Released: 2013, Byelogog Productons
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
With such a violent and provocative history no one can deny that Varg Vickenes is more legend than man these days. His name appears in far wider circles than his music, and many will happily take up the chance to read about his latest ranting or questionably racist right wing speeches.
Perhaps some of those were even waiting for the day he would make his triumphant return to the black metal scene, to once more wage war on music and take it back to its fundamentalist core. They’d be forgiven for thinking that during his time behind bars that Varg might have honed his ambient capabilities, ready to realize them when he was released from the limitations of prison and return to producing the stand out albums we knew him for.
We have however been nothing short of disappointed. Over the past three years, Vickenes has thrown out three albums, this being the latest installment in his quest for originality, SOL AUSTAN, MANI VESTAN, literally translated from Old Norse as East of the Sun, West of the Moon. A continuation of Varg’s search for the past, this describes a journey through life and spirituality before descending into darkness and death.
Although advertised as the same, but different from his glory days, don’t be tricked by this latest offering, this is no DET SOM ENGANG VAR; the sound could not be further away from the Burzum of the 90’s. The speed at which Vickenes has been throwing out albums these last few years really shows on their quality.
The harsh rasps and furious yet captivatingly atmospheric music has been replaced by light ambient electronic instrumentals in this release. Repetition is a major feature but with many of the songs consisting of one idea repeating constantly, and most of the songs being over five minutes long it becomes impossible to really focus on the music and they quickly fade out into the background.
Having always advocated his preference for atmospheric music and never playing live, claiming his music was always made to be listened to in solitude, this musical direction may come as no surprise to those still following the Burzum brand.
This release will be his third electronic instrumental album to date, but the first one released outside of prison. Written to coincide with Vickenes’s upcoming film ForeBears, it could be argued that the music’s light qualities only require visuals to bring it back to life.
The album however contains as much emotion and atmosphere as an awkward elevator ride with an unwanted acquaintance. For an album that is written to represent a journey, it seems ironic that the songs are utterly directionless, neither building nor straying from the path set right from the beginning of the track.
The fact he even bothered separating the tracks feels wrong, as each song is basically the same thing repeated again and again for over an hour. More than once while playing the album I actually forgot I was listening to it!
Not one to slack on his impressive album covers this album is no exception. Taken from Ulpiano Checa’s Rape of Proserpina, the artwork is bold, dramatic and altogether captivating. Proserphone, the fertility goddess was captured by Pluto and taken to the underworld where she would remain his wife for three months of every year. When looking at track titles, it is clear to see that Vickenes has drawn parallels with this story and his own journey, comparing her decent into the underworld to his own journey in the exploration of death and darkness.
Described as both different and similar to the old albums, what this really amounts to is Burzum with all the interesting and exciting musical moments taken out. There is very little to say about this album that doesn’t simply amount to stating that it doesn’t really do anything in the space of an hour.
For all its faults and its ceaseless repetition, the album does contain some semblance of harmony and beauty within some of the melodic lines. Vickenes has always proven in the past to have a talent for the simple and atmospheric, but with this album it feels thrown together.
The emphasis on repetition in each song could have been counteracted by a movement overall in the album, which although melodically and harmonically there is some development as we move through the songs, Vickenes instance on recycling the sounds used from track to track cause it to meld into a swirling mass.
The time, effort and passion of previous albums seem completely lost with this release. Many who love the album will claim that I just ‘don’t get it’ but quite frankly, there’s just not a lot not to get.
Review by Caitlin Smith