posted on 2/2011 By:
Fallen represents something a bit unprecedented in the career of Varg Vikernes and Burzum. It is, 20 years after the project’s founding, the make-it-or-break-it album of Varg’s musical journey. I know what you’re thinking: what the shit, this is the eighth full-length under the Burzum moniker. But consider this fact: all other albums had something completely non-musical hanging over them. The early records were engulfed in controversial mystique because of Varg’s extracurricular activities. The late-90s albums were the throwaway “buy my shit” ambient albums he made in the slammer. Belus was the “can he?” post-prison album. But Fallen? It’s just a new album with zero non-musical hype surrounding it. Nothing crazy is happening in Varg’s life. He has been, with the exception of a few questionable remarks in the press, a private and low-key person since becoming free of the Norwegian penal system. It is because of this, and the fact that Belus overcame all hype (and anti-hype) with its almost startling quality, that Fallen has to deliver.
So which is it? Was Belus merely the best ideas culled from years of incarceration, slapped on tape in an effort to cash in on a legacy, ensuring that what follows will be flat and uninspired? Or was it the beginning of a new era for Varg and Burzum, providing hope for the future? These are the questions that Fallen would have to confirm or deny through music alone.
Before one complete spin of the album is complete it becomes readily apparent which of the above scenarios holds true. Fallen delivers, and delivers mightily, improving on the previous effort while also holding its own among the classic “Second Wave” releases. While this may not be wheel reinvention – if Belus was only partially willing to take the band into new territory, then Fallen is only slightly more willing – it is certainly a very strong collection of songs that are undeniably Burzum.
The only category in which Fallen doesn’t surpass its predecessor is in production, opting for a more jagged and raw approach as opposed to the lush sound utilized on Belus. Other than that, Varg’s wonderfully understated clean vocals are given a higher prominence, the bright tremolo chords are more effectively utilized, and the art of entrancing repetition is maximized for spectacular results. This last trait is one of two characteristics that dominate the five main tracks of Fallen. The other is Varg’s brilliant knack for layering melodic elements. The track “Valen,” for example, begins with one palm-muted riff which permeates the entire song, soon joined by single-note chord changes, a descending bass line, and the typical hypnotic and simplistic drum style. These elements are repeated over the song’s nine-plus minutes with only key variations and a few massive moments – including a chilling clean vocal chorus (yes, a chorus) – adding up to an unforgettable total.
Other tracks share these traits and qualities. “Jeg Faller” boasts yet another of the shockingly great choruses, “Enhver til Sitt” brings the layer-plus-repetition formula to darker, utterly haunting territory (Varg’s harsh vocals are nothing short of superb here), and the 10-minute epic “Budstikken” provides a musical sequel of sorts for Belus’ beautiful centerpiece “Glemselens Elv.” Really the only wasted space is about seven total minutes in the form of the pointless intro and even more pointless outro. But hey, I’ll look the other way when the heart of an album is as strong as that on Fallen.
In no way is new-era Burzum ever going to hold the kind of genre influence that Varg’s work of the 90s did. It is simply a different time and black metal has changed and expanded too much in the 19 years since the debut dropped for this to be a possibility. However, what Belus started and Fallen continues is a mighty new era for the Burzum brand, one that should be embraced by fans old and new alike. If Fallen has to be about something other than the music it contains, maybe it can be the album that makes people finally get the fuck over the whole “Varg killed a dude” thing. He was a murderer in 1993. In 2011 he’s merely a musician making fantastic black metal. May he continue to do just that.
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From The Depths of Darkness