Review Summary: Light meets dark with this seminal classic.
Whether you share the same ideologies as Varg Virkernes or not; think he’s a xenophobic, church burning nutcase; or simply a tree-hugging hippy who advocates Paganism, it is all irrelevant. Whatever your stance is, there’s one thing you can’t take away from him: he was once an innovator of heavy music. To go into detail on the man himself would be a long and arduous task, one which would take hours to unravel. But the short version is the Varg which resides in the farming fields of France, living off solar panels, generators, garden-grown vegetables and driving round in a post-WW2, Soviet off-road jeep – which breaks down frequently – is a harsh contrast to the man he was 30 years ago. The notoriety of his adolescence has become a thing of obsession for some; his fervent hatred for Christianity and the vile acts committed in those days have left a somewhat controversial cloud over him to put it lightly. However, the really interesting part for me kicks into play when the music gets thrown into the mix; the conflict of emotions one must have if you aren’t a fan of Varg as a person but enjoy black metal, because, ultimately, Varg’s place in the early generations of black metal is integral to its evolution.
The first handful of Burzum albums are truly seminal pieces of work: encompassing the very essence of black metal, while integrating a hefty amount of ambience to the fold. Many will have Hvis lyset tar oss
as their go-to record from him and I can’t say I blame them; it’s Burzum in its purest form – lightening in a bottle. Jams like “Tomhet” set the bar to a completely different league, and it’s a record that showcases the pinnacle of his creativity. But for me, as much as I adore said album, I feel Det som engang var
is as equally innovative, despondent and beautiful as its successor. It’s the link between the unrelentingly visceral self-titled debut and the far more maturely crafted Hvis lyset tar oss
. The cold, unwelcoming aesthetic emitted on “En Ring Til Aa Herske,” with Varg’s pained vocals and eerie groans, the dank riffs and unsettling patters from the drum kicks make it a classic in Burzum’s catalogue; while the marching riff on “Lost Wisdom” or the more laidback, melodic-driven guitar passages on “Naar Himmelen Klarner” are about as welcoming as this LP will get from a guitar aspect. The dungeon-synth “Ham Som Reiste” is where the amalgamation of both Varg’s love for fantasy and heavy music come together though; not only showing a well-deserved breather to the album’s usually savage nature, but solidifying Det som engang var
's tone perfectly.
It also needs to be said; the artwork to Varg’s earlier works are just as important as the music itself. The depiction of a Mordorian towered gate sums up this LP excellently. The tone of the music fits the piece, but it also represents a learning curve for its listener: if you’re new to black metal this thing isn’t going to welcome you with open arms, but if you somehow manage to get over the wall, you will be treated to a bonafide classic. Like Hvis lyset tar oss
, this thing is amped with drearier atmosphere, and an injection of just the right amount of hope. All of Burzum’s earlier work is exceptional, but this album delivers the diamond in the rough, and should be enjoyed by fans of extreme music.
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