Varg Vikernes posted a video a few weeks ago to his ThuleanPerspective Youtube channel listing the ten metal albums most influential to Burzum. We forced a lowly, supple-assed Death Metal Underground junior staffer/catamite to type them up into a play list for our readers:
Article by David Rosales
Pretty much once in a lifetime does an artist of the greatest kind offer a work that has added to its musical consummation the ability to summon entire worlds into the conscience of the listener. The three following examples of this achievement go about this in the same way that Tolkien’s mystery mythology is built: by broad strokes, consistency in themes and marvellous artistry in strategic details. These also form a triad that describe three concentric spheres of human experience: the physical, the mental and the divine.
Stormcrowfleet: The Metaphysical Will
Here is a pondering on will, vision and the embracing of the self’s calling:
Devouring the world through the senses, only to slowly flood back into it and extend Will yonder. Powers sifting awesomely in vast expanses according to harmonious law. As the fruit of work materializes, impetus is satiated and now serves as pulse. Arcane forces call beasts of desire into action, as does the disciplined mage through obedience to true aphorisms attain silent influence.
Destiny is embraced, faced with passionless determination. Beyond what is felt, what is seen, what is heard, closer to the truth, there proud and solitary existence awaits. In that place, sensation and impression are fused with meaning. It can never err, it simply is and is ever becoming. Such is the fire-lit secret of unclothed reality.
Dol Guldur: Mind and Imagination
Longing for earthly beauty and the majesty of man’s handwork and a respect for the purpose that is instilled into them cries out in whispers through the crevices of undead statues. High culture and nature are melded in absolute harmony through a revitalization of Tolkien’s verses. Man is here but a speck in the middle of the grandeur of this Earth, this center of our cosmos, the most precious of gifts to mankind.
Mythic transpositions of stone structures and forests from a mortal’s character and inner struggle are interleaved. The landscape painting of the master linguist is vibrated in shy cadences that sustain melodies gradually taking us aloft to places not corresponding to our physical present, nor to a faithful idea, but somewhere in between. This is where dream and reality meet, whence manifestation of destiny ensues.
Blood, Fire, Death: Cruelest Present
Without leaving behind legendary imagery as an aim and placeholder for imminent action, we are shown an unapologetic picture of crudeness. This is the here and now of human experience. It is the visceral rushing of adrenaline-charged blood through the limbs.
No glory, no shame, only happenstance. In this nihilism is the truth of the triune complemented and completed.Things are or they are not. You live or you die. Revel in the ritual of life and attach no special meaning to anything.
With first album Bathory, mastermind Quorthon and an ever-shifting cast of musicians took the lead in creating fast and chaotic music that nonetheless exhibited structure and a sense of Wagnerian melodic evolution. In early Bathory, thrashing riffs gave rise to a sense of order, instead of a flat timeline of circular repetition like the (at that time) bad speed metal imitators.
Many point to Under the Sign of the Black Mark, but others of us point to The Return as a clear departure point. A cynic could have written off the first Bathory album as imitation of Slayer and Venom, although it’s not clear Quorthon had heard Venom at the time, but with the second, it was clear a new genre was born. Quorthon then spent the next dozen years trying to re-interpret that genre so that he could make sense of the vast lead he’d taken over others.
Where Under the Sign of the Black Mark showed a more structured approach to songwriting in a mid-tempo, organized style that used the aesthetics of The Return but aimed for more easily grasped songs, the fourth Bathory album used Quorthon’s improved musical abilities to expand the black metal vocabulary to include the genres before it. Blood Fire Death incorporated speed metal influences, and with them, imported heavy metal and NWOBHM motifs. However, it did so without losing the underground metal-ness of the record.
As a result, Blood Fire Death served as a bridge between the past and future of metal. Its fast and ripping songs combined the power of Slayer and the technical guitar virtuosity of bands like Metallica and Judas Priest with the style of songwriting exhibited on The Return, where songwriting was not just rotational verse-chorus material in which the end result was the same as the beginning, but a type of narrative where the major themes arose from seemingly disordered and chaotic lesser motifs.
In addition, Bathory’s finest hour on Blood Fire Death was its Wagnerian sense of drama. Every moment of the album breathes with a sense of epic purpose, from a slow organic arising to its febrile and aggressive warlike thrashing, to a gradual sort of data into epic tracks which combined acoustic guitar with a sense of purpose and meaning returning to a modern wasteland. Thematically, it developed riffs that echoed its concepts, which were a fusion of the mythological occultism of Slayer with the Nordicism of Wagner or Nietzsche. This created a worldview in which the Christian, modern and commercial were tied together as the needs of a mindless crowd, and a naturalistic, organic and Romantic side of life was brought forth as an alternative.
25 years later we mark the anniversary of this album in the current month, but its influence is hard to track since so many have absorbed its meaning and borrowed plentifully from it. Bathory’s finest hour perhaps occurred on Blood Fire Death, but this is in the context of a discography that is one of metal history’s nodal points in which must of the past is summarized and taken to the next level. For that reason, it’s essential to appreciate this album out of context before returning it to its place within the legend and pantheon of metal.