A year and a half. That is the period of time it took Varg Vikernes to record the first four Burzum albums back in the early 90s. Though, if it weren’t for Varg’s characteristic madman yowls, one would have no idea that all four of these albums were from the same artist. Each consecutive release showed a musical progression that distanced the album significantly from its predecessor. Beginning with the archaic anti-death metal of the first album, Varg moved onto ritualistic dark metal on Det Som Engang Var, to the ambient repetition of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, finally landing on the electronic fuzzed-out journey of Filsofem. Last year’s Belus continued this pattern as a deceptively deep release that underwhelmed many but showed Varg exploring new sounds once again. Some of the tracks were definitely typical Burzum, unsurprising since a few were written back in the early 90s. But a new guitar tone, changed vocals, and the experimental “Kaimadalthas’ Nedstigning” made Belus a distinct work. Like his first four albums, it stood out from the rest of his catalogue and, aside from a Drudkh sound here and there, was a wholly unique release as well. Given this trend, it is unsurprising that Burzum fans are greeted with another new Burzum album, exactly one year after the comeback album. Does his prolific genius carry over from the 90s? The answer is somewhat complicated, as the question has two dimensions. Does the album keep the Burzumic tradition alive by distinguishing itself from the rest of the discography? And, perhaps more importantly, is it any good? I’ll address the first question before attaching any value judgments.
In many ways, Fallen is different from Varg’s back catalogue. The use of clean vocals and chants, first explored last year in Belus’ “Kaimadalthas’ Nedstigning” is now present in all non-ambient tracks. Much to my surprise, Varg can actually sing! His voice has a warm quality, akin to an old man singing a folk song. As a direct result, “Jeg Faller” and “Valen” have a calming aura unlike anything Varg had previously achieved with metallic sound. Further separations from his other releases include the Black Sabbath rip-off “Enhver til Sitt” (I can’t be the only one who hears it!) and a truly bizarre ambient closer.
But is Fallen a great album? “Jeg Faller” and “Valen,” the soothing songs I mentioned above, are truly fantastic Burzum tracks. They are destined to enter the pantheon of classic Burzum for their perfect pastoral and epic atmospheres. However, the momentum started with these two songs sadly slows down as the album progresses. The next two songs are exhausting; the repetition that Varg is famous for perfecting actually fails here. The riffs and vocal chants are simply not strong enough to carry for the length of the tracks. Furthermore, the dark nature of these songs stands in stark contrast with the rest of the album. The 10 minute “Budstikken” and the ambient finale seemingly pick up where “Valen” left off, while the two middle songs interrupt the warm and comforting vibe that had been established. Normally, I can try to consider the artist’s intentions in their decision to include certain songs. I accept that the vibe I have derived from Fallen may not coincide with Varg’s intended one. Surely these dark songs have a determined purpose on this album. But while I respect the possible thematic diversity, a weak song is a weak song. “Enhver til Sitt” and “Vanvidd” wouldn’t work on any Burzum album because they just aren’t great cuts. Unfortunately, it is the inclusion of these songs that place the album’s quality in jeopardy.
Perhaps I have built up the concept of individuality amongst albums too much. Yes, Fallen is a distinct and unique chapter in Burzum history. But, it is also his most flawed album since his 1992 debut (ignoring the prison ambient albums). It’s a shame too, because the absence of the weak middle would make this a fantastic listen. I recall reading Varg’s tales on the Burzum website about his fond memories of fighting and doing fake wars with his friends as a teenager. Coming back from it all bloodied, bruised, and smelling like earth, he was nevertheless satisfied with the day’s events. By the time Fallen ends, I get the feeling that Varg wants his audience to feel a similar way. “Til Hel og tilbake igjen” closes with a wearied guitar playing a warm melody, a perfect audial representation of a tired, but contented soul. If it was not for those two damnable tracks, Fallen would present that comforting vibe in spades. As it stands, Fallen currently exists as a tainted masterpiece.
01 – Fra Verdenstreet
02 – Jeg Faller
03 – Valen
04 – Vanvidd
05 – Enhver Til Sitt
06 – Budstikken
07 – Til Hel Og Tilbake Igjen