Burzum Anthology Review
by Mark Hensch
Few bands have changed over the course of their careers quite like Burzum. Driven forward by sole mastermind Varg Vikernes, Burzum has, at its core, always retained a level of primitive simplicity. This animalistic behavior has permeated every era of the Burzum persona, and much like an animal itself, Vikernes' alternative identity has been one of adaptation and change, a Darwinian evolution in sound.
Chronologically speaking, this metamorphosis can be divided into two major eras. The first, a time of lo-fi black metal, helped ignite the genre and brought Burzum into initial prominence. The second chapter of Burzum, one of renewed interest in Norse Paganism and nature's call, saw Burzum mellow into an eerie, dark ambient project.
These two eras are so distinctly opposed reconciling them seems a difficult task. With this in mind, how does the latest attempt---a nine song anthology from Candlelight Records---fare?
The answer, unfortunately, is so-so. Though diverse and a decent gateway to the many stages of Vikernes' musical growth in Burzum, this version of a definitive collection feels very lopsided.
The anthology starts off on a high note by proceeding along a chronological path and wisely starting with Burzum's formative black metal days. "Feeble Screams from a Forest Unknown" rips with the genre's now classic raw ferocity, while "Stemmen fra Taarnet" stomps with a hedonistic war anthem for pagans everywhere. "Lost Wisdom," meanwhile, perfectly completes the opening trio with its mix of straightforward viciousness and profoundly simplistic moments of stark awe.
As great as this introduction is, things turn south when the purely ambient interlude that is "Svart Troner" burbles by, signaling the start of other things for Burzum musically. Said new direction is the world of dark ambient, occasionally mixed with black metal and usually a hit-or-miss style for the band.
The epic "Det Som en Gang Var" shows that this new direction can indeed work, mixing beautiful, humming swells of sonic despair with hypnotic, slashing riffs. "Jesus' Tod," meanwhile, shimmers with the malice of icy tremolo melodies, the likes of which stab like the very nails of the crucifix being driven in.
A huge drop in song pick quality occurs after this, however, when things turn purely ambient. "Gebrechlichkeit," for example, sounds like an overly-long, pretentious sojourn through a cavern of the droll. "Balferd Baldrs" works a bit better, its mix of neoclassical elements and darkly catchy melodies producing an epic yet archaic feel.
Sadly, all this momentum is lost when the disc ends with the droning "Ansuzgardaraiwo," a moody piece that sounds like nihilism played by windpipes. It is an anticlimactic end to what is supposedly a metal disc, and something a bit more violent should have ended the storm.
This brings me to my main gripe towards any Burzum anthology, including this one. Yes, Burzum's ambient work is a vital section of the band's impact, but at day's end, Burzum is a heavy metal band. What this means is that---atmospheric experimentation or not---there should be lots of the loud angry sh*t on a disc like this. Simply put, this particular anthology feels like it is a few Vikings short of a straight up raiding party. This is a solid enough introduction for rookie Burzum fans, but others looking for a rounded collection will probably be safest surfing their back catalogs for a private mix.
Burzum's Candlelight Records Anthology
1. Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown
2. Stemmen fra Taarnet
3. Lost Wisdom
4. Svart Troner
5. Det Som en Gang Var
6. Jesus' Tod
8. Balferd Baldrs
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