BURZUM — Burzum

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BURZUM - Burzum cover
3.27 | 29 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1992

Filed under Black Metal


1. Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown (7:28)
2. Ea, Lord of the Depths (4:52)
3. Spell of Destruction (5:39)
4. Channelling the Power of Souls Into a New God (3:27)
5. War (2:30)
6. The Crying Orc (0:57)
7. A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit (9:10)
8. My Journey to the Stars (8:10)
9. Dungeons of Darkness (4:50)

Total Time: 47:06


- Varg Vikernes / Vocals, All Instruments

Guest/session Musicians:

- Øystein Aarseth / Guitar Solo (#5), Gong (#9)

About this release

Released on Deathlike Silence Productions

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siLLy puPPy
Much like Mayhem’s shenanigans, BURZUM is inextricably linked to his heinous crimes which resulted in a lengthy prison sentence not only for murdering Euronymous, guitarist of Mayhem but for countless church burnings which earned black metal the distinct honor of being the most feared musical genre of the 1990s. Of course BURZUM was the one-man project of Varg Vikernes born in Bergen, Norway and one of the instrumental creators of what would come to be known as atmospheric black metal with his innovative ambient black metal approach on “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” and “Filosofem” but in the beginning Vikiernes started out as Kalashnikov followed by Uruk-Hai showing an affinity for hideous creatures from the J.R.R. Tolkien universe before changing his project moniker to BURZUM which itself means “black speech” in a Tolkien created language.

While the soap opera drama and musical influences of BURZUM would soon come to pass, his first album was actually self-titled and was released as early as March 1992 when Vikernes joined the classic second wave of black metal along with other Norwegian bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Immortal, Emperor, Satyricon and Gorgoroth. While those bands were more in the league of crafting technically challenging composiitons that implemented the classic second wave attributes such as fast tempos, shrieking vocals, tremolo picking and buzzsaw guitar distortion with emphasis on somewhat technically demanding workouts at least in terms of physical dexterity, BURZUM began as one of the lesser talented acts in this second wave and although Vikernes would compensate for these shortcomings by crafting a unique dark ambient fusion, his lack of actual musical talent is more apparent on this eponymously titled first offering.

In contrast to “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” and future releases, this self-titled BURZUM album is much more in the vein of early lo-fi second wave black metal only a lot sloppier although Vikernes’ intent of channeling the world of atmospheric ambience was already taking form as evidenced on the non-metal track “Channelling the Power of Souls into a New God” however for the most part this debut album sounds very amateurish with OK but hardly extraordinary guitar riffs, lazy drumming for the most part as the percussive role is merely to keep the beat. Forget blastbeats or any frenetic mind-numbing virtuosity and what really makes this one a difficult listen for most are the pissed cat and i got my testicles caught up in the paper shredder vocals that find Vikernes screaming like a mother fucker although the lyrics supposedly are inspired by more Tolkien themes and Norse mythology which in Vikernes’ case a form of hatred towards just about everything. His alias Count Grishnackh only makes it more hilarious.

The track “War” shows how Vikernes was in many ways still operating in the concepts of the first wave of black metal as this track showcases a thrash metal riff that doesn’t sound too far removed from something Metallica was performing on its 1984 debut “Kill Em All.” Sorry Vik, your retardation showed your limitations here and why you had to resort to violence to make a name for yourself. Ironically Euronymous, who Vikernes murdered plays the guitar solo as he does the gong on the non-metal “Dungeons Of Darkness.” Tracks like “Journey To The Stars” are much more interesting with a keen sense of comprehension of the role of the guitar riffing in relation to the overall atmospheric big picture and actually captures the essence of second wave black metal much in the vein of Darkthrone. Yeah those vocals haven’t improved much but the compositional fortitude certainly has. The closing “Dungeons And Darkness” portends Vik’s future as it focuses on a bleak darkened apocalyptic sonicscape in dark ambient mode.

BURZUM’s debut album is certainly a mixed bag and showcases his lack of crafting sophisticated compositions as a musician but does display his heightened ability to juxtapose disparate elements together in an effective way. While his brain may have had a few pistons on strike possibly due to some sort of childhood abuse (often violent behavior originates in childhood horrors), Vikernes did showcase a few of his talents on this first album that for in retrospect would be nurtured and brought to fruition on future releases however on the album simply known as BURZUM, i find this more annoying than enjoyable. At least on “Hvis Lyset” and “Filosoefem” i can zone out and enjoy the ride. On this one it’s abrasive enough to demand your attention but weak enough to garner your pity. It’s OK but really i prefer just about every other black metal band of this era of this psychologically deficient miscreant.
Whilst Darkthrone's A Blaze In the Northern Sky set the standard for the image "kvlt" black metal bands would try to emulate, Burzum's debut album set the stage for another phenomenon of black metal - the one-man multi-instrumentalist project. Tubular Bells this ain't, of course - what you've got is Varg Vikernes delivering howling buzzsaw guitar riffs and screaming, tortured vocals to a rhythm backing which ranges from pure black metal to something verging on black metal rock and roll at points.

Lyrically, magic, mystery and misery are the order of the day - Varg's obnoxious and kooky politics don't get a look in aside from what *might* be a glancing reference to race war towards the conclusion of My Journey To the Stars. In fact, the most sensational aspect of the album is probably the brief guest appearances by Euronymous, providing an ironic and macabre touch to an album already rendered uncomfortable (in a good way) by Varg's extremely depressive approach to black metal.

Unsettling to the extreme, Varg likes to brag that the early Burzum albums were used by Euronymous as a benchmark of just how evil black metal ought to be. If that's true (and bear in mind that Varg is an egotistical, self-aggrandising little neo-fascist so you really ought to take what he says with a pinch of salt) it's not hard to see why, because for all the rudimentary, lo-fi qualities of the recording, it's hard to deny that it's an influential work.

That said, it's possible for an artistic work to be influential without necessarily standing the test of time itself. It's fair to say that in 1992 there wasn't a whole lot out there that sounded like this, here in 2021 there's masses of atmospheric black metal releases which build on the sonic ideas that Varg and his contemporaries on the Norwegian scene used without buying into either the bigoted politics Varg would later espouse or the risible edgier-than-thou nonsense of the Norwegian black metal world from this era.

Odds are, there'll be things which you find interesting about Burzum, and things which bug you - and in the wide world of black metal these days, you're sure to be able to find a project which goes in hard on the aspects of Burzum which you find enjoyable and doesn't include the stuff which annoys you. (For my part, I find the goofy D&D-and-MERP fantasy inspirations Varg uses endearing, but when it comes to black metal with a sword and sorcery bent Immortal were kind of always better at that.)

It's probably also fair to say that this debut is somewhat more less successful in its sonic goals than some of Varg's later releases. If we imagine an alternate timeline where Varg never murdered anyone, never burned any churchs, and never became a racist internet troll constantly trying to push his shitty tabletop RPG, and never made, say, Filosofem, would we remember this debut all that much? Probably not - we'd leave it to the completists, and we'd probably be right to do so.
This self-titled debut from Burzum is typically overshadowed by some of Varg's later classics like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem, but in reality this is a fairly solid entrance from one of black metal's most pivotal figures. Varg Vikernes and his one-man-band established their unique style on this debut, although it's much more rough around the edges and underdeveloped than what newer fans may expect. Whereas many later Burzum albums have an extensive influence from dark ambient that would later pave the way for depressive black metal, this humble debut is much more of a raw, unpolished, and basic representation of early nineties' black metal. It's clear that Vikernes had not yet entirely gotten a knack for the haunting and mystical songwriting that characterizes his later releases, and while this is still a pretty original album by 1992's standards, it stands inferior to what Burzum is capable of, as well as what black metal at large is capable of. It's a somewhat original and, in many regards, classic debut, but it's not one that I'll listen to all too often.

While this is a bit different from later Burzum albums, you still have a large amount of the mid-tempo and depressing riffs that made Burzum stand out from many other black metal acts. They're a lot more sparingly used, though, and the dark ambient influences here are kept to a few fairly brief synthesizer or sound effect interludes. A few other unexpected influences creep in, though, and the straight up thrash tune “War” surprised me a great deal the first time I heard it. While most of this album is certainly competent, and often times even above average, it simply lacks the torturous and helplessly bleak atmosphere that I look for when putting on a Burzum album.

So even though Burzum is a somewhat original album in terms of black metal in 1992, it misses the mark when it comes to creating the bleak imagery I hope to experience when putting on such an album. The songwriting simply feels too inconsistent and gimmicky for my tastes, often failing to leave a lasting impression even though I do enjoy the album while it's on. A decent effort from Varg Vikernes, no doubt, but it's certainly not one of the first albums I'd recommend hearing from black metal's most notorious figure. I'd say a middle-of-the-road 3 stars are deserved for this very middle-of-the-road debut. Better things were to come.

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