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Burzum - "Umskiptar" (CD)

Burzum - "Umskiptar" CD cover image

"Umskiptar" track listing:

1. Blóðstokkinn (1:16)
2. Jóln (5:51)
3. Alfadanz (9:22)
4. Hit helga Tré (6:51)
5. Æra (3:58)
6. Heiðr (3:02)
7. Valgaldr (8:03)
8. Galgviðr (7:16)
9. Surtr Sunnan (4:14)
10. Gullaldr (10:20)
11. Níðhöggr (5:00)

Reviewed by on April 20, 2012

"While the album falls as dangerously close to self-plagiarism as the previous two albums, you just can't deny that - barring the ending - quality riffs will always overpower any other shortfalls."

Since his release from prison in 2009, Varg Vikernes has wasted no time in releasing more Burzum into the hungry wild. Almost as if the incarceration was something that had happened to some other dream Varg in some other land, he has worked with the diligent haste of a Graveland or Marduk to produce annual full-length albums. The response from fans has been without a doubt largely positive. "Belus" was a sigh of relief and familiar and yet new sound, and "Fallen" was, in my humble opinion, an excellent refinement of the new Burzum legacy.

The latest Burzum effort is "Umskiptar" (Norwegian for "Metamorphoses") and, to me, it is an album with something to prove. While "Fallen" was impressive, it only showed a few new tricks, while otherwise being deeply rooted in the original mold of Burzum riffs. Furthermore, it was only a stones throw away from treading the exact same ground as "Belus." In this respect, "Umskiptar" completely fails, because it's only one more sheepish step away from repeating the same hypnotic tricks we've all been mesmerized by since the early '90s. This is entirely forgivable if "Umskiptar" can at least match those releases, but falling slightly flat at the end mars what is otherwise another quality post-incarceration Burzum album.

After an obligatory ambient intro, "Umskiptar" opens with several strong tracks that immediately show Varg's innate knack for writing raw, yet inherently dream-like, guitar riffs, and the ability to match any previous classics with inventive new variations on the theme. This is definitely the most clean sounding Burzum album to date, but it is still the same fuzzy and familiar guitar sound. The writing is very similar to "Fallen," which means while there are no synths, occasional looping bass lines show up to add an extra melody. At the same time, the last of the aggressive drumming found in previous releases is gone, leaving only occasional tremolo riffing to bring any venom to the table.

Vocally, it was clear from "Fallen" that Varg had developed an affinity to clean vocals, and this is pushed to its conclusion on "Umskiptar." There are next to no screams or harsh vocals found on the album, instead replaced on tracks like "Æra" with raspy whispers. like those from an old, dying man. To me, two of the strongest points about classics like "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" were Varg's wretched and idiosyncratic cries, and the colorless atmosphere created by the subtle, breathing synths. While part of me lament the loss of both, tracks like the excellent "Valgaldr" show neither is truly needed to strike at the heart of the Burzum sound. Varg's forlorn hymns, in combination with the slowly ringing guitar, instantly make that stand-out Burzum magic that so many others attempt to recreate.

However, at this point, and with four tracks to go, the album simply refuses to let up the dreamy dynamics. While "Galgviðr," "Surtr Sunnan," "Gullaldr" or the ambient closer "Níðhöggr" are not inherently bad, together they form a dull crawl to the album's finish. I assume the idea was that Varg's humble folk poetry could prop up the weight of a 25-plus minute section, but to anyone not fluent in Norwegian, the slow tempo adds little flavor to what is essentially the same music we've heard on the past two releases. Furthermore, the track dynamics stop them from becoming a truly hypnotic closer, like the unforgettable "Tomhet."

This alone isn't enough to mortally wound an otherwise strong album; it's just a shame that "Umskiptar" can't stand as strong overall as "Fallen." While the album falls as dangerously close to self-plagiarism as the previous two albums, you just can't deny that - barring the ending - quality riffs will always overpower any other shortfalls.

Highs: Classic Burzum tracks in both the opening stages and standouts like "Valgaldr"

Lows: Largely similar to the previous two albums, and the lack of dynamics at the end of the album makes good tracks feel like filler.

Bottom line: While "Umskiptar" falls dangerously close to self-plagiarism, the quality riffs overpower any shortfalls.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)