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#.
March 31, 2012 –