BURZUM — Filosofem

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BURZUM - Filosofem cover
3.62 | 54 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1996


1. Burzum (7:05)
2. Jesu død (8:39)
3. Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament (7:53)
4. Decrepitude I (7:53)
5. Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte (25:11)
6. Decrepitude II (7:52)

Total Time: 64:34


- Varg Vikernes / Vocals, All Instruments

About this release

- A5 digibook (Misanthropy pressing)
- Regular digipak (Feral House US pressing)

- Double LP with tracks 1-4 and 6 on regular black LP, track 5 on etched blue LP (Misanthropy)
- Double black LP (Back On Black reissue) 2005

Released in Brazil by Somber Music with track list in Norwegian and German.

Thanks to Vehemency, The Angry Scotsman, adg211288 for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

Out of all the big name black metal bands that came out of Norway as the genre was being pioneered, which include Mayhem, Immortal, Darkthrone and Emperor, there's one artist that I've always struggled to really enjoy or understand: Burzum.

Burzum is among the most infamous of black metal bands because of the actions of its sole member, Varg Vikernes, who has been convicted of both church burnings and murder (of Mayhem's guitarist Euronymous), making him one of metal's most notorious figures. Despite that, or perhaps even because of it, Burzum's music has retained a particularly high level of regard even after two decades, with two particular albums being the most noteworthy; this one, Filosofem, and the previous one, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. They are both often counted among the best black metal releases ever created, especially Filosofem, which is often ranked as the best, not just one of them. It's the kind of high regard that, despite my continual struggles with them, has me every once in a while trying one or both of these albums again in hopes of finally getting what all the fuss is about.

However I've come to the conclusion that if I haven't got it by now, I probably never will.

I'll be fair, Burzum presented an early example of atmospheric black metal with these early releases, which were all recorded in the 1992-1993 period before Varg ended up in prison, and then steadily released over the next few years, with Filosofem (1996) also being the last black metal Burzum album until Belus in 2010. His work was groundbreaking and I think his stuff could even be considered an early blueprint for depressive black metal as well as atmospheric black metal. However this is a case in point where groundbreaking doesn't necessarily mean the best or even the most interesting music, at least in my opinion.

You see, I find the music on Filosofem to be extremely minimalist. I think that was in fact Varg's intention, but his drawn out style of songwriting means that here he is stretching his ideas out into complete snooze territory as he repeats the same ideas over and over again. There isn't a track here that's under seven minutes. There's even a pure ambient track that goes by the twenty-five minute barrier, continually repeating the same patterns. I just find that ridiculously long for the low amount of musical ideas on offer. Sure, the atmosphere on the album is pleasant enough, as paradoxical as that may sound, but even in atmospheric black metal I guess I'm just looking for something more than what this album offers, and I don't think I'll ever understand why this is so well regarded. I've heard more much interesting newer black metal albums than this get blasted for being repetitive and amateurish. This is supposed to be the best black metal album ever made if its ranking on music sites to be believed, yet that's exactly what this sounds like to me: repetitive and amateurish. Released today without any of the notoriety surrounding it and I seriously doubt that this would even make a blip on the black metal scene.

1 Star.
Conor Fynes
'Filosofem' - Burzum (91/100)

"Do you think Filosofem and Hvis lyset tar oss would be considered masterpieces if they were released this year?" I asked a friend of mine a month or so ago. My experience with Burzum up until that point had been remarkably shallow, and the single-serving listens I'd given some of Vikernes' best-known songs had not done a lot to convince me the music had earned its status without the help of some over-discussed arsons and/or stabbing party that happened in Norway some years ago.

"Yeah I do," he replied; "The music has a timeless quality to it." Another friend noted Filosofem as the perfect embodiment of 'cold' atmosphere. I'm glad I've known folk who could interpret and experience this music outside the bounds of sensationalism; experiencing Filosofem has been a long time coming for me, and it's with self-admitted regret that I've let a monument like this pass me by for so long.

First off; it has been a nagging pet peeve to read review after review of Burzum's music that tries to separate an appreciation of the music with the ideas behind its making, much less the man himself. You see this kind of pussyfooting whenever someone's talking about an unfashionably right-wing group but it's never so pronounced as it is with Burzum. The appeal of mystically-inclined ambient black metal is arguably wider than Varg's politik, but a willingness to explore the music without opening oneself to the ideas behind the work is to miss an essential part of the point. Filosofem wears its intention in the very title; this album is a manifest philosophy, and though the music and lyrics don't touch upon the political specifics of his Odalist pro-racial agenda, that intent seeps through every minute of Filosofem.

Possibly moreso than any black metal album I've heard, Filosofem truly evokes a longing for an ancient past. For music crafted with the most minimalist, simple and repeated ingredients, the atmosphere is richly evocative; it is as if the music was robbed from another time, real or imagined. I do not believe Filosofem would be felt so powerfully, did Varg not feel so powerfully about his vision for a pure(r) Norway. Atmosphere in music is often intangible; it is as hard to replicate as it is to properly write about. In Burzum's case, Varg Vikernes managed to create an incredible (and, indeed, timeless) palette of sound with the seemingly laziest elements at his disposal. Foregoing the use of proper microphones or even a proper amplifier (the guitar tone was brought about using distortion pedals plugged into his brother's stereo) he created a sound that's all too easy to become lost in. Compare that to the tens-of-thousands of hours of mindless bedroom demos that have spawned forth since. Some of them might be decently imagined, but it's not likely any manage to spurn a session of contemplating your own philosophies in life. Filosofem manages to do this, and more.

Though it's easy to confuse his musical priorities with laziness, his tactical use of keyboards in his music enforces the notion of Varg as a brilliant composer. For one of the simplest motifs you'll ever hear in music, the brooding three/four note keyboard overlay on "Dunkelheit (Burzum)" is instantly and greatly memorable. Varg has a penchant for these hook-bearing 'earworms' that you almost never hear in an atmospheric or ambient context. "Jesu død" is just as impactful a track as the first without help of keys at all, with little more than a few repetitive guitar riffs to see it through. How Burzum's best work manages to do so much with so little is virtually indecipherable on an academic, objective level. It is music that can, must, and will be felt by whomever listens to it.

The sense of Filosofem doing intense things to the psyche with so few concrete ideas is best represented in "Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte", the album's twenty-five minute centrepiece, and apparently still the thing most listeners (outside of the PC whiners) have the toughest time grappling with. As a fan of progressive music long before I came into black metal, I instantly loved how Vikernes' ambient music sounds so close to the Berlin School of electronic music, in the minimalist vein of Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream. The first half builds up a single motif; the second half is spent dwindling it down.

Of course, that brief description tells little of the way it affects the spirit while listening to it. "Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte" feels both like a denouement to the 'metal' side of the album and climax in its own right. As a composer and musician, Vikernes' work on Filosofem is defined by how he economizes the use of ideas, and this 25 minute sprawl stands as a definitive realization of that intent. Bookended by parts one and two of "Decrepitude" (which seems to bridge the gap stylistically between the black metal and full ambient chunks of the album) the album's sequence doesn't place it as an afterthought so much as a full-bodied other part of the music that should be regarded just as intently as the three-or-so songs people are originally coming for. In a sense, Vikernes was already recognizing the close-mindedness of the lion's share of the black metal scene and was already playing against it pre-emptively.

Though the ambient centre of the album does seem to go between five and ten minutes longer than might have been optimal for atmosphere's sake, Filosofem still sounds bold and relevant. Even today, there are so few artists that decide to fuck what all others think or will think of their art. I don't get the impression Varg's artistic choices were done as a way to seem 'cool' so much as the behaviour of some of the Second Wave's other star players... He simply felt something deeply to the point that it defined him as a person, and he possessed the musical talent to bring that psychic energy into the material world with his music. I'll say again; those who wish to avert their fragile eyes away from the essential meaning of what he was trying to say are losing sight of what this music is really about. Without feeling something so specific so strongly, the supposedly 'universal' atmosphere here would not have existed to begin with.
Phonebook Eater

"Filosofem" is a milestone album for Black Metal, and its influence is noticeable in many acts today.

The follow up to “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” is another masterpiece on behalf of Burzum, at this point one of the best Black Metal artists of all time. “Filosofem” is not quite as praised as the previous LP, which is a landmark album for Metal music in general; however, “Filosofem” is still considered another Black Metal classic and an essential release for fans of the genre. This album, the last one before the imprisonment of Varg, is one of the biggest stones that supports the castle.

Again, I will say that Varg Vikernes’ actions and philosophical believes will not be mentioned in this review, because of course they don’t relate directly to the music, not even to some of the lyrics, which are more focused on isolation, desperation, pain, darkness, and admittedly, evil, mentioned in more than a few spots. This however is not a good reason to relate it to something like Satanism or being anti-religious in any way. Filosofem, in fact, means Philosopheme in English, proving how Varg is much more than what he shows to be.

The album’s production is famously raw and lo-fi: Varg, for his guitars, didn’t even use an amplifier, instead he decided to plug them in his brother’s stereo, and record them with again the cheapest equipment he could find. This shows how passionate and determined Vikernes was in attempting to do something quite abnormal, unsettling, and anti-aesthetic. The abrasive instruments, meaning the guitars and drums, at all times, like in the previous album, are accompanied by cold, enigmatic synth sounds that give the music an arcane and surreal imprint. It seems like in “Filosofem” however the keys are much more used overall, and the dedication to Ambient/non Black Metal pieces are much more than in “Hvis Lyst Tar Oss”. But the Metal moments are priceless, hypnotic, and especially dark; in all of it’s distorted fuzziness, “Filosofem” finds unquestionable beauty even in its ugliest places.

Burzum, being the most important artist of Atmospheric Black Metal ( “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” being the absolute zenith of such genre), continues on with his vision with “Filosofem”: he concentrates almost entirely on creating a dark, haunting, and thought-provoking atmosphere rather than writing memorable songs with catchy riffs. But if in the 1994 release those forty five minutes seemed short and compressed, this 1996 release is the opposite, stretched out to almost 70 minutes, almost forty of which intensively atmospheric, giving to the LP a feeling of completeness by the overwhelmed listener.

The album starts off with the track “Burzum”, a perfect example of a typical song by the artist: repetitive riffs, subtle keyboards, shrieked vocals, and the unforgettable production. Same thing goes with “Jesus’ Death” and “Beholding The Daughters Of Firmament”, although this last track is much slower, much more melodic, eloquent and memorable, surprisingly enough. The more atmospheric part of the album (the point where the drums are no longer heard) starts with “Decrepitude 1”, a Black Metal song with no beats, a song suspended in air, giving an extremely gloomy atmosphere that is however one of the most fascinating ones of the entire album. The twenty five minute Dark Ambient track that follows has been subject to much controversy over the years, because of it’s extreme minimalism and repetition. But once again the aura Varg creates with his keyboards is sublime, and in this particular track I’m dared to say has the best atmosphere on this album. “Decrepitude 2” is the instrumental based entirely on the first part, with some slight modifications overall.

“Filosofem” is nothing less than a Metal masterpiece, that while not having the historical importance of “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”, still maintains a superb quality, even in the songwriting, and maintains pretty much the same levels as Burzum's official magnum opus.
Burzum's final album recorded before Varg's heinous crimes landed him with a long jail sentence was recorded a few months after Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, and represents a refinement of that album's fusion of the project's black metal and ambient aspects. As well as including some pure metal extracts and a long ambient piece - 25 minutes long, to be exact - the album also features several tracks which combine a dark ambient synthesiser line with Burzum's trademark buzzing wall of black metal noise.

The end result of this mixture is intriguing, and is all the better for Varg leaving his repugnant and cranky political views out of the lyrics (which, once again, revolve around extremely morbid and depressed musings on cosmology). As with much of Burzum's output, if you can separate the odious man from the music, it's undeniably ground-breaking, though at the same time enough groups have taken these ideas further whilst not having the same obnoxious baggage as Varg that I don't blame anyone who skips it for other atmospheric black metal fare. (I certainly think it's pretty silly how many people are happy to wear Burzum shirts at metal festivals - why celebrate a man who did material harm to the scene by killing Euronymous?)

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