Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Burzum - Fallen (2011)

Fallen is the eighth studio album from the legendary Norwegian Black Metal band, Burzum. Recorded and mixed during two weeks at Grieghallen Studios, it comes just a year after Belus and continues the sound that was established on that album. Varg Vikernes returned to his old ways of being very productive, and it should be no surprise to those familiar with the classic Burzum albums since they were all recorded in a short span of time. In the press release, it was stated that the new record would have more influence from the debut album and Det Som Engang Var, though the reality of the situation is that this is not as overt as many might have hoped. Of course, a similar thing happened with the last release.

It was in a 2005 interview where Varg made the announcement that he would record more music and that Filosofem was the album that most resembled the new material that he had in mind. This was mistaken to mean that his next effort would possess this same sound, which was neither what he said nor (probably) what he would want anyway, since that album had already been ripped off an infinite amount of times and was no longer unique to Burzum. What seemed to happen, with the passage of a decade, was that the music still managed to develop and elements of the classic releases were mixed with the strange atmosphere of Dauði Baldrs and Hliðskjálf, along with some new darkness that was now hanging above. While not exactly the same, it was clearly Burzum.

Belus was Varg's first release in eleven years, and it was the first proper Black Metal album released under the Burzum name since 1996's Filosofem. Expectations were extremely high, from the long-time fans to the legions who had discovered Varg's music during his incarceration. Whether they wanted to enjoy his music or to simply have more fuel for the constant criticisms of his character, Mr. Vikernes found himself the subject of quite a lot of scrutiny. Belus had a heavy task, as there was a lot of pressure to deliver something that would not only introduce the band to a new generation of listeners, but to somehow retain the old fans as well. Those who did not get what they expected with the last record have likely already wandered on to something else, and a great deal of the media hype has long since faded with the many months of silence in the Burzum camp. With the ice broken, Varg had more freedom and less pressure as he worked on the new material.

Fallen follows the path that was taken on the previous album, maintaining a similar feel and yet pushing the boundaries of experimentation. That is not to say that there is really anything present that would not seem normal or natural for a Burzum release, just that there is more of it. While there are a decent amount of similarities to the band's classic period, Varg has truly entered a new phase of his musical career and must be respected for his efforts. He could have been lazy and just made Metal versions of all of the tracks from the two ambient albums, before working on new songs. Instead, he used a few ideas and then moved on into new territory, keeping true to his roots while expanding the Burzum sound.

The album begins with "Fra Verdenstreet", which is a brief intro that hearkens back to the old days. It is not particularly useful, but does not detract from the proceedings and adds to the atmosphere of the album in its own way.

"Jeg Faller" is the first proper song, and it begins with the cold tremolo riffs that one would expect from Burzum. In a way, the long period of inactivity has allowed Varg to serve as a window to the past, being somewhat more pure than most of his peers that continued making music for the last two decades. Upon first listen, this song is slightly disappointing, as it is at this point where the realization hits that any similarities to Det Som Engang Var would not include the vocals. The tortured shrieks of the past are truly gone and shall never resurface, it appears. The use of clean vocals has increased and this takes a couple listens to get used to, for some. In particular, the strange spoken word sections seem to interrupt the flow of the song, at first. After a few listens, this feeling passes and it sounds more natural. The music begins with a faster pace, before transitioning to something a little slower. The track is rather dynamic, never sticking to one riff for too long and including a variety of ideas. The faster parts, at the beginning and end, seem to stand out the most.

The next song is "Valen", which seems to stand out as the most memorable of the whole record. It is more mid-paced and melancholic that the previous track. The riffs are haunting and epic as well, though never quite reaching the same disturbing levels of misery that were found on Belus. Once the new vocal approach has been accepted, one can really enjoy the performance given on this piece, as a lot of feeling is conveyed and a dark atmosphere created by the utilization of clean and harsh vocals. While unable to compare to the performances of "Black Spell of Destruction" or "En Ring Til Aa Herske", there are some truly miserable sounds emitted from the man once known as Count Grishnackh. The riffs are rather simple and repetitive, but technicality was never a key ingredient to Burzum's music, nor should it be. This is all about atmosphere, and that is something that this Norwegian band is well known for. The hypnotic melodies are enough to carry one to the dark realm where life is traded, willingly, for glorious death.

"Døden var her først
Glemselen seirer til slutt"

The next song is "Vanvidd", which is another one that features a strange use of clean vocals. The pace is much faster and the razor-thin tremolo riffs slice into your weakened flesh with ease, as the drums pound your skull into dust. After a couple minutes, the song slows down to the standard mid-paced Burzum death march that most longtime fans are used to. This lulls the listener into a a trance, preparing them to be mercilessly assault by the horrible screams that soon follow. This has a chilling effect and soon restores all faith in Varg's abilities as a vocalist, despite his development since the early 90s. Over the course of the song, even the clean singing seems less unnatural, though certain parts would still benefit with only the freezing cold riffs to command all of the attention.

"Enhver Til Sitt" begins with a brilliant doom-laden riff, with mid-paced drumming and spine-tingling vocals that soon accompany the miserable feeling of depression and melancholia. Hopeless tremolo riffs join the sorrowful bass lines in creating an aura of despair and all-consuming dread. The title translates to something along the lines of "each man gets what he deserves" and, in this case, mankind deserves horror and death. The lyrics are very poignant and thought-provoking, as well. Again, one has to be amazed how the Burzum sound seems to expand, subtly, while still remaining pure.

"Jeg fryser ikke mer
Jeg varmes av månelyset"

The final song is "Budstikken". which begins with somewhat of an epic build-up, with the mournful tremolo riffs accompanied by thunderous drums, before the song truly breaks free and moves forward at a faster pace. Somehow, this is slightly reminiscent of "My Journey to the Stars", and it is at this point where one can really feel the connection between new and old. The bass, which has been rather audible throughout the entire record, seems to stand out the most on this track, adding a layer of misery to the atmosphere. Strangely, this song is sorrowful while also being the most upbeat of the whole album. The clean vocals bring things back to a somber place, as the guitar riffs shift back to something darker and more life-draining. In a sense, the music gives the feeling of going off to war, to fight in a battle that you know will be lost, yet one that you must fight anyway. However, by the end, you simply wish for a cold grave to swallow your lifeless body and to be forgotten for eternity. The old ways are gone and the world is crumbling. All that we possess are fading memories of a dead age and the knowledge that what once was is forever lost. The roots of Irminsûl are rotten and dead. Existence is pointless and life itself seen as a curse.

Fallen ends with "Til Hel Og Tilbake Igjen", which is an instrumental piece that, at first, seems quite useless. When it was mentioned that the album would feature some ambient tracks, this was not what most fans had in mind. The first few minutes are more annoying than anything else, but the final moments make it worthwhile as a simple, yet effective, acoustic guitar passage manages to tear your spirit right out of the body and to slowly smother it into nonexistence.

In the end, Fallen is a worthy follow-up to Belus. It is a little more dynamic, in that the atmosphere includes more highs and lows, rather than the soul-shattering misery of the previous record. The use of clean vocals seems to be slightly overdone, but this may continue to grow on me as time passes. This is a solid album, worthy of the Burzum name, and there is no reason to doubt Varg's musical abilities at this stage in his career. His passion and creativity are as evident as ever, something all Burzum fans should be grateful for.