Burzum | ‘Fallen’
A little over a year ago, few dared hope that a Burzum comeback album would be anything more than an update of the MIDI-based ‘prison albums‘. Therefore the arrival of ‘Belus’ was initially a relief, being more akin to ‘Filosofem’ than to ‘Hliðskjálf‘.
Repeat listens revealed an album that could be happily filed alongside the classic first four. ‘Fallen’, which arrives almost exactly a year after its predecessor, can be approached with a little more
Vikernes’ comparison of ‘Fallen’ to the first two Burzum albums is slightly misleading. This is very much a follow-on from ‘Belus’, but it improves on its predecessor in pretty much all respects. The
recording quality is better, though it’s anything but clean and clinical, and retains that harsh, trebly chill.
The compositions are still structurally simple, based on a handful of repetitive riffs and brief melodic gestures, but the arrangements are a little richer and more varied. Dynamics are often achieved through the simple means of dropping instruments out.
There’s nothing flashy in the production, but there are some interesting touches, presumably encouraged by the studio-only nature of the project, such as the subtle slow swells of guitars in ‘Valen’ and ‘Budstikken’.
Repetition has always been central to Burzum and used to hypnotic effect, and here riffs are repeated more than most contemporary bands would dare. In one sense, this makes the songs predictable – you can anticipate every cymbal hit and change – but the result is not tedium: rather it heightens tension and release, and the repetition feels organic rather than mechanical.
The songs are largely driven by the interplay of two simple guitar lines. The bass is more to the fore this time around, and is allowed some autonomy in the arrangements, rather than being relegated to shadowing the guitars. Many of the rhythms and picking patterns are by now familiar.
For example, ‘Vanvidd’ and ‘Budstikken’ both feature variations on the ‘Jesus’ Tod’ and ‘Belus’ Tod’ riffs, and ’Jeg Faller’, ’Valen’ and ’Enhver Til Sitt’ all utilise the same 6/8 drum pattern. This doesn’t come across as a lack of inspiration, but rather a deliberate limiting of options that’s reminiscent of the recurring motifs found in folk music forms.
Everything is achieved with economy, like the plaintive mood introduced in ‘Valen’ by the simple addition of a single droning, fast-picked high note.
The way the vocals have progressed is particularly striking. The hysterical shrieks of old have given way to a comparatively understated rasp, and there are lots of clean vocals – variously sung, spoken, and whispered, sometimes with two of these techniques double-tracked.
‘Jeg Faller’ and ‘Valen’ both feature sung choruses with harmonies. The one moment that recalls the extreme vocal approach of the early records is the explosion of gibbering and screaming in the middle of ‘Vanvidd‘.
This is not an album that aims to be particularly heavy or extreme – in fact one thing that distinguishes it from its predecessor is a greater sense of subtlety, even delicacy, as evident in the remarkably restrained bridge of ‘Budstikken’.
This subtlety is appropriate to the emotionally varied lyrical content. It’s worth consulting the translated lyrics on the Burzum website. Though based on folk myths, they focus mostly on the
existential plight of individuals, with a melancholy reflected by the album cover.
The fact that three tracks, unusually, end with fades seems odd until you realise that in each case this mirrors the song’s protagonist fading away into death. ‘Budstikken’ is essentially a tribal call to arms but is musically more buoyant than aggressive.
The closing ‘Til Hel Og Tilbake Igjen’ serves a similar purpose to the ambient tracks on earlier records, but with a different approach, being an episodic montage featuring hammered dulcimer over a shaman’s drum and sinister whispering that echoes the intro, and ending with digitally-distressed acoustic guitar.
It’s a great atmospheric piece, somewhat in the tradition of ‘Decrepitude’, but an unexpected departure. It’s surprising to realise that there’s only five metal tracks, an intro and an outro here, as it’s such a satisfying listen.
Discussing ‘Fallen’ in terms of black metal is missing the point. This is the mature work of a fierce individualist oblivious to genre norms, and represents a muse followed with utter confidence. It’s indubitably metal though – the ghost of Bathory (early and late) is never far, and you can even hear echoes of Maiden and Priest in the riffs of ‘Valen‘.
The ingredients are largely those of the earlier Burzum albums, but the style is developing in unexpected ways.
Perhaps surprisingly, the most hated man in metal has emerged as an artist of originality and integrity. This is a masterful album. Let’s hope we get another one this time next year.
5/5 – Paul Condon ::: 11/03/11