BURZUM — Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (review)

BURZUM — Hvis Lyset Tar Oss album cover Album · 1994 · Atmospheric Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
The early Norwegian black metal scene spawned many fantastic albums and true musical visionaries, and possibly the most infamous of all of these visionaries was Varg Vikernes. Best known for his racist viewpoints, multiple church burnings, and the murder of Euronymous (which he would later serve 15 years in prison for), Varg's genius is often overshadowed by his atrocious actions and extreme right-wing viewpoints. Even though he's later distanced himself from these beliefs, Burzum (Varg Vikernes's black metal act) has always been painted in a rather negative light by the mainstream public at large. But from a solely musical perspective, Burzum is one of the best acts spawned by the Norwegian black metal movement, and that's largely because of this fantastic effort released in 1994. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is an absolutely stunning masterpiece, and remains to this day my favorite black metal record. Here's an album that's poorly recorded, scary as hell, and pretty damn repetitive, yet it's still one of the most beautiful musical statements I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. A truly flawless masterpiece, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is a mandatory purchase for anyone even mildly interested in black metal.

Considering that Hvis Lyset Tar Oss was recorded in 1992 (despite being released in 1994), you could certainly claim that this was a very original and innovative album back then. Varg Vikernes really paved the way for depressive black metal with this album, and the absence of blast beats and tremolo picking was pretty unique in the old school black metal scene. There's also a heavy dose of dark ambient on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, including a full fourteen-minute song that is nothing but ambient. All of the songs are pretty long and simple from a compositional standpoint, but the atmospheres that are created here are simply unparalleled. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is much more about creating haunting atmospheres and minimalist soundscapes than anything even resembling complexity, and as far as I'm concerned, that's one of its finest assets.

“Det Som En Gang Var” opens up with a haunting synthesizer melody played over atmospheric guitar strumming, which soon turns into a mid-tempo and depressing chord progression. This track creates a rather hypnotic effect on its listener, with the tortured vocals and spine-tingling keyboard melodies coming across as absolutely frightening. Though quite repetitive, this fourteen minute track is nothing short of stunning. The title track opens up with drone-inducing drum patterns and buzzing guitars, over which Varg eventually contributes tortured screaming vocals. The rest of the song largely builds off of this single idea, and the track is fear-inducing to say the least. “Inn I Slottet Fra Drømmen” begins with jarring guitar riffs and fast-paced drum patterns - the overall dissonance and heaviness of this opening section can come across as pretty unapproachable during your first few listens. The song soon progresses into a chilling guitar and synth section complemented by Varg's tortured screams. After going into a doomy mid-tempo riff, the song closes with another haunting keyboard melody that leads us right into the final track.

Even though all of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss has a hypnotic, ambient effect on the listener, the final track may still come as a shock. “Tomhet” is a fourteen-minute dark ambient track built off of repetitive melodies that never grow stale as well as chilling atmospherics. Although it may initially come across as a bit uninteresting, this eventually grew to become a sheer masterpiece in my eyes. This song offers almost a form of 'relief' after all of the harsh black metal aesthetics of the previous three tracks, and its subtle beauty is nothing less than an astounding end to this masterful record.

As expected from an early Norwegian black metal record, the production on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is pretty raw and lo-fi. The guitars have that distinct 'buzzing' sound, the bass is hardly even audible, and the mix is inconsistent at best - yet, as odd as this may sound, I don't think I could imagine the album any other way. The absolutely filthy production (though not nearly as filthy as it would be on Filosofem) adds an entirely new aspect of terror and claustrophobia to Hvis Lyset Tar Oss that wouldn't have existed otherwise. It's almost as if this unpolished sound gives the listener an additional feeling of misery and despair, with its inaudibility creating a whole new world of mysticism and exploration. I couldn't imagine Hvis Lyset Tar Oss with any other production - this sound is absolutely spot on.

Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is Burzum's magnum opus as well as one of black metal's most essential releases, so I'd easily recommend it as a good starting point if you're curious about the more ambient-influenced side of black metal. I'll never forget any of the long walks I've taken on snowy evenings while listening to this album, and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss still evokes a nostalgic feeling every time I give it a spin. So I guess I may be a bit biased towards this album, but what can I say? It's simply one of my favorite albums and anything less than 5 stars simply would not suffice. Though my own bias may be blinding me, I fail to see anything in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss other than a complete and utter masterpiece. Absolutely essential.
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