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Music / Burzum

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Such a nice young man, that Varg...

"There's more chaos, war, pollution now than ever before in our recorded history. Of course, we might have known a period with worse conditions, but the Christians burnt all the records that could tell us about it."
Varg Vikernes

Burzum (Black Speech of Mordor for "darkness") was a one-man black metal project by Norwegian musician Varg Vikernes (born February 11, 1973), a man notorious within music history for burning churches, killing Mayhem's guitarist Euronymous, and being a white supremacist. The project's music has nevertheless been regarded as some of the most influential black metal ever released, particularly pioneering the ambient variant of the genre.

Founded in 1991, Burzum was initially based in a raw black metal sound, and quickly became prominent within the genre's Norwegian scene. The project was signed to Deathlike Silence Productions, the record label run by Øystein Aarseth (aka Euronymous). Vikernes released four albums under the Burzum name before his arrest in 1994 for the murder of Euronymous (whom he stabbed 23 times, allegedly over a contract dispute), as well as the arson of several churches in the area. While in prison, Vikernes recorded two dark ambient albums, the result of being unable to use equipment other than a synthesizer and a tape recorder, which had a more mixed reception from the metal community than the rest of his albums.

Around a decade later, Vikernes was released in 2009 on parole, and continued releasing music from the early-to-mid 2010s. In 2018, he officially announced the end of Burzum, stating that he had moved on from the project, but tweeted in late 2019 that he intended to release another album under the name. The album, Thulêan Mysteries, was released in early 2020, and Vikernes has confirmed that it will be the final output from Burzum.


  • Burzum (black speech for "Darkness"), 1992
  • Aske (Norwegian for "Ashes"; EP), 1993
  • Det som engang var (Norwegian for "What Once Was"), 1993
  • Hvis lyset tar oss (Norwegian for "If the Light Takes Us"), 1994
  • Filosofem (Norwegian for "Philosopheme"), 1996
  • Dauði Baldrs (Old Norse for "Baldr's Death"), 1997
  • Hliðskjálf (the name of Odin's throne in Norse Mythology), 1999
  • Belus (Proto-Indo-European name of Baldr/Apollo/Belenus/Belobog, according to Vikernes), 2010
  • Fallen, 2011
  • Umskiptar (Old Norse for "Metamorphosis"), 2012
  • Sôl austan, Mâni vestan (Old Norse for "East of the Sun, West of the Moon"), 2013
  • The Ways of Yore, 2014
  • Thulêan Mysteries, 2020

Dauði Baldrs, Hliðskjálf, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, The Ways of Yore, and Thulêan Mysteries are ambient albums; the remainder are primarily metal (though they typically have at least one ambient song).

Varg Vikernes and his music provide the following trope examples:

  • Ambient: An influence on his black metal work, and his non-metal stuff usually falls into this genre.
  • Bilingual Bonus: While he has a few English lyrics, most of his songs are in his native Norwegian, and Umskiptar has lyrics in Old Norse (taken from a poem entitled Völuspá). Also, the most commonly used versions of the song titles on Filosofem are all in German, although the lyrics themselves are in English ("Dunkelheit", "Erblicket die Töchter des Firmaments", "Gebrichlichkeit I") and Norwegian ("Jesus' Tod"). There are German translations of the song lyrics in the liner notes, though.
  • Black Metal: Dauði Baldrs, Hliðskjálf, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, and The Ways of Yore are straight-up electronic albums, but the rest of Varg's material is black metal (although there is usually at least one ambient song on most of the black metal albums, too).
  • Black Speech: The band name means "Darkness" in the Black Speech of Mordor.
  • Brown Note: The music is intended as a real life example of this trope — Vikernes envisions each Burzum album as a kind of "spell" to be listened to while the listener is lying in bed, such that by the end of the album they will be sent to sleep.
  • Catchphrase: In his videos, it's "Let's find out."
  • Either/Or Title: Sort of. There are two sets of titles for the songs on Filosofem. One generally (with the exception of "Burzum", which is in the Black Speech of Mordor) matches the language of the lyrics (if there are any), meaning they're either in English or Norwegian (the first instrumental has a Norwegian title, while the second has an English one). The other set is in German. As mentioned above, the German titles are more commonly used, though Vikernes considers the Black Speech / English / Norwegian titles to be more accurate. The lyrics also feature German translations.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: A lot of his songs take several minutes before the vocals enter. "Det som en gang var" may be the best example of this.
  • Epic Rocking: About half of the songs he's recorded. Hvis lyset tar oss, for example, is comprised of four tracks, the shortest of which is nearly eight minutes long. His longest song is "Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität", which is over twenty-five minutes in length, though it's a bit of a subversion as it's a repetitive ambient piece. His longest normal song is "Det som en gang var", which runs for 14:21 (although see Fading into the Next Song below).
  • Fading into the Next Song: Used occasionally. Perhaps the most noteworthy example is "Morgenrøde" into "Belus' tilbakekomst (konklusjon)", which together makes up a continuous suite of music that lasts for eighteen and a half minutes.
  • Genre Shift: From black metal to dark ambient. And back to black metal again with Belus. And then back to dark ambient again with Sôl austan, Mâni vestan.
  • Gratuitous German: As mentioned above, the most commonly used set of titles on Filosofem.
  • Harsh Vocals: For the most part. Clean singing/spoken word is used sparsely.
  • Heavy Mithril: Quite frequently.
  • I Am the Band: As stated in the opening sentence, Varg Vikernes is the only member of Burzum. Considering how well his last attempt at playing in a band with other people went, this is probably for the best.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: As a rule when the lyrics are screamed, although Norwegian speakers might face less difficulty. However, some of the songs with English lyrics are actually surprisingly easy to understand, at least by Black Metal standards; most listeners won't have much difficulty making out any of the words of "Burzum", and some of the other songs from the same period (e.g., "Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament") are also mostly comprehensible. Some of the earlier English-language songs might play the trope a bit straighter, though. It's possible that the slow tempo of the Filosofem lyrics helps make them more comprehensible.
  • Instrumentals: Up to half of his work, really. Several of his albums have no lyrics at all.
  • Leave the Camera Running: "Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte" is the most obvious example. Some of his other songs probably qualify as well.
  • Loudness War: All of the metal albums he's released since he got out of prison are painfully clipped. He claimed that Fallen was going to be mastered "as if it was classical music", but it got a dismal DR6 (worse than the preceding album Belus' DR7), which begs the question of what kind of classical music Varg listens to. It doesn't help, either, that the vinyl edition of at least Belus used the same master as the CD. Reissues of his old stuff remain just as dynamic as they ever were, however (a typical score on one of his '90s albums being DR10). While some sources claimed the albums would be getting remastered, the reissues when they came out had the same dynamic range they always have and sounded pretty much the same in other respects as well. His post-prison ambient albums have also been exceptions, with both releases as of 2015 coming in at DR10.
  • Metal Scream: Type 3, mostly.
  • Premature Encapsulation: The songs "Burzum" and "Det som en gang var" do not appear on the albums of, respectively, the same and similar titles. More information can be found under Title Track below.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: His (first) Genre Shift to dark ambient came about because for the duration of his sentence the prison guards refused to allow him to record with guitars and basses, only allowing him a keyboard. Yes, prisons in Norway do allow inmates to record dark ambient albums because in most of Europe detention is meant to be rehabilitative rather than punishing/torturous.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: Vikernes has criticised the prevalence of this trope in Black Metal, claiming (mostly correctly) that there were no genuine historical examples of Satan worship; all recorded historical examples before around the 20th century prove to have been pagan practices that were literally demonized. However, he played this straight early in his career with songs such as "Dominus Sathanas" and "As Flittermice as Satans Spys" (a Darkthrone song for which he wrote lyrics). He claims that these songs were using Satanic imagery as a metaphor for Odin.
  • Self-Titled Album: Burzum.
  • Soprano and Gravel: While most of his vocals are the typical Harsh Vocals of black metal, there are occasional sung or spoken parts thrown in for variety and effect. Umskiptar actually contains more clean singing than metal screams.
  • Spell My Name With An S:
    • Some of the official song titles don't match the most commonly used Norwegian spellings, likely because the font Varg used didn't have the å and ø characters. Examples include "En ring til aa herske" (would typically be spelt "En ring til å herske"), "Naar himmelen klarner" (typically spelt "Når himmelen klarner"), "Belus' doed" (typically spelt "Belus' død"), "Morgenroede" (typically spelt "Morgenrøde"), and so on. Varg's spellings aren't even always consistent with each other, as demonstrated by the album Det som engang var versus the song "Det som en gang var". (Note that there are several different dialects of Norwegian, and spellings aren't always standardised between them. The most commonly written is Bokmål by far, with Nynorsk being a distant second; however, most speakers don't actually speak either Bokmål or Nynorsk as written, but rather a regional dialect that identifies their origins.)
    • Varg's stage name, Count Grishnackh. The name of the original The Lord of the Rings character, Grishnákh, did not have a C. According to Varg, he did it deliberately to make his stage name different.
  • Spoken Word in Music: This doesn't show up all that often, but some of his songs use it.
  • Stage Names: Originally, Varg was known as "Count Grishnackh".
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: The ambient instrumentals.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: All of Burzum's music is extremely minimalistic, stripped-down and repetitive - most songs are just cycles of two or three recurring riffs. The same principle extends to the production quality, which is deliberately bare and lo-fi - for the recording of the Filosofem album, he even forwent using a guitar amp, instead plugging his guitar into the speaker of his brother's old hi-fi.
  • Title Track:
    • Played straight on Hvis lyset tar oss, Dauði Baldrs, and The Ways of Yore.
    • Played With on Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which has two songs featuring each half of the title.
    • There are two odd cases where a song does not appear on an album of the same (or very nearly same) title. The song entitled "Burzum" does not appear on his Self-Titled Album; it appears on Filosofem, although it is more commonly known by its Gratuitous German title, "Dunkelheit" (however, "Burzum" is the official title). Even though it was the first song he wrote for the project, Varg was dissatisfied with his original recording of it and did not release it. Recognising it to be one of his finest songs, he withheld its release until he recorded a version he found satisfactory.
    • Also, somewhat confusingly, Det som engang var does not feature the track "Det som en gang var" (note the slight spelling difference): that song didn't make an appearance until his next album, Hvis lyset tar oss. It's possible that the explanation is similar to the one for "Burzum".
    • The other releases avert this trope completely.
  • Trope Maker: For ambient black metal (as mentioned above), alongside Ildjarn.
  • Ur-Example: For ambient and depressive black metal, arguably.