Burzum – Sôl austan, Mâni vestan

May 19, 2013 –

burzum-sol_austan_mani_vestanAfter a hiatus of some years, Burzum returns to the path that is intuitive and natural for composer Varg Vikernes, who drifted through a triplet of droning black metal albums before discarding the genre. Sôl austan, Mâni vestan picks up where Hlidskjalf left off, except that this new album uses a wider range of sounds and also covers a wider range of emotions.

The title, meaning “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” encompasses the cosmic music nature of this album. While the sounds are thoroughly contemporary, the spirit of this album is in the stargazing music of the 1970s that attempted to find divinity even as the world around it seemed in a state of total doubt. Having explored the darkness and alienation of the past, Vikernes increases his palette here to include the playful, mystical, mysterious and placid, and works them in contrast to one another so that no one dominates and becomes background noise, but he pushes right to that limit with not only direct repetition but allusion to very similar themes across songs. The result is like a hypnosis into which the listener slides, unaware that through this mundane noise a vision of great beauty and even metaphysical significance will be found.

As Vikernes said in a blog post, “We are all lost souls in a dying world, so to speak, stripped of all spiritual life and energy by the societies we live in, and left to find new spiritual life and energy on our own. We stumble, we fall and we get up again, as we progress, and black metal, although empty and hollow like most other things in this world, is actually a good gateway to the Divine Light. If nothing else black metal has been a way to find true meaning, a positive direction and new life for many.” This attitude pervades through Sôl austan, Mâni vestan which consistently uses simple and catchy sounds to introduce themes which gradually develop into something revelatory of the sublime, like a flower opening from a bud hidden under dirt.

Burzum showed its affinity for 1970s relaxing and New Age style music with classics like “Tomhet,” “Rundgang” and the cheerier parts of Hlidskjalf. This new album picks up from that influence and goes further, fusing the classic Burzum sound with a full range of moods as one might find on a professional ambient album from the heart of that genre. Unexpected technique, including duets with guitar and bass through which keyboards and sampled tones dive like seabirds in flight, and flair borrowed from rock, ambient and jazz, offset these fundamentally simple tunes and embed them in the kind of texture and nuance you might expect from an Autechre or Aphex Twin album.

In the meantime, although not only the black metal aesthetics but also the black metal voice have been cast aside, the uncanny sense of pacing remains which Vikernes uses to engage us, lull us, excite us and finally bring all of these things into collision. In many ways, this music is more black metal than his post-prison guitar albums because it has such a range of emotions, and such a vivid journey from start to finish. In that sense, Vikernes has returned, and has found his natural voice after many intervening years. It’s not black metal, but who cares? It’s excellent and relentlessly intriguing.

Last Burzum metal recording ever

April 27, 2013 –

burzumBurzum composer Varg Vikernes has posted a “goodbye” to his old self as a metal composer and in a sentimental posting, announced his retirement from metal and his intent to pursue ambient music alone.

Burzum appeared from nowhere in 1991 with a demo tape made up of a dozen guitars-and-bass-only tracks in rehearsal quality. I made a few more or less successful metal albums, but they all always included at least some ambient music. With time I moved further and further away from metal, and today only the ambient music remains. Today (2013) I think I am done playing metal music for good.

Many of you followed Burzum through the years, some even from the beginning, and I think metal-Burzum deserves a proper “good bye”. So, just like I started out I will finish metal-Burzum with a guitars-and-bass-only track in rehearsal quality. “Back to the Shadows” is made up of the last metal riffs I ever made (in 2012). It was never released in any way, or recorded (beyond what you hear here), and it will not either — beyond this short “video”.

Take it for what it is; a sentimental good bye to metal-Burzum.

The music is playing with an image of the 17 year-old me, taken from the time when some of the first Burzum tracks were made. You can see this track as a good bye to that fellow too.

For those of us who have been watching Burzum and Vikernes over the years, this is a welcome development. Heavy metal is beautiful but it will always be attached to popular conceptions of entertainment. Ambient music, especially complex material, gets treated as culture.

While we hope to change that perception of metal and to have it be studied as art and part of culture, that’s an uphill battle when the fans routinely rush to gimmick bands and depthless clones in a hope to be part of the next popular trend.

Either way, this bodes well for more interesting compositions in Burzum’s future.

New Burzum track shows metal technique applied to folk

April 25, 2013 –

varg_vikernes-burzum-band_photoThe semi-reclusive Varg Vikernes, sole composer of Burzum, has announced his plans to release a film and a new role-playing game (RPG). As part of the film project, he has revealed a new track designed to act as part of a soundtrack for the film.

As if influenced by some of the non-black-metal soundtrack material from the film Until the Light Takes Us in which Vikernes, as in Lords of Chaos, the most in-depth story of black metal before it, Vikernes opts for a down-tempo single guitar track with no distortion.

The result utilizes a slow and gentle sweeping arpeggio behind which lower notes direct the evolution of the track, much as happened with the countertheme in “Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule Der Singularität” from Filosofem. As the song goes on, these layers interact to push change into the main theme, not in the electronica method of circular layers, but the metal one of a narrative expanding from within itself.

It is hard to tell if this is the type of material that will be on the forthcoming Burzum album Sôl austan, Mâni vestan. While many consider the “keyboard albums” among the band’s best output, a mixed-medium album could be interesting. While this new track has one foot in that world, it also has one foot in the more audience-geared world of the last few Burzum black metal albums.

The relationship between black metal, ambient and neoclassical music

April 7, 2013 –

nordic_dark_ambient_neoclassical_black_metalIn the mainstream press, black metal has a reputation for being solely misanthropic, heavily distorted anthems of aggression and despair that are defined by their primitive minimalism.

While this may hold true for the majority of contemporary bands, this view overlooks the foundational bands of the genre, who possessed a deft sense of melody and the focus to create longer compositions that allowed for more introspection.

Just as black metal musicians created a more minimalistic form of death metal, some were able to apply the same approach to the ambient and neoclassical genres, crafting tracks that through the use of repetition, stirring melodies, and tonal variation reveal the genre’s primal elegance without need of layers of distortion.

Given the news that Neptune Towers is being released on vinyl and Burzum is releasing an album comprised entirely of electronic music, now seems a fitting time to investigate this interesting subgenre and how it arose from black metal in several instances.

Burzum

Favoring simple but expansive compositions, contemplative melodies soar over mild arpeggios; in addition to a few tracks of industrial nihilistic deconstruction. Through the utilization of modern technology, Burzum makes narrative and meditative music that like its inspiration Tolkien, takes the participant on an internal journey to another realm.

Neptune Towers

A side project of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, in Neptune Towers haunting melodies glide over dark drones while otherworldly noises color the backdrop. Evocative tracks signal the coming to Earth of a yet-unknown alien species or perhaps the future evolution of humanity, the soundtrack to the future.

Beherit

This band fuses its earlier black metal style with the industrial, pop, and ambient genres, featuring melodies that would not be out of place on a metal album, but pairs them with repetitive trance-like drums, synths, and found sounds that coalesce into epic moments before fading away like the rays of a burned out sun. Fans of multiple genres should appreciate this one.

Ildjarn

Elegant and skillfully composed tracks celebrating the beauty of nature in their simplicity reveal a greater depth of expression than would be possible with over-produced tracks. Just as he did with black metal, Ildjarn with compatriot Nidhogg reduces neoclassical music to its most basic form and builds from it an enchanting structure.

Lord Wind

A side project of Graveland, with Lord Wind martial drumming and heroic melodies bring to mind the battles of old, while synths and choruses expand the project’s horizons, providing reach to contrast with the grounded and earthy rhythms. Well-crafted neoclassic folk music, this is the further continuation of Graveland‘s second stage.

Burzum – Umskiptar

March 31, 2012 –

The good news is that it’s more clearly Vikernes writing this record. His previous voice, like his previous actions, seemed to get swallowed up by the notions of his “advisors.” As a result, previous albums did not sound at all like something he touched at all with his personality. This album re-engages his soul a bit more but remains a deliberate use of his talent to produce something cut to form, and the form is what is dictated by the audience. The result is to repeat the error of modern society over again: the people are led by economics or politics, instead of the other way around. While song structures vary somewhat, Umskiptar is designed around the verse-chorus model with melodic choruses and rhythmic, upbeat verses. Like many pasted-together projects, these are united with chromatic fills or conventional devices borrowed out of classic metal. While this album is not as cynically manipulative as the new Napalm Death, for example, it falls short of what made Burzum great, which was an innovative thinker opening up his mind and creativity to the audience. Like his mentor Tolkien, he took people on an adventure with what was and might be again. With Umpskiptar, the listener feels as if he is in one of those Disney-ride type “folk metal” bands that is mostly rock music with folk touches. Bands have been doing this since the 1970s… it has never succeeded, because people regress to the mean and in this case, it’s the archetype of rock and not folk. Vikernes’ early influences come out here, with muffled-chord riffs that sound straight off the first Destruction LP and what sounds like Iron Maiden influences. Musically, it’s adept enough that no part is offensive, and his use of three-part riff clusters as in traditional music is much appreciated, but it doesn’t add up. The whole is not greater than the parts and no atmosphere is created, thus the whole time we are aware that we are modern consumers listening to a modern musical product. Further, the riffs, tempi, themes and transitions are very similar, which in the absence of prior atmosphere does not cause a deepening but a sensation of floating on the surface. Many of the vocal tracks are entirely chanted in the death metal voice, which creates a ludicrous sensation of being yelled at by a drunk guy on the subway. By the time we get to “Valgaldr,” which sounds like an outtake from a bad stoner doom metal album, the lack of energy going into this album is evident. It’s ridiculous to expect an older musician to recapture his younger days. However, it’s equally ridiculous to sabotage a good musical brand by turning it from something rare and brilliant into something pedestrian with interesting “touches” and “accents.” That cuts to the real problem with this album and all post-jail Burzum: they’re boring. Not unmusical, but sparse in density with songs obviously patched-together “to be a song” and not to have any voice of its own. The new crop of teenagers he wants to sell albums to may enjoy this but it’s not distinctly better than its competition enough that it will endure as anything other than an SKU#.