Burzum - Filosofem
Black Metal, Ambient
6 songs (1:04:34)
Release year: 1996
Reviewed by Goat

It's generally-ignored that the first four Burzum albums were all recorded within the space of two years, 1992 and 1993. I find that an astonishing fact, personally; what an outpouring of genius! a veritable stream of music that still to this day is so resonant and influential within the underground. Without a doubt, Varg was at his best then, before various - ahem - circumstances overshadowed the music and made Burzum the hotbed of controversy that it is today. Not since Wagner has brilliant music had its reputation so damaged by the actions of its creator, yet a lot of this seems to have sprung up in retrospect, an aura of mystery arising around various scaremongering documentaries and articles. In his excellent write-up of Det Som Engang Var, my colleague Charles suggested that knowledge of this controversy is paramount in understanding and appreciating this music - whilst that's certainly true of the earlier, flawed albums like Det Som... (itself recorded even before the Aske EP!) I think that it matters less for albums three and four in the Burzumic canon, especially Filosofem, which in many ways is the most professional of Varg's output to date.

I can feel your eyebrows rising at that - after all, Varg recorded this album in deliberately poor conditions, plugging his guitar into his brother's stereo without an amplifier, and requesting the worst microphone possible to record his vocals on. Yet Filosofem, recorded in 1993 and only released in 1996, is an intriguingly intelligent album, the best of a brilliant bunch in my view, although as a fervent devotee of Metals Black I love the classic Burzum gang of four equally. Music is art, and making a brilliant album is like painting a brilliant picture - I mentioned an 'outpouring of genius' in the first paragraph, and Varg's quick, deceptively sloppy recording style is reminiscent of Jackson Pollock's creation of masterpieces from nothingness. Like Pollock's art, Filosofem is very easy to tear apart and criticise when broken down into its base elements, but it's uncannily effective when you're viewing it as a whole. Earlier Burzum is easy to dislike due to the seeming sloppiness and amateur nature of it all, but it's clear that a very intelligent mind was behind Filosofem.

Take as an example, the stellar opening track that is Dunkelheit, the first Burzum song that I ever heard and still my favourite. The rising feedback, the explosion of sound as fuzzy guitar and bass hum, the tight and surprisingly controlled drums, all building up together before the main theme comes in, dum-dum-dum-dum, dee-dee-dee-dee, repeated by the keyboards... it's absolutely brilliant in its simplicity, and I'm sure it's playing in a lot of readers' heads now as it was when I was writing this. Varg's tormented, twisted vocals are just another instrument as the intense and deep morass of sounds swirl together. Each time I listen, I hear new depths in this track, little clips of melody hidden in plain view that it's easy to miss, but which work together so perfectly... the song as a whole is a perfect introduction to the album, appearing out of nothingness and casting its slow spell on you before retreating, almost fading away. I usually take Varg's statement that Burzum songs are spells with the same amount of reverence that I take his other pronouncements, but Dunkelheit is one of those pieces of music which makes me question whether I was wrong.

Jesus' Tod follows (I'll stick to the German tracklisting, since it's what most people are familiar with) and kicks the album into high gear, speedy riffs and tumultuous drumming setting a fast pace for Varg's voice. It's what you'd normally think of as classic Black Metal, but done to absolute perfection, that repetitive yet catchy riffing infectious and memorable, just one possible reason for the album's amazing commercial success, even entering the UK Independent charts of the time. As with most songs present, it's very easy to fall into a kind of trance whilst listening, as the combination of sounds is extremely hypnotic - this was a big influence on many an Ambient Black Metal act. It's the incredible ease of this effect which makes Filosofem so easy to like yet so hard to understand - similar to Transilvanian Hunger in the sheer otherworldly impact, yet so much more melodic and less scathingly hostile that it doesn't immediately repel, but draws the listener in.

Erblicket Die Töchter Des Firmaments continues on the same path as the previous tracks, slowing the pace and heaping on the melancholy, and is just as effective in its careful melodies and spellbinding atmosphere - as with the others, it's easy to forget the lengthy running times. Gebrechlichkeit I drops the drums, whilst Gebrechlichkeit II and Rundgang Um Die Transzendentale Säule Der Singularität drops nearly everything, mostly sticking to the precisely placed synth notes that echo in the background of other tracks. It's the hardest part of the album to defend from the scornful and easily bored, and an aspect that many make no effect to - something I've never understood, as it fits so perfectly. I will be the first to attack any band that thinks it is more capable of creating ambient soundscapes than it actually is, yet am also the first to defend those that do it well. By stripping away the guitar and drums from the twenty-minute plus Rundgang... and making it so repetitive, Varg was making a musical statement as clear as any, one that's especially fascinating given that it has the exact same hypnotic effect on me as the earlier, more 'metal' tracks.

Like one of Pollack's aforementioned paintings, I found myself getting lost in Filosofem every time I experience it - and the presence of controversy in the keyboard-only tracks makes it more worthy in my eyes, not less. Art should challenge you, should make you ask questions, and it's that which elevates this album above even the excellent Hvis Lyset Tar Oss in my eyes - you hesitate before choosing to listen to Filosofem, held back by the knowledge of the lengthy ambience, but once you have it playing it draws you in effortlessly, a contemplative, intelligent study, the philosophical tract of the title. Few deny Hvis Lyset's genius - hell, few Black Metallers would dare to - but Filosofem is an easier target, linked inexorably to the prison albums in people's mind by the focus on ambience. They couldn't be more wrong - Filosofem is, of course, miles above the wretched Dauði Baldrs and easily beats the more generally accepted Hliðskjálf too. But it's also a good step beyond the other albums, leaving Hvis Lyset's sheltered woodland path behind for the glorious mountaintop of the cover, that classic, almost volkish artwork by Theodor Kittelsen sending a Black Metal clarion call. Burzum was a fantastically influential act, and Filosofem is a vital milestone on Varg's path to his current, legendary status in the scene.

Killing Songs :
Goat quoted CLASSIC
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
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