Review Summary: A feast on the eyes and ears.
Whether you care to agree with Varg's controversial opinions or not, there is no doubt he is an interesting character; the kind of person who advocates old traditions, and finds it hard to adapt to the current political correctness surrounding him today. Yes, Varg always seems to put his foot firmly in his mouth, but where the mass majority see him as an old dinosaur, with an outdated look on life, he firmly holds a stubborn conviction on his beliefs. And the thing is, this comes as little surprise, since this is a man involved in the infamous early years of black metal's music scene; he has always lived his life by the sword, and seems to give little thought to anything past what he thinks is right.
But looking past the man, and listening to one of the most influential black metal bands to come out of the scene, Burzum is a musical venture that has taken drastic changes over the years. The change in Burzum's sound began to take a different form during Varg's years spent in imprisonment: Daudi Baldrs
was the first album to trade aggressive black metal riffs for a minimalist ambient one - and one that didn't convince purists. Since then - with the exception of Belus
dabbling at past time influences - Burzum has slowly opted for a medieval, ambient progression; and with Sôl austan, Mâni vestan
and The Ways of Yore
you can start to see (and hear) what he's been working towards. These two albums hone in and focus far more on Norse mythology and Pagan themes than ever before, with a fantastic awareness on medieval melodies that totally immerse the listener and send them to a past time long overlooked.
The Ways of Yore
is effectively Sôl austan, Mâni vestan
2.0 with the addition of vocals trying to bring an added texture to the overall experience. One thing these two albums do well is transport the listener to a genuinely convincing medieval Europe; one that makes you feel like you are on an adventure and exploring nature. The best way of describing these LPs is by saying they are a soundtrack to a world Varg believes so passionately about. The LP is a very chilled out one. The bulk of the album's sound comes from the synths Varg uses, with the first half of the album relying more on that and having everything else at a minimum: "Lady in the Lake" and "The Coming of Ettins" bring layers of atmosphere, while "The Reckoning of Man's" main melody brings a calming, gentle sadness, before progressing the track with aggressive synth heavy textures to give the song more depth as it reaches its closing seconds. While the second half of the LP sees guitars taking a more prevalent place, and are saturated in effects to ensure you're still firmly in this medieval world. In writing all the effects and synths sound like overkill, but The Ways of Yore
actually manages to bring plenty of interesting ideas to the table - and considering the amount of synth being used, it's all done tastefully. The songs depict such a focused and cohesive sound throughout, to the point of almost being able to smell the fragrance from the forest he's placed you in. This aspect of the album is very special, and it's something Varg has created very well.
Now, on to the LP's biggest downfall: Varg's vocals. Largely miss than hit, but occasionally he starts to get on to something: "Ek Fellr (I Am Falling)" holds a lot of genuine emotion that comes through in his performance, and the vocal chanting that build the song up works well with everything else. But more often than not, the problem stems from Varg's execution coming out laughable and/or corny at times - "Heill Odin" being the biggest culprit: the main line Varg opens up with sounds like a pissed up drunken Viking, slurring his words. Its biggest crime is it leaves everything built-up feeling disjointed. The song is, however, somewhat saved by the chanting that supports the main line, making it feel like it has some sort of a purpose. But overall the narration parts of The Ways of Yore
tend to be more off putting and a hindrance to the tracks, rather than supporting or adding to what the album creates sonically.
The conclusion here is a tough one. Varg's vision has split the band's fanbase over the years; the black metal Burzum days are over, if you're basing judgement on the last couple of LP's, so it all depends on how open you are to this style. The reimagining of "Tomhet" in the form of "Emptiness" is enough to make long-time fans get a little hostile, and is further proof he is willing to go the distance with this kind of music and tell fan's to like it or lump it. For newcomers, if you like soundtracks, synth heavy ambient music, or if you're interested in Paganism and Norse history, this is well worth checking out. The picture Varg paints here is vivid and vibrant - guaranteed to take you away from reality. So, the bottom line is, if you didn't like Sôl austan, Mâni vestan
, the chances of you liking this are even slimmer. But for those who dig this kind of style and can take the vocals for what they are, it's an enjoyable journey with a couple of minor hiccups along the way.
Editions: C̶D̶, Vinyl, M̶P̶3̶
Packaging: X2 vinyl gatefold.
Special Edition: N/A