I like the beats and I like the yelling: Burzum, Spectral Voice

Burzum: Thulean Mysteries (2020)

So with very little pomp and even less ceremony Burzum have landed another album in the year of our demise 2020. Compositionally, this is the least unified and longform we have seen this artist. ‘Thulean Mysteries’ is really a compilation of the dust that has been gathering on the Burzum name since the release of ‘The Ways of Yore’ back in 2014, with no connecting logic or coherence to speak of from start to finish. For passionate Burzum fans whose sanity depends on keeping things all in the same place, this release comes as more of a relief than anything else. It’s tiring work updating playlists with the sporadic tracks and singles that have been accumulating over the years, especially given how half formed they are. But now, listening to them all in one monolithic double album, I’m struck by a deeper thought.

The music here is a continuation of the post-prison ambient albums. The same patches are used, the same simple ambient chord progressions divided up with simple folk pieces. Even compared to the prison albums this is intentionally sparse, barren music with very little to latch onto intellectually, paving the way for a penetration at a deeper subconscious level. At least that was true of ‘Thulean Mysteries’ two predecessors. Here, the same basic ideas are applied, but with even less structure or logic. The tracks cut off, sometimes mid note. A chanting vocal piece will be bookended by two synth passages too short to even be credited asOH MY GOD IS THAT A SAXAPHONE TONE USED ON ‘THE RUINS OF DAWRFMOUNT’???!.

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Budget cuts have made it to Burzum logos now

So what’s the deeper thought lurking in the back of my mind after a few listens? Taken on it’s own, this is a compilation of b-sides, demos, and unreleased material for the Burzum completist only. But, if we analyse this in the context of Burzum’s post-prison career it fits with a broader trend of entropy that perfectly mirrors the pre-prison albums. ‘Belus’ is highly structured, with clear phases and turning points which allow one to navigate the album. ‘Fallen’ was a clumsier attempt at the same. ‘Umskiptar’ was even less focused, to the point where structurally it was a mess redeemed only by some neat ideas scattered here and there. Then when the metal was packed up, ‘Sôl austan, Mâni vestan’ was a focused yet minimal return to ambient. ‘The Ways of Yore’ followed in the same vein but with less focus; and then we have this, ‘Thulean Mysteries’, an even less focused work that nevertheless manages to captivate the most dedicated among Varg’s followers at least (who despite appearances do not shy away from criticising the guy).

Pre-prison, if we take ‘Det Som Engang Var’ through to ‘Filosofem’ we notice a similar pattern of entropy (the self-titled debut gets a pass for being the debut). From the highly disciplined structures of the former we depart with the endless wanderings of the latter via the otherworldly but still focused ‘Hviss Lyset Tar Oss’.

Analysing Burzum albums in clusters like this reveals a bizarre logic of decay that mirrors the patterns of life and death, both individually and societally. ‘Thulean Mysteries’ feels like an ending, but in its unfocused and it’s at times downright clumsy execution we begin to see the logic of half formed ideas, either decaying from the old or growing anew out of this compost. Now I’ve seen Varg’s youtube channel. I’m not about to fold his senile ramblings into a reinterpretation of Burzum’s entire career as a holistic and long form commentary on the passage of time and the process of death and decay. The simpler explanation is that Varg has been amassing these tracks slowly over the last seven years or so and decided to put them all on one release. And whilst post-prison Burzum (now the most prolific era if you count ‘From the Depths of Darkness’) has been patchy at best, there is an ever present kernel of truth and beauty to Varg’s approach to compositions, whether they be extended, patient works of gradually unfolding majesty, or half formed shreds of grander concepts as they are here. An unfocused and belated question mark of an album such as this seems a fitting way to end one of the most notorious careers in metal (both in and outside of the music), and yet if this proves to be another new beginning for Burzum I cannot help but be intrigued as to what the guy will do next.

Spectral Voice: Eroded Corridors of Unbeing (2017)

Spectral Voice’s debut LP ‘Eroded Corridors of Unbeing’ is what you get when you cross breed the muddy production values of ‘Onward to Golgotha’ with the otherworldly eccentricities of dISEMBOWELMENT. After citing such renowned antecedents, one could be forgiven for thinking that I’m over-hyping this modern slab of death/doom. But come inside and see for yourself. As with many of the best releases in this style, the initial impact is often driven by the raw power of the music itself. The actual ideas at play are massive, and require the intellectual distance that can only be achieved by a firm acquaintance with these tracks.

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‘Eroded Corridors of Unbeing’ is not a fluid release. It comes across initially as a little schizophrenic, unsure of itself as one passage bubbles up before being slashed down by the next. However, it feels more like word association in riff form than it does a conveyor belt of ideas randomly stitched together. Each new riff provides the groundwork for the next, and usually working each through simple variations of playing style or rhythmic underpinning will end up paving the way for the next passage. Like travelling through a series of vast underground caverns linked by tunnels that distort and bounce sound in unfamiliar ways. Once this technique is repeated a few times, the greater underlying structure one is moving through becomes apparent. One realises they were trapped within a much larger work than they initially thought. Sporadic bursts of chaos serve to further disorientate the listener by breaking up the patiently constructed droning doom riffs. Although vocals are suitably guttural for the most part, occasional screams from the distance will emerge to augment the drama and chaos of crescendos and finales.

The interesting thing about ‘Eroded Corridors of Unbeing’, despite being an undeniably focused and triumphant slab of death/doom, is that it makes plain how this style sits at a crossroads within death metal. Yes, it does have many commonalities with more formalised iterations of the genre (tech death, prog etc.), at least in terms of technique. But in terms of structure it often feels like it is about to collapse in on itself; either through falling into a complete dirge of repeated doomy chord passages, or outright chaotic grindcore. But just at the point when we reach this album’s heat-death and all of time and space becomes meaningless, they will pull the music back to more familiar territory. All the loose ends are tied up by a traditional death metal riff that lifts the music out of the void and back into a more conventional bludgeoning.

Balanced is not an adjective that immediately comes to mind when faced with an album like ‘Eroded Corridors of Unbeing’. But when viewed in this wider context ‘balanced’ is what it is. And it’s good to see a newer artist finding new creative spaces with a genre that – despite having an abundance of potential – often goes criminally under-utilised.

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