Interview with Varg Vikernes
Metal Discovery (20.04.2012), by Jason Guest

Whenever anyone talks about topics of controversy and notoriety within the history of metal, one name is almost always guaranteed to come to the fore in such discussions, that of Varg Vikernes and his one-man musical vision, Burzum. With a new album entitled "Umskiptar" (which translates as "Metamorphoses") soon to be released, Varg took time out to discuss with "Metal Discovery" such subjects as the influence of his early music on his post-prison recordings, the creative process behind his latest album, the poem that it is based on, "Völuspá", and what it signifies in the evolution of Burzum, as well as what lies ahead for Burzum and its music...


Since being released from prison, you've been very prolific in your creative output and there's been a very quick turnaround between albums from "Belus" through to "Umskiptar". Does this mean that there will be regular releases from Burzum?

In theory yes, but you never know what will happen in the future, so I cannot guarantee anything. May I also remind you of the fact that I made 4 albums and an EP in about 1,5 years in the early 90s, so you shouldn't be surprised if I make (only...) one album each year these days.

Did the recording of the tracks chosen for "From the Depths of Darkness" mark a particular point in the development of your musical career? Was its purpose to reacquaint yourself with the early Burzum? If so, what does this era hold for you? Did re-recording the tracks for "From the Depths of Darkness" have any impact on the writing for "Umskiptar"?

The main purpose of the re-recording was to make it possible for me to listen to these old tracks again. I couldn't stand the original vocals on the first album, so I never listened to the first album. The vocal was okay on "Det Som Engang Var" but the technical quality of the album was too bad (meaning I did a poor job back then) for me to really appreciate it. I also wanted to make this music which I am still very proud of available to a new audience, not necessarily made up of hard-core metal heads (who are able to appreciate the original recordings anyhow), and therefore saw a good reason to release the re-recordings as an album.

Even though the purpose was not to reacquaint myself with the early Burzum this was indeed a very positive side effect and, yes, I do believe this has influenced "Umskiptar". I can add that "From the Depths of Darkness" was recorded long before "Fallen" as well, and thus also influenced "Fallen", probably more than it did "Umskiptar".

The era you refer to was an era of despair and confusion, and I walked as a wolf amongst sheep in wolves' clothing, so to say. I have never before or after been more lonely than I was then.

What differences are there between "Umskiptar" and "Fallen" and "Belus"?

The language used for the lyrics is different, being Old Norwegian on "Umskiptar" and Norwegian on the two others. The pace is somewhat slower on "Umskiptar" compared to the others. The vocals are different too, both in quality and in quantity on "Umskiptar" compared to the others. Finally, the lyrics on "Umskiptar" are all taken from the "Völuspá" poem, and I have written them myself on the other two albums.

Where does "Umskiptar" fit in to the development of Burzum?

If the two first albums were expressions of my anger and rebellious will, and the next two my melancholy and despair, and the next two my wandering about in the vast fog of the distant past, and then the next two my return from the fog, then "Umskiptar" is my life in the Sun light and the zenith of my life, and we can only hope the next album will follow this line, before I fall back down and return to anger and a rebellious will... and the cycle starts all over again; the metamorphoses of Burzum... :-)

For this album, you have said that the vocals are the most important aspect of the album. Is this the writer in you making its way to the fore?

Not really; you should differentiate between the vocals and the lyrics. The vocals are indeed very important on this album, but I didn't write the lyrics myself; they are all taken from the "Völuspá" poem, so even though they are no less important because of that, it doesn't say much about me as a writer. The entire poem is used as lyrics, and I see the album as a musical interpretation of "Völuspá". The vocals are important because there are so much lyrics, 66 stanzas in all, some of them even repeated a few times, and what I think made a huge difference was the language itself. Old Norwegian is so much more beautiful, poetic and powerful than Norwegian is, and my voice changed (metamorphosed...) because of this, and it lifted the entire production. It felt as if it wasn't my voice singing or speaking, but like a voice from the past, a voice of the forefathers, speaking to us today in his own ancient language using his own ancient poetry.

With "Völuspá" at the centre of the album, what was the writing process for "Umskiptar"? What did you want to achieve with "Umskiptar"?

I wanted to use "Völuspá" because I believed it deserved the attention, and another type of attention as well. It has been misinterpreted so much that its true meaning has been lost, and I wanted to show to all those interested what it really means. The album in itself might not enlighten too many, but it is released as a musical companion of my book "Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia", and will be understood in context with that book by many.

The concept of the album is "a deeply rooted European (i.e. Pagan) Stoic concept of changes" that "can therefore also be seen as critique of all the popular political movements of our age of lies". Does this also reflect a change in yourself?

Not as such, no. Of course I change too, we all do, but I have not dramatically changed my world view or perception of reality, or anything like that, if that is what you mean.

For the cover of "Umskiptar", you have chosen a work by the Norwegian historical painter Peter Nicolai Arbo. It's understandable why you would choose this artist, but why this particular piece?

This particular piece, "Natt", was chosen because it is a romantic image of the personified Night, as she rides across the sky, followed by "Dagr", the personified Day. This too is a natural and mythical metamorphosis, so it fits the concept like a hand in a glove.

"Fallen" was mastered like a classical album. Did you take the same approach with "Umskiptar"?

Aye, I did, and I can add that I have done for all the other albums too, save "Belus" which was unfortunately mastered by one with a typical metal philosophy.

You've said that Burzum's music is not for live performances, that a solitary experience is required. Is there any context in which you think that your music could be performed live, such as by an orchestra or in film perhaps?

I don't think a solitary experience is required, I just prefer that myself. Everyone are of course free to enjoy Burzum any way they may please, and there is nothing magical about Burzum that will force them to listen to it this way or the other in order for them to enjoy it.

Anyhow... Yes, Burzum would fit well in films, or the theatre, or other settings, and I don't rule out a live performance altogether, but if I was to ever do such a thing I would want it to be worth it and for it to serve a purpose other than to fill my bank account.

Your post-prison albums have seen a significant change in production and more use of clean instead of "Black Metal" vocals. Are you purposely moving away from that aesthetic in order to more clearly define yourself as a musician?

If I recall correctly I used the clean vocals (in "choirs") as early as on "Det Som Engang Var", my second album recorded in April 1992, about two months after the début album had been released so I have never thought about this as anything new to Burzum. Sure, I didn't use it on "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" or "Filosofem", but that was just coincidences. I could just as well have used it more back then as well.

The "Filosofem" album was my first attempt to distance myself from the "Black Metal" trend, and was in reality an anti-Black Metal album, just like my first few albums had been anti-death metal albums. Unfortunately nobody understood this, and instead "Filosofem" just set new standards for what was to be defined as "Black Metal". Of course "Dauði Baldrs" and "Hliðskjálf" really made my point clear, that I did not play "Black Metal", but by then it was in a sense too late. The parody of so-called Black Metal that we today know as "Black Metal" had already become a huge sub-culture and a genre in itself.

In a sense I am not in this context as much interested in defining myself as a musician, but more in defining myself as not being a "Black Metal" musician. I really do not want to be associated with that sub-culture/genre.

When you were incarcerated, you made two synth-based albums because you weren't granted access to any other instruments. Do you plan to do much synth work in the future or is the guitar central to the expression of your musical ideas?

The guitar has been central only because that is the instrument I play the best and make (almost) all my music on, but I could just as well have been using only other instruments for an entire album. I might in fact do that some time...

Right now I am very fond of analogue and acoustic instruments, so I have no plans for a synth-based album, but I will not rule out anything. I follow wherever the music takes me, so to say.

You no longer take any interest in the Black Metal scene and its musical direction. What, if anything, do you listen to? Are there any particular influences that (still) shape Burzum's music?

For a few months now, ever since I sold my old car and bought a new one without a car stereo, I haven't had the time to listen very much to music at all. I haven't even been working with music the last few months (since I recorded "Umskiptar"), so I have not listened to Burzum-music either save "Umskiptar" mostly in context with the mastering of the album.

What I would normally listen to is "Within the Realm of a Dying Sun" by Dead Can Dance and "Disintegration" by The Cure, to name a few. I also would have listened to more classical music if I could, but this type of music is not very suitable for a car, where there is so much background noise, and also to more traditional music.

How much interest do you take in and how much credence do you give to reviews of your work?

There is as I see it no reason to give any credence to reviews, for the simple reason that music taste is very much subjective, and some individuals just don't understand this or that type of music. I e.g. do not understand the appeal of rap music, and see this only as annoying sounds in the same manners as I find the sound of dogs barking at me when I run past them annoying.

What matters and what should matter to me is what I think about my music. Sure, it is nice when others like it and understand it, but if they don't that doesn't mean I am doing a bad job. It only means that my music does not resonate with their personalities, so to speak. You know, I am not making music for the masses, in the sense that I don't try to reach as many as possible. I make music for those who like this type of music, for those able to appreciate it for what it is. The more who like it the merrier, of course, but that is and should be only a positive side effect of the music, not a goal in itself.

It is flattering when you get a good review, but I think it is not necessarily good for artists to get too many good reviews either or focus too much on the good reviews. Many draw inspiration from flattery, and make more and even better music because of it, but this flattery can also be very harmful for the musician and can "go to his head" and turn him into some egocentric prick. I guess Bono from U2 would be a very good example of the latter (or of both, actually; he has made a lot of very good music too).

Do you think that your history and notoriety overshadows your music? Do you think that it hinders your music reaching and being appreciated by a wider audience?

It is really futile to ponder upon these questions. The best thing I can do is to just make music and don't spend any time worrying about whether my history is a hindrance or an accelerator or not. It doesn't matter anyhow. There is nothing I can do about my past, but I can do something about my future, so I focus on that instead.

Is it possible to differentiate the musician and writer from the image?

Yes. It is possible if you want it to be possible, but if you don't want it to be then it is probably impossible...

What does the future hold for Burzum? Do you have plans for more music? How do you see Burzum developing?

Right now I am preoccupied with some other time consuming projects, so I have no plans on the table, but I expect to make more music and like I said I just let the music take the lead. Wherever it goes I follow. We will see what happens.

Thanks very much for your time in answering these questions.

Thank you for your interest. Remember to check www.burzum.org for reliable news and information about Burzum.

Author: Jason Guest (© 2012 Metal Discovery)

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