Sunday, September 7, 2008

Burzum - s/t (1992)


If you talk to a lot of people, today, they'll have you believe that they were in on the ground floor of the Norwegian Black Metal scene. Seriously. Worse yet, half the people are my age or even younger, yet they'll swear up and down that they were into it from day one. Truth be told, most of the people that were even old enough to be around at this point were probably wearing their mother's make-up and listening to The Cure or some sort of glam rock, when Deathcrush was released. The vast majority only ever heard about the Norwegian Black Metal scene after it was, more or less, dead. Maybe they read about the church burnings and the murders. More likely, they read about it online or in "Lords of Chaos". People carry on heated discussions regarding the relationship between Euronymous and Varg, as if they knew the people, personally. Sadly, most of these people are in it for the hype and nothing more. Very few actually bother to listen to the music and even less have a true understanding of it.

I was not "waiting at the local record store" the day that A Blaze in the Northern Sky or Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism came out. I was mostly listening to Thrash Metal and the most evil thing I had discovered, by the time churches were being burned across Norway, was Slayer's Hell Awaits. However, as it concerns Burzum, I think I had an advantage. While I wasn't listening to these albums as they came out, I still managed to make the same progression as those that came before me. Unlike kids who, today, hear a million different "extreme metal" bands and then can't understand why bands like Venom and Bathory are so important, I was exposed to everything in the proper chronological order. I first heard Black Sabbath before I could even walk. I listened to various rock and metal bands, during the 80s and early 90s. I then ran across bands like Slayer, Venom and Hellhammer. This was my introduction to Black Metal, and darker music in general. Luckily, for me, I started at the beginning. So, by the time I heard bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum, I had a decent background in the same old bands that had inspired them. Despite this, nothing could prepare for the experience of hearing Burzum, for the first time.

One gloomy and depressing night, many years ago, my best friend came by to visit me. I'm not sure how or where he'd acquired it, but he had a CD that included various bands. I can't really recall most of the other songs that were on there, but one song commanded my attention. This was "Black Spell of Destruction" from Burzum's self-titled debut. This was prior to finding Transilvanian Hunger on cassette, so "Over Fjell og Gjennom Torner" was still the only Norwegian Black Metal that I had, at the time. The haunting, depressing melodies suited my mood at the time, perfectly. Then, I heard the vocals. Not even the tormented shrieks from "Triumph of Death" could prepare me for this. I'd never heard anything like it. The tortured screams, filled with despair, spoke to me on some deep level that I was not even able to fully understand. I couldn't even decipher what was being said, but I knew what it meant, without a doubt. As the song neared its conclusion, the mournful wails and somber melodies obsessed my mind and through those terrible screams I could feel the misery and hatred in my own black heart being expressed. I wasn't just listening to the music, I was experiencing it. I knew that I must own this album. It took a couple years to locate, but it was well worth the wait. Though it was recorded and released in the Winter months of 1992, the first Burzum album was far ahead of its time.

"Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown" begins the album with fury and speed, and is one of the most straightforward Black Metal songs on the album. Few of the riffs are repeated and the song kind of gives the feeling of traveling slowly down a dark path in the dead of night. After beginning with very fast tremolo-picked riffs and blastbeats, it then slows down, and as it progresses, it descends deeper and deeper into the abyss of despair. As the song slows down and nothing is left but the guitar and the tortured screams of Count Grishnackh, it sends chills through my body. However, then the song speeds back up and the hatred bursts forth. It is quite appropriate that the first four songs are "Side Hate". This song is indeed, fucking cold. So to speak, of course. The song then settles down a bit as a melancholic riff carries it to its conclusion. That was no mere song, it was like a journey, and it was only the beginning.

Next is "Ea, Lord of the Depths". This song begins with a drum beat that remains consistent throughout much of the song. Count Grishnackh handles all of the instruments in Burzum, and is quite a competent musician. Many other one-man bands, that draw a lot of inspiration from Burzum, usually display their shortcomings with one or more instruments or resort to using some sort of drum programming. Not the morbid Count. He wrote and recorded everything, perfectly, without even the benefit of being able to rehearse the songs or hear them in the entirety until after he was finished. He simply knew what they were supposed to sound like, in his head, and made it happen. As for the music, the second song features the aforementioned double bass at the beginning, and a very dark guitar melody that weaves through your subconscious and corrupts your very soul. Again, the vocals are filled with hate and winter and add greatly to the atmosphere. Many have tried to imitate this style and have failed, miserably. As the song progresses, the riffs are repeated and there is a short solo, near the end.

Next is "Black Spell of Destruction", my favorite song on the album. This one is slow and ominous. The melodies are filled with mourning and the vocals convey an unrelenting despair. This is one of the darkest and most depressing songs ever recorded. This is like a journey through the blackened depths of the human mind. Here, there is no hope... no peace. There is only anguish and misery. The walls are closing in and it becomes more and more difficult to breathe. The tormented screams mirror those within your own heart. Everything comes to a stop, as there is nothing left but a mournful guitar melody and the most agonizing screams imaginable. You feel claustrophobic within your own skin and yearn to be released. The haunting melody urges you to seek death, to seek release. The screaming continues, and yet you realize that you are screaming as well, within your mind. There is nothing but despair. You must escape the bonds of human flesh...

"Channeling the Power of Souls Into A New God" is a brief ambient piece that serves to continue the journey. The tone is a somber one, and it feels as if your spirit is wandering, aimlessly, through space and time. This allows you to breathe once more before the coming battle.

"War" is pure Bathory worship. This song serves to reinvigorate the listener and bring them to life once more. The song is short, simple and filled with energy. There is also a decent solo, by Euronymous, near the end.

"The Crying Orc" is a brief instrumental piece, consisting of only a sorrowful guitar melody that fades in, depresses and then fades back into oblivion. It does well to calm the listener down after the bloodlust of the previous song.

"Side Winter" continues with "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit". Having first heard the re-recorded version from the Aske EP, this is a bit difficult to digest. My favorite parts of the song are the slower sections, yet the original has a faster pace and the atmosphere is not the same. It does slow down, after about seven minutes, to the familiar pattern of a slow and melancholy crawl. However, this does not quite make up for what is missing from the first half of the song and I am very glad that the Count re-recorded this as the second version is darker and does a better job of conveying the cold, melancholy feeling that he was going for.

"My Journey To the Stars" is next. This, along with “Spell of Destruction”, contends for the position of “best song on the album”. The song starts off with tremolo-picked tri-tone notes, before flowing into the higher range of the guitar, and going into a fast drum beat. This creates a sense of doom and tension. This all takes over a minute to build up, and by leaving nothing out, it is the perfect build-up to a song of such an epic nature. As the drums come in, you prepare to go beyond the mortal realm, into the nightsky. This is one of the fastest tracks on the album, and very lengthy, clocking in at just over 8 minutes. The guitar tracks are harmonized very well, and this song contains the greatest riff ever written, at 4:53. There are several tempo changes, allowing tiny bits of hope to creep in, only to be trampled by overwhelming grief. The song slows down toward the end however, and contains another part of only guitar and vocals. This creates a bitter cold atmosphere and the anguished vocals prepare you for your ultimate demise. As the dark ritual nears completion, there is but one thing left to do.

"Dungeons of Darkness" ends the album in an obscure and sinister manner. This is another ambient piece, and serves as the soundtrack to your final breath...