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Black Metal History

Essential Black Metal Listening: BURZUM – Hvis Lyset Tar Oss

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by Jeremy Ülrey

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1992 was good to Varg Vikernes, at least from a creative standpoint.  In a nine month period running through September, the man known to (an admittedly very limited segment of) the world as Count Grishnackh would record the lion's share of the material that defines his legacy to this day.

The last of those records, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, is arguably his peak moment, a culmination of hours of sonic experimentation and an increasingly comfortable grasp of the avant garde.  From an initial base leaning heavily on the rarefied epics of Bathory, Vikernes rapidly progressed into an iconoclastic figure of second wave black metal through force of personality and sheer woodshedding.

The physical release of these records would be a more protracted affair: only the debut album, Burzum, made it to record store shelves in 1992 proper.  The Aske EP and second full length, Det Som Engang Var, were both released in 1993, but Hvis Lyset Tar Oss wouldn't see the light of day until April of 1994, shortly before the trial of Vikernes for the murder of Euronymous began.

Essential Black Metal Listening: BURZUM – Hvis Lyset Tar OssThe song "Det Som Engang Var" kicks off Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and immediately sets the pace for the rest of the album.  Previously, Vikernes had utilized synth-driven ambient tracks as interludes between the buzzsaw guitars of his traditional black metal songs… here, for the first time, the sullen atmosphere that the keyboards afforded were integrated directly into the metal itself, a seminal fusion of long form composition that gave the work an amorphous, unpredictable quality lacking in Vikernes' earlier, more traditional efforts.  The final track, "Tomhet", is a fourteen minute instrumental and probably the most disposable song on the album – a not insignificant statement considering it makes up 1/3 of the total running time – but no one ever claimed Vikernes has released a flawless album.

Other notable developments here include a decisive quickening of pace compared to the mid-tempo, inchoate material of Burzum and Aske.  Burzum was starting to sound like the kind of brutal, hate-fueled juggernaut that people would come to expect out of Norwegian black metal (any prior aspirations Vikernes might have had for visceral brutality were most likely hampered by his insistence on recording all of his own instruments; the drumming here, his first real tinkering with blast beats, leaves MUCH to be desired).  Furthermore, the vocals throughout Hvis Lyset Tar Oss exhibit much more of the tortured shrieking that is now synonymous with black metal than the earlier material, on which Varg largely contented himself with muffled, almost tentative Quorthon worship.

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In short, if Burzum is one of the most influential of the second wave black metal bands, then Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is the charter which dictated how those influences would be assimilated.  It and Filosofem – the final album to be recorded before Vikernes' incarceration, but not released until 1996 – are part of the skeleton key to understanding an entire genre.

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