Monday, September 8, 2008

Burzum - Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (1994)


This was the last Burzum album that I acquired. In a moment of stupidity, I nearly passed it up as I imagined it to be an E.P., since there were only four songs, and I was reluctant to go through the trouble of finding it for so few songs. Thankfully, I had a friend that had a copy and introduced me to the first song on a lengthy car ride, one night. Some time later, when I found myself face to face with this masterpiece in a Swedish record store (Sound Pollution), I did not hesitate to pick it up.

Hvis Lyset Tar Oss was recorded in Grieghallen Studios in September 1992. It is amazing to think of the fact that the first three albums, and an E.P., were all recorded within a span of only eight months, yet so much musical progression takes place. This album was released on Misanthropy Records as the Count was chained in a dark dungeon by this time. He dedicated his creation to Fenriz and Demonaz. The Album cover is artwork from Theodor Kittelsen (1857- 1914) called "Fattigmannen" (The Pauper), and it suits the music, being beautiful yet sorrowful.

Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is widely regarded as the moment when Count Grishnackh reached his creative peak. Regarding the guitars, he retains his basic power chord and tremelo style guitar lines that he used on the previous albums. The emphasis is on quality over quantity (a point many Black Metal bands fail to understand). One of the main reasons this release is so memorable and highly regarded is the fact that the riffs are all brilliant. All of the songs flow seamlessly, and the riffs are repetitive to the point that you can't help but think that the music is simply a gateway into one's own visions and thoughts, and that the music simply acts as a catalyst, presenting possibilities and ideas to the mind.

"Det Som En Gang Var" begins with a lengthy guitar intro that also features some keyboard use. Burzum is unique in that the keyboards actually become another part of the music, rather than dominating the sound or becoming the only means of creating atmosphere. For example, if you were to remove the keyboards from an Emperor album, most of the atmosphere would be lost. However, if the same was done here, very little would change. They are used only to accentuate the atmosphere. Of notice is that the sound is very clear, very cold. As the drums build up and the song really begins, you are taken on a journey through dreams and memories. The title translates to "What Once Was" and, as a very nostalgic person, few things can evoke such a reaction as lamenting that which has gone forever. As the first anguished screams are unleashed, nothing could be more perfect. It is remarkable that such melancholic melodies can be created while maintaining the inherent simplicity and repetition of Burzum's style. This is the most epic song ever recorded by Count Grishnackh and yet, at 14 minutes, it doesn't seem nearly long enough. The atmosphere is stark and despairing. The harmonies chill you to the very bone and circle around you like a blizzard of knives. With each tortured scream, one of the knives pierces your freezing flesh. In mourning for that which was, the beauty that has withered away and passed into the realm of shadow, never to return, the agonized shrieks are a reflection of the darkness within. Hope has died. Halfway through the song is the greatest riff ever captured. It pierces your heart with sorrow and yet is liberating at the same time. As everything gets quiet, there is just the guitar and vocals. The desperation is overwhelming. Then, the song builds back up, in all its epic glory, as the terrible screams wail with pain and misery:

"Det som en gang var."

Yet, the true meaning of the song is finally understood with the final two lines, not just in realizing what they mean but in the manner in which they are conveyed: the anguished screams of a being trapped between life and death.

"Vi døde ikke... Vi har aldri levd."

How does one follow up such an epic masterpiece? The draining experience of being immersed in the first song is sharply contrasted by the "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss", which is one of the most straightforward Black Metal songs to be found in Burzum's discography. The pace never slows down, yet it is not energizing like a song such as "War". The feeling is hypnotic and trance-inducing. The title translates to "If the Light Takes Us" and the lyrics convey sorrow and hatred for the world or, at least, what it has become.

Much like the previous song, "Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen" clocks in around the eight minute mark, yet still seems short when compared to the first and last songs. This song continues on in the same style as the title track, yet is infinitely more droning and hypnotic. It is like a long journey through a harsh and desolate landscape of darkened forests, paths covered with jagged rocks and obscured by mist. The title translates to "Into the Castle of Dreams" and one is hardly given the chance to breath, until about halfway through. The structuring of the album is truly brilliant as it seems designed to create the most intense experience possible. Halfway through, the song slows down and the tension is finally released with the anguished screams of Count Grishnackh. This is definitely one of the most memorable moments on the album. The whole tone of the song changes as the journey of life comes to an end and one enters the castle of dreams.

The 14 minute long ambient piece "Tomhet" finishes the album. The title translates to "Emptiness" and the song conveys this with ease. This song is like journeying deep through some forgotten land, through dangerous mountains, the murky shadows of dismal valleys and the ever-present threat of one's own demise. There is little hope, if any, and the burden of life becomes greater with each step. After several minutes, the song gets much quieter, and the feeling of total and absolute emptiness is overwhelming. The hopelessness is unbearable. And yet, at the darkest point, a faint glimmer of light shows through the darkness. Pleasant memories can be recalled; memories of better times. Memories almost forgotten. Yet in this moment, a longing takes hold and the realization that those times are, indeed, forever gone is impossible to escape. The hope that something good and pleasant may return... it only serves to torment the heart into utter oblivion. What was once beautiful has now faded into nothingness. The truest evil lays not in the realm of dragons and demons, but within the heart of man. In the emptiness of the human spirit...