originally written by Chris McDonald
So there’s a new Burzum album. Wow, where does the time go? I remember when I was a lowly high school sophomore just starting to submerge myself in the depths of the metal underground, and I immediately took a shine to Burzum as I began exploring all the old Norwegian black metal bands. No doubt his controversial history made a big impact on my impressionable young mind, but there was also something about his music that really spoke to me in those formative days of my metal-listening career. I remember reading about his prison sentence and thinking about how long it would be until anyone heard anything new from the project, and how much it would probably suck if it ever came. I mean, personal politics and history aside, how often do these long-dormant revivals actually yield results even marginally as good as the classics that made them anticipated in the first place? I can’t blame anyone for being cynical of Varg’s ability to even remotely conjure the essence of his past material after such a long stint outside of the music world.
But here we are. It’s 2010, Varg has been released, and Belus is actually a pretty good album. Not great, but pretty good. Yeah, I’m surprised too.
However, I don’t want all of you to mistake that statement as a hearty encouragement to rush out and buy this thing. See, for me anyways, Burzum’s music has always sort of operated outside of the curve, on its own terms, and I find myself captivated by it even if I flat-out hate a particular riff, vocal, or even a whole song that this guy puts to tape. It’s hard to explain, and I’d probably come off as a pretentious dick if I tried, but suffice to say that there’s always been something that’s separated Varg’s music from that of his peers, both of the early 90’s and today. As such, there are a lot of you who will find nothing to like about this record just like you found nothing to like about the first six. And believe me, I get it. Belus is unquestionably a Burzum album much in the style of the first four, so Vikernes definitely delivered on that promise, and anyone expecting a drastic sonic overhaul with his release from prison will be amazed at how much this material harkens back to the Burzum of old. Varg’s vocals have lost most of their piercing shrillness, but other than that the instrumentation, production, and songwriting style sound like almost a straight continuation of the Hvis Lyset Tar Oss / Filosofem days. In fact, it almost feels strange to hear the feel of those albums replicated so well after so many years.
About half the material on here is kind of middling and directionless, but many would argue the same could be said for all of Burzum’s albums. But Belus obviously doesn’t have the same historic weight that its predecessors do, so the songs are forced to stand on their own, and they hold up reasonably well all things considered. The first half of the album is particularly strong; “Belus’ Doed” is a slow and plodding number that contrasts doomy black metal riffage with those shrieking tremolo leads that have become a hallmark of the Burzum sound, but the real star of the show is “Glemselens Elv.” A slow, powerful epic, the track leads the listener through a series of lonely atmospheric passages that sound more than a little influenced by Drudkh’s sound. Nevertheless, the feel of the song is definitely Burzum, and this is perhaps the only track on the album that stands up to Varg’s pre-prison material.
Things get a little shaky from this point on though. “Kaimadalthas’Nedstigning” starts out strong with a haunting riff but loses some steam in its repetitive spoken word segments, while “Sverddans” is a brief and ineffectual little folky thrash number that sounds woefully out of place situated between two atmospheric dirges. “Keliohesten” is a solid follow up to “Glemselens Ely” with a simple yet effective cycling of two riffing passages that retains some semblance of the hypnotic power of the early albums, but then the flat-out bizarre pulsating beginning of “Morgenroede” comes along and kind of kills the buzz (though the song does improve as it goes along). Closing things we have “Belus’Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon),” a lengthy droning ambient piece almost unbearably simplistic in its execution.
But even though Belus is hardly a breathtaking masterpiece, I think it’s worth mentioning that, despite the massive number of black metal bands that have been influenced by Vikernes’s work in the 90’s, to this day there still isn’t a band out there that really sounds like Burzum, for better or for worse. Somehow Vikernes has emerged from prison and crafted an album that feels distinctive and recognizable even in 2010, and that’s saying something regardless of whether or not you think the music is total crap. Looking back at this review, I realize there’s really very little I could possibly say that will sway any of you to either buy or avoid this record. I could call this the best black metal album of the decade and half of you would still avoid it like the plague; conversely, I could call this a horrendous piece of shit and half of you would still buy it, because it’s Burzum, and hey, it’s kind of a big deal. But, fortunately for all of us perhaps, this album is neither outstanding or horrible. What it IS, however, is the music of Burzum, new for the first time in over ten years. And I will say that despite parts of this record irritating or boring me, every track glimmers with that unique atmosphere that has mesmerized so many people since the project’s inception, and that alone makes Belus an enjoyable and worthwhile listen overall.