Burzum: The Extended Interview

Posted April 5, 2011 in
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Few names in metal music—or music as a whole—generate as much vitriol as Burzum or its sole member, Varg Vikernes. The Norwegian recording artist has been referred to as the most hated and most dangerous man in metal music. Considering Vikernes’ somewhat checkered past—being sentenced to 21 years in a Norwegian prison for the murder of Øystein Aarseth (a.k.a. Euronymous), founding member of Norwegian black metallers Mayhem, as well as being convicted of the arson of three Norwegian stave churches. To the unfamiliar, these sensationalized descriptions may fit. What follows is an e-mail conversation with Vikernes on the eve of the North American release of his latest effort, Fallen.

*Disclaimer: SLUG magazine does not necessarily agree with, condone, or support certain comments in the following interview, but it is understood that censorship of any kind is a detriment.

SLUG: Prior to Fallen, the majority of the music Burzum has recorded was not released in chronological order, so to speak – from the first demos through 2010’s Belus. Is this the same situation with Fallen, or is the album comprised of entirely new songs?
Vikernes: All tracks on Fallen are new. That is if we can agree that material made between November 2009 and December 2010 is new.

SLUG: In the press release for Fallen on your website (burzum.org), it is stated that Fallen was mastered as though it were a classical album, and you were more experimental than you were on Belus. Would you mind elaborating on how you were more experimental with Fallen than you were with Belus?
Vikernes: Experimental in the way I used the vocals, the way we mixed the album and because I included a fairly experimental introduction and conclusion. It was mastered as if it was classical music, just like all the albums prior to Belus, I may add, and this means simply that there is a more dynamic sound on the album than that on Belus. Unfortunately, I let a typical metal engineer master Belus, and because of this the album lost most of its dynamics. We didn’t have the time to correct this mistake, but I wanted to make sure this didn’t happen with Fallen, so we told the engineer to master it as if it was classical music. We – id est Pytten (Grieghallen Studios engineer Eirik Hundvin) and myself – didn't want to do it ourselves because we had been working ourselves “blind” with the album and needed a third set of ears, so to speak, and because Pytten's studio is a recording studio, and not really a mastering studio.

SLUG: Since the release of Belus, you have been a bit more open regarding the equipment used to record your albums. Is there any reason behind this, or is it simply because people have been outwardly wondering what equipment you use to record your music?
Vikernes: It’s simply because I am sick and tired of receiving e-mails from musicians who want to know what equipment I was using for this or that recording. Personally, I couldn’t care less about the equipment used. I use whatever is at hand. I am even contemplating using cardboard boxes and kettles for drums and cymbals the next time I record an album. Just to spite all those who believe the equipment is so important. I am sure the result would have been outstanding anyway ... ;-)

SLUG: I am a drummer, and I noticed in the press release for Fallen that the album was recorded with a vintage Ludwig drum kit, including a 26” bass drum. Did you have any trouble acclimating to that size of drum? I play a 26” bass drum myself, and I initially had some difficulty with the mallets sinking into the head and not responding as quickly as they would on a smaller drum …
Vikernes: It was hard to play the drums at all when I got out of prison. I rehearsed a lot using my own “buy-the-cheapest-drum-kit-you-can-find” drum kit, in one of the buildings on my farm (to spare the rest of the household), but when recording I used the one in Pytten’s studio and I never really thought about whether it was harder or not to play on. It took an hour or two to get used to it, but then it was fine to me. It always takes an hour or two for me to get used to a drum kit. I thought that was perfectly normal ... The size of the kick didn’t strike me as having anything to say in this context. Please stop making me think about such things; maybe I will really have problems the next time, because you told me I should have ... :-/ “What we don’t know doesn’t hurt us.” If my drumming really sucks on the next album, we all know whom to blame ... ;-)

SLUG: Belus was released less than a year after your release from prison, and Fallen is following close to a year after Belus—even your first four albums (plus the Aske EP) were recorded in roughly a two-year span. Can you cite a reason for your being such a prolific songwriter/musician?
Vikernes: Actually I was pondering this question myself the other day, and I concluded that the reason is my own ability – or if you like annoying tendency – to focus on one thing at the time. All brain power is focused on this one single task, and therefore I can be very efficient. I can work for hours and hours, and only when I am done notice that I am actually freezing, that I really have to go to the toilet, that I am hungry, thirsty and so forth. I didn't notice whilst working, because I was so focused on what I was doing.
Now, the “problem” is that I am like this in pretty much all contexts, whether it is making music, playing computer games, reading books, doing research on some subject, playing role-playing games, re-painting the 4x4 or doing some other form of manual labor. I can easily work 18 hours a day, eat while I work, and never take even a 5 minutes break, and keep up this pace for half a year or so, before I start noticing the fatigue. It's a bit frustrating for the individuals around me, but... it gets the work done.
The reason I am working so slowly these days – making only one new album a year – is the fact that I have other responsibilities too, and cannot spend all my time on Burzum.

SLUG: What is your practice routine like, if you have any? Do you own, and practice with, other instruments than your guitar, or, since you have what some may consider the “luxury” of only having yourself to contend with in a recording setting, do you simply compose bass/drums/ambient pieces when you are in a recording studio?
Vikernes: I own all instruments myself, albeit they are not all of “recording quality”, but I never really rehearse. I did rehearse my drumming when I got out of prison, because I had to, but when I was “back in shape” I stopped doing that. Now I only make music, meaning I play the different instruments only whilst making music. Ever since I recorded Fallen, December 2010, I have yet to even touch an instrument, and this is the end of February, because I spend all my “Burzum time” promoting the album. Oh, and “of course” my brand new LED monitor “Made in China” stopped working after one week, so I have to buy a new one in order to record anything I make (for rehearsals).
Can you Americans please stop moving your businesses to China? They only make crap that either doesn't work at all or stop working after a short while – and then you have to buy a new one in order to make a living. It's very bad for the environment – they practically just produce garbage for us to pile up in our countries – and I don't see why we should send our money to that piece of shit Communist country in the first place. Thank you very much.

SLUG: In the past, you have stated that you were somewhat focused on making sure your recordings were the opposite of so-called underground metal that had become popular at the time, but that with Belus, Fallen and presumably with future releases, you are more focused on recording and releasing music the way you want to, without concerning yourself with outside influence. Is this correct?
Vikernes: This is correct. I simply do my best to make the music I like, without considering anything but my own preferences. I am not revolting against anything. I am not protesting against anything and simply do what I like. Life is best when lived your way, and not as a negation of what you don’t like.

SLUG: How did you go about choosing the cover art for Fallen, and was there a reason you chose to stay away from any stylized font for the Burzum name and album title on the cover of Fallen?
Vikernes: I used Times New Roman for the band title and album title simply to stress that such things do not matter, at least not in context with Burzum. I make music, and if anyone wants to dislike it because of my logo, or lack thereof, then fine by me. The artwork was chosen because it fit the concept of the album perfectly, and used because I couldn’t care less if I do what is expected of me or not.

SLUG: Is there any sole purpose, for lack of a better word, that inspires you to create music as Burzum, and do you have any predetermined desired effect the music should have on the listener?
Vikernes: Well, I think desired effect was focused too much on, by some British metal magazine - of course. They do love their sensationalist celebrity crap over there. In fact I simply make music because I am a musician, and I could hardly be used for anything else in this modern world. I am too individualistic, difficult and outspoken to have any other type of job, I think. Actually I'd love to be a sniper, wasting towel-heads for a living, but my criminal record doesn't allow me such a profession.
Well, I guess the desired effect of my music is that the listener enters a pleasant state of mind, where they are free to think whatever they want to, about whatever they want to. Music is entertainment, and we need that in order not to fall into the pit of despair.

SLUG: You have stated that Burzum has nothing in common with what people today refer to, or think of, as “black metal.” How would you prefer Burzum’s listeners to regard your music, instead of simply putting a sterile genre tag of “black metal” on it?
Vikernes: Heavy metal would be a sufficient tag, don’t you think? Black metal is not of interest to me, and I think it is a waste of our time talking about it. The whole genre has become a parody of what it was supposed to be, and it serves only as a source of annoyance for every more or less intelligent human being familiar with it. Yet, we can always go to YouTube and look at Immortal videos just for laughs, and I think that’s the only thing black metal is good for.

SLUG: This is the first Burzum album to see a proper North American release. Is there a reason why you have elected to allow Fallen to see such a release, or is this something you’ve never necessarily bothered to concern yourself with?
Vikernes: No, I think you Americans are too concerned about my negativity towards the USA, and believe that I have a problem with Americans in general. Commercially the USA is a big marked, so my label had an interest in this, and of course me too, and I am perfectly aware of the fact that the USA consists of many fine human beings too – just like Europe – and that your government is not representative of your population. Again; just like in Europe. We all have serious problems with our governments, and the fact that you have more problems than we do is simply because you have more individuals of a certain ethnic group amongst you than we do (thanks to the good Germans...), and they have too much power – and they are completely under the spell of their own greed. Religion is also a more serious problem over there than over here, because Europe more or less threw out the worst religious fanatics – and most of them ended up in the USA. Fallen sees a proper North American release because we now have had the opportunity to do this, for the first time.

SLUG: What, if any, music currently inspires or intrigues you?
Vikernes: Now, the problem is that I don't have all that much time to listen to music, because the time I can listen to music is mostly spent on making music. So, in effect I listen mostly to unfinished Burzum music. When I have the time to listen to music I listen mostly to The Cure though, and I can highly recommend their music to anyone. Especially their Disintegration album. It's old music, but it's still the best I can think of.

SLUG: If you have any further thoughts you would like to share, please take the opportunity do so.
Vikernes:  I am fine. I think my manager wants me to keep most of my thoughts to myself, in order not to scare away too many distributors, and I will do just that. Thank you for the interest, and good luck with your SLUG.

SLUG: What does the future hold for yourself and for Burzum?
Vikernes: Time shall tell. I am not in the business of making predictions...

SLUG: Lastly, if you have any further thoughts you would like to share, please take the opportunity do so.
Vikernes: No, I am fine. I think my manager wants me to keep most of my thoughts to myself, in order not to scare away too many distributors, and I will do just that. :-) Thank you for the interest, and good luck with your SLUG.
By the way; did you know that the ancient Europeans believed that if you stepped on a black slug (or killed a frog) it would start to rain? ... and that's the sort of sorcery all religions are based on. So don't blame us Europeans for throwing out all those religious freaks (id est your “founding fathers”...)! :-p
Okay. I gotta stop talking – and grab a bite and take a leak (see answer #7).
Have a nice day!

Love him or despise him, Varg Vikernes has had an immeasurable impact on the world of metal, and whether you agree with or abhor his personal philosophies, Burzum’s music deserves a chance to stand on its own. Anyone with even a passing interest in metal could benefit from giving it a chance. Fallen will be released in North America on April 5, via Candlelight Records