Friday, February 3, 2012

Burzum - Aske

Aske (which is Nordic for "ashes") probably has the most iconic album cover in all of black metal. Fantoft Stave Church torched down to its bare frame. The cover is a declaration of war on Christianity; a propaganda tool for the recruitment of new comrades in the war against the foreign faith. However, the album doesn’t live up to the cover. Musically Aske is the weakest recording (spare the demos) in the entire Burzum cannon. It is unclear what Varg was trying to achieve with this EP, but on the whole it would have to be deemed unsuccessful. 

For whatever reason—probably either due to Varg’s arrest or his financial disputes with Euronymous—Aske was released prior to “Det Som Engang Var,” in spite of the fact that it was recorded after. Musically, the EP does not sway too far away from the sound of the first two full lengths. Varg brought in Samoth (Emperor, Zyklon-B) to play bass, making Aske the only Burzum recording with a guest musician. The effect is negligible. While the bass is slightly more audible than on the prior two albums, Samoth is not required to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s unclear why Varg recruited Samoth for this EP.

Aske consists of three tracks; two originals and one rerecording. “Stemmen Fra Taarnet” is a fast paced, bouncy attacking piece in the vein of “Feeble Screams from the Forest Unknown.” It shifts back and forth between firing verses and dizzying choruses all bathed in Varg’s scathing howls. However, the track randomly cuts off at the six minute mark. What happened here is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the producer screwed up on the final cut. Maybe the physical recording got damaged. Maybe Varg couldn’t afford more recording time. Whatever the case may be, “Stemmen…” is like reading a 2/3 of a novel only to realize that the final few chapters fell out of the book; a very frustrating experience.

“Dominus Sathanas” is the highlight of the album; a slow, doomy piece with symphonic layering. Melodious lead guitars swing back and forth, backed up by a thicket of fuzz. Eerie chants sneak into the backdrop and a single vile scream tears through the entire landscape. This is the sort of sound I expect Dauði Baldrs album would have had if it had been recorded properly. 

The closer is a rerecording of “A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit,” which originally appeared on the debut. This rerecording is inferior. The dynamic of the song was presented brilliantly on the debut. The composition shifts between faster, feverish passages and slower, haunting passages. The original version is played at a faster pace, which allows the quicker sections to slash the listener like a Nordic midwinter breeze. Consequently, the slower stretches mark a true contrast and the melancholia is palpable. On the rerecording, everything is slowed down. This means the difference between the passages is not sufficiently accentuated. Thus, the rerecording lacks some of the dynamism of the original. 

Ultimately, Aske will draw you in with its controversial cover, its historic mystique and perhaps its obscurity. (If you ever see it at a record store pick it up because it is damn rare and you will probably never see it again). However, as a musical document it basically a footnote in the otherwise stellar Burzum catalogue. 

Overall: 6/10

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