I straight up stole this record. For all my back alley, internet skulking I do, this is a dirty deed I admit to. For the casual reader, Burzum is made up of this dude Varg Vikernes, who spent about 15 years in jail for murdering a dude in Norway. During his time in prison, he wrote a bunch of weird, racist, crazy shit and made some weird ambient records, as well as escaped jail while on “holiday”. I’m not in the business of giving money to murderers and racists, but Black Metal is a genre of music I am intrigued by. And frankly, one can not write about Black Metal and ignore Burzum and Varg Vikernes for Varg and his musical project is one of the originators of the genre.
Further, it seems that in the internet age, Black Metal and Varg himself are getting a lot more exposure. Varg Vikernes is becoming something of note in the larger context of independently produced music. Part of it is intrigue into the man himself. After all most people who kill other people end up spending their lives in jail. But in Norway, that’s not the case. Oh tolerant Norway. I guess when you are 54 out of 62 countries with the lowest murder per capita rate (according to this statistic I found on the internet), murder just isn’t that big a deal. So Varg has been hanging in freedom since May of 2009 and has managed to make two more albums. Fallen is his most recent, and perhaps his most complicated.
The thing about Varg man, is he walks his own, snowy, Odinistic path. Where the genre of metal and record engineering have progressed, Varg seems pretty content in making his quasi-lo-fi metal records that crank the midrange and sound more pedestrian then evil. Listening to his latest Fallen it just seems so juvenile to me. Varg has captured 1992 all over again, revisiting his early output. All the sputtering arpeggios on the 4th, 5th and 6ths strings of the guitar, just kinda grate the nerves more than elicit any kind of landscape. This is to Varg’s license however. Stereogum quoted him with the following, “Musically Fallen is a cross between Belus and something new, inspired more by the debut album and Det Som Engang Var than by Hvis Lyset Tar Oss or Filosofem. The sound is more dynamic. We mastered the album as if it was classical music…” This might explain the thin sounds throughout, but my criticism of Black Metal remains that it could stand to have a bit more low-end range. There is a bit of bass guitar on this album, used to bridge dynamics together sometimes, but it’s so mid range and pushed back in the mix, it’s hardly worth the effort. Soft bass mixing is for sissies. Give me a punch to the gut, especially when the music is supposed to convey deeper emotion. Further the drums sound like they were produced by baning on a toy kit, providing little more to the music then a drum machine might. Evil or not, this music deserves more dynamics, more depth and tones and a release from Vikernes’s own interpretations of what Black Metal is and should be.
The most dynamic found on the album however is the vocals. Varg actually provides translations from Norwegian to English (not American as he states) on his website, and yes I did read them and they are actually quite beautiful. The range of vocals Vikernes employs provides the depth that lacks in the music. Perhaps this is the point, to make Fallen a vocal album. After all, it seems Varg is tackling his own regrets, his own mortality, and utilizing the beautiful, mythological landscape of Norway as a means to express age, dying and possibly even remorse. Varg kicks out the traditional, gutteral stylings prevalent in Black Metal, but he also adds a lot of low chanting that one imagines fits with his Lord of the Rings/Odinism mythology. The vocals seem the most focused aspect of Fallen, having a clear representation and a sonic quality that far exceeds the engineering of the instrumentation.
The closing of the album is the real treat however. Til Hel og tilbake igjen (which translates to “To Hell and Back”) is where Varg the musician presents himself. Recorded with traditional folk instruments, hear, everything sounds clear and resonant. The stomping drums actually have some tone and depth to them and one imagines Varg in a romp through the woods and snow with a spear in hand, jabbing at invisible enemies, muttering weird shit to himself. In the end though, it’s a quiet, meditative song that really exemplifies Varg as a songwriter and musician.
So, here I have sat for 700 words, making my jabs at a killer from Norway from the safety of my apartment behind the shield of the internet. And it’s partly done in jest of course, the mythology of Varg Vikernes is larger than the actual, more complicated person and artist. As the internet has made more underground types of music more accessible, the reigning personalities of these “weird” genres gain their own amount of greater, public recognition. Varg Vikernes will probably never outlive his legacy as a murdering, racist, in part because we are drawn to sensationalism, but also because he creates in a genre of music that is often misunderstood and discarded as childs play and fantasy. But Vikernes has, in his own way grown up. The face paint and violent sensationalism that has makred Black Metal for so long has been shed by Vikernes. That he will never escape his past is both a shame and for him probably a blessing. The conversation will always start with what he did, growing attention towards his work, but the work, no matter the sound, will always be second best to the legend.