Review Summary: "Beware of the light, it may take you away, to where no evil dwells. It will take you away...for all eternity."
, more than anything else, is an exercise in minimalism. While the man behind Burzum, Varg Vikernes, then under the pseudonym "Count Grishnak," had experimented with minimalism in the past, he had never before pushed its boundaries as far as he did on Filosofem
. On this album, Vikernes took every element that made his music famous and pushed it to the extreme. Suddenly, Burzum's songs went from being badly produced to horribly produced and from complex and repetitive to simple and formulaic. For better or for worse, Filosofem
is one of the most unconventional metal albums ever released.
Although preceding Burzum releases had poor production quality, as is characteristic of the black metal genre, Filosofem
takes bad production to a whole new level. The album's intentionally abysmal sound quality goes beyond being a gimmick. Rather, the production embeds itself within every song and becomes the album's main focus. Vikernes does a remarkable job of capturing the listener and immersing him into his dark, twisted world; a world where guitars are indistinguishable, where synthesizers are the only source of melody, where vocals are ferocious and always pure evil, and where a sea of white noise is always present in the background. While the horrible sound quality is often unpleasant, it nevertheless succeeds above and beyond in building a different atmosphere with each and every song. Vikernes's vocals, recorded with a headset to produce an intentionally weaker sound, are more vile and demonic than they had ever been in the past. His vocals fit perfectly within the album, and are used in a different way for every song. In most songs the vocals blend into the chaos in the background in order to add a new layer of evil. However, on the song "Gebrechlichkeit I," the harsh vocals are used to juxtapose with the overall relaxed (by Burzum standards, that is) tone of the song. No two elements juxtapose better with one another on the album than the synthesizer and the guitars. Raspy, downtuned riffs consistently serve to add dysfunction to every song's background, despite what is going on in the foreground. The synthesizer, as previously stated, is the only melodious element of any song. This works to the songs' favor, however, as the noise in the background always makes the synthesizer's melodies all the more gloomy and dark. The only way major way in which the production falters is that, due to the considerably long length of the songs, the guitars and vocals can become extremely grating on the ears after a period of time, and decreases replay-value as a result.
Production quality aside, the simplicity of Filosofem
is its biggest difference from previous Burzum albums. The song "Det Som En Gang Var" from the album Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
, for example, consists of several different riffs and melodies which repeat themselves constantly over the course of the song's fourteen-minute running length. However, the song progresses as it goes along, becoming increasingly intense and never sticking to merely one melody. Filosofem
changes things up a bit by having every song stick to a certain formula. The formula present on the album applies to every track, with the exception of the last two, which are far more repetitive than the other tracks. The album's formula is as follows: the song begins with silence but soon builds to an explosive riff played by a fuzzy, distorted guitar. The riff repeats itself over and over, putting the listener into a trance-like state. Shortly after, the synthesizer joins in and plays a soft, gloomy melody, which echoes and changes once or twice throughout the song's entirety. Loud, horrifying vocals screech in and cast a shadow over the melody. The vocals come and go as they please, never overstaying their welcome but still showing up enough times to be effective. This formula repeats itself for seven-to-eight minutes, and the next song begins. Although the fact that the album follows a strict formula for the most part does not initially make the songs any less enjoyable, the mere fact that formula can be identified so effortlessly makes the songs less exciting than prior releases. Despite this, the formula does have a certain charm to it. For the most part it works quite well, as shown by tracks such as "Dunkelheit," in which the song is repetitive but keep the listener's interest due to some intriguing lyrics which are both beautiful and haunting. "Gebrechlichkeit II" is also quite fascinating; although its melody is the same as part I, part II is an entirely different affair due to the song not beginning with a guitar riff. Instead, the guitar starts out quietly and builds over the course of the song until it overpowers the melody, and along with it, any trace of beauty the song had left. Tracks like these show that a song which is simple and formulaic does not necessarily constitute it being bad.
Unfortunately, the simple song structure this album conveys is extremely "hit or miss." Part of what made "Det Som En Gang Var" such an enjoyable song was how it progressed and how it conveyed whole assortment of different emotions instead of just one. After the first minute of any track on Filosofem
, due the album's formula, the listener knows exactly what to expect from the rest of the song. With that being said, no track fails to convey its intended atmosphere, be it depressing like "Gebrechlichkeit I," violent such as "Jesus' Tod," or dark and terrifying like "Dunkelheit." The only song that falls flat is "Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität." Clocking it at slightly over twenty-three minutes, it is one of the most insufferably boring songs I have ever had the displeasure of listening too in my life. "Rundgang..." is an ambient track which begins and ends with the same three notes, changing very little throughout its running length. The track is blatant filler, and while it does sound relaxing and calm at first, it fails to do anything even remotely interesting with the twenty-minutes it is given and completely decimates the album's momentum. Despite "Rundgang...," even with the songs' repetitive nature, the album rarely ever becomes uninteresting.
If you are looking to get any sort of enjoyment from listening to Filosofem
, you must enjoy the album for what it is rather than what it isn't. No, it is not complex. No, it is not very thought provoking. No, it is not a conceptual masterpiece. No, it is not Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
. However, it is beautiful in its own way. No matter how many times I listen to this album, I will never grow tired of hearing that lonesome synthesizer melody, playing softly over the terribly distorted, overpowering guitar. Even with its many flaws, Filosofem
will take you on an unrelenting, often terrifying journey into the vivid imagination of black metal's darkest figurehead.