erblicket Die Töchter Des Firmaments”, continue this path of raw, yet most definitely evocative, Black Metal song structures. A true sense of aggravation and agony can be felt through the feral but daunting antagonism throughout these tracks and, although sounding quite dissimilar to earlier material, the mood created is still entirely effective. However, this ambiance changes quite dramatically during the latter tracks of “Filosofem”, especially during “Gebrechlichkeit I” and “Gebrechlichkeit II”; two exceedingly long Black Ambient compositions using only synthetic effects and Varg’s tortured screams to achieve an almost primordial aura of misanthropy and terror.

With “Filosofem”, Burzum began moving in a somewhat different and chaotic direction, possibly as the mind of Vikernes became more and more disturbed and depressive. Nonetheless, experimentation here led to a fantastically melancholy and despondent masterpiece...and perhaps the last ever relevant Burzum album.

Originally written for

Burzum's Greatest Work - 96%

ChrisDawg88, January 11th, 2007

Burzum's Filosofem is an album with some interesting circumstances behind it. While it was released in 1996, most of the songs were actually written several years earlier, with "Dunkleheit" being the first song Varg ever wrote for his project. The album was also released after Varg had already been imprisoned for his notorious crimes; in fact, to this day he has never heard the final version of the album. Perhaps most suprisingly, the album was about as popular as a black metal release can be outside of metal circles; it made it onto the indie charts in the U.K. and Norway, and a shortened version of the monster ambient track "Rundtgåing av Den Transcendentale Egenhetens Støtte" was included on the soundtrack for the movie Gummo. But most importantly of all, Filosofem is an incredible album, definately the best of Burzum's career and a landmark black metal release in general.

Filosfem marks some notable changes in the patented Burzum sound. Varg's production is jagged and extremely distorted, giving the songs quite a razor-sharp feel that can take getting used to. Most noticeable are the changes made to Varg's vocals; his uniquely tortured screeches have been modified with the same copious amounts of distortion, significantly altering their sound and role in the songs. Depeding on where you stand on the vocals of Vikernes, this can be a good or bad thing. Some would argue that his voice has lost its feeling of intense misery and anguish, and while I agree to a certain extent, I think that given the way the music sounds, the new vocals fit better for this specific album. It's really up to you to decide which you like best.

Unlike the (in my opinion, of course) one-hit-wonder that was Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, Filosofem is pretty much excellent all the way through, though some people may not have the taste or patience for the final three tracks. Even if that is the case, this is still a mandatory buy for the first half of the album alone. "Dunkelheit", "Jesus' Tod", and "Erblicket die Töchter des Firmaments" are easily three of the best songs Varg has ever written. "Dunkelheit", the first ever Burzum song, is a slow, depressingly beautiful piece that, like all good simple black metal songs, ends up being way more then the sum of its basic parts. Fantastic guitar work melds with what may well be one of Varg's most effective and evocotive keyboard melodies, making for a song that not only oozes sorrow but also ends up being one of the more accessible Burzum songs (not in a bad way). Varg's lyrics are also fantastic here.

"Jesus' Tod" is very different from the preceding track, opening with an amazingly sinister guitar lick before rocketing into probably the fastest song in the band's history. The drumming in this song is the best of Vikernes' career; a blazing fast double-kick beat that is maintained throughout the song's 8:39 duration. The riffing is also awesome, discarding the mourningful melody of the first song in favor of some truly dark, evil notes that are just fucking awesome. "Erblicket Die Töchter Des Firmaments" harkens back more to feel of "Dunkelheit", slower and more melodic. The riffing is again supreme; its clear that Varg clearly put a lot of thought into the writing of these guitar parts, unlike the stupidly repititive middle songs of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. The imagery this song conjures is just amazing, even without keyboards.

"Gebrechlichkeit I" begins the less metal oriented part of the album. If you were wondering where the hate and sadness of Burzum was so far, listen to this song. There are no drums (a strange but effective move), with the song only containing a simple keyboard melody, droning guitars, and Varg shrieking his heart out. This may be the only song where I think his old vocals would have been better, but the distorted vox still convey the most tangible emotions found on the disc, and contrasted to the almost whimsical keyboard notes, makes for a disturbing and engaging listen. While some may find the 25 minute running time of all-ambient track "Rundgang Um Die Transzendentale Säule Der Singularität" excessive (I might be inclined to agree) it is nevertheless a great example of Varg's skills as an ambient artist, using subtle layering behind the main three repeating notes to add mood and dynamics; a great track. The only song that I feel isn't really essential is the finale, "Gebrechlichkeit II", which is really just a slight re-working of "Gebrechlichkeit I" without vocals. It's not really bad, but Varg's vocals were the best part of the first version, and without them this just feels kind of tacked on, and the album would have really been better off without it to tell you the truth. This is the only reason I didn't give this album a 100 actually.

All in all, Filosofem is an amazing album, the best and most consistent work of Burzum's career, and mandatory purchase for black metal fans. While quite different than Varg's previous albums, it's quality speaks for itself. Essential.

i like the first half better myself - 95%

Cheeses_Priced, December 27th, 2004

Hvis Lyset Tar Oss having effectively provided a capstone to ambient black metal composition, Varg Vikernes evidently did what he’s always done, and what few others seem capable of – he moved on.

If there were any lingering aspects of heavy metal or “normal rock” in Burzum’s music before, they’ve been definitively exorcised by now. Listen to the first track on this album, “Dunkelheit”, back to back with the Kraftwerk song “Radioactivity” and make your own guesses about where Vikernes’ influences lie. And naturally the twenty-minute synthesizer track speaks for itself.

Personally, it’s the first three tracks on this album – the ostensively “black metal” songs – that provide the most interest to me. They’re among the most direct and catchy songs in Burzum’s catalog, while paradoxically being quite subtle. The ambient possibilities of guitar distortion are exploited to the fullest here, the buzzy tone somehow ending up far more soothing than harsh; multiple tracks are layered upon one another, creating an ambiguous, dream-like wall of sound.

(These first three songs have turned out to be enormously influential: witness the “suicidal black metal” movement, which seems to largely consist of bands borrowing liberally from Filosofem’s aesthetic then merrily watering it down with rock music, probably under the influence of Katatonia’s Brave Murder Day. As many blatantly Burzum-influenced black metal bands as I’ve heard, I’ve yet to hear a single one that actually sounds like Burzum.)

The last half of the album is given to even purer ambience and minimalism. Tracks four and six (companion pieces) exclude drums to better concentrate on atmosphere; five is the monster minimalist instrumental keyboard track. As much as I admire the fact that Varg Vikernes was able to see past black metal being an end unto itself, I must admit there are other takes on this sort of thing that I prefer – some good examples being from the German electronic music of the 1970s that were surely an influence on Burzum. Nevertheless, the artistic approach and unique melodic touch that marks all of Burzum’s music is evident here.

If it really needs to be said: all Burzum is essential.

A chill rises from the soil... - 99%

Nosferatu, July 2nd, 2004

It was night and I was restless. So I thought of calming down with a beer and some music. So I popped in "Filosofem", plugged in my headphones, turned off the lights and sat back, sipping on my beer. This album is one of my favorite black metal albums; it combines aggression with melancholy and loneliness. Pretty much all the other Burzum recordings (except the last two synthesizer albums and the demos) have the same production since they were all recorded in Grieghallen and were engineered and produced by Pytten. In the case of "Filosofem" the things are slightly different. The album is recorded in Breidablik Tonstudio. Who the producer is on this album, is unknown. It almost seems like Vikernes did all the job recording and mixing the album, but since Vikernes was in jail by that time, so the mixer and producer of the album is still a mystery.

Since the producer is different from the other albums so are the songs. The first thing you'll notice is the enormous distortion on guitars (and bass) and the vocals. You will not hear Vikernes angstful shrieks that you heard on the other albums, but instead you can hear tired, growled vocals with a lot of distortion on them. That is of course no drawback, since it gives the listener a different experience and it implies another kind of angst and melancholy. The drums here are in the good old style; sometimes Vikernes kicks with a double bass drum (or double pedal) and sometimes he only uses a bass drum (as the case of the song “Burzum” a. k. a. “Dunkelheit”). The slow songs create an incredible atmosphere that is very hard to be outdone. The composition is as always very good, with catchy riffs and melodies. The lyrics are full of melancholy, angst, misanthropy, loneliness, but also intelligence. I’ve always found Vikernes lyrics intelligent, however simple they might have seen at the glimpse of the eye. Then we have the all keyboards song “Tour Around The Transcendental Pillars of Singularity" that is about 23 minutes long and has pretty much the same melody for the entire song, which might seem pretty frustrating, but actually is kind of relaxing. It was like Vikernes wanted the listener to relax and take a break from all the feelings that the listener was overwhelmed with in the previous songs. The album ends with the song “Decrepitude II” which is pretty much as the song “Decrepitude” except there are no vocals and you can hear sounds that sound like miner workers hitting the rocks with their tools in the search for whatever they dig for. And I think that made me think of dwarfs from Tolkien’s world that worked in the mountains digging for gold and I think that’s what Vikernes wanted to bring up with that.

Another thing I enjoyed was the incredible artwork of the album. As usual it was Theodor Kittelsen who provided the paintings, but Vikernes wrote a little text in order to analyze the different paintings and the paintings seem in relevance to the context and what Burzum evolved to: a link between Vikernes and his ancestors and the folk mythologies. Since this is one of those albums you don’t want to miss, I think it’s worthless to say go buy it now. This is not music, this is art.

Not Varg's best, but still great - 85%

stickyshooZ, June 22nd, 2004

Whenever you're feeling angry or depressed, do you ever wish you could either burn the world to the ground, or just create your own world for yourself? I know that is how I feel sometimes, and by the sound of this album, Varg possesses the same desire on occasion. After all, the world isn’t exactly all fun and loving, but at the same time it isn’t always as cruel or as cold as some make it out to be. In times such as this, it’s not too hard to understand what draws people into viewing the world from a misanthropic perspective. Yet again, Varg captures his emotions and transmutes them into some vivid and intense music.

I would definitely say it takes a different kind of listener to appreciate this kind of music, instead of the average gr1m and n3kr0 black metal fan. The only parallel this album holds to any other works of Varg’s is probably Hlidskjalf (in the sense that even though it‘s minimalism is obvious, it still captivates); even then that is calling it close. The guitars are heavily distorted, loud and crispy in sound, which gives the over all sound kind of a passive chaotic feel to it. This isn’t the kind of angry that smashes you in the face, but more or less dwells right in front of you; bubbling and waiting to explode against anyone who crosses it‘s path. The steady and tranquil drums only help to reinforce and escalate the feeling of bitter and unbridled dejected misanthropy.

Varg approaches with some chilly keyboard melodies, which send shivers to every corner of the body. It’s so cold and passively angry that it’s almost creepy. This is the soundtrack for the concept of the evil demon that dwells in us all - the one that wants to come out, but our mind blocks it out. Much like Hlidskjalf, this is pretty abstract. The vocals are still raspy and shrieking, but on this album they are distorted and electronic.

There is a twenty-five minute instrumental on this album, and as much as I like the gloomy, forbidding, and cold sound it gives off, it is way too long in length. Varg could have easily conveyed the emotion of this song in less than twenty-five minutes; this just feels like a giant filler. Yes, the music is great, but almost half an hour is excessive for a minimalist and repetitive instrumental. Ten or fifteen minutes would have been enough time to get the point across without completely lulling the listener to sleep. Oh yeah, where the Hell is the bass on this album?

Either it’s just very hard to hear, or Varg removed it all together. At this point in time, this isn’t like all of Varg’s other work; it’s much more abstract and contrived from deep thought and emotion, rather than just creating an album that would appeal to people. Also, it was around this time that Varg began to become disgusted with most metal in general, so it’s no real surprise that he began to change his own music. Not a bad album, it’s not my favorite, but still an excellent piece of work on behalf of the Count. If you are a person who likes their music to step into the boundaries of being theoretical, then you’ll probably enjoy this.