The rules were made pretty clear this time around: no inquiries about his family, prison or politics, as Varg Vikernes did his best to expunge himself of those insights during last year's round of interviews for Belus. But lest this come off like a demand for softball questions, know that Vikernes is a consummately disagreeable fellow who will find something to quibble with even if one is merely requesting his favorite color.
Still, better that than another cookie cutter interview with the typical, pre-scripted "give it 110%" / "doing it for the fans" bullshit.
With that I bring you…
MI: "Fallen" retains a lot of the classic Burzum sound but there are several instances of clean vocals. In general these clean vocals often sound as if they may be based on traditional Norwegian folk music. Is this the case, or were you just influenced by such music in general?
Varg: Well, in fact I detest Norwegian folk music, and never listen to it, so it cannot come from there. The clean vocals are based on the clean vocals done on Belus, and if I should list an influence it must be The Cure.
MI: On your website you indicate that, unlike the previous album, "Fallen" was mastered as if it were classical music. Can you explain the difference between classical and traditional rock/metal mastering for the uninitiated?
Varg: Traditional rock/metal music is mastered so that the volume is high and the music is powerful all the time, making them ideal for radio broadcasting. Classical music (and all Burzum albums except Belus) is mastered to have a more dynamic sound, with the volume going up and down depending on the composition. Some times it is hard to hear the classical (and Burzum) music at all, because it is so low in volume, while other times it very high and powerful. I need the dynamic mastering because this sound is an integrated part of my music. To provide you with an example I will make it easy for you and suggest you listen to the first track on the first album I made. At one point everything seems to almost disappear, but one guitar is still there, in the background, playing for some time, until the rest of the instruments join in. That moment, when the other instruments join in, is an example of what was missing on Belus, because I was silly enough to let a typical metal masterer master the album – and unfortunately we didn't have the time to correct this mistake.
MI: Though musically "Fallen" is not quite a departure from old Burzum, the pace is less frenzied and – as previously mentioned – the vocals are frequently contemplative, almost soulful, compared to the more uniformly hateful vibe of previous records. Yet other songs such as "Vanvidd" represent some of the most visceral/brutal recordings of your career. Can you talk a bit about your attempt to balance these two sides of your music?
Varg: Well, I am not saying that all musicians work with contrasts and that this is what makes the music great, but at least I work a lot with contrasts, and this plays an important part in my music. I already mentioned the importance of a dynamic sound, but you can also apply the same working method – using contrasts for effect – for everything. The beautiful will be even more beautiful when placed alongside of something truly ugly. The calm will be even better after a storm, and vice versa.
When it comes to finding a balance I don't think there is much to say really. The fading aggression in Burzum might be a result of me not only growing up but also a result of the fact that I deal with different themes now – and these themes are less aggressive and hateful.
MI: Do you see yourself continuing in a similar direction in the future, or do you have other musical avenues you'd like to explore?
Varg: It might be wise to stick to what I know best. Besides, I don't have much time for anything else anyhow.
MI: Ambience and mood are a big part of your music. What is your take on the common industry predictions that physical media is dead and digital downloads are the future… ie. will the artwork suffer as a result or, conversely, does this free you up to do more elaborate things with your album covers, inserts, etc? Have you considered using digital distribution to cut out the middle man and self release your own material?
Varg: Metal fans are very conservative, and not only has digital sales made up less than 1/10 of all Belus sales, but as much as 1/4 was actually LP sales – so if I have any respect for my audience I should keep doing what I do now. Burzum is not pop music, and has a pretty faithful and hard core following, so at least I am not suffering as much from illegal downloading as many others are.
If I cut any more middle men now I would spend the rest of my life writing addresses on packages and going to the post office with them myself.
My personal opinion is that the digital medium cannot replace the physical one as long as computers still crash almost regularly, as long as the digital copy you buy can only be heard on one single computer unless you make a physical copy of the music yourself, and so forth. It would be great though, if all physical medias disappeared, from an environmentalist perspective; no more packages with CDs or LPs being sent hither and thither by plane, burning gallons of fuel on the way.
MI: Do you find any apt comparisons between the manner in which Christianity co-opted ancient Pagan rituals and drained them of their original meaning, and the way many modern bands are latching on to elements of the black metal sound and creating new, possibly unintended contexts for it?
Varg: Christianity had to be adopted in order to be accepted by the Christianized (former Pagan) populations in the first place. By the time all of Europe had been Christianized, in the 15th century, Christianity was basically just Paganism with a Hebrew “god”. Jesus had replaced the Solar deity; “God” had replaced the Sky God; Maria had replaced the Mother Goddess. All of the Christian rituals and festivals were Christianized Pagan rituals and festivals, and almost everything that came from Christianity – or rather Christian populations – came first and foremost from Paganism.
Bands latching on to elements of black metal is a different story. The Christians didn't accept more and more Paganism being integrated into their religion; it just happened because Paganism was too strong to be eliminated and replaced. Bands latching on to elements of black metal on the other hand do because they like these elements and want them as part of their band's concept.
With that said; who cares about black metal? Modern black metal is a parody of what black metal was in 1992, and I wouldn't want to be associated with black metal if my life depended on it. Burzum is not black metal!
MI: Speaking of contexts, do you feel there are any legitimate frontiers for black metal to push toward, or is it an inherently traditionalist form of music to begin with?
Varg: I don't know and I don't care.
MI: I find the idea of a distaste for touring to be interesting in that it's almost unique to black metal artists. Speaking for yourself is this more of a practical concern – ie. finding touring musicians, rehearsing, etc. – or do you find live performing to be pointless or otherwise?
Varg: Well, it all boils down to one single factor; I at least have better things to do with my life than play live. I am not an actor, nor a poser. I would rather read a book, proof read something I have written, make some music, work on my tabletop RPG, do some push ups, sit ups and pull ups, run a few miles, watch a good DVD or perhaps vacuum my car. Or even just take a walk in the forest and sit down on a rock, and do nothing but listen to the sounds of the forest; the birds singing, running water in a creek, insects buzzing by and leaves dancing in the wind.
To me music is all about my stereo and myself. That's it. I might change my mind, of course, but right now I think would rather be in front of a firing squad than in front of an audience (and for sure I would rather be a part of a firing squad than an audience…)