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)

1 comment:

  1. really great review, ben. i have never been into burzum (more the aggro shit, as you know), but this has persuaded me to at least download the album and listen. it's great that this album stands as such a "fuck you" to usbm imitators, and i think that Varg would really appreciate what you said about this having little to do with what followed it. he's said similar things in interviews, to the effect that burzum never had anything to do with its superficial stylistic trappings.