It’s hard being in prison.1 The food is just okay, your roommate might be psychotic, and the guards won’t let you have heavy metal instruments. It’s exactly the predicament in which Varg Vikernes of Burzum found himself while serving a 21-year prison sentence for the murder of Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth in 1993. Dauði Baldrs2 is one of two albums recorded by Vikernes during his imprisonment, the second being Hliðskjálf . Both were part of a planned trilogy detailing the fall of the old Norse gods during Ragnarok and the subsequent rebirth of the world; the third album was never made, as Vikernes ended the Burzum project in 1999 and did not record another album for over a decade.
Vikernes produced Dauði Baldrs in its entirety via a MIDI synthesizer. True to his compositional roots, the album is written in a highly minimalistic aesthetic, whereby each song rarely consists of more than several repeated measures with minor addition or subtraction of elements. Each track is semi-orchestral in construction, utilizing a neo-classical/neo-volkisch milieu to evoke medieval aesthetics and style.3
The problem: it’s classically scored MIDI music. There is no way that this could not sound hollow or – dare I say – cheap. The title track begins ominously enough, but then a hilariously sampled oboe comes in that sounds like a deflated saxophone played by a goose. The violins are grating – especially after eight to ten minutes of the same chord repeated over and over and over and over again. The minimalism does not translate well to MIDI music; at its best, it’s boring (“Móti Ragnarokum”); at its worst, it’s The Room-level of unintentional self-mockery (“Í heimr Heljar”) due to the fact that it takes itself so damn seriously. And it’s impossible for the listener to take this seriously: it sounds like a dungeon crawler video game soundtrack, like something from The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall or any number of Wizardry clones. Sure, one could play the ambiance card, but are those really the kinds of soundtracks to which one will listen in their spare time?
The focus on repetition is exactly what made Vikernes’ Hvis lyset tar oss and Filosofem such incredible, striking works of black metal, but Dauði Baldrs is immensely flawed because those same black metal compositions do not make for interesting synthesized music. In fact, it’s just dull. Vikernes re-recorded the title track for his 2010 album Belus in the black metal style, which indicates that Vikernes himself believed that Dauði Baldrs‘ did not realize his ideas. “Illa tiðandi” is almost satisfactorily melancholic, but it is definitely no “Tomhet,” and its length detracts from any enjoyment since it is a barely-changing piano fugue repeated ad nauseum – or nausea.
Out of all of the pre-millennial Burzum releases, Dauði Baldrs is the one least divorced from Vikernes pagan, far-right views. Its intention is to be a true Norwegian – and Norwegian only – piece, meant to call from beyond the violent, euphoric past in which the Scandinavians were a people untarnished by globalization and and by intermixing with other races. In this sense, it’s the scariest – insofar as that word applies – album recorded by Vikernes, as it is the subtlest but most profound expression of his ultra-nationalist views.
Dauði Baldrs may have provocative intentions, but its sheer lack of instrument quality is irreconcilable with a pleasant listening experience. It’s farcical in its realization, and the understated composition gives the impression of a thoroughly unrefined demo rather than an inclusive – or necessary – aspect of Vikernes’ discography. This album may warrant a curious listen for those interested in completing their Burzum discography, but none afterward because there are few secrets to unravel and even fewer captivating moments, much less minutes. The short track “Hermoðr á Helferð” provides a glimpse of what Vikernes would create upon the release of Hliðskjálf , the more impressive of his unfinished volkisch trilogy.
Despite its effort at translating minimalist and metal compositions into neofolk synthesizer music, Dauði Baldrs is a duð.
1. Dauði Baldrs – (8:48) – ★★☆☆☆4
2. Hermoðr á Helferð – (2:41) – ★★★★☆
3. Bálferð Baldrs – (6:05) – ★★☆☆☆
4. Í heimr Heljar – (2:02) – ★★☆☆☆4
5. Illa tiðandi – (10:29) – ★★☆☆☆
6. Móti Ragnarokum – (9:04) – ★☆☆☆☆
1Citation: I watch Arrested Development.
2Norwegian translation: “Baldr’s Death” or “Death of Baldr”
3This kind of music is occasionally – and often ironically – referred to as “dungeon synth.”
4These two get two stars instead of one because they’re so damn funny.