Whatever your opinion of Burzum or Varg Varkines may be, there is no denying that Burzum albums never settle for the status quo. In spite of the success and praise each of his pre-prison albums received (not to mention the herds of copy cats), Varg continued to explore new song structures, production techniques and vocalizations, displaying a fearlessness of the new. Varg also gets a nod for being one of the few black metal musicians to consistently accomplish masterworks in and out. Each of his (non-keyboard) albums has achieved a degree of greatness. “Fallen,” the 8th full length Burzum album, continues former trend—experimenting with crystal clear production and significant increase in clean vocals. However, the experimentation does not come together in the astounding way previous releases have. While “Fallen” contains five good songs (the intro and outro fail to impress), moments of profound inspiration or brilliance are scarce and the overall work fails to reach the heights of its predecessors.
The primary reason the songs on “Fallen” never reach such heights is the production. “Fallen” is a victim of the “loudness wars.” The sound is extremely clean and excessively condensed. On the positive side every riff is bright, clear and sharp. The bass and drums are also fully audible. The flip side is that the production has no depth, no room for substance or resonance. Consequently, “Fallen” sometimes feels like Burzum without the soul—very good melodies and songwriting, but simply not enough presence. The best example would be “Vanvidd”, an aggressive track, which like “Black Spell of Destruction,” from Burzum's debut, builds toward a crescendo of piercing growls and screams. However, the production takes the edge off the screams. What could have been a spine tingling passage ends up sounding flat. There simply isn’t enough sonic space in the recording to allow the layers of vocals to consume the listener in the way they should.
The other major change is the heavy presence of clean vocals. The first Burzum song to display prevalent clean vocals was the stunning “Kaimadalthas Nedstining” on 2010’s “Belus”. The soft and somber clean vocals posed a powerful counterpoint to biting growls. Obviously Varg was satisfied with the results, using clean vocals on all five metal tracks of “Fallen.” While none of the tracks on “Fallen” match the compositional eloquence of “Kaimadalthas Nedstining” the integration of clean vocals into Burzum is a success. The transitions between clean vocals and growls given “Fallen” a dynamic, theatric sensibility. Varg does a very good job selecting appropriate riffs for the clean and growled passages. There are also a number of spoken and whispered passages, which further add to the albums dynamism.
On the whole the songwriting is solid. There are plenty of good melodies and dramatic shifts, keeping the listener engaged. The highlight is “Valen,” which contains beautiful clean passages, a blistering guitar crescendo and layers of rippling tremolo in the background, which give the song depth that the other tracks lack. The low point the obnoxious outro, composed of dull percussion passages and mindless noodling on acoustic guitar. The rest of the songs are good, but not great additions to the Burzum cannon.
“Fallen” may turn out to be transition album for Burzum. I certainly see potential in the addition to clean vocals to the Burzum sound and enjoy the mood shifts it adds to the sound. There is plenty left for Varg to explore in this domain. I feel less confident that the new production techniques will consistently work with Burzum’s sound, though “Valen” shows that with enough layers, it can work. However, while “Fallen” may foreshadow better things to come, in itself it does not stand up to the other Burzum (non-keyboard) albums. “Fallen” is a solid release, but ultimately a hill amongst mountains within the Burzum landscape.