Burzum: Umskiptar

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Burzum: Umskiptar
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Burzum: Umskiptar
Ambient Black Metal, Folk Metal
Byelobog Productions, Candlelight Records
May 21st, 2012
Release length: 1:05:13
Website
In the past roughly two years, the now one-man Ambient Black Metal act Burzum has issued four full-length albums including Umskiptar, the tenth album of the band’s career. This is all in coordination with Varg Vikerns release from prison, allowing the creativity to flow better than some of the .midi file material he issued during the late nineties. While not all bad, there’s no denying the quality of the recent efforts has greatly improved. With each album as anxious anticipated as the last by the most loyal of devotees, does this latest entry into this musical beast’s legacy prove to be a strong one, or does it fail to meet the generally mixed expectations?

In keeping with the better studio quality, this release does find a stronger digital value to it. Unfortunately, given the more open nature of the slower songs, this doesn’t always work out for the better. The guitars carry a decent sharpness to them that is typical for the style, working well enough in the spoken word tracks or sections where it’s the only other instrument involved for much, if not all of the time. The drums sound pretty good, though for the most part a bit unnatural. The cymbals ring out really quick much of the time, the snares sound generic but moderately tight, and the bass kicks are rarely used but offer a decent click. The bass is good with a mid-range sound and a lower level that works enough to help create the ambient and melancholic atmosphere, but that’s about it. Of course, the dialogue is at a higher volume than the rest of the music, while the whispered vocals and harmonized chanting are a little toned down and suit the darkness a lot better than the soft spoken efforts.

While Umskiptar is not the most impressive pieces of Ambient Black Metal available musically, it still sets the right tone, coming off like a glorious, yet melancholic bedtime story. This is enhanced by the fact that this entire recording is an intepretation of the Norse poem “Voluspa” which finds Varg reinventing the Burzum name to tread into Folk Metal territory to convey his interpretation of it. This is something that can be felt quite often through the release, such as the slower paced “Alfadanz.” The pace really establishes a sorrow filled world despite some of the glorious riffs that would set an environment largely different had there been more speed involved. This rather soothing, but very creepy experience, especially towards the end when the short and subtle piano notes come into play, is one of the most consistant songs of the recording, blending the spoken word sections in with the coarse, whispered rhasps well to send a chill up your spine. This is a largely different experience than “Jóln,” which finds the Black Metal sound as the foundation with a richer drumming performance, and a stronger bass presence that effects the sensation of the music into a truly Ambient experience with a dismal setting. These two, along with the narrative track “Blóðstokkinn,” introduce the concepts of this album well, though they can also highlight some of its faults such as a hollow digital sound from time to time, especially when the only instrument becomes the guitar.

For the most part, many of the tracks are actual songs that walk the line of Black Metal or Folk Metal, and most of the time they are quite enjoyable. “Heiðr” is a shorter track that comes off more like an interlude, but it mixes some of the dulled guitar chords with a cleaner sound against spurts of sharper distortion, the latter of which kicks in largely during the moments of dialogue. It’s not the most engaging on the album, but it helps to progress the concept along. Meanwhile, “Æra” is a much stronger track that blends the two styles together well, and incorporates the spoken word style as an actual vocal performance by giving it a harsher tone. “Galgviðr” carries a very grim and depressing Folk Metal performance, incorporating some clean harmonization and chanting once more against truly dismal guitar chords who are only faulted with how abruptly they start the song off, as well as how long it carries on, having the potential to lose the listener around the three or four minute mark. However, in it’s defense, it does flow nicely into “Surtr Sunnan,” though it’s largely just more of the same.

And that’s one thing that Umskiptar does have going for it. Just about every song on this recording moves fluidly from one to another, and helps to keep the concept of the release going consistantly between chapters. But, the closer you get to the conclusion, the more some areas seem to be stretched too thin over too long a time span, and you’ll start to just treat the album more as background noise than anything, especially if you don’t have the translated lyrics, or speak the language that they are in.

But, is Umskiptar a bad album? No, it isn’t. In fact in many ways it’s a rather smart venture. Unfortunately, some of the interpretation to music towards the end simply doesn’t have the same impact that it does at the start, as if trying to force the atmosphere into music that has to go on too long to convey that aspect of the poem it is interpreted from. Given the right mood, most of the release can really send a chill down your spine and leave a lasting impression. Fans of Burzum familiar with the poem “Voluspa,” or just appreciate something that requires you to think more than just sit back and listen will find something more in this recording than many others would, though even then it becomes an offering that you have to develop a taste for. If you plan to check out Umskiptar, then make sure you dim the lights, or turn them off and light some candles in the dark , turn the air conditioner to a chilly temperature just below what you can tolerate, wrap yourself up in your favorite blanket, and let this creepy, haunting piece of Ambient Black/Folk Metal overcome you.

01. Blóðstokkinn – 1:16
02. Jóln – 5:51
03. Alfadanz – 9:22
04. Hit helga Tr̩ Р6:51
05. ̠ra Р3:58
06. Hei̡r Р3:02
07. Valgaldr – 8:03
08. Galgvi̡r Р7:16
09. Surtr Sunnan – 4:14
10. Gullaldr – 10:20
11. Níðhöggr – 5:00
Overall Score: 7/10
Burzum (band)
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Digital review copy of this release provided by Candlelight Records.