Hmmm… how to begin this.
1: Most of my adult life I’ve worked in forensic psychology, in prisons and police departments in six states, specifically with sexual offenders and serial homicide offenders.
2: I dig (though by no means am tr00 or kvlt) black metal; of course I still consider Behemoth black(ish) metal, and love Liturgy, so….
3: Burzum, aka Varg Vikernes, served time in Norwegian prison for murder and arson.
This highlights a sticky area for reviewers: how do you review a piece of (at least alleged) art, knowing the potentially toxic background of the artist?
Do you avoid the Ad Hominem fallacy (“He’s a bad man, so he can never have anything good to say!”) and listen earnestly to what he’s done?
Or do we say Fuck that shit, murdering, church burning bastard.
And it’s deceptively easy, from the safely of reading the monitor, to say “you go, burn that shit!” or something similar.
Now imagine your mother or grandmother being burned alive in a building she found peaceful, or held onto as a symbol, or source of peace.
Regardless of your opinion toward the church and/or Christianity (and the perhaps-inevitable paradoxes inherent therein), there are serious, life-changing repercussions of what Mr. Vikernes was convicted of doing.
The point is, this area gets emotionally tangled very quickly, especially to me; I’m likely to be particularly irritated by the artist’s history and perhaps not enjoy this work as well as someone else might. Be warned, and read on with that in the background of your cerebellum.
If his musical work, despite his background, is good, do we say it’s good? Do we endorse it?
Maybe put more directly– if Hitler gave you the winning lottery numbers, would you play them?
Or would you object to the millions you’d get, from the millions dead?
[Although I’m phrasing this question somewhat rhetorically, I’m obviously working up to a review of the work in question. But: wouldn’t it be hilarious if I just concluded it wasn’t something that should be reviewed at all, and just stopped here? Something like, soup Nazi style: “No review for you!”]
Overall, Fallen sounds like it cost $10 to make; does that make it tr00? Or is it like John Cougar Mellancamp or Joel McHale, spending hours on a haircut, trying to make it look like they spent 10 seconds on it?
If the appearance, at least, of low-budget recording appeals to you, well then… there you go.
Track one, “Jeg Faller”: sounds like my first guitar, a Harmony, played through its accompanying 1.5 inch speaker, with no gain– but somehow does not sound bad…? Like all tracks on Fallen, it’s a mix of ambient, electro-pop (somehow: maybe it’s because of what I’m certain is a drum machine and its stiffness…?), black metal, folk music, acoustic pop… actually, it might be easier to list what musics don’t end up somewhere on here.
“Valen,” like the previous track, follows the songwriting trope of less-melodic verse followed by “catchy” chorus with cleanish vocals. And it pretty much works.
“Vanvidd” continues both the Norwegian lyrics and musical themes: cold, tremolo-picked chords in standard tuning, with murmured lyrics that become hoarse and raspy, replete with blast beats… managing to sound like black metal and ambient relaxation music (seriously) at the same time…. Bonus: at around 3:45 it manages to invoke both Ministry and Joy Division….
“Enhver till Sitt” starts with that same shrill, high-gain non-wound guitar string, bleating a flatted-fifth (sinister) riff…. The remaining tracks “Budstikken” (black metal Pet Shop Boys? Dance floor KMFDM?) and “Til Hel og Tilbake Igjen” (say what you will about the songs themselves, but Norwegian song titles sound metal as shit, don’t they?) are interesting, above average black metal.
So– the overall verdict here is actually quite anticlimactic: Fallen is pretty good.
It’s got good moments, and interesting uses of texture and contrast. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. It’s the germ of something great.
Whether Berzum is past his greatness, or approaching it, is anyone’s guess.