If Umskiptar offers me little else, it at least represents closure. I gave last year's Fallen good marks – a review I still stand by – but in hindsight most of my enthusiasm was centered around how the album stood as part of Varg Vikernes' overall artistic progression. The music holds up on its own, but I'm a firm believer that a working knowledge of an artist's entire corpus adds an extra layer of appreciation: a little lagniappe to chew on, so to speak. Fallen found me on the fence re: contemporary Burzum, being a fan of that particular album but not necessarily Belus before it, and certainly not any of the garbage he released from prison.
Umskiptar comes up short by a country mile. As a stale retread of the folky, mid-paced style explored on Fallen it often feels like eating leftovers. I understand Vikernes seeks to distance himself from his black metal roots – he's already completed that transition for the most part – but the ornate-yet-simplistic sound he's currently settled on doesn't invite a lot of returns to the well, especially when they're as regressive as what's found on Umskiptar.
At least Fallen sported memorable guitar riffs, double tracked vocals and a greater range of velocity. Here Varg mires himself in a mid-tempo rut for the entire duration, with plaintive chants and spoken word passages representing the entire breadth of his vocals.
It doesn't help that the spoken word passages as found on "Bloostokkin" and "Heior" come off overwrought, too earnest; like a high school reading of Shakespeare, basically. Similarly, Vikernes is not doing himself any favors by overstepping his production expertise: it's sort of like how impressed you were when Kevin Smith graduated from Clerks to Mallrats, but by the time he got to, say, Jersey Girl you got the sense that he'd already hit a brick wall a few films back, and it wasn't just the budget that made everything since seem a bit on the low rent side. So it goes with Umskiptar: the epic wash of emotion and grandeur Vikernes is clearly going for being wholly undermined by tinny engineering that would be better suited for his old black metal recordings, the ones that Vikernes apparently considers mere juvenilia these days.
I mean, Varg will no doubt pull the Lulu card and claim any detractors just don't get what he's doing, but the truth is there's nothing particularly esoteric or difficult about Umskiptar, it's just kind of bland and colorless. Coming from an old black metal guy this is pretty white bread shit.
Umskiptar is out now on Candlelight.