In appreciating his contribution to the evolution of heavy metal, it’s easy to forget the horror that is Varg Vikernes. This is a man who killed his bandmate by stabbing him over twenty times,1 set fire to at least four old Christian churches,2 incited a potential “major terrorist act” in France,3 and escaped prison while on leave when armed with weapons.4 No longer considering himself a Nazi,5 Vikernes practices “Odalism,” which is a set of beliefs centered around honor, racial purity, eugenics, and rejection of Judeo-Christian “heresy” with influence from old Scandinavian pagan traditions.6 His memetic status and seemingly goofy image belie a disturbed, paranoid man who makes no secret of his hatred toward globalism and racial entanglement.
It’s almost farcical that the albums following the end of his twenty-one-year prison sentence7 (of which he served fifteen) are so bad. This paragon of hatred and unwitting face of the early Norwegian black metal movement has created bland, uninspired, and frankly uninteresting music that sounds as if it were written and recorded by a third-rate copycat rather than the “Wolf” himself for the past seven years. The best of these is, arguably, Belus – an album that was originally to be released under the title “The White God”8 (ironically changed to avoid accusations of racism) and refers to the titular Norse god whose death would herald the early stages of Ragnarok. The album utilizes similar tropes that appeared on Vikernes’ Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Burzum: repetition, minimalism, and ambient passages with some thrash metal influence (in the case of the latter). Belus also features a moderately lo-fi production (although not near that of Filosofem) that harkens back to the early Norwegian era of black metal.
“Belus’ Doed” is a re-recording of “Dauði Baldrs” from Vikernes’ entirely electronic (via MIDI keyboard) Dauði Baldrs album from 1997. Ostensibly disappointed by its realization – as were many fans – Vikernes leads Belus with its black metal equivalent, a decent (for post-incarceration Burzum) track that gives a little glimpse into what-could-have-been had Vikernes been allowed access to his heavy metal instruments while in prison. Gone are the weird deflated oboe and cheesy strings; “Belus’ Doed” is black metal with even less frills than Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. In fact, Belus was the first album in Vikernes’ solo career as Burzum that featured no synthesizers, which were a prominent aspect of the atmosphere evoked in his nineties output. “Belus’ Doed” is the strongest track in the album, but it’s not saying much since Belus is little more than an exercise in rewriting the same song seven times.
Belus had potential to be an incredible return to black metal form right out the gates of prison, but there’s one flaw that destroys its appeal and continues to haunt Vikernes’ output to the present day: the screams, or lack thereof. Vikernes’ wolf-esque howls and shrieks were integral to the depressive milieu that characterized tracks like “Det Som En Gang Var” from Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and “Feeble Screams from Forest Unknown” from Burzum; whereas the vocals on Belus are reduced to little more than a hoarse whisper. Literally, a whisper. Not the Agalloch kind of half-scream, half-constriction – but an actual whisper. It would be pathetic if it weren’t from the mouth of a murderer and arsonist. There’s no way to take this seriously; Vikernes’ whisper-scream breaks the mood like tasteless tomatoes ruin a BLT.
The musicianship is overall decent. There is no real change here from what featured on Vikernes’ earlier black metal works: minimalist riffs with neither flair nor frill continued on to induce a trance-like state in the listener. Unfortunately, the majority of songs on Belus cross the thin line that separates “repetitive” from “monotonous.” “Morgenroede” and “Belus’ Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon)” are among some of the shorter tracks in Burzum’s overall discography but feel like the longest by the halfway point due to Vikernes’ over-reliance on repetition, especially in ending codas. “Glemselens Elv” partially alleviates this issue through some relatively impressive drumwork, minor descending scales, and paunchy9 bass. “Sverddans” and “Keliohesten” are thrashy in the same sense as “War” from Burzum, but lack the same ferocity due in no small part to Vikernes’ pitiful vocal performance.
Belus set a trend that follows most reunions after a long period of inactivity: an attempt to reclaim old trends as if they never left, which ends up sounding like the artist is aping his or her self instead of evolving. Earlier works used repetition to their compositional advantage, but those here are simply stale. Belus is the best of the post-incarceration Burzum albums – that is certain – however it is simply wrecked by Vikernes’ reliance on old tropes and his dismal vocals. At least the album artwork is pretty.
1. Leukes Renkespill (Introduksjon)10 11 – (0:32) – ★★★☆☆
2. Belus’ Doed12 – (6:12) – ★★☆☆☆
3. Glemselens Elv13 – (11:35) – ★★★☆☆
4. Kaimadalthas’ Nedstigning14 – (6:31) – ★★☆☆☆
5. Sverddans15 – (2:23) – ★★★☆☆
6. Keliohesten16 – (5:34) – ★★★☆☆
7. Morgenroede17 – (8:38) – ★★☆☆☆
8. Belus’ Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon)18 – (9:10) – ★★☆☆☆
1O’Shea, Mick. Cemetery Gates: Saints and Survivors of the Heavy Metal Scene. Plexus Publishing, 2013. Accessed April 18, 2016. https://books.google.com/books?id=1WP4CwAAQBAJ&pg=PT257&lpg=PT257&dq=euronymous stabbing 23 wounds&source=bl&ots=fIOtyS_2uy&sig=_ga6sXr0PO30hEYS0vq6KzcgLAY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwifgK2UhpnMAhUX22MKHTZdAtUQ6AEIQjAF#v=onepage&q=euronymous stabbing 23 wounds&f=false.
2Chainey, Ian. “Burzum’s Varg Vikernes Denies Racism Charges in French Court.” Brooklyn Vegan. June 4, 2014. Accessed April 18, 2016. http://www.brooklynvegan.com/burzums-varg-vi/.
4“Varg Vikernes Back In Prison Following Attempted Jailbreak | News | APESHIT.” APESHIT. October 28, 2003. Accessed April 18, 2016. http://www.apeshit.org/news/varg-vikernes-back-in-prison-following-attempted-jailbreak/.
5Google image search “Varg Vikernes Nazi uniform.”
6Vikernes, Varg. “A Burzum Story: Part VII – The Nazi Ghost.” Burzum.Org. July 2005. Accessed April 18, 2016. http://www.burzum.org/eng/library/a_burzum_story07.shtml.
7The maximum under Norwegian law.
8“A Burzum Story: Part XII – Belus.” Burzum.Org. November 2009. Accessed April 18, 2016. http://www.burzum.org/eng/library/a_burzum_story12.shtml.
9That’s a word I never thought I’d use to describe black metal.
10Vikernes! Come out to plaaay-yaaay!
11Norwegian translation: “Leuke’s Plot (Introduction)”
12Norwegian translation: “Belus’ Death”
13Norwegian translation: “River of Forgetfulness”
14Norwegian translation: “Kaimadalthas’ Descent”
15Norwegian translation: “Sword Dance”
16Norwegian translation: “The Kelio Horse”
17Norwegian translation: “Dawn”
18Norwegian translation: “Belus’ Return (Conclusion)”