Review Summary: Varg Vikernes goes from cabin-dweller to cabin fever
The relevance of Varg Vikernes and his band Burzum in the black metal community – or the broader metal community at large – has been questionable for quite some time. Since his imprisonment in 1994, the man behind classics like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
has done little but make a fool of himself, and here in 2012 Umskiptar
feels like the biggest joke of them all. One can argue that Vikernes has embraced the fact that he is now knocking on the door of 40 years old, and that he is trying not to wallow in the throes of the early 90’s Norwegian black metal style but is instead trying to evolve his music, but that does not adequately explain why Umskiptar
is as abysmal as it is. The “cabin-dweller Varg” image, as it were, has dominated his post-prison music, but despite its irregularities and rather interesting oddities Vikernes has yet to really shame his past works like he had with his in-prison release Daudi Baldrs
. Well, ladies and gentleman, Umskiptar
has broken that string with an absolutely arduous display of what can only be described as Burzum losing all the marbles – quite a feat considering the past of its mastermind.
For all its 65-minute running time, Umskiptar
accomplishes as little as his horrid ambient albums that were released while he was imprisoned. The sound, though, is an odd bastardization of the usual black metal sound, which is present in the fuzzy riffing and low production values but essentially stops there. His repetition that more or less made him famous has reduced to repeating single, painfully simple riffs for ten minutes in songs like “Alfadanz” or torturing the listener for another ten minutes in “Gullaldr” with what is essentially spoken-word overlaid with meaningless guitar plucking and Varg’s irregular and embarrassing coos that pass for singing. Only rarely in Umskiptar
are harsh vocals used, and even then they are feeble and weak – a sign of Varg losing his ability perhaps? Regardless, there is little excuse for the vocal department to be so hopelessly destitute of any redeeming factors whatsoever; this is the same category where Varg broke ground in the 90’s with his high-pitched screech and where he remained passable or even good on albums like Belus
There is a concept behind this album – all of the lyrics are taken from the Old Norse poem Völuspá, which tells the story of the creation of the world and its coming end – but its delivery is so devoid of emotion that you don’t care about the story. There isn’t sadness, there isn’t wonder, there isn’t rage; there is simply our friend Varg putting us to sleep with arguably his most simplistic album to date. The arrangements are lazy, with guitars whirring around in the same downtrodden pace as the drums and bass – which themselves do almost nothing of note or care – playing riffs that go nowhere and are re-hashed so many times that it wouldn’t matter if they actually did something. Vikernes’ songwriting is so poor that there is literally zero replay value with this album, and the fact that it is over an hour in length makes it a painful listen the one time it spins.
What little there is to say about Umskiptar
is bad. It is hard to pick out a single redeeming factor here, but even so it is not Burzum’s worst album – but it is close. While Daudi Baldrs
is far more ghastly, this album is a travesty: a desecration of Burzum’s earlier work or even his more recent work. While Belus
weren’t exactly magnificent, they were at least worth listening to. Fans likely knew that this day would come, and the right combination of age, insanity, degrading musical skill, and concept came together in a terrifying display of what is wrong with Burzum at this point in time. Umskiptar
is a suffocating release in the worst sense: it allows you no room to breathe and holds its grip until you can no longer bear it and simply succumb. One might ask: Is this the end of Burzum? Likely not, but it can be said with a fair amount of certainty that Burzum will never release a good album again, at least if the quality of Umskiptar
shows any glimpse of the future.