“You ever heard those Norwegian death metal bands? They are scaaaaaary!” And so goes many a conversation in a bar by jackasses feigning that they have some sort clue…
The brainchild of the infamous Kristian “Varg” Vikernes (I’m assuming the “Count Grishnackh” moniker was either ‘killed off” or has taken a backseat since his prison stint), one-man juggernaut Burzum indeed helped spearhead the nascent Norwegian black metal scene many moons ago, and several indiscretions and utterances of forbidden thoughts helped further cement his mark on all underground culture and also made him a media darling worldwide. An object of both ridicule and veneration by those actually into underground metal and even those who couldn’t give half a damn about it, nobody can argue Burzum’s place in the annals of both musical and art history in general.
Needless to say, I’ve always been a fan. For you see, once upon a time, all that mattered in a black metal band was that they were from the country of Norway, and nothing but. Literally, “From Norway=good” was the gauge of black metal in the mid 90s and almost until the end of the century. Yet sadly, one by one, many Norwegians bands started going astray, drastically changing their sound and structure and slowly entering the mainstream that they had spent many years shunning and heckling. Bands starting having their CDs sold in mall record stores courtesy of certain shady American metal labels and shirts on mannequins at Hot Topic, with Norwegian phonies Dimmu Borgir leading the charge of this dubiousness along with Britain’s Cradle of Filth. Us die-hard’s worst nightmare started unraveling into reality; the music was becoming fashionable and easily accessible, and soon costume, gesticulating, and obnoxious slogans took precedence over delivering quality musical art. And let’s not forget how avenues like MySpace (Good riddance!), Guitar Hero (Ditto!), and Metalocolypse (Anytime is a good time!) were all basically platforms for free advertising for these bands, making something one actually had to make effort in seeking out now as easy to find as looking over your shoulder, more or less. Does having to jump through a bunch of hoops to find music actually make it “better” than music easier to find, per se? No, and I’d be a liar and a fool if I said that was the sole measure of “good” music (and I’m certainly much more open-minded to different kinds of music now than I was in my impetuous “METAL FOREVER!” youth). But dammit, when it was once one way and then suddenly it implodes into the exact opposite right before your very eyes, it just sucks, and its value severely diminishes, especially when these bands spent YEARS claiming to be against mainstream culture and entertainment and then suddenly became the next marketing gold mine aimed at disenfranchised white youth. You’d had to have actually filled those shoes to truly understand, I suppose.
Token Fatherland Almighty rant aside (a good sport never hesitates to disparage himself), Burzum is one of only so few Norwegian black metal bands to consistently provide great album after great album, and has stuck to the same basic formula since day one. If you can understand the circumstances behind the two “Prison Albums”, as they’re so aptly called in most circles, and consider the means he had to work with to record those, even they are damn fine pieces of work with plenty of thought put into the notions behind them. Each album represents a series of emotions and concepts from deep within Varg’s soul, from the cover art to the inner photos to the quips written inside the sleeve. Listening to each album in order (try it!) is like peering into the soul a troubled, misunderstood genius who gets himself in hot water and controversy all too often.
“Fallen” follows a similar road, bookended with ambient tracks that have become his trademark of sorts and lengthy tracks in-between laden with emotion and various vocal arrangements. You COULD perhaps argue “You’ve heard one Burzum album, you’ve heard them all”, but that would be extremely shortsighted and negligent. Production is a bit more rough this time around (apparently intentional, as Burzum’s website states that some equipment from the 60s and 70s was used to achieve this) and the speed never quite reaches the blazing fast levels of “Det Som Engag Var” or “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”, so don’t expect a throwback to earlier times, probably anytime in the future, either. Do, however, expect the usual hypnotizing guitar melodies and almost soothing vocals when sung cleanly and tortured raspiness when done in black metal mode. Varg has always been a master at telling stories and weaving a cold and depressing atmosphere to share them with us. “Fallen” never disappoints and only someone of Varg’s caliber can write songs pushing 10 minutes of length without taking us down the path of utter boredom. It’s multi-layered approach to quality Norwegian black metal is indeed a forgotten style and Varg captures its essence with the conviction of a true, determined artist both misbegotten and often misunderstood.
It’s a safe bet that the release of every Burzum album has and will always be like an event, a reason to get excited about a new black metal album when the reasons are so few, especially from his home country. Say what you will about the man, but yet you cannot deny the impact he’s made and the legacy he’s created. “Fallen” is another chapter in said legacy, and I for one look forward to many more. (FA)