Death Metal Underground

Burzum – The Ways of Yore

by Brett Stevens
June 1, 2014 –

burzum-the_ways_of_yore

Neoambient gains another stronghold. This genre — constructed of film soundtracks, Dead Can Dance style medievalism, neofolk and dark ambient with some structural ideas from black metal — rose out of the ashes of black metal, with bands like Beherit, Neptune Towers (Darkthrone), Lord Wind (Graveland), Danzig (Black Aria) and Burzum leading. On The Ways of Yore, Burzum integrates organic sounds like vocals and guitar into the cosmic ambient that defined the last album, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan.

The Ways of Yore creates within the same spectrum of music stretching between Dead Can Dance and Tangerine Dream that marked the previous album but with even more of an ambient feel. Songs rely on repetitive patterns with layers of instrumentation and song structures that shift to develop melody or make dramatic contrast enhance the imitation of their subjects. As in ancient Greek drama, poetry and music merge with sole musician Varg Vikernes‘ spoken and sung vocals guiding the progress of keyboard-sample-based music. Melodies refer to each other across the length of the album through similarity and evoke themes from past albums, culminating in “Emptiness” which previously made itself known as “Tomhet” on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, the album that ended black metal by raising the bar above what others could imitate.

Somber moods prevail throughout this work which mixes melancholy with a sense of reverence for the past. Hearing Varg sing and develop harmonies with his voice shows room for expansion by this creative musician who previously let the guitars do the talking. Guitars show up on later tracks, distorted in the shuddering but mid-tone texture that gave Filosofem its otherworldly sound. Even though songs begin with simple note clusters, they expand to full melodies which match to a cadence and regulate atmosphere. The result demands attention through its conquest of empty space with the barest of sounds but over time reaches an intensity of expectation that resembles a ritual.

What makes people love neoambient is that it obliterates the pace of modernity and replaces it with a reverent, transcendental atmosphere. Burzum takes an approach that aims at a sound older than medieval, a primeval cave-dwelling primitivism that strips away the pretenses of developed culture. Its striking Nordic imagery, including songs to Odinn and Freyja, add to this mystery and the Burzum mythos as a whole. Escaping black metal, while controversial, granted Vikernes a chance to explore the development of melody in silence, and the result serves to expand atmosphere beyond our age to something that is both ancient and futuristic.

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31 comments

  • Novem

    I’m glad that Burzum has seen such a revival in quality since the shaky beginning of the after-prison material. Looking forward to purchasing a copy of this.

  • Roger

    This and Sôl austan, Mâni vestan are simply boring, Brett. They might be steps ‘in the right direction’, so to speak, in that they are away from metal and towards a ‘mature direction’/’serious music’ for a former black metal and all that. But that doesn’t mean they have been executed properly! I can see not reason to listen to either of these albums, or Varg’s slightly paranoid, pseudo-scientific ideological ramblings.

    The tracks in which Varg chants or talks are forced and childish. He is pushing for something which is not there, just as he his in his views on race and history.

    There is SO much better ambient music out there. I can see no reason to support this, despite it being an ex black metal musician of certain ideological persuasion, which, i think, is not an objective stance to take towards the MUSIC.

    It’s cheese.

    1. mudbloodkiller

      May I ask you what are those better ambient music besides Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Danzig, Maeror Tri, Burzum, Klaus, Neptune Towers, Biosphere, Beherit, Goatcraft, Lord Wind? I don’t think there are very much better ambient music out there. The CMI bands are mostly gay.

      The new Burzum ain’t the pre-1996 one, but I suppose this album could easily defeat nearly all black metal turds putted out this year.

      1. Roger

        There is a world of it. Some full ambient, some incorporate large and dense slabs of it. Have you even explored music outside of this site?…

        Lustmord, CAN, Pink Floyd, Robert Fripp, Fripp & Eno, Donnie Darko OST, Devin Townsend, Ash Ra Tempel, Radiohead, Yolke, Tomita, Apocalypse Now OST, Black Cab, and RRine are some I can think of.

        A fat man wanking into a plastic cup could probably ‘defeat’ most black metal albums this year, but that means nothing.

        1. mudbloodkiller

          “Pink Floyd, Devin Townsend, Radiohead”

          These three sound absurd to me, I don’t know. Maybe I should check their experimental non-mainstream-ass-kissing USB-keys-only EPs to see if I miss something.

          1. puzzled

            Devin Townsend lol. I remmeber seeing footage of him drinking a “cocktaiL” that Dina Cazawhatever from Fear Factory had spat into at some LA metal junket. Back when he was making second rate industrial rockj wioth SYL. Then he started making second rate euphoric shite under his own name. He produces a whole lot of nothing particularly interesting.

          2. Roger

            We can please dispense with the teenaged ‘has to be alternative, not popular, non-mainstreem kvult music, man!’ line and pick up on the substantial informational content of our discussion. Music quality. You picked the three most outlying examples that I listed, but even there they all have, it would appear to me, better examples of ambient music than new burzum ramblings.

            Radiohead – Treefingers (song): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gb5ZlZTQUw

            Devin Townsend – The Hummer (album): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErzX_3nZyhQ

            Pink Floyd – Careful With That Axe, Eugene (song) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTGIcJEeSeM

        2. woe

          Most of the stuff you posted aren’t that good, and whatever is good, it’s decades old.
          CAN, Pink Floyd, Ash Ra Tempel? Trying to escape rock music is not enough, you need to actually achieve it.
          Radiohead is mostly self-pity music.
          Most Tomita is cheesy and dated, with a few good moments. Same probably goes for Vangelis, though he’s better than Tomita.
          Aphex Twin and Coil did some good stuff, but I get the feeling they never took their art seriously.
          On the other hand Steve Roach took himself way too seriously.

          So what is left for the B+/A list?

          Tangerine Dream (and Froese solo works), Schulze, Biosphere, Autechre, Kraftwerk, Fripp & Eno, J.M Jarre, Beherit (and Suuri Shamaani)

          And then you have some Tangerine Dream/Schulze worship acts like Wolfgang Bock, Hoenig, Neptune Towers, Resdhift that are listenable, and that’s it.
          If anyone has quality recommendations of ambient from the last 5 years or so, I’m willing to listen, but please no Boards of Canada or random average drone/noise/ex-martial industrial band.
          Even the more cliched/pop Berlin school music like this, puts most contemporary music to shame with its creativity and imagination.
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBSQ19IeW6I

          1. Nito

            Can anyone tell me what Coil is actually good? I’ve heard some releases but they felt more like compilations of good and bad ideas than full-fledged albums.

            Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 is good. Everything else, not so much. I’ve heard Biosphere’s Patashnik and Microgravity and felt the same way about it as the Coil album’s: good and bad ideas (the more constant drum beat stuff).

            Also feel that Beherit should have made an album full of stuff like Tribal Death. Electric Doom Synthesis is good for what it is though.

            1. woe

              Can’t argue with what you said about Coil. Time Machines is interesting but hard to sit through.

              Biosphere’s Substrata is one of the all-time best of the genre, Cirque is good too and it ends with “Too Fragile to Walk On” which is highly excellent. Shenzou is ok, although a bit one-dimensional.

              Tribal Death leading to Emotional Ecstasy is a great moment, but H418ov21.C doesn’t really work as an album.

              1. Nito

                Agree with H418ov21.C not working as an album, but the good tracks still show a cool direction that Beherit didn’t go in.

                Any opinions on Scorn or Lull?

          2. Roger

            “Most of the stuff you posted aren’t that good”

            Well it’s hard to settle such a dispute, coming down to taste, but I would frame it this way. When you have had a couple of decades experience playing and listening to music, reading literature and experiencing good art, you will know enduring quality over attempted ‘profoundess’ which depends upon imagery, aesthetics, and controversy (read: later varg vikernes)

            “and whatever is good, it’s decades old.”

            So what, I would have thought we’re about upholding what is good, as opposed to having to pay attention to ‘new releases’.

            “CAN, Pink Floyd, Ash Ra Tempel? Trying to escape rock music is not enough, you need to actually achieve it.”

            If you think these bands are playing conventional rock music, then you haven’t listened to them enough. Floyd I’ve addressed above.

            CAN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKpCKBfazX8

            Ash Ra Tempel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmBNeqNZDDE

            1. woe

              Conventional or not, it’s still rock music with its downfalls, even exaggerated. I have no interest in 5 minute long bluesy solos.

              That Ash Ra Tempel song is ok, but you can see it came out in the same year as Zeit and Irrlicht. My point is that, while kraut rock was evolving into something more meaningful with Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, those guys were still playing trippy hippie music.

              1. Roger

                “trippy hippie music.”

                This is completely arbitrary, does not address structure or content.

                You could just as easily call new Burzum ‘traditionalist, rambling neofolk/ambient’. We would be no further in our analyses.

                I don’t think we’re going to agree on this. I do agree that TD are a higher development of kraut rock than CAN and Ash Ra Tempel – but i do NOT agree that simply because something has a long solo it renders it void of artistic content for pete’s sake! Burzum is repetitive, lacks development of ANY song i’ve heard so far, and is pretty much the same as his last one, bar incredibly cheesy vocals.

          3. veien

            “On the other hand Steve Roach took himself way too seriously”

            Yeah, I got a soft spot for him though. Disc 2 of “Quite Music” and “Structures from Silence” would be the highlights of his earlier stuff.

    2. fenrir

      I have to agree with you on the 2014 and on Varg’s slightly annoying and childish paranoia and pseudo scientific theories.

      I think the problem in “Sôl austan, Mâni vestan” is that it’s too long for it’s own good and some tracks sound a little too much like the same thing. But I think there is some pretty good material there, but the album needs to count down to half.

      That being said, I personally do enjoy The Ways of Yore. It does feel derivative of his previous ambient work and, as you say, childish at some points. Somehow I like the mood it creates for me, anyway.

      1. Roger

        Right. But why, then, support it like it’s the fucking bible?

        If it were some up and coming black metal band – with a largely boring album, but with a few ‘good ideas’ – they would be largely roasted.

        It’s because its Varg Vikernes playing ‘serious’ music.

        1. Brett Stevens Post author

          Let us know what up and coming black metal bands you find with a few good ideas. Generally, there aren’t even those. Further, neoambient moves more slowly than metal thus may seem “boring” — that’s what people said about early Eno stuff, as you recall. It just couldn’t compete with those bluesy UK guitar bands! And yet, it’s more musically interesting than anything black metal has done in two decades, with a few notable standouts (Demoncy, Beherit).

          1. Roger

            I will. But I don’t listen to much new metal at all. That’s what I come here for :)

            I like your work Brett, I just don’t understand your support for this, putting it down to ideological affinities.

      2. veien

        Agree, though I didn’t much like “Sôl austan, Mâni vestan”, and didn’t expect much from this new one, it’s actually turning out to be a really pleasant surprise. Yeah it has awkward, childish moments, but on the whole I think it might just succeed.

        (Especially impressed with the variations on ‘Tomhet’ that round off the album).

        Need to (and actually have the desire to) give it many more listens at least ;)

  • Lord Mosher

    Here is a list of the masters of ambient – kosmische musik of the early 1970s. Some of the most mesmerizing ambient music by the creator of the genre:
    .
    Michael Hoenig – Departure – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCBlQaZxOc4
    .

    Tangerine Dream – Ricochet
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFypcW25_Bo
    .
    Klaus Schulze – Friedrich Nietzsche – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUw6OZSOszs
    .
    Peter Bauman (1976)- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPIqwPW1YfE
    .
    Cluster – 1971
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwhnOF-k-cQ

  • puzzled

    The most interesting “ambient” project I’v ehear din years is Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, by Dominick Fernow (Prurient, Vatican Shadow). Very subtly menacing soundscapes, with extremely sparse use of rhythm and drones within the field recordings. It’s kind of the Cannibal Holocaust of fringe music, comes all wrapped up with some cool song titles and an origin myth about being cassette tapes discovered in a box somewhere which document the explorations and spooky witchcraft investigations of some white guy or other. All the packaging and imagery is great but the music itself is very dark and mysterious and threatening. But it’s most definitely not beginning-middle-conclusion format music.

    Also, Force Publique Congo – this is much more rooted in power electronics territory but it also has an extremely unpleasant, threatening atmosphere and drifts and surges like good ambient.

  • BB

    There is a whole other world to explore outside all acts mentioned of more minimalist, texture-based music, without melody, rhythm, etc., that are as ancient & futuristic as mentioned.

    This “scene” could qualify as ambient in the broad sense. Two of the leading figures are Keith Rowe (well in his 70ies by know, but he has put out his most interesting work the last decade, mainly on Ersthwile Records – like his solo album ‘The Room’ or the untitled live recording from 2008, ErstLive 007), and composer/musician Michael Pisaro, who has released a lot of his recordings on the Gravity Wave label, like the mind-blowing high pitched ‘Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds’, or ‘The Punishment of the Tribe by its Elders’, or, perhaps a good starting point, ‘July Mountain’.

    Mind you, the term minimalist is a bit misleading, and often people mistake this stuff for light drone, noise, etc. On the contrary, this music is not for the faint of heart, sometimes very spares, bordering on silence, at other times very dense. It requires careful listening, on a good system, in lossless quality, as it reveals to be visceral and intellectual at the same time. (And boring, of course.)

    This music is as much a reflection of Reality as this site (and rightly so) claims metal to be, but not as testosterone driven (as most metal and most noise is), nor based on the regular, ‘popular’ structural characteristics of most music (rhythm, melody, harmony,…). In a sense, it is music from the grey abyss underlying all.

    On a side node, it is interesting to see some metal fans who haven’t explored that much contemporary or “avant-garde” music outside the sphere of influence of metal/rock/pop (as most lists above indicate) rave about a cheesy synth record with lots of melody and rhythm as the new thing. (And just to be clear, I enjoy some of the Burzum ambient records and some of the artists listed above.) It reminds me a bit of myself discovering CMI when I was 15 and thinking I’d struck a gold mine because it was music that sounded different (yet was still related to the metal scene, seemed controversial and dangerous and was a product of some exclusive underground).

  • veien

    Thanks to all for the recommendations.

    Personally, though I love abstract minimalist noise drone field recording experimental -type stuff, I also need it to be good musically if it is have any re-listening longevity. Not just collecting flotsam for the hell of it if you know what I mean.

    In this respect, an album such as Biosphere’s Subtrata undoubtedly reigns supreme. The subtle interweaving of organic environmental sound along with the careful arrangement of synth and spatial effects achieved a perfect harmony of elements for this to be successful as ‘ambient’ music.

    What ambient actually is: Self evident, atmosphere re-contextualization and immersion. Meaning, it’s right there in front of you geniuses just gotta learn to notice ;)

  • TheWaters

    I for one am enjoying this record! Its contemplative and the melodies are sustainable……Im just mad because it doesnt have any chuga chuga riffs and/or politically correct lyrics in it…..;)

  • Natur

    I have never posted, I stop by from time to time and found much of the conversation here deeply thought provoking. I always felt either too busy with stuff to comment well or their was plenty of writers writing good points already. A friend pointed me to the thread on neo-ambient music and just felt compelled to list a few bands and albums that were important to me through out the years.

    A brief history of the hows and whys I have deeply enjoyed this genre. I believe neo-ambient is a new term as far as I can tell so I will list bands that have far more lineage to industrial and experimental genres. I would bet people have heard of all of these but I think a list and a solid collection is always nice. I know there were a few blogspots on this subject years ago in the endless DL era:)

    As an American kid growing up without an internet or subscription to metal magazines, I believed metal began to die when “Alternative” and the Pantera type music started. It just seemed different. This was early 90s. I had no idea what was going on in Europe. Not knowing what to think of the perishing greatness of metal (here) I tried (for better or worse) to follow what I believed to be a similar spirit. Godflesh, Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death and others continued in a fine fashion. But I really became glued to Godflesh at this time. They really seemed to have it all. It continued greatness down a path I was fully sold on. I needed more of this stuff and that eventually led to an education in things industrial and noise. Around the age of 17 a friend purchased a used disc of a band called Zoviet France and the title of the album was “Shouting at the Ground.” The album blew my mind. Both metal and ambient related music can hold similar strengths. It takes a strong heart to feel confident enough to create relaxing, reflective pieces (If you are good). There is A LOT of laziness. There is a ton of junk yoga style, as there is a ton of junk wasted efforts in metal. The following are interesting finds throughout the years, just listing this to aid in studies here.

    Throbbing Gristle ignited the Industrial genre. Their version of industrial would explore dark elements of human character and an almost bad trip psychedelic pace. From this fragmented many bands some of which could eventually link to neofolk.

    Zoviet France (recommended period everything from their initial cassettes to the early 90s)

    fragmenting from this

    Rapoon (assured interesting albums 92-99)

    fragment from TG

    Nurse With Wound

    Nocturnal Emissions

    Sleep Chamber

    Psychic TV has some interesting mellow works. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpbrugqObSA

    T.O.P.Y. psychic tv’s bold cult/fanclub produced some fantastic delights that I have lost track of or did not take note of the certain artists. I believe Grey Wolves was one and Z’ev may have made some work here.

    PTV’s branches led to a wonderful band that had a good period of work and live shows, Crash Worship ADRV. While not ambient, their were certain ritualistic qualities that influenced many in the early 90s. If exploring that band, anything from initial cassettes up until Espontaneo is very good.

    A band member from CW, Markus Wolff went on to continue some interesting work in the NeoFolk genre with his band Waldtuefel. He created a fantastic interesting album in between the two bands Clavis. A collaboration with Hybryds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGGqou9k3Jk

    In the mish mash of the late 80s and early 90s fantastic work and artists would pop up.

    Illusion of Safety from Chicago would explore a mix of what I would call True Industrial with albums like Inside Agitator. To ambient city sound scape type pieces Probe, Water Seek its Own Level, Cancer.

    Autopsia (Prague) has some great work that does have the DNA of industrial but also aims to recall the greatness of classical. Perhaps neo-ambient concepts could be mined here. I found this to be a fantastic piece from an off shoot of them. I believe this style is known as Martial industrial now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCXCMikcf1g

    Life Garden (Arizona) I always considered this band and Voice of Eye to be the poor mans Dead Can Dance. They explored clearly eastern melodies and idealistic traits. Some loath it but I find it to be a neat body of work. The albums in the end did begin to feel slightly uninspired, perhaps they began to unravel. With zero income and no one listening that can happen.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vlF0IZlYX4

    Voice of Eye (Texas I think) had some nice work. Like above very into Eastern melodies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18sk3ORqDWM

    Maybe Mental. Before Life Garden, there was Maybe Mental. Again mellow brooding pieces. More avant garde than LG. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5Usx-DxN8Y

    I discovered many of these bands due to the local Denver label We Never Sleep. One of these was Human Head Transplant featuring Bob Ferbache (a local legend here). He recorded some of Crash Worship’s best studio recordings, a guitarist from Blood Axis, and all around interesting guy. HHT was not a great band, but when they explored ambient realms they hit it out of the park.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=To1-Yo_u3LQ

    In Japan Keiji Haino was definitely making interesting dark pieces. His band Fushitsusha is recommend as a nice noise band with darkness at its root. Their album The Caution Appears https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YM1EAJ7gXrw
    While that is NOT ambient his personal work is. His solo albums immediately recommended
    I Said, This is the Son of Nihilism
    and the band Nijiumu ‎– Era Of Sad Wings album is very very good. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBJisIYE7qI

    I can go on and on as I love this stuff, but must go. I really don’t think many will have read this far but if so here is a list of more goodies. There are collectors that have a TON more of this stuff and knowledge regarding this than I, but I have been impressed.

    Bands
    Endvra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_OVBbp_Qy8

    Randy Grief https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQDxD_U4P_E

    Joseph Hammer (straight microscopic psychedelic) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5JcogiiBeg

    Hail (Markus Wolff) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fG9MzE4t8E

    Muslimguaze (has some good ones in ambient realm) Veiled Sisters, Mort Aux Vaches https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBcLrFEI77M

    the already mentioned fantastic Maeror Tri

    (newer ambient metal. dungeon synth??)
    Nest
    Forgotten Land
    Khand
    Abandon Places

    so much stuff not listed to explore

    Labels with great stuff from 80s and early 90s
    Staalplaat
    Soleilmoon
    Cold Springs
    We Never Sleep
    Charmm
    Mute