Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Burzum - Filosofem (1996)


After discovering the brilliance of the song "Black Spell of Destruction", so many years ago, I searched to find any Burzum album that I could. Back then, it was very difficult and the search took longer than I had anticipated. In the meantime, I managed to record my first Burzum song from the college radio show, "The Haunted Mansion", that I regularly listened to. This song was titled "Burzum".

[Contrary to popular belief, this is the official title of the song, not "Dunkelheit" as many seem to think. I have no idea why the German translations were listed on the back, but this is obviously a mistake. There is not a single word of German spoken on this album, as the actual lyrics are in English and Norwegian.]

The word "Burzum" means "darkness" in the black speech of Mordor, a language created by J.R.R. Tolkien. This was the first song Varg ever composed and wrote lyrics for. Upon writing this song in the summer of 1991, he changed the name of the band from Uruk-Hai to Burzum. This song was initially intended to be included on an earlier album, but the recording was considered to be poor.

Filosofem was recorded in March 1993, in Breidablik Studio. The sound is more harsh and raw, especially the vocals. It has been said that Varg chose to use the worst possible mic for the recording, and it shows. I think this is the one major setback of this album, when compared to the others. For one reason or another, this seems to be the most popular and accepted Burzum album, yet I feel that the loss of such unique and powerful vocals is a detriment to the music. This was the last Black Metal album recorded by Burzum.

"Burzum" begins with Varg's trademark, sweeping guitar riffs and sparse drums. The sound is cold as ice and the song is mid-paced throughout. There are keyboards that are used sparingly, perfectly blending with the music. The vocals are heavily distorted and raspy, yet more decipherable than the earlier albums. The effect is more grim, but it loses something with regard to the emotion that was conveyed with the previous style. Very inhuman, to say the least. However, later in the song, he uses clean vocals for a spoken word part. The mood is very dismal and hopeless as the music plods along and the arpeggio riffs repeat, again and again. It seems almost trance-inducing.

"Jesu Død" begins with fast tremolo-picked riffs but no drums. This continues to build up the suspense for a minute or so, as you know what is coming and become a little impatient. Absolutely brilliant harmonies used here. The raw production suits this song very well. The screeching vocals seem to take a place in the background, along with the drums, as this song is largely driven by the guitars. They are very distorted and abrasive, yet they require close attention in order to hear the different layers of melody. The fury unleashed by this song is truly unrelenting and Varg displays a great deal of stamina.

"Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament" is next, and the pace slows down from the previous song. This is very primitive and simplistic, yet creates a cold and sorrowful atmosphere. Again, I feel that the different vocal approach really holds this album back from achieving its true potential. As this song draws to a conclusion, the general consensus is that the album begins to lose something in consistency. I reject this view, but it may depend on what you are looking for when you listen to this album.

The next track is an atmospheric piece that abandons conventional song structures. "Decreptitude I" is very melancholic and imbues one with the sense of drowning in blood. Indeed, Varg sounds as if he is dying. As good as this is, I must wonder what it would sound like with his trademark screams. Either way, though most consider the album over after track three, I feel that this song is very essential to the overall atmosphere of the album.

"Rundtgåing av den Transcendentale Egenhetens Støtte" is a 25 minute long ambient piece, very much the successor to "Tomhet", from Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. It would seem that the masses lose interest by this point, or just can't digest such a lengthy song. Either way, it's their loss. This somber piece is actually very liberating in a sense, if you allow yourself to be taken away by the magic it creates. Along with "Tomhet", I played this song over and over as I was reading "The Lord of the Rings" and the two songs made a perfect soundtrack. It is odd how a piece of music that is so minimalist and simplistic seems to be lost on the most simple-minded listeners. Close inspection will reveal the melody from the song "Det Som En Gang Var" reappearing here. It kind of gives the impression of remembering that classic song, but in a dream.

"Decreptitude II" ends the final album recorded by a free Varg Vikernes. This is, more or less, a very lengthy outro piece, as opposed to being an actual song. After a minute or so, fuzzy guitar riffs fade in to add to the bleak atmosphere being created, with the same melody from "Decreptitude I".

I've read where people complain that the second half of this album is hard to get into and tries the patience of the listener. In all honesty, I think these are the sentiments of simple-minded sheep that shouldn't be listening to the album (or Black Metal, as a whole) to begin with. The masses simply want instant gratification without having to invest any significant amount of time, energy or thought. That is why this music is so difficult for them; it challenges them to think, and that's what many people fear the most.