I find it odd that several prominent (I use the term loosely) metal websites decided to ban coverage of Burzum in response to a recent online rant by Varg Vikernes regarding the shootings and bombing carried out by Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik. Isn’t this ban coming about seventeen years too late? A self-righteous denouncement of Vikernes this point in the game is basically the same as saying “Murder and arson are okay, but hey, we draw the line at hateful remarks!” Of course, I realize that these sites weren’t around back when Vikernes was actually committing crimes, but if they truly found him to be so deplorable, shouldn’t they have banned coverage from the outset based on his actions and not some ineffectual hate-mongering that no one would have paid attention to in the first place had they not drawn attention to it with their sanctimonious grandstanding?
But I digress. I do not wallow in the cesspool of imagined ethical superiority, and therefore have no problem discussing Varg Vikernes’ music. Contrary to what the metal morality police attempt to shove down our throats, it is entirely possible to separate Burzum from its creator’s dodgy politics/beliefs. With that out of the way, it pleases me to say that Varg Vikernes the musician has solidified his “comeback” and proven once and for all that his trailblazing brand of black metal is indeed timeless with Fallen, his second album since being released from prison in 2009.
But what is it that makes Burzum timeless? For me, it’s Vikernes’ guitar playing. His note choices and sense of composition have a hypnotic effect, the very definition of the infamous black metal “trance-out”, a web of spindly, treble-soaked riffage that’s all too easy to get hopelessly lost in. Whenever I listen to Fallen I think of enormous trees, with gnarled, twisted, tangled roots burrowing deep into the soil; it probably has something to do with the earthy, slightly raw guitar tone Vikernes employs here. It gives the album a naturalistic quality that makes the compositions feel as much like folk music as black metal, but without ever degenerating into the silliness that “folk metal” typically implies (perhaps more akin to neofolk?). Of course, black metal at its core has always been a form of folk music, and there are few better suited to uphold that tradition than an outlaw/pariah such as Vikernes, who also happens to be one of the genre’s architects (okay, so maybe you can’t separate the man from the music 100%, oh well).
Speaking of tradition, Fallen was recorded at Grieghallen with production and mixing assistance from Pytten. This studio/producer combination has been responsible for nearly every landmark album in the Norwegian black metal canon (De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, In the Nightside Eclipse, etc) and although only time will tell if Fallen will ever reach the same level of acclaim as those classic recordings, the album does manage to capture a similar vibe without sounding forced or self-consciously retro. This is how black metal is supposed to sound; uninhibited, mesmerizing and totally free from the trappings of modernity.
In addition to showcasing Vikernes’s six-string mastery and benefitting from a strong production scheme, Fallen also represents Burzum at its most compelling from a compositional perspective. If anything, the album comes off as a refinement of the ideas that Vikernes began to explore on Filosofem; the spellbinding repetition, hazy, quasi-psychedelic atmospheres and unique vocal approach have been honed to a fine point. Whereas Filosofem sounded like a collection of experiments (albeit very successful and interesting ones), Fallen sounds like a collection of songs. In this respect, Fallen brings the more experimental qualities of Filosofem together with the sharp yet expansive songwriting style Vikernes brought to the fore on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Indeed, the more I listen to Fallen, the more I tend to view 2010’s Belus as a “warm-up” album.
Regardless of what you think of Varg Vikernes the person, it is difficult to deny the significance of Varg Vikernes the musician, especially when he continues to craft such intriguing, vital and relevant work. Fallen just might be the most fully realized Burzum album to date, an elegy for what once was, and a glimmer of hope for the future of the black metal tradition.