Sound — 9
The album has a simple but oh so effective black metal production, the atmosphere created being one of absolute dread and blackened isolation. That is the main draw of Burzum's music: the atmosphere created. Varg himself has stated before that his albums are designed for the night, possible as the listener is falling asleep. Not in a way that this album bores the listener (as if) but in so far as it bridges the gap between the worlds of reality and fantasy. Fuzzy and doom-laden guitars churn away on top of basic drum beats in a hypnotic fashion, luring the listener into to Varg's particular take on black metal. The sound of this album pretty much sums up black metal but with much more in the form of subdued keyboard based songs, which act as gaps between the all out brutality of the metal songs. The guitar leads are very melodic and simple and fit perfectly with the rhythm of the songs. The bass is audible, but more of a presence that adds to the oppressive nature of the material rather than clearly formed lines. Overall the sound and production fit the style of music perfectly and is better than a lot of black metal from a similar period.
Lyrics — 9
Burzum's album all have similar lyrical themes and this one in particular gives a good representation of Varg's ongoing concerns. This is best displayed by the title itself: Det Som Engang Var (What Once Was). Varg is interested in the old ways, by way of Odinism and atavism. The lyrics and Varg's tortured and pained high pitched screams display utter loathing for the way the world is today, and an unrelenting desire to escape from it. The style in which the vocals are screeched means that everything vocalized in this album sounds like abject hate (which is the major emotion in all of Burzum's work) but lyrically there is a detectable sign of hope for change. A good example of this is a sample from the song "Lost Wisdom": "While we may believe our world-our reality to be that is-is but one manifestation of the essence." All that we experience through the five senses is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what existence really entails. So lyrically there is this sense of escape from a despised world, also represented by Varg's interest in fantasy, specifically Lord of the Rings. Burzum itself is part of an inscription contained in the story and means "Darkness." Track three on this album translates as "One Ring to Rule." So overall there is the overriding sense (lyrically and atmospherically) on this album of the need to escape and journey (or return) to somewhere better. Varg's hate and misery saturated vocals perfectly capture this.
Overall Impression — 10
This is an incredible powerful, spiteful and moving album from what is, essentially, a one man band. There have been a few session players involved in Burzum and some points (including Samoth from Emperor) but it really is solely Varg's creation. That in itself is impressive enough (he plays all the instruments) but it is the all-encompassing vision of his work that really hits you as a listener. Upon putting this album on it is almost as if a sonic fog descends on the room and all that exists is the blackened churn of the music and that horrific, guttural scream. If you're in the mood for such a thing! But I am of the firm opinion that once you listen to Burzum you will listen to all other black metal in a different way. I unintentionally find myself comparing, not just black, but all metal releases to Burzum. Irrational I know but that's the effect this music had on me. Black metal fans will undoubtedly already have this album but I think this would appeal in many ways to doom metal fans too. The heavy atmosphere of loathing and brooding depression will account for this. As for the best songs I would have to go for "Lost Wisdom" and "Naar Himmelen Klarner" (When The Sky Clears). The former is a blackened metal attack with a supernatural groove that drags you in to it's dark world. The latter is a quieter, guitar based mood piece with a forceful lead line that brings to mind images of a build up to a large battle. It has that kind of coiled tension, in my opinion at least. If I had to pick anything bad about this album it would be that the keyboard based songs are slightly disposable. You wouldn't put the album on just to listen to those, and only those, put it that way. But that's not truly a criticism as they work well within the context of the album as a whole. If this was stolen I'd 100 per cent buy it again, in fact I should have a second copy in reserve in case of loss as I listen to it most days (nights rather). Overall I think this an album all fans of metal should at least hear. It has darkness, pain, hatred, battles, screaming, orcs, melodic guitar, despondency and the faintest hint of something better beyond this life. Priceless.