For years Burzum devotees have longed for the day of Varg's release, waiting for him to deliver on the promise of new Burzum material free of instrumental constraints. In May of 2009 Varg was granted freedom; he immediately set to work crafting the new Burzum opus and now it is upon us, to be received as we will. Obviously expectations are high; Vikernes has claimed again and again that he feels no connection to the black metal scene whatsoever and that the music he creates is entirely born of him, to be processed as the listener will. This singularity is evident all throughout "Belus"; upon first listening the general feeling is that for Vikernes, the last 15 years have never existed. Their is no evidence of outside influence on this record at all. It picks up right where "Filosofem" left off and expounds upon the ideas presented there, at times referencing the earliest sounds of black metal but mostly sounding as completely alien and removed today as "Aske" must have sounded in 1991. It's astonishing that the concept has remained this clear in Vikernes's mind for so long.
Made up of mostly lengthy compositions, "Belus" is most similar to "Filosofem" in its approach. The idea and promise of transcendence runs strong throughout the album with all of the songs featuring ultra-hypnotic repeated motifs and many featuring extended instrumental sections as well. Each song is a blur of guitars running in a million different directions, yet all harmonically intertwined and connected, sounding at once pinpointed and glitchily hyperactive and scatterbrained. The melodies and progressions present are straight 1991 black metal, with massive weeping minor chords obliquely played against one another, creating a feeling of medieval counterpoint and woozy unease, like the notes should make sense together but somehow don't. It's a jarring, masterful effect, one that Vikernes pioneered so many years ago, so it's no wonder that he's such a master of it now. Opening track "Belus' Dod" best exemplifies this sound, with its baroque chords and scratchy half-time structure hearkening back to darker days. I can only think of two bands who are currently operating in this mindset, Gorgoroth and Mayhem, both members of the old guard as well (and modern day Mayhem is sadly prone to extended prog/hyper math speed exercises, while Gorgoroth maintains a more neoclassical approach.) After that the album as a whole fords a path of true mesmerization, each song becoming more and more simple riffwise but more and more complex with regard to melody juxtaposition and guitar layering. The eleven and a half minute hypnodirge "Glemselens Elv" runs through several minutes of unfettered, wiry guitars repeated ad infinitum for maximum thrall, while all sorts of counterparts run to and from, weaving a dense blanket of crisscrossing notes. "Keliohosten" opens with a pummeling blast beat/guitar endurance test but soon gives way to open string dirging and chunkier, more precise riffing with melodies soaring over the top, becoming at once dreamy and droning. "Sverddans" represents the one true call to the Burzum of old, a song that must certainly date back to 1991 or before; this track is very much in keeping with Vikernes's thrash metal roots and sounds like some cross breed of Slayer and Celtic Forst-but even in this number Varg can't resist some lightning quick frenetic guitar work, like a black metal version of "Flight of the Bumblebee." "Kaimadalthas' Nedstingning" is to me the most interesting track, bearing an almost Alcest-like pomp and presence, with its wide open, gorgeous melodies and dream-pop structure. It's hard to even view this track in the black metal context, even despite its dissonant thrashy opening riff, because its so damn lovely-about three minutes in and Varg switches everything up, letting myriad vocal pieces do the work that the guitars have been shredding away on for so long-varying spoken word and half sung phrases are played alongside one another to create a tapestry of looping, choral harmony while the guitars chime away on a simple open arpeggio. It's masterfully done and a welcome surprise. "Morgenrode" again rides the dirge for a good eight and a half minutes, a grinding slow paced assault made up of sparse open minor chords played against that ever constant open string, devolving further and further into circular nowhereness until it falls right into the majestic closing track, the near ten minute instrumental "Belus' Tilbakekomst," as glorious an evocation of oceanic narcolepsy as has ever been summoned by the likes of My Bloody Valentine or Mogwai. Here the drone lords over all, with guitars entering left and right, becoming ever more saturated in the mix, leaving sorrowful swells of huge open chords wallowing in their own echoes and reverbs. Over and over and over, and infinity, and listening to it, i really wish it was. I don't think Vikernes has ever conveyed his philosophy better than through this track, a sobbing lament for the times and customs of old, a paean to the forgotten laws of nature and the otherwordly forces that guide them.
I will eschew any discussion of Varg's personal politics-for me they do not matter as far as the music is concerned, and the feelings that i get from listening to "Belus" have nothing to do with hate or pride. It's simple beyond-ness, a levitation and a projection. This is a record that gets inside you and whisks you away. It goes further and further as it presses on. As i said before, there is little to nothing in common with modern black metal on display here. There is only Varg's very singular, self-contained vision. It's an artistic statement of impressive strength in that its so impervious to outside definition. Is it the best black metal album ever written? Will it rewrite the template for today? No. Is it an outstanding, mesmerizing black metal album that towers beyond most anything else being released right now? Yes. Quite simply, there is no one else doing this, and there is really no one else capable of doing this. A lot of nights i'll feel that certain musics were born of a very particular time and mindset and that even though strong genres have arisen as a result, there is nothing than can replicate the feel of those original musics. Burzum is evidence of that. Tons of great artists have followed Varg's path, artists whose work i greatly admire-bands like Xasthur, Leviathan, Shining, Make a Change Kill Yourself, Lifelover, etc-but none of them have, nor ever will, reach the high standard set by "Filosofem." Only Varg himself is capable of reaching that height again, and with "Belus" he comes eerily, frighteningly close. Ave, Burzum. Amen.