this is the second article in a series about my music discoveries
Yeah, Burzum. The infamous Varg Vikernes. Man and his crimes aside, his third album, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, was the first I listened of him. At the time I was merely a few months into my new found metal passion and had listened to all its most famous bands (Iron Maiden, Metallica, Motorhead, Slayer, Dream Theater, Helloween, Queensryche etc.). I was thus looking for something else, perhaps something harder. As I was very into Iron Maiden, I stumbled upon one day the Cradle of Filth cover of Hallowed Be Thy Name: albeit not much “black” but more gothic, I found it very extreme, very disturbing, very “evil”. It fascinated me, especially the video.
I was at the time used to metal singers who used their powerful voices to summon feelings of strength, anger and rebellion, unlike pop singers’ who always leaned more on their melodic side, but wasn’t aware that there could be singers more evil, more dark than Slayer’s. Dani Filth’s voice introduced me to the world of black metal, even if a pretty diluted version of it. I didn’t like it much at first, I knew there were better singers, less theatrical but more raw.
That kind of singing I found in Burzum. While Dani’s voice had that tinge of melody, albeit very distorted and way too high for a “normal” singer, Varg’s voice was different, utterly desperate, utterly nihilist, shed of all melody, all normal human feelings, devoid of any positiveness. He didn’t even try to sound melodic or to add some beauty to the music. He just screamed, screamed as there was no dawn tomorrow and yet his sorrow wasn’t going to end with the world. His voice was like the covers of his albums: bare, minimalistic in his evil simplicity, childishly rough.
Listen to Det Some Engang War and try to image what a kid just out of high school would have felt. If Bruce Dickinson’s voice showed me that it was possible to sing to express negative feelings like anger, Varg’s taught me that you could make a whole album completely devoid of positive emotions and without any melody that wasn’t negative, depressing, sorrowful. More than in music, as it was the case with Iron Maiden, it was a switch in philosophy, in going from “music has to be beautiful” to “music can be beautiful even when it doesn’t seem so and doesn’t even try to”. Melodies were gone, beauty was the beauty of a crying creature shaking his fists at the cruel world, wishing for a bygone age to return in which the world wasn’t as different, uncomprehending, alien.
Burzum wasn’t the first singing to express desperation or rage. I had heard Nirvana’s songs years before of course but they sounded like children’s now compared to Burzum’s ability to express painful feelings in music. Theirs was general rage against society, remaining humans in that very society they screamed to change, his was an awareness that rage wasn’t useful any more, only sadness and suffering were worth expressing as in the end it all boiled down and returned to suffering. A testament of human hopelessness. Whereas Nirvana were grey, a boiling rage against what was perceived as a changing world that could revert back still to the “good times”, Burzum is total black, absolute in his abandon of all hope to make the world “right” again.
I am perhaps attaching too much of a philosophy behind the music here. I admit. That’s what I felt at the time of the first listening at least. But Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is one of those albums that can make a strong impression on the mind of a listener, an imprint that could be taken as a philosophy on how to express oneself in music. It’s one of a kind, surely.
No love for Burzum
I can’t say that I loved Burzum; nor as much as Iron Maiden or Metallica. I didn’t find myself listening to his music on repeat on my cd player, nor making playlists with my favourite songs back then with many songs of him in it. I don’t even listen to his music any more. Nor I have any sympathy for the person behind the musician.
Yet I have to admit that his first albums up until Filosofem opened the way for the truly extreme genres of metal music. Even if I needed various months more to really appreciate Death or Emperor music, I wouldn’t have been able to if wasn’t for Varg’s screaming in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Nor I wouldn’t have appreciated folk music as I later did with the likes of Dead Can Dance, Myrkur and a plethora of smaller bands around the world. Even blackgaze/post black metal is highly indebted to Varg, as little as they would like to admit. He’s musically a great artist as much as a shitty person. Genius often coincides with crime.
Thus personally, less in music than in the philosophy behind it, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss was a real eye opener. After it I was ready to listen to the really evil stuff out there. And I did. I would have appreciated other artists much more than him afterwards yet in the way Burzum sings the themes that make the whole black metal genre, he is yet unsurpassed. An amazing accomplishment for somebody that young, at the time.
Photos by Theodor Kittelsen, Burzum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons