Friday, August 27, 2010

Iron Maiden- The Final Frontier

If only there were truth in advertising, and the new Iron Maiden album were as fun and ludicrous as the silly sci-fi album art! Alas.

What we get instead is their longest album ever, with most songs over 7 minutes. That wouldn't be a good or bad thing, but every Maiden fan knows that the longer the song=the more pretentious and "literary" and repetitive. Well, I'm not sure that *every* Maiden fan knows this. In fact, the more die-hard of a Maiden fan one is, probably the more that person is likely to find "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" or "To Tame a Land" to be works of art on par with Wagner's Ring Cycle-- but better! because it's metal, maaan!

I digress. Well, not really. Because this gets to the heart of the matter: Iron Maiden's track record with "epic" songs is terrible. On their first album, the longest song ("Phantom of the Opera") may also be the best, but it's also the only one. Killers isn't burdened by any such tracks. But at some point, the band decided that songs like "Alexander the Great" were the way to go, and doubtless many of you have agreed.

That is not entirely true, though, because the band also panders like no other--and toss off some disingenuous "singles" that are patronizingly straight-forward. You can just see them, having composed their arduous masterpieces, reflecting that "Now we need a single. Something really anthemic!" Some bands can do this very cannily--Nirvana comes to mind, or 80s Ozzy--but I've always found it embarrassing when Maiden act like "The Wicker Man" (for example) is "Jumping Jack Flash" or what have you. It ain't.

So, you get more of this here. "The Final Frontier" is just such a song. I suppose I'm meant to find it a number-one hit from an alternate universe where the mainstream (boo! hiss!) has been set to rout and metal rules, but it's kind of bland.

When it comes to the very long songs here, the listener runs headfirst into a problem with Iron Maiden's creativity and limitations: the pleasures of listening to Iron Maiden, even at their best, are not very profound. It's not Beethoven. Occasionally they "rock," and their discography is littered with strong hooks, but their idea of "big" is usually ponderous instead of fleet-footed and truly epic (in the Homeric sense, as interpreted by Matthew Arnold in his classic essay on translation).

On the other hand, unlike Metallica's St. Anger, this is not an album made by the band for themselves; Iron Maiden make every attempt to please, and the record is dominated by Dickinson's would-be tuneful performance, which comes across as quite same-y and also pretentious. It's "catchy," if you like, in every sense except that it doesn't "catch."

I can't resist another comparison. Take Black Sabbath's Sabotage, which is no stranger to long songs and some pretention. But one is immediately struck by the movement, the dynamism, of Iommi's riffs, and even the very-long "Megalomania" is rushed along by a cycle of memorable parts. Compared to this, Iron Maiden's long songs come across as improvisations--not in the jazz sense, but in the somewhat flabby dialogue of Curb Your Enthusiasm compared to the tightly-written pacing of Seinfeld. There is a certain spacing in which everything is clearly intended to happen, but this is a matter of schematics rather than real creativity.

In a way, I feel bad for Iron Maiden. They are doomed to keep creating Iron Maiden Albums until the end of time.

score: 2.5 (** 1/2) stars
best songs: "Where the Wild Wind Blows," because it sounds like Oasis

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Inquisition- Invoking the Majestic Throne of Satan

It is probably ironic that my favorite black metal album, Transilvanian Hunger, which utterly captivated me on first listen, is responsible for all that is terrible in black metal for the past 15 years. Darkthrone themselves understood this, that nothing "more" could be done in that direction, which they promptly turned their backs upon (with what results, one has seen).

Transilvanian Hunger, because it is so "minimalist," *appears* to have thrown out the metal tradition and to be in-itself an entire style. The result of its influence has been a disastrous paint-by-numbers of 4,000 bands that "sound like Transilvanian Hunger." Inquisition is NOT one of those bands, for the precise reason that they are thoroughly a metal band. Let's see what that means.

Inquisition basically operates in two modes--ugly, ugly, and simple grinding/blasting, with basic riffs and vocals in the barked/croaked Von style; and on the other hand, slow and meditative passages with long and "pretty" riffs, but which remain absolutely integrated into the rhythm of the song and are a kind of commentary on the condensed blasting parts.

What's interesting about this band is that they began as an extremely riffy, complicated death-thrash band in the style of early Sepultura. The first demos are absolutely bursting with semi-technical and furious stringwork. Now Inquisition make two-piece (guitar and drums) black metal cut from the simplest material, but every second of the song is still supposed to "count." That is, while other bands will bore me with long ambient or noise pieces in the illusion that I will find this to be "evil," Inquisition give even their most boneheaded and primitive riffs an intensity of performance and conviction, so that one is not waiting around for the "pretty" riffs exclusively. In fact, one of the best moments on the album is the switch from an unaccompanied, swirling guitar part into a blunt and idiotic mosh part ("Rituals of Human Sacrifice for Lord Baal"). I believe it is their emergence from an extremely riff-oriented style which makes this simpler music so entertaining, and belies its "ritualistic" pretensions.

In songs like the title track, one can hear (in contrast) what went wrong with newer Graveland. Mid-tempo, croaked vocals, cycling short riffs... on the surface, the sound is the same, but the whole *point* is different here. In Graveland, I'm not sure why all this is being thrown at me, but in Inquisition, the beat and alternating of melody with micro-riffs are not just layers of digitalia; the point is to get the listener headbanging!

This music shouldn't work at all, and the way it is put together is an acquired taste for sure, but the best Inquisition songs really put to shame all recent black metal that is too little creative to forge its own style. Inquisition's "style" is so offputting that it is only here at all because it *does* work phenomenally well.

Score: 4 stars (****)/5
Best songs: "Rituals of Human Sacrifice for Lord Baal," "Hail the King of All Heathens"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Immolation- Here in After

Part 2 of 6 on Immolation

Immolation were in no hurry to release their second album, which came five years after their first, and is a suitably worked-over, defining statement by the group. Although a number of the more brisk songs () recall the debut, the newer elements are: an unconscionable heaviness, more dissonance and guitar squealing, the word "Christ" prominently in almost every song, and longer guitar solos.

What this all adds up to is a belated response to Morbid Angel's Blessed Are the Sick. No longer is the band content to pummel away, as though "brutality" were enough to win over the listener--rather, the composition is varied, and almost pretentiously intellectualized ("time signatures" and whatnot). On the other hand, as with the Morbid Angel album, the songs are catchier than before, and completely "legible," not to mention spacious. Where most other death metal is a cluttered horror vacui, Immolation here almost approach--gasp!--dynamics.

While many bands have "technical" components more remarkable and overstated than this album, they are rarely as integrated: for instance, Necrophagist could be accused of mere window-dressing with technical frills, while obviously a number of other bands are just metalcore bands who throw in some shop-worn cliches to pass themselves off as "brutal technical death metal." Immolation, like Darkthrone on Soulside Journey, are not aiming for mere effect, but subordinate everything to the song.

That all being said, this is not my favorite Immolation record-- it is completely immersive and listenable, but the best songs (see below) tower above the rest of the record (the middle), much like Slayer's Reign in Blood. The result is that the disparity between existing songs becomes the disparity between the middling songs and their unrealized potential: "Why didn't they just write a record full of hits?" Unlike Reign in Blood, the middle of the album does not consist in short songs that just race by.

Great album to put on and sit through, although not every song is a hit. Still, staggeringly more thoughtful than most other death metal.

score: 4 stars (****)/5

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Immolation- Dawn of Possession

Part 1 of 6 on Immolation

After years of being into death metal, I finally heard Immolation for the first time last year. This itself requires some explaining (not of a biographical nature). While other premiere bands--Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Deicide--are among the very first bands that a would-be fan will come across, Immolation, however highly esteemed, will always be underrated.

Totally disregarding quality, and speaking strictly anecdotally, the ORDER in which a fan will get into death metal is something like this:

1) hearing Cannibal Corpse when one is a 14-year-old metalhead, and moving into "the harder stuff" from whatever Ozzfest bands.
2) the punk route: getting into death metal through grindcore and a craving for extremity beyond Assuck (nowadays: Insect Warfare)
3) the hipster: death metal seen as an outgrowth of technically-minded indie rock; totally dehistoricized fandom where Death are appreciated ironically, but Gorguts are seen as the pinnacle of death metal.

None of these scenarios could ever lead directly to Immolation--they are not cartoonish enough for children (like Deicide), not poppy enough for punk fans (like At the Gates), not technical enough for "math metal" hipsters (like Behold... the Arctopus). I'll add, Immolation must also be bypassed by hicks (for whom Entombed are the logical entry point), legions of Latino metal fans (Sepultura), and black metallers (black metal). This is what makes a cult band: you only arrive at Immolation by seeking them out, and not for any aura that has attached to them. The one thing you keep hearing about Immolation is... they're really good. And this, curiously enough, is not a big draw.

As it turns out, Immolation ARE really good, but also hard to describe, since what is interesting is NOT their sound but their songwriting. Three aspects of their sound stand out: 1) the incredibly deep vocals, which however are not "gurgled" but are actually somewhat tuneful, with audible lyrics; 2) the lurching, martial rhythms, really atypical of the jazzy fluidity OR grinding rigidity into which most death metal falls; 3) Immolation really *do* have a signature style and sound, but to cognize this requires taking in about five of their albums.

The album before us is their first, Dawn of Possession, from 1991. The closest comparison for me is Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness, but marked by a totally different drumming style. Certainly elements of thrash remain, because this is not at all at the level of abstraction of say, Incantation, Suffocation, Cryptopsy, etc. Nor is this really "technical" at all, although it becomes more interesting and complicated with every listen.

Here's a listenable live version of the first song, from 1991--when the lead guitarist still had hair!

On subsequent records, Immolation would become terrifyingly heavy (but not "extreme"), so it is interesting to hear this straight-ahead riff fest (more or less). "Those Left Behind" is noticeably more complicated and discordant than the all-out songs surrounding it, and points the way towards subsequent releases.

Dawn of Possession, released the same year as Morbid Angel's Blessed Are the Sick, and obviously outclassed by that release, nonetheless does not sound dated (in a negative sense). Although straight-forward and obviously not high art, Immolation do not at all sound *dumb* here, which cannot be said for Massacre or the first Deicide. Like other second-tier classics---not quite Morbid Angel, Death, Carcass, Sepultura, or Suffocation---Dawn of Possession is strictly for metalheads and for fans of history, but not to be overlooked on any account.

More on Immolation in the coming days/weeks.

score: 4.5 stars (**** 1/2)/5

best songs: "Dawn of Possession," "Fall in Disease," "Into Everlasting Fire"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Necrophagist- Epitaph

Necrophagist seem to violate rule #1 of my aesthetic: they substitute for sheer pleasure (in metal, "headbanging") something not in-itself particularly enjoyable ("technicality"), and then dare the listener to discover the difference. We have just seen that in Cannibal Corpse, extreme gore lyrics, outlandish heaviness, and repetitive breakdowns all stand in (for the teenage listener) for the elements that in fact make quality death metal.

Is something being brought in, criteria-wise, through the back door, which in fact has nothing to do with catchiness, interest, and the joys of paying attention to metal?

Ultimately, I don't think so. Necrophagist, for all their noodling, have a primarily melodic intelligence. This is, in the last analysis, limited (they aren't the greatest band of all time). Until Necrophagist produces a song that is not bathed in the Necrophagist "glow," which is curiously inhuman, they will be only a minor band. But it is possible and enjoyable to follow these songs; they distinguish themselves (unlike Cannibal Corpse); the bag of tricks is ultimately also limited, but is already much greater than on the first album; and the melodic content of the best songs is rare in metal these days (since "melody" now only means At the Gates/Iron Maiden lead-riffage).

Irritating is that every song has to come to a dead stop and let some emotive chords substantially ring out, before the identical, overplayed guitar solo---as at :25 and 1:18 in "Stabwound." Best would be if the band could aim at some variety of effects; the classical music obviously beloved by the band surely could show the way here.

I'm basically ambivalent about this album. It's a fun listen, but for all the flare and obvious construction in these songs, they never approach the heights of similarly-"progressive" later Death, which is really the model for this stuff. Or should be. The whole aura, as intricate as it may be, is not really as "operatic" as Metallica's Ride the Lightning, and not really sweeping at all (no matter how much sweep-picking there may be). It is actually a very "micro" record, and this is of less interest.

score: 3 (***)/ 5 stars
Best songs: "Epitaph," "Only Ash Remains," "Symbiotic in Theory"

Cannibal Corpse- Tomb of the Mutilated

Death metal, at its best, is not what it seems.

This music whose main characteristics are its heaviness, the ghastly lyrics, the relentless speed, and the growled vocals--is really a very subtle art, to which all of the above is strictly peripheral. No death metal record is interesting BECAUSE it is heavy, fast, or brutal.

The most interesting death metal (Cryptopsy, Morbid Angel, Immolation) never relies on cheap effects. The compositions, rhythms, and melodic understanding of these bands would certainly not cross over into "rock" music. The same is true for Joy Division or My Bloody Valentine or Discharge--none of the pleasures of listening to these bands can be translated into rock/pop karaoke versions.

I can't, in this review of a non-masterpiece, go into quite what that "something" may be. Cannibal Corpse have a reputation among connoisseurs for being mindless, sheer aggression, shock value--for being death metal at its most dumbed down.

A few facts: 1) to anyone acquainted with modern death metal, Cannibal Corpse are somewhat dated and quite quaint; if their entire appeal lay in shocking 14-year-olds who have never heard anything like it before, this shock cannot extend to *us*. 2) the vocals are entirely thrown away. They are so monotonous that you tune them out before the first song is over. 3) the lyrics, while indeed disgusting, are also so monotonous that they are unreadable.

The songs here all have a couple interesting parts, taken in isolation--it is only at the level of the whole song that everything becomes indistinguishable. Their "bag of tricks" exhausts itself *very* quickly. Anyone looking to have a grand old time taking this band as camp (a kind of death metal the Misfits) will be sorely disappointed, though. This all gets old fast.

At the beginning of this review, I wrote that death metal is hard to review because it is hard to get a hold of what it is supposed to do well. For any 15-second interval, Cannibal Corpse are indeed indistinguishable from the greats, and from the dregs for that matter. But earlier I was in the kitchen listening to Celtic Frost's Morbid Tales, having the time of my life. I am not having the time of my life listening to Tomb of the Mutilated. If the explanation for why this album is less immediately entertaining is BECAUSE "it's death metal" (i.e. it is trying for something different than Celtic Frost), then this is no explanation at all. Why play death metal at all if to do so is an admission that it will be less interesting than Celtic Frost? (The same thing can be said for free jazz or any experimental music that foregoes the "immediate" pleasures of, say, rock/pop).

It is my position that this is NOT the case--that experimental film CAN be as engaging as narrative film, that free jazz can be wildly entertaining, and that death metal can really rock... But this requires an understanding of the particular criteria in each case, rather than an abandonment of criteria altogether, or a construction of quality that is merely tautological or coextensive with the genre itself (e.g. how "crazy" free jazz is can't itself be used to evaluate it).

Tomb of the Mutilated is unorganized and uninteresting. If you can tune out and tune back in, you won't notice. But I would HATE to have to endure the whole thing on a long road trip.

score: 2 stars (**)/ 5
best songs: Hammer Smashed Face, Split Wide Open

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

High on Fire- Snakes for the Divine

This is a terrible record, sure--but it's an interesting case, because unlike other famous terrible metal albums by great bands (Metallica's Black Album, Celtic Frost's Cold Lake), there is no obviou$ rea$on why High on Fire should make this particular album in any bid for popularity. It basically sounds the same as their earlier records (although more on that later)--they have not made any concessions to pop hooks, or even trends in the underground (thuggish metalcore, grungey post-emo, technicality).

The main observable difference is that the songs are more streamlined, and generally faster. Neither of these are good or bad in themselves. The incredible guitar tone achieved on their second album, Surrounded by Thieves, is not to be found here, and neither is the particular clarity that Steve Albini brought to Blessed Black Wings.

No, the problem seems to lie in the band's misconception of themselves as muscular, overpowering thrashers with long guitar solos and huge "epic" songs. But this was never the case. High on Fire were about one thing: constructing tension. Because Matt Pike came out of the most tedious of genres, doom metal, he knew a thing or two about how to maintain a listener's interest when nothing much was going on.

None of the songs here, though, build to anything. This might be too damning, but a lot of this is just vaguely thrashy and super-generic. It is certainly *someone's* idea of Metal. They are built out of disposable parts, much like newer Immortal albums. A six-minute long song is largely repetitive, has no big payoff, and the Worst Metal Sin of all: really bad guitar solos. When I put on some fantasy metal record, take me on a journey, dude...

In one sense, saying why this record is as tedious as the record itself. My job as a reviewer of metal is basically to evaluate RIFFS. To sum up everything real quick: the riffs here are not great.

But apart from all this, I feel there is a bigger problem: we are supposed to be enjoying how HUGE and AWESOME and METAAAAL this record is. But none of that can express itself or stand in for itself. All these signposts of awesomeness are not the thing itself.

A youtube comment for their new video: "I feel like a viking standing atop a mountain of fucking skulls whilst crushing faces and hurling boulders at my enemies below."

I guess that is what I am supposed to feel. But previously High On Fire accomplished this, not by substituting hugeness and repetitiveness, but by actually being awesome. By creating tension, by making every part of the song count, by writing vocal hooks--well, the same vocal hook for every song, etc.

One-word review: boring. Energy better spent discovering what made previous High on Fire albums true journeys into a dream world.

score: 2 stars (**)/ 5

best songs: weirdly, the CD bonus track "Mystery of Helm."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reviewing Metal on myspace

First off, all these metal bands have such ludicrous myspace pages. You have to scroll down past these huge, hideous, full-page logos in order to see or do anything. Inevitably you can buy about 400 different t-shirt designs for this bands no one has ever heard of, plus the band's name is indecipherable anyways. Why not just buy one t-shirt and tell people it is a different band every day?

First up is PSYCROPTIC, from Australia. The song I'm reviewing is "Ob(servant)"

Why is "servant" in parentheses? Is this like saying the real song's name is "Ob" and the rest is just extra information. Shouldn't "Ob" be in parentheses, as some kind of commentary on the word "servant"?

This song is so intent on being crazy and having a million parts that it ends up sounding like a much simpler genre, bad 1990s powerviolence. Especially in the randomly-assorted vocal stylings, which range from Pantera-esque shouts to goofy, almost interrogative hardcore burly yelling (the "silly" Infest style), to irritating screams. If I didn't know better, I would say that Psycroptic didn't even want to be a death metal band!

If you want some pointless noodling that goes straight into tough-guy breakdowns, has no melodic content, and doesn't even sound like death metal, this is the death metal band for you. In short, this is a bunch of crap thrown together.

Malignancy; song: "Xenotransplantation"

Obviously, I'm listening to this stuff on my computer speakers, in order to replicate the "real life experience" of browsing myspace in 2010. But it's a level playing field. I know what computer speakers do to Deicide and The Supremes, so I can make that mental adjustment. Anyways, this SOUNDS terrible. The guitar tone would be really interesting, as it is very dry and rough for this style of music, but every 3/8ths of a second, there is a squealing pinch-harmonic that ruins everything. I guess the band is being "technical," but it just has the effect of making me think my phone is ringing. It doesn't even exist *within* the song, for my listening experience.

It's too bad, really, that this is completely unlistenable, because the vocalist is fascinatingly abstract, and the song (on a few listens) is coherent and almost memorable through the retarded permutations of the random rhythms inflicted on it. If they toned down the (maddening) squealing, this could be in the vein of Demilich meets Cryptopsy. But, instead it is like a bad joke!

Baroness; song "The Sweetest Curse"

Another terrible song title. Oooh, a curse--that's bad! but sweet--that's good! Now I don't know what to think! I guess I'm supposed to hate this band because they are indie rockers and therefore "false," but I don't roll that way. Is it good? That's all I care about.

But, no, no it isn't good. The ludicrous indecision about how they should sing--you could script the band-practice decision on how "melodic" or "clean" they *should* be yourself--belies what a failure this music is at BEING the indie rock it so obviously wants to be. These vocal parts=not catchy; dress them up how you might. I mean, will anyone want to do karaoke to this? Compare, on the other hand, the final Carcass album, where the death-metal vocal stylings were barely holding-in-check a masterful and catchy hard-rock record.

In short, this is a tuneless, caterwauling emo band's idea of Iron Maiden. If you can inhabit the sonic space implied by the first part of that sentence, then perhaps this is "the year's best album." But then you have already given up the game.

Spawn of Possession; song: "Lash by Lash"

If I were a band, and I had a myspace... man, I would only put up my best songs! Perhaps I couldn't release a stop-to-finish great album, but my myspace page collecting the best songs from my several albums: it would be a greatest hits collection.

Spawn of Possession, however, have opted to post, for the entire world to hear for free, this kind of mediocre song. The riff is outrageously long, and a million things happen/(nothing happens) before the song gets going. But it never really gets going. Again, I suppose I am in metal bliss because some labyrinthine noodling is happening... but this is to confuse "pleasure" with "recognition." Yes, Spawn of Possession, I hear that you are playing "technical death metal"--but that information could have been emailed to me. On the other hand, if you had emailed me "we rock!"--then I would have had to go see for myself.

Do you rock? Well, by combining the most straightforward elements of heavy metal with the most unpleasant and meaningless random jig-jaggery, Spawn of Possession occasionally gets a (mental) head-bang going. But then I don't see the point of all the OTHER stuff?

Suffocation, for instance, who are heavily alluded to (ripped off) here, never throw out all their bag of tricks and just cave in to making basic thrash--Suffocation stick to their guns, and they are "fun" because they do the Suffocation thing so well. But Spawn of Possession, rightly understanding that they are boring, set aside their baffling and intricate style whenever they want to "rock." This is tedious: music should produce its interest *from* its concept/style, not on top of it, as a kind of dessert after a bland main course.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Darkthrone- Circle the Wagons

Even though this album continues the path Darkthrone have been taking for some time now, actually listening to it is shockingly weird. Bizarre lyrics, off-key warbling, passages of stunning brilliance, a pretty crap recording, impossible-to-read irony (?), etc.

Some day we will have to go back and hear Under a Funeral Moon and ask what was really going on there, too...

Once again, Fenriz sings the songs that he wrote, which is probably something I will never get used to. Because the Fenriz songs are always the best, you can look at this in two ways: 1) the best songs on this record are marred by his terrible, high-concept vocals; 2) because they are in a different style than the Nocturno Culto songs, you can regard the album as a "split" or a collaboration instead of a full-band work. Something like John and Yoko.

The Fenriz songs are as much punk as metal, but not really (as metallers will think) a combination of *hardcore* and metal--much less of crust and metal! Rather, just as a punk sound can be heard on the first Iron Maiden albums or in early Motorhead--thus predating hardcore--these Darkthrone songs are more Vibrators than Discharge. More Sex Pistols than World Burns to Death. They are light-hearted and tossed-off, but their goal is catchiness and they don't fail there. Even on "I am the Working Class," which does everything possible to be unlistenable...

The Nocturno Culto songs are dirge-like affairs that seem "stuck" in the Darkthrone records of the early 2000s, and they are less hilarious and less fun than Fenriz's contributions. This means: worse. But as the Engels to Fenriz's Marx, Nocturno Culto still is extremely talented and "Black Mountain Totem" is another dramatically tense composition in the vein of "Oath Minus" from the previous album. "Stylized Corpse," however, *drags.*

Even though I like this album, it is kind of a train wreck: which at least means that it really grabs your attention. What were they thinking? How can they top this? What breach of taste is about to befall me? Obviously this record was not recorded to be Dark Side of the Moon, and it is neither polished nor pruned nor self-serious.

Still, it is an "event" and the artists succeed in bending me to their will and seeing the world their way for 40 minutes. Success. I have been on a journey, if not a soulside journey.

Score: 3.5/5 (*** 1/2)

Best songs: "These Treasures Will Never Befall You," "Circle the Wagons," "Black Mountain Totem"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Burzum- Belus

Burzum was never my favorite of the Norwegian black metal bands--that would be Darkthrone--but like every other fan, gossip, or rubber-necker on the internet, I was curious to hear this album. I even listened to the 30-second previews on Amazon... which in recollection was rather desperate. But now it has arrived in my iTunes, the vinyl is in the mail, etc., and it's time to say what's what.

The first song makes it seem like the last 15 years of black metal never happened (if only!)--could be an outtake from his last pre-incarceration album, Filosofem. And that's... ok. But I think we all really don't JUST want Burzum to be a Burzum clone. And the album really does open out to be much more than that. But what does it add up to? We want something game-changing. We waited long enough.

As the album unfolds, it is apparent that it is NOT game-changing... but then you realize, if we "really knew" what it took to be game-changing, then that would just be an exercise of will. To set out to reinvent everything about music--lots of artists try this, and the history of metal especially is strewn with the failures (Into the Pandemonium) that result. There are very few successes: Bathory's Hammerheart comes to mind as the great mid-career paradigm shift.

Belus is not so drastically different from earlier Burzum... but it is RADICALLY, shockingly different from the black metal of the last 15 years. The album screams, "You guys got it all wrong!"--and I am completely persuaded. Xasthur, Leviathan, Krieg, Velvet Cocoon, Nachtmystium, Wolves in the Throne Room, and legions of more obscure one-man "Burzum-influenced" bands--- all of this seems completely beside the point now.

However, this would not be the case if Belus JUST sounded like Filosofem. It is better than that album, which was limited by its high concept. Belus is, in a way, the definitive Burzum album---but to understand that statement is not to limit Burzum to a mere style. What makes this record is what makes any record: a great number of "neat parts" and compelling riffs. But what makes this album "journalistically" interesting is that it has *zero* attachment to black metal's trappings... and yet... sounds completely like Burzum. Seemingly we missed the point the first go-round.

Black metal since Burzum's last album has consistently tried to "cheat" and produce the style and dubious "kvlt" attitude of a perceived original scene. The most successful bands were the most eccentric--Vlad Tepes, Sacramentary Abolishment, later Graveland, Bone Awl--and eventually not a single person living will care about most of the last decade's basement black metal. But what we learn here is that Burzum maybe ought never to have had ANYTHING to do with all that in the first place.

There is a lot of beautiful music here to lose yourself in.

Best songs: "Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning," "Sverddans," "Keliohesten," "Morgenroede." (tracks #4-7)

Score: 4.5/5 stars (**** 1/2)