So, after one year, here I am again, talking about Varg Vikernes’ Burzum and his new album Umskiptar. In 2011 Fallen received my kudos - you can read the review here. On that occasion I said the man had an urgency to make new music, but after two albums, why record a new one? Is it STILL relevant?
The answer, yes it is!
Umskiptar is all about the Völuspá, the poem that talks about how the Nordic world was born, how Odin lost his eye to gain knowledge, about the death of Baldr, the Ragnarok (the Viking Apocalypse) and all the jive you probably heard about from other Viking acts out there. The difference is that he sings the songs in Old Norse with a strong fidelity to the original, just replacing and/or repeating one stanza here and there to fit his music.
The album is the consolidation of the anti-urban sentiments of Mr. Vikernes and his successful achievement of his particular form of neo-Romanticism: a nonconformity and subsequent escapism from all forms of the modern way of life. A proof of that, beyond the decision to try and sing Völuspá is the coverart made by the Norwegian painter Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892) called Nótt. (If the name isn’t ringing any bells, this cobber is the same guy who painted Åsgårdsreien… okay let’s be more popular, the artwork of BATHORY’S BLOOD, FIRE, DEATH!!! Capisce?)
Musically I divide the album into two parts: the black metal and the ambient part:
Part 1 – Black Metal
Umskiptar starts with an intro called Blóðstokkinn and it flows into Jóin which is not so different from any number one has heard in Fallen and Belus, but with an important distinction: the vocals are cleaner all the way. However there are Burzumic guitars, mid-to-slow tempo songs and a hypnotic atmosphere.
But on of the greatest songs of the album is third track Alfadanz which starts with a fairy keyboard that sets the pace (literally) for the whole song: riffs, bass, drumming and vocals. It’s an instantaneous earworm, 9 minutes which comprises the 8th to 14th stanzas of Völuspá, the Dvergatal (Catalogue of Dwarves). It’s name upon name of dwarves or elves or whatnot, Fíli, Kíli, Fundinn, Náli, Hefti, Víli, and a lot of strange entities that perfectly suit the melody and entices ones imagination, mainly if you’re not aware of what’s actually going on in the story. By the middle of the song the “metal part” cedes again to the ethereal keyboard and the goosebumps are inevitable.
Hit Helga tré and Æra are good songs, but they don’t have the same quality of Alfadanz which is devastating. That may deviate the listener’s attention a bit but nothing that some spins wouldn’t fix.
Heiðr is like an intro to the next number Valgaldr, another great song, although I think some of Varg's vocalizations simply don’t fit. Over again it’s a minor defect in a song full of grandiosity.
Part 2 – Ambient
Differently from the two previous Burzum albums, Umskiptar strangely goes back to the field of ambient/atmospheric music, but without ANY midi-oriented sounds, just guitar, bass and voice, and dude, Varg Vikernes masters that art!
8th song Galgviðr, is a sad ballad with a riff which accompanies the vocals, and it is a beautiful marriage. Repetitive as every Burzum song, it’s another earworm, set to make the winter nights of true kvltists happier.
Surtr Sunnan really doesn’t excel the other tracks, but it opens the way to the third of the greatest tracks of the CD: Gullaldr, another sad ballad, clocking in 10 minutes, repetitive, sad, wintery, Nordic, skaldic, you name it! It’s beautiful, the despondency that gushes from the speakers doesn’t fit, for the unaware listener, to the tale of how the world will be reborn after the Ragnarok, and everyone will be happy ever after.
Níðhöggr tribally closes the album like the last track of Fallen, Til Hel Og Tilbake Igjen. It’s really strange and foggy with a monotonous drumming and otherworldly instrumentation.
Overall, Varg Vikernes progressively made his way to Umskiptar, creating not a simple black metal album but a new concept. Lots of people will beg to differ, but this album is really something new. Maybe it’s a transition album, maybe it’s the definitive opus of Burzum, who knows? Like all Burzum albums, only the time will judge the destiny of Umskiptar, but if I was time I’d rather shut that face up, and give this album the highest praises.
I don’t know if you remember the last sentence of my previous review of Burzum, and I really hate to repeat myself, but: HATERZ GONNA HATE AGAIN!
* Sturm und Drung was a movement that is said to forego Romanticism in the pre-Industrial Revolution Europe in the 18th Century.