Review Summary: The Burzum of 2010 is one of progression and regression.Belus
is the first album from Burzum since Varg Vikernes was released from prison last year and the first black metal album recorded and produced by Burzum in around 17 years. Promising to deliver a ‘genuine’ Burzum album and a true indication of where Burzum would be heading with future endeavours, the main question apart from whether this album would be a success or not, is how much would Vikernes actually evolve, alter and change his sound which was so successful in the early 90’s?
The fact remains is that the Burzum of 2010 was always going to be different from the Burzum of the late 1990's that produced the now classic album Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
but Belus as an album shows signs of both progression and regression. For the majority of the album Vikernes sticks to his traditional black metal tremolo riff picking that we have come to know from him since his time before his prison sentence which has not changed much at all since his debut self-titled album, the production? Still much in the vein of previous work, perhaps closer to Det Som Engang Var than any other of his previous albums without the distinct amount of atmosphere. Despite this however, Belus is an album which shows the signs of a Burzum that has evolved in sound and progressed just like many expected.
The first thing that is noticeable is that there is distinct lack of ambience which hinders the album. Near enough from the beginning of the albums announcement it was known the ambience would take the back seat and that the album was going to be heavily riff based but apart from the opening and the closing track, there is little to no ambience used at all in this album. This fact does produce a number of positive and negative attributes, the first obvious one is that this leaves no chance of Vikernes going overboard and producing another 25 minutes worth of snooze worthy ambience. However, at the same time, the lack of ambience and atmosphere does take out a unique Burzum edge which helped make many of his albums so successful. For example, songs like Glemselens Elv
drag on for far too long and leave the listener waiting patiently bored to hear if anything interesting is going to be done. Now whilst it’s known that Vikernes work has been based off a lot of repetition, there are two distinct factors which allowed him to use 3 to 4 riffs maximum in a 10 + minute song which made the songs work. The first being the ambience and atmosphere Vikernes was able to create, putting the listener in a trance like state and the second being Varg’s incredibly unique, hateful and emotional vocals which were one of the if not the best black metal vocals ever to be produced because they were so honest and true that you could believe every word he was screaming to be what he truly believed.
Fast forward 17 years and what you have is a vocal performance which isn’t bad, technically no worse than any other black metal vocalist and solid as ever but one which loses that unique edge in which Vikernes was able to bring. For any other black metal artist/band this is fine, but when you’re dealing with Burzum, you can’t help but feel disappointed that Varg’s vocals have essentially become like any other black metal vocalist you would hear. If you take out them two elements what you are left with is a few songs which are 8+ minutes of hearing the same two to three riffs over and over with no redeeming qualities. Not even the surprising use of clean vocals are enough to save the longer songs which start off promising for the first 2-3 minutes to become ultimately boring, lacklustre and even uninspiring.
However when you listen to the shorter songs off the album, Belus is not an ultimate failure. When the album tracks are around the 2-6 minute mark they are at perfect length to expose all of Vikernes’s song writing ability without becoming too overdrawn. Ultimately also, it’s the shorter songs which display the new added elements to Burzum’s sound. There is a no more perfect example of this than the opening track and best song off the album Belus' død
. Whilst it does start off with the classic Burzum like tremolo riff picking, later on we see the new characteristics of Burzum, firstly displaying the murky clean vocals at 1:19 and a lot of underlining melody underneath the traditional black metal riffs which takes the lead around the 3:30 mark, a very un-Burzum like attribute.
The amount of melody is perhaps the most surprising new implement in Belus, a man like Vikernes, known for raw black metal riffs coated with murky and bleak atmosphere in the past using this amount of melody is not something you would think was possible in the past. Then again, this is 2010, the black metal scene has certainly changed since then and Varg seems to be changing a little with it. What is clear is that Varg has had some time to develop his guitar skills and riff making as he has come up with some riffs and melodies which I thought he wasn't capable of, seeing as his riffs always seem to go down the simplistic black metal route. Having said that, it doesn’t always work, whilst in the opening track, the underlining melodies work like a charm, when they take the lead in the short track Sverddans
it comes off nothing short of ridiculous, but does again show signs of experimentation with Burzum’s sound.
Overall, Belus is ultimately not a bad album, it’s not a failure by any means, Varg said he was going to produce a ‘genuine’ Burzum album, something in which if we assume is a black metal album is a success. However, despite not being a failure, this is album not a great album nor is it a successful one. But with the little time in which Varg had produced this album there is hope that in the future when given more time he will have the ability to once again produce an album relatively close to his older work.