BURZUM - Det som engang var (CYMOPHANE Records - CD 1993)
Reviewing Burzum is never easy… I have a feeling like people judge Varg and band more for his deeds, beliefs and views – which sure, are controversial, but who cares – more than for his music. But isn’t the music the most important here? I must admit that, despite being who he is, Varg was and still is very talented musician. Or I would better say black metal / ambient composer, because he’s not very skilled instrumentalist, his playing is sometimes just primitive, but the atmosphere and special feeling, which he creates in his music are things, which make Burzum so special. In the early period of Burzum existence Vickernes composed many awesome songs… some has been featured on his debut LP “Burzum” and MLP “Aske” and just few months after releasing these two “Det som engang var” sees the light of the fullmoon and I personally must say that from all these three releases this one is my favourite. It’s not perfect, and also it is not my personal favourite in the whole Burzum discography, but certainly it is very good album and I like it more than the debut. “Det som engang var” has actually been recorded even before “Aske”, but the EP was released first, which is kind of weird... It was all because Varg didn’t want to give his second full length album to Deathlike Silence anymore, so he waited and finally released it through his own label Cymophane Records. He also wanted to release “Aske” by himself, but got arrested at that time, so DSP released it. Originally “Det som engang var” was released only on CD limited to 950 copies. I don’t need to remind you how expensive this pressing is. I am happy to have just a 2005’s Back on Black vinyl edition of it.
When comparing “Det som engang var” (what stands for “What Once Was”) to the previous efforts I can easily say that the music has progressed and overall it is better composed and recorded album. But the atmosphere and feeling of the music is pretty much intact and it is a right continuation of the debut. The album is opened with very calm and silent keyboard intro “Den Onde Kysten”, which sets the right mood and then “Key to the Gate” begins… it is very rough and relatively fast black metal song, with Varg screaming in it like possessed. I like how it (this song) develops and in the slower part there’s one riff and motif, which I love especially – the one when guitar lead appears. It is amazing. Surprisingly the music turns into quite melodic, almost kind of doomy at some point, but I really like it a lot, for me it is the best moment of the whole album. “En Ring Til Å Herske” continues with this kind of dark and epic black metal, with unexpected use of clean vocals mixed with the shrieking howls and the mood is kind of hypnotising and truly dark, cold and grim. Wow, I must say that three songs from the beginning and it can already be heard how varied the music on “Det som engang var” is. And later on it goes through even more diverse stuff – starting off with excellent “Dark Wisdom”, which belongs to the most known Burzum songs I guess and then we have – just like on the debut LP – a bunch of instrumental tracks. But while on “Burzum” they were sometimes pretty useless, here on “Det som engang var” they really complete the atmosphere and feel like a part of the concept, not just something what was thrown in by accident (and on debut LP I felt like that, definitely, and not only with the instrumental songs, but especially with so mismatched song as “War”). Ambient track like “Han som Reiste” sounds really damn well, in my opinion and is kind of dark ambient, which I like to listen to – you know, something similar to Mortiis, Wongraven… It is side B of the vinyl, which is especially filled with instrumental songs, creating this almost dreamy atmosphere… but it is abruptly distorted and disrupted by “Snu Mikrokosmos Tegn”, a nine minutes long black metal anthem, again quite varied, as there are both fast and chaotic parts as well as more melancholic and melodic themes.
Heading towards the end of this review I can only add that “Det som engang var” is just a classic black metal record. I do realize that Norway back in those days was releasing a lot of killer, cult albums and they all deserve attention… and maybe among them all this second Burzum full length is not my favourite, with the debuts from Immortal, Enslaved or Darkthrone’s “Under the Funeral Moon” being ranked slightly higher, but it is very good LP anyway. I like how Burzum’s music has been evolving and obviously I just cannot resist to the way Vickernes has been creating this feeling and mood in his music, which are just possessing and trance like. “Det som engang var” is a mandatory album in everyone’s collection and I trust everyone has his own copy. And look at that front artwork by Jannicke Wiese-Hansen! Wow.
Standout tracks: “Key to the Gate”, “En Ring Til Å Herske”, “Han som Reiste”, “Dark Wisdom”
Final rate: 87/100