Sound — 6
Burzum is a band most defined by the controversy surrounding its sole member, Varg Vikernes. He is not the first musician to be "controversial." But whereas others would be considered controversial due to their personal relationships, drug problems, or even playing technique, Vikernes is known for something else, something much more venomous; exceedingly racist political views and actions. To say Vikernes' views are controversial is putting it lightly; when I researched his name, the first autosearch term that came up was "varg vikernes psychopath."
To go with his neo-Nazi political views, he has racked up a considerable number of violent felonies that include the burning of churches and the murder of a band member. To say the least, Vikernes is serious about his black metal; he is not some poser who just sings about violence because it seems cool. However, it is this seriousness that makes him the kind of person worth avoiding at the neighborhood market. (Note: I have never met Varg Vikernes, so he might, possibly, somehow be a cool guy once you get to know him; I cannot truly judge).
Because of his earlier, pre-prison work, most people associate Vikernes' band, Burzum, with heavy black metal. However, it seems that prison has changed the musical sensibilities of Vikernes. In the past few years, Vikernes through Burzum has released rather peaceful music. With "The Ways of Yore," Burzum continues this trend.
Burzum's new album can best be described as tribal Viking music. Seeing the Vik- in Vikernes, along with the medieval album art made me think that this type of music would be expected. But for fans of Burzum's '90s work, this album will come as quite a shock. Most of the album is keyboard based. All of the rhythms are light, slow, and ambient. When I first heard the opening riff of "The Portal," I felt like I was back in religious services again. Essentially, Burzum does an excellent job portraying what one would imagine to be the "ways of yore" for Vikings.
Unfortunately, the guitar work does not take center stage on this album. If any guitars are played to begin with, they are used mostly to texture the main sound of the song. And to keep with the "ways of yore" theme, only acoustic guitars (which appear to be fingerpicked) are used. Though Vikernes' lack of guitars is disappointing, it is understandable. As a whole, the guitars do an effective job fulfilling their purpose; it seems that an abundance of guitars do not fit an album as light as this (that is, until some musician proves that they can be successfully used with this kind of music).
One of the disappointing qualities of the album is its lack of staying power. While the album as a whole might be fun to listen to in some sort of tranquil environment, there are no songs that are catchy enough or crazy enough to be remembered after a couple of minutes. Basically, this album is very easy to throw away after listening to it for a couple of minutes. The album is not garbage, but it is not as immaculate as it could and should be, certainly not enough to get attention as anything other than a gimmick or niche album.
The key to the album, then, is the experience it gives, its ability to either (a) conduce a wow factor with its seemingly faithful recreation of a cultish Viking music or (b) engineer an endearing ambience that allows the listener to add his or her own dialogue. After all, the album sounds very much like a soundtrack to a movie that has never been made. Maybe it is secretly the next soundtrack to the History Channel's "Vikings" series.
In terms of production and focus/attention to detail, the album is okay, but considering Burzum is a one-man band, this album should be given more leeway on this side of the equation. The mixing is adequate as is the placement of instruments throughout each individual song. The best sections of the album are the buildups in songs that never appear to climax. Buildups that never reach an apex are not disdainful though because they just add to the ambient, almost peaceful campfire vibe of the album.
The main problem caused by Vikernes working alone appears to be that he is not an infallible self-editor. For example, some sections seem to drone on endlessly without rhyme or reason; onerously long and boring sections are neither required nor desired just because the album attempts to be ambient. Fortunately, this loss of focus does not occur on most of the songs. In fact, with the best song on the album, "Heill Odinn," Vikernes constructs beautiful, even enthralling buildups and drawdowns while only using one line of lyrics that is repeated for the entire length of the song.
Lyrics — 8
Sparse as the vocals are (many of the songs are instrumentals), they are the single strongest force on the album. The lyrics are nothing special except for the novelty of the Norwegian ones (yet another play for authenticity).
For the most part, the vocals are soft, dark, and tame, nowhere near usual black metal territory. The only part of the vocals that sound remotely metal (not that this is bad) is the creepy, ritualistic vibe they exude on certain songs.
Overall Impression — 6
Overall, this album could not stand if not for the appeal of the traditional Viking music. While nothing on the album sounds particularly bad, there is so much more that could have been done with it. As an obviously ambient album, I personally feel that it accomplished its goals; I could fall asleep to this album (in a good way). However, there is better music in the world for fans of this genre. Once the novelty of the Viking feel wears off, there is nothing to keep the listener tied to the album.
This album is an interesting piece of work. Nevertheless, it will end up becoming a mere blip on the map of a musician's world of music. I hope that Burzum continues on this path because, with a certain amount of creativity, Vikernes could develop something truly special.