Review Summary: A black metal classic.
Black metal can be a complicated genre to talk about, both music-wise and musician-wise. It is not just music that made black metal a big deal, it was the intire movement. While black metal certianly has its roots in the 1980's, it is Norwegian black metal that most of people think of. While the movement itself was pretty brutal and dark, the music that came out of it actually brought some interesting ideas to the extreme metal genre. A lot of classic bands came out of that era, and surely one of the more popular was one-man band, Burzum.
Varg Vikernes was the sole member of this band that rose to fame in the scene in the early 90's. While I am not personally the biggest fan of Varg, Burzum actually is a band worth hearing (tho the bad thing for die-hards is that he does not preform live). His early records are still some of the most iconic in the genre (tho not the best by any means), and while people have their favorites, this record, "Filosofem", is in my opinion his finest work.
Yeah, it still is a black metal record, Varg's vocals are still highly distorted and animalic, and the intire thing sounds like it was recorded with a voice recorder on the cell phone. The guitar is as raw as ever, and the songs are insanely repetitive, but that's sort of the aesthetic of the times.
However, this is the first record where he started to infuse more ambient stuff in. It is audible from the very first track, "Dunkelheit", that this is not the standard black metal release. The first three songs definitely use ambient noises as a suplement, but it gets very present on the last few tracks. Songs are very long, all above 7 minutes, and track 5 (I don't dare to spell it), is almost 27 minutes in length.
Tho this works for the better in my opinion. The added keys feel fairly hypotic, especially on the said track. It is a minimalistic 'little' piece which builds up and it goes back to bare bones several times throughout the song (and Varg also used it pretty frequently in his YouTube videos). It is so good that Mike Will Made It sampled it in one of his songs. It is about as transcendent as it gets here, it truly takes you on a journey, so 27 minutes don't feel so long at all. "Jesu Dod" and "Dunkelheit" are classic Burzum jams with great riffs and wild vocals. Song have no chorus, and while they do repeat some sections several times, they do not overstay their welcome. In between of track five are placed "Descrepitude" I and II . While in first one Varg's vocals are all over the place and it is all backed up with ultra distorted rhythm guitar, the second one build up for half of the track, and remains distorted until the very end, where he slows it down for 5 second and the record is over. You've just sit through about 1 hour of great super unpolished, unclean riffs, atmospheric beats and keyboard, great lead guitar work on some of the songs, and I guess decent lyrics (I would tell you what they were about if I knew Norwegian). It doesn't matter though, since Varg completely sells it with the vocals.
Execution of the intire record is simply beautiful. It is not techincally played, not really at any point, but it does not need to be. It is an ambitious and experimental record, that stands uniquely in the black metal world. It will take you to another dimension, especially as the second half rolls and it is definitely a good starting point if you want to get into the genre. Definitely a classic for its time.