Burzum - Belus
Byelobog Productions
Black Metal
8 songs (50:30)
Release year: 2010
Burzum.org
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

Varg Vikernes' release from prison was an event that many in the Black Metal scene had been anticipating for years. After all, whatever you think of the man or his actions, a new Burzum album is the biggest event for the genre since the infamous Count was imprisoned in the first place, and whilst few expected a return to the genius days of Filosofem, it seemed impossible for Varg to sink as far as Dissection sadly did. Jon Nödtveidt's move from the melodic Death/Black that made his band's first two albums classics to the 'Anti-Cosmic Metal of Death' of Reinkaos was passionate and adherent to his own set of values, yet the music suffered badly, coming in a distant second to his extremist philosophy that ended so bluntly at the wrong end of a shotgun. Varg, however, is far too much of an individual to allow his personal political and philosophical viewpoints to affect his music - the contemptuous ease with which he changed Belus' title from The White God shows that. It was both fascinating and dull to read his recent exclusive interview with Britain's Terrorizer magazine, a masterclass in saying very little beyond the obvious. Varg's side of the story is on his website, as ever, and beyond that there's not a great deal that matters.

You see, it may be hard to accept from a modern, mainstream viewpoint, but Varg sees his integrity as a personal, private thing. Whilst he has no problem sharing his beliefs and opinions when asked, he will never let them take precedence over the music he creates. He has nothing to prove to anyone, after all, having done the time for the crimes he was convicted for, and post-rehabilitation the mere act of retreating to his rural home and self-releasing a new album is a bold statement in and of itself. Unlike Nödtveidt, Varg's music and his opinions are capable of existing parallel to one another in a perfectly stable combination, and if there's one thing that Belus suggests it's the next step of a fascinating musical career. Are we going to get a string of post-prison albums from Burzum, all of this decent yet sub-revolutionary quality? The thought of Varg ending up as some strange Bob Dylan figure in Black Metal is at once hilarious and strangely depressing, yet if he continues to make albums that are as fascinating as Belus then he could very well find a place in Black Metal's cold heart, as much as he denies his kinship with the genre.

My first impressions of this album were bordering on the hostile, probably due to my recent re-obsession with Filosofem and the fact that my expectations were at absolute zero, yet after many listens Belus has really grown on me, to the point where I'd say I like it as much as the self-titled debut, my least favourite of the big four. It's not an easy album to love from the go - musically, it's somewhere between Burzum's earlier guitar-driven Black Metal and the later ambience. All keyboards are gone, and it's anything but catchy. The first sounds you hear, on Leukes Renkespill (introduksjon) seem to be someone dropping a glass bottle repeatedly, which hardly forebodes sheer musical genius. Yet when first track proper Belus' Doed kicks in, lead guitar lines fizzling away to themselves over a tip-tapping drum beat before Varg's dry croak starts up, something kicks in and the same ability to hypnotise that ran so perfectly through Filosofem reappears here, albeit with inferior music. Layered guitar lines are the main musical focus, making up the majority of Belus, and as you'd expect considering that the album has been patched together from tracks written throughout Varg's career, it's a mixed bag.

Give it enough listens however, as no doubt long-term fans will, and you'll find that Belus is pretty darn good. Varg's ability to write gripping guitar riffs is still very much present and correct, and his vocals are even more improved, ranging from his typical shriek to almost-early Enslaved-esque clean singing to spoken word - his songwriting is hard to fault. Belus Doed may be based on the title track from the downright shitty Dauði Baldrs, but in Metallic alter ego it's much improved, twisting and turning back on itself and building up tension well, a tension relieved with a rush of euphoria with the eleven-minute Glemselens Elv. It's the best track on the album, without a doubt, wonderful shimmering guitar lines over a surprisingly loud backing bass, an atmospheric build-up that's something like Drudkh re-imagined for one-man-band. Varg's new-found vocal variety really comes into play here, as clean moans and shrieks clash, appearing and disappearing but always allowing that melancholic guitar to dominate, and although it hardly changes for the entire length of the track, you're swept along so utterly that it doesn't matter.

Elsewhere, it soon becomes apparent that a little less would have made for a lot more. There's no real reason this album had to be over fifty minutes long, and several tracks could quite easily have been cut without damaging the album at all. Without a doubt, the first candidate is the two-minute Sverddans, according to Varg a track he wrote under the Uruk-Hai name in 1988 or '89, and you can tell - it's a thrashy mess brought under reluctant control with ill-fitting half-whispered growls. The following Keliohesten doesn't fare a great deal better, despite an intriguing droning guitar riff that opens well but soon turns more solid and dull - Varg's guitar is definitely better when allowed to seek territories new, rather than being tightly controlled. Fortunately, take these away and you have a much better, tighter album, that ironically is more effectively atmospheric - Kaimadalthas Nedstigning is the second-best track, opening with a relatively speedy Blackened gallop and switching to an unusual repeated riff, over which Varg speaks a single phrase, a motif returned to as the song continues. It's a step sideways for him and so stands out, but it also works simply as a piece of music, again more than listenable despite the length.

Strange as it may seem, it's ultimately the longest tracks which are the best. Penultimate eight-minuter Morgenroede harkens back to the Hvis Lyset days, a dark track which almost writhes in its atmosphere, moving towards ambience with slow riffs taking over from speedy ones, drum beats subtly and wonderfully shifting to accommodate them... it verges on post-rock territory in some ways, and definitely poses questions that can only be answered by further Burzum albums. Belus' Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon) follows on seamlessly, continuing this atmospheric theme in a strange cross between ambience and drone, endless guitar half-melodies stretching into the distance until the track ends. And that's it! the first post-prison Burzum album is over, and whilst one can't help but wish Varg had been a little more ruthless in cutting down on excess flab, it's hard not to be impressed at the large amount of excellence. The four longest tracks are the best, and my fingers are certainly crossed that they're the most recently written - Varg turning Burzum towards more melodic and post-rock territory would be a fascinating and rewarding career turn indeed. Of course, this may all be conjecture; Belus is far from perfect, even with my rose-tinted earphones. Yet there's no denying the quality at hand, and for those Burzum fans stuck on the fence, the verdict is clear - Belus is a damn sight better than the pessimistic had hoped for, professionally written if still endearingly organically played, and certainly deserving of your time, money, and of course, patience. Here's to the future.

Killing Songs :
Glemselens Elv, Kaimadalthas Nedstigning, Morgenroede, Belus' Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon)
Goat quoted 81 / 100
Other albums by Burzum that we have reviewed:
Burzum - The Ways of Yore reviewed by Andy and quoted 69 / 100
Burzum - Sol austan, Mani vestan reviewed by Goat and quoted 40 / 100
Burzum - Umskiptar reviewed by Goat and quoted 68 / 100
Burzum - From The Depths Of Darkness reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Burzum - Fallen reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
To see all 12 reviews click here
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