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|3.||Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament (Erblicket die Tochter des Firmaments)|
|4.||Decrepitude I (Gebrechlichkeit I)|
|5.||Rundtgåing av den Transcendentale Egenhetens Støtte|
|6.||Decrepitude II (Gebrechlichkeit II)|
Review for 'Burzum - Filosofem'
For many, Burzum is almost synonymous with all the notoriety that Norwegian Black Metal gained during the early 90's. You can't blame people for connecting the two, because it's hard to ignore the fact that Varg Vikernes, the sole member and musician behind the Burzum project, did in fact commit several crimes during this period that were polemical not only within Black Metal, but also within the general view of the public, thanks mostly to the Norwegian media's hunger for anything remotely controversial.
Furthermore, the crimes that Vark Vikernes commited, namely the murder of fellow Norwegian Black Metal musician Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth and the arson of several churches across Norway, gave Burzum and Norwegian Black Metal in general a helping hand in reaching a wider audience, as well as elevating certain characteristics of Black Metal to iconic status precisely due to their controversial nature.
This scenario is unfortunate because while these statements are more or less correct with varying degrees of exaggeration depending on the source, a large percentage of people tend to ignore the most fundamental aspect of Burzum, the music itself. It cannot be highlighted enough that with his first four albums, Varg Vikernes helped define Black Metal in it's most essential form under the Burzum name, laying several of the stepping stones that countless bands would later use as the foundations upon which to build ever more complex and polished variations of both Pagan Black Metal and Ambient Black Metal.
Perhaps the most recognized of these primordial stepping stones, and together with Hvis Lyset Tar Oss probably the one that played the most important role in establishing the subgenre's roots, is Filosofem, Burzum's fourth full length album and the last of it's kind until Varg Vikernes would return to the studio 14 years later upon his release from prison.
Although it was released on the 1st of January, 1996, Filosofem was recorded during March of 1993, and marked an end to the brief period of prolific creativity that Varg Vikernes began only 15 months earlier, during which not only did he record an impressive four albums and one EP under the Burzum moniker, but also contributed as bass guitarist to Norwegian Black Metal pioneers Mayhem during the same period. Also worth noting is the fact that although all of his previous releases had been recorded at the famous Grieghallen Studio in Bergen, Norway, Filosofem was recorded at the Breidablik Studio. Filosofem consists of six songs in total, and although the technically correct titles for each track are in Norwegian, during this review I will use the more widespread and commonly used titles from the German version for the sake of clarity.
The album begins with two of Burzum's most well-known and iconic songs, "Dunkelheit" and "Jesus Tod". "Dunkelheit", which translates into "Darkness", is actually titled "Burzum" on the Norwegian version, the reason for this being that it is in fact the very first song that was ever composed under the Burzum name, tracing it's origins back as early as August 1991 when Varg Vikernes changed the project's name from Uruk-Hai to Burzum. According to Varg Vikernes, he originally intended to include this song on the Hvis Lyset Tar Oss album, however he wasn't satisfied enough with the quality of the recording and consequently opted to leave it out.
Whether the version of the song that appears as the opening track on Filosofem is the original recording that he planned to use on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, or a later version recorded at the same time as the rest of the album, I don't know, but what I can confirm is that it fits into place perfectly on Filosofem, beginning with a magnificent jolt that assures that the listener is paying attention before setting off on a hypnotic journey spanning seven minutes, and although the song is built entirely around a single riff, Varg Vikernes demonstrates right from the start that he is a master at creating mesmerizing atmospheres through simple repetition, gradually incorporating some sparse keyboards and his trademark raspy vocals to great effect over the duration of the song. After all, creating compelling atmospheres through carefully crafted repetition is what Burzum is known for, so in retrospect, a more adequate introduction track for Filosofem is practically inconceivable, as is a more representative song of what Burzum stands for musically.
"Dunkelheit" is followed by "Jesus Tod", which translates to "Jesus' Death". Retaining the same methods of repetition used in the first track, but with a faster tempo and a slightly more aggressive riff, the listener is once again treated to a free hypnosis session courtesy of Varg Vikernes, although on this occasion there is more variation than on "Dunkelheit", consisting of some excellent complimentary riffs that make their appearance at just the right moment, and some fantastic fast-paced drumming used to good effect.
The third track is titled "Erblicket Die Töchter Des Firmaments" which means "Beholding The Daughters Of The Firmament". On this song, Varg Vikernes opted for a slower but by no means less intense approach to the primary riff, and combined with some great vocals and more than adequate drumming, the end result is nothing short of monumental.
I'm listening to Filosofem while writing this review, and I must admit I'm having a hard time resisting saying "This is the best song on the album" after each of these songs... I think it's safe to say that deciding on a stand-out track on Filosofem is a futile endeavour, each one is brilliant in it's own unique way, although many people who do manage to find a favourite track on Filosofem will no doubt find it amongst the first half of the album, because the last three songs, "Gebrechlichkeit I", "Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität" and "Gebrechlichkeit II", all fall within the more ambient side of things, and are notable for the lack of any type of percussion and the heavy but by no means overused presence of keyboards and synths.
Both parts of "Gebrechlichkeit", which translates to "Decrepitude", consist of some great guitar build-ups and subtle but recurring keyboards that really give them a sense of mystery and wonder, with "Gebrechlichkeit I" occasionally featuring Varg Vikernes' screeched vocals while "Gebrechlichkeit II" is purely instrumental. Separating them both is "Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität", which translates to "Tour Around The Transcendental Columns Of Singularity". This is a purely ambient piece that is over 25 minutes long, being very minimalistic and repetitive, but somehow managing to fit perfectly into place in the whole scheme of things.
There is only one major drawback about Filosofem that is apparent after the first listen, and that is the order of the songs. With the first half featuring some traditional but nonetheless creative and hypnotic Black Metal, and the latter half being of a more ambient nature, void of any kind of drumming and featuring rare use of vocals, it can appear to be slightly anti-climatic. This anti-climax is only made more apparent by the 25 minute "Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität" which, as previously mentioned, is a purely ambient track from start to finish, featuring only keyboards and synths in their most minimalistic form, not unlike the track "Tomhet" from the Hvis Lyset Tar Oss album. That said, it does divide Filosofem into two distinct chapters, and the difference in style being confined to each chapter avoids either one detracting from the feel that the other transmits, so it's not necessarily a bad thing, and after a couple of listens it all makes perfect sense. You don't mix things up if it isn't necessary, and Black Metal isn't known for it's conventionalism either.
From this point on, unless there is some kind of impending natural disaster that could potentially harm you, or even worse, harm your Filosofem CD or vinyl... it's inevitably a case of playing the whole album again. It definitely falls within the "addictive" category of Black Metal albums. There isn't much more that can be said about Filosofem without going into specifics, and that would only spoil the subtle surprises and atmospheric details that are spread throughout the whole album.
What other albums sound similar to this?
Suffice to say that Burzum's sound is rather specific and easily identifiable, and unique in some aspects. Also, as mentioned above, Filosofem represents the quintessential Burzum sound, and this makes it easy to find similarities amongst the rest of Vark Vikernes's works, more so than with any other Burzum album. In other words, every other Burzum album shares some musical relationship with Filosofem in one way or another, while the same can not be said about other Burzum albums.
To make things easier, you are strongly advised to check out Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Det Som Engang Var, two essential Burzum albums that emerged from the same period in Varg Vikernes' career, as well as two of his most recent albums, Belus and Fallen, both recorded after his release from prison in 2009. As opposed to many Black Metal bands that unavoidably evolve their sound over the years, Burzum's most recent albums are basically in the same spirit as his early works, which is nothing but good news for fans of that specific sound. Interestingly, Varg Vikernes has stated that he is practically incapable of making any other kind of music.
Beyond Burzum, the closest you will ever come to finding anything similar to Filosofem will be something produced by Nargaroth, a band that could easily be described as Germany's answer to Burzum, albeit with a more evolved sound. Begin by checking out their masterpieces Herbstleyd, Geliebte Des Regens, Jahreszeiten and the Amarok compilation, each one being nothing short of breath-taking. Closer to home are the Bergtatt Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler and Nattens Madrigal albums by fellow Norwegians Ulver. Also worth mentioning are Forest, Evilfeast, Tomhet, Sapthuran, Branikald, Zinumm, and to a lesser extent, Wolves In The Throne Room, although the latter's take on Black Metal can be traced more to Hvis Lyset Tar Oss than to Filosofem.
Another honorable mention are the Germans Nihil Nocturne, with their Necrohell and Wahnsinn Tod Verrat albums.
In a nutshell...
Fuzzy guitars, screeched vocals, hypnotic riffs, spot-on drumming and perfect background use of keyboards and synths, all held together by an underlying theme of pagan pride... In essence, Filosofem is the album which most successfully represents Burzum in it's musical and ideological forms, with each song being distinct and memorable individually, and the whole album being extremely satisfying to listen to as a whole. A masterpiece of early Black Metal and the Ambient Black Metal subgenre, rivalled at the time only by Burzum's other masterpieces, and met with sparse competition ever since.
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