Sunday, May 16, 2010
For people my age, Varg "Count Grishnakh" Vikernes, incarcerated in 1994 for the murder of Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, guitarist and leader of the band Mayhem, has probably always been "that black metal guy in jail". His release on parole in early 2009 therefore brought up the hopes of a new Burzum record for those into his older stuff. And we didn't even have to wait that long: Belus, Burzum's 7th full-length album, came out in early March 2010.
Stylistically, Belus is a continuation of the style of metal, whether you choose to call it black metal or not, displayed on Filosofem, the last Burzum album to be recorded before Vikernes's incarceration. The album is built on slowly undulating, layered guitars and opts to appeal to sense of hypnotism rather than all-out aggression, as opposed to what a lot of black metal bands are prone to do. By the middle of the album the tempo creeps up (in the songs "Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning", "Sverddans" and "Keliohesten") and while Vikernes has certainly succeeded in writing fast songs before, these aren't really up to par with the slower songs. Were there no faster songs, however, the slower ones might sound duller, therefore justifying the faster ones.
Production-wise, Vikernes has gone for a cleaner sound than many of his earlier works. Or at the very least, a better balanced one. Calling this album over-produced would be a mistake, but it's not like Filosofem either, where Vikernes, for example, specifically asked for the worst microphone in the studio to record the vocals and the guitars were recorded through a stereo set (I do love the sounds on that album, nevertheless). The result is an organic sound that supports the music.
Lyrically, the album is a return to the myth of Belus, or Baldr, who was the topic of Dauði Baldrs, the ambient album from 1997, and is told by Vikernes to be the metal version of said album. The myth states that the death of Baldr is an omen of Ragnarök, the end of the world, in which the gods will be destroyed. Afterwards, Baldr is born again in the new world, which also concludes the album.
While I can see how this album might alienate the fans of Burzum's older material, however much they might like Filosofem, I have to place it on par with the "classical" albums. On the other hand, Belus doesn't compare with all the majesty and perfection of the 4 first tracks of Filosofem, but its lack of a 25 minute, boring-as-all-hell ambient number such as "Rundgang um die transzendetale Säule der Singularität" totally makes up for it. And while some people say Vikernes has done a shoddier job composing hypnotic, yet evolving songs, the doom enthusiast in me does not mind the occasional stagnation, because, for those prone to get carried away by hypnotic music, this album is a state of mind.