Varg Vikernes is probably the most notorious figurehead of the (old) Norwegian black metal scene. He is a convicted murderer and arsonist, but he’s also a highly respected musician. With Burzum he was instrumental for the development of early black metal, together with Mayhem. Burzum records like Det Som En Gang Var and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss are genre classics. After finishing his sentence he returned with a brand new album, entitled Belus.
At first I was somewhat reluctant to do a review on Belus, because I’m not the biggest fan of the earlier Burzum material and what Varg Vikernes represented as a person. I have the same attitude towards The Beatles and Nirvana. I do recognize their historic importance, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily like their music. However, I was pleasantly surprised with what Belus has to offer.
The new material is pretty much a continuation of what Vikernes has done on earlier Burzum records like Filosofem and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. His approach to music is as minimalistic as can be, because most compositions are nothing more than a couple of repeating guitar riffs, incredibly basic drum patterns and Vikernes’ signature bone chilling shrieks and screams. With this limited recipe he nonetheless manages to create a frostbitten atmosphere only very few musicians can deliver. Burzum simply doesn’t need complete symphonic orchestras and massive choirs to get the message across, unlike Dimmu Borgir or Cradle Of Filth.
It’s also a testimony to Vikernes’ compositional skills that he manages to keep most tracks interesting, despite their almost Spartan like simplicity. Glemselens Elv, Kaimaldalthas’ Nedstigning, Morgenroede and Belus’ Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon) are prime examples of that. Sound wise Varg opted for a rough and bare bones production, but there’s enough clarity that you can actually here what’s going on, instead of a buzzing sound of white noise.
As a genre, black metal has come a long way in terms of musical development and prowess. Therefore Belus will not have the same impact as the earlier Burzum material. However, I think it’s about time that Varg Vikernes isn’t synonymous with murder and burned churches anymore, but with good quality music.
written by Raymond Westland