|Classic Review: Burzum - Filosofem|
Label: Misanthropy Records
Year released: 1996
Genre: Black Metal
Review online: February 11, 2009
Reviewed by: Lars Christiansen
Burzum's fourth full length was where Varg's music began to show a marked difference when compared to his earlier releases. Not only did the end half of this album see the beginning of his synthesizer fixation that would become the sole vision of his two remaining albums, but it also saw a more philosophical (hence the album's title), minimalist approach to songwriting which would see hundreds of bedroom-bound misanthropes pick up guitars in its wake ready to bash out 'ambient' Black Metal in a similar style. Although this album is known for being the home of one of Burzum's most famous tracks ("Dunkelheit"), it does hold more interest than just that song alone.
Firstly, the guitar tone is so distorted, it sounds like it is running through two different distortion pedals to create a warm, foaming wash of guitars that sparkle softly from your speakers (although reportedly, it was actually recorded on Varg's brother's stereo with a distortion box, rather than an actual guitar amp). Whether softly strumming chords or serenely picking tremolo riffs — it's all so relaxed (even one of the 'harsher' sounding songs "Jesus' Tod" sounds dreamlike in its execution). Varg's bark has a lot less bite to it this time around now, no longer howling those inhuman shrieks, he decided to go for a throatier hiss which at times sounds almost like a distorted whisper close in to the microphone. While the first three tracks are otherworldly Black Metal par excellence; come "Gebrechlichkeit I", the quality begins to drop, and the metal begins to disappear completely. This isn't just because of the increased usage of synthesizer on this track, it's just a little too minimalist for my liking (though those who cream themselves over the likes of Vinterriket would be frowning heavily over my statement there). "Rundgang Um Die Transzendentale Saule Der Singularitat" is an entirely synthesizer-based 'mood' track, which goes on for over 25 minutes. So, unless you're really in the frame of mind to lay back and meditate to it, it's pretty hard going. Luckily I can stomach the likes of early Mortiis or Vond on occasion so it's not so bad for me, but it's still easy to see why people dismiss the whole album off the back of this lengthy track alone though. Album closer "Gebrechlichkeit II" re-introduces the fizzy, foaming guitars, but similar to the forth track, it's just that bit too minimalist for casual listening.
Many would argue that the tranquil approach to generally ferocious music was the showings of a man that was out of ideas, tiring of distorted guitars and lacking of enthusiasm, whereas some prefer to see it as one of Black Metal's forefathers no longer feeling the need to scream until his veins popped out of his skull to get his message across, almost like a powerful arch mage comfortable with his own ability, secure in the knowledge he can destroy anything in his path with a mere snap of his fingers. I'd have opted for the latter, if only the music could've backed that analogy up for the album's entirety. Filosofem is a good album, it's just not on the same level as the first three.
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