Sound — 8
And so it came to pass that one of the true black metal greats bid final farewell to the genre. Burzum, aka Varg Vikernes, penned a lucid and thoughtful goodbye to the style he loved, shaped and mastered on his blog last month, referencing a need to. None can deny he hasn't already made his contribution, with "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" and "Filosofem" both undisputed classics not only of black metal but of metal as a whole, evoking both a period of time and a philosophical purity beyond that of most works before or since. He also took the opportunity to announce his return to ambient music with new album "Sl Austan, Mni Vestan," surmising that this was the form through which he could best express his ideas. He has previous with the style; while imprisoned for the murder of his then-Mayhem bandmate ystein "Euronymous" Aarseth in the mid-'90s, he traded the harsh, screeching tones of black metal for a quiet keyboard, adapting to both his surroundings and his changing impulses. Everything he does is driven by a desire to channel as truly as possible the ideology of ancient Pagan cultures. The idea of a murderous, racist anti-Semite sat composing at a Casio is rather comical, but Vikernes has always tried to take his listeners away from the real world and "Sol Austan, Mani Vestan" does a fine job of separating the man from the music. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that he evokes the ambient passages from his metal catalogue more often than he does his full instrumental works. Sawtooth pads move slowly over simple loops with wonderful simplicity and perfectly realised tranquillity. The repetitive melodies and splashes of acoustic guitar create interesting textures as they come and go. No track is radically different to the last, but these arrangements will put you under if you allow them to. The prevalence of pads does at least prove that the sounds of previous ambient efforts "Daui Baldrs" and "Hliskjlf" were not entirely forced by the conditions of his incarceration. The unusually, erm, "vintage" sounding keyboards are still his primary medium, and the strange feeling of timelessness stirred by their caress is a welcome reminder of one of Burzum's great achievements. Certain songs will change in the light of individual scrutiny; "Ferahellir" passes by without great incident when hidden deep in the middle of the album but feels like a binned track from a 1970s murder-mystery when pulled up for examination. To avoid confusion or unwanted amusement it's best to follow "Sl Austan..." from start to finish, if only to let it wash over you. Zoning in and out is not recommended.
Lyrics — 7
The album is instrumental, but Vikernes takes a moment to point out that all the song titles are in Norse. Which is nice.
Overall Impression — 8
What's the benchmark for an extreme metal icon who turns to ambient music? Is it success in the new style? Continuity with the message of the old? Must Vikernes be relevant to the music of today and his unrecognisable past? In the end it doesn't particularly matter, because "Sol Austan..." does it all in one way or another. The move away from black metal was an intelligent one, and while it is not essential listening by any stretch of the imagination, "Sl Austan, Mni Vestan" is Varg Vikernes' most complete creation since those halcyon days in Bergen, Norway.