Tuesday, February 1, 2011

BURZUM "FALLEN" (Byelobog Productions)

Appearing barely a year after the majestic "comeback" album "Belus" Burzum returns with the equally stunning "Fallen." One look at the cover art should give you an indication of where Varg's headed at this point: this is romantic, aristocratic black metal as far removed from the austere frigidity of "Filosofem" as it is from the primitive shadowy murk of "Aske." Easily standing as one of Burzum's most sophisticated and accomplished efforts musically, "Fallen" pushes Varg's vision into a new prism of hypnotic lull, emerging with something truly introspective and meditative.
This is still black metal in its truest form. All of Varg's trademarks stand up for appraisal and recognition, from the baroque minor key guitar arpeggios to the blinding emphasis on repetition and trance induction (all of the songs hover in the seven to ten minute range, allowing for maximum immersion.) What's gone is the idea of violence, replaced with a drawn out sort of musical contemplation. I'm tempted to use the word "pastoral" to describe "Fallen" as a whole because for me this record speaks of a journey across a vast and colourful, hyper-washed out stretch of flatland, like a highway that vanishes into itself as you gaze as far out as possible. As the record draws you in it completely envelops you, pulling you down deeper as it reveals its many, many layers. Guitars ring and drone in complex overlaid patterns, circling in on themselves in much the same manner as Jozef Van Wissem approaches his lute compositions. Backwards and forwards, ending and beginning, circular motion as an infinite allowance for interpretation. As Burzum progressed the idea became more about time-stretching, maybe even time obliteration, and on these tracks Varg succeeds in bending the constructs of headspace to a near breaking point. This is simply ultra-intense focused music for the mind fused to a black metal template.
Varg stated that for this record he attempted to give it more of classical feel and the songs seem to reflect that dedication to lengthy, referential composition and wholeness, standing as part of a longer 47 minute symphony than as individual songs. Each piece flows into the next. There are few jarring tempo changes, rather a methodical pacing supplemented by Varg's relentless, simplistic drumming. Even the blasting parts come across as hypnotic, their inherent fury tempered by the record's desire to caress rather than bludgeon. Whereas "Belus" was a hodgepodge of songs written across a space of ten years or more, "Fallen" is a complete, enclosed work obviously composed in a set time frame with a set mind of influence. This is Burzum now, the future obliterating the past, with Varg beginning to truly work off of the ideas put forth in "Filosofem" even as he pushes that record further and further into the background. There's a beauty and gentleness here that has never surfaced in Burzum's work. Varg explored some of these textures on "Belus" but here the loveliness is allowed to surface more prominently. A goodly chunk of the vocals on "Fallen" are spoken or sung clean, creating a deeper feeling of intimacy and weariness and, at times, eeriness. Varg's melodies are still weeping and wistful but surrounded by the romance of the arrangements they are transformed from black metal traditionalism to something much more contemporary and elusive (i'm reminded mostly of other "romantic" black metal ala Mortifera, Alcest and, in a composition-only way, Grand Belial's Key.)
It's exciting to me to see Varg working so quickly and masterfully. So many thought the new Burzum wouldn't be able to compete with the old, that the victories and triumphs of the past could only be a product of their time, that the fires would burn out during Varg's imprisonment. To me Burzum is as vital now as it was in 1993. This is a stunning piece of work, trading on the conceptual success of "Belus" and warping it into something completely new and tremendously effective. Listening to "Fallen" makes me feel that black metal is still a force of near magic strength and vitality, as much a philosophy and a way of thinking as a form of music. This will easily stand as one of 2011's best albums, as well as a landmark statement in Burzum's storied discography. Totally recommended, utterly masterful and simply gorgeous.

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