Valen: Burzum’s Varg Vikernes talks Focus, Frustration and Fallen

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The extended version of the Burzum interview will be posted soon!

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.

: In the press release for Fallen on your website (, 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.

: 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 ...

: 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. The “problem” is that I am like this in pretty much all contexts, whether it is making music, playing computer games, reading books or doing research on some subject. I can easily work 18 hours a day, eat while I work and never take even a five minute 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: 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.

: 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: I think “desired effect” was focused on too much on by some British metal magazine—they do love their sensationalist celebrity crap over there. 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. 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.

: 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: I think you Americans are too concerned about my negativity towards the USA, and believe that I have a problem with Americans in general. I am perfectly aware of the fact that the USA consists of many fine human beings—just like Europe. Your government is not representative of your population, again, just like in Europe. Fallen sees a proper North American release because we now have had the opportunity to do this for the first time.

: What, if any, music currently inspires or intrigues you?
Vikernes: 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. I listen mostly to unfinished Burzum music or The Cure. 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.

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.