V – Varg Vikernes

Fantasy has always had big impact on metal, and metal has had a big impact on fantasy. But so rarely have the two been joined so integrally as by Varg Vikernes. Sure Summoning, which is a great band, may put out album after album of (often obscurely) Tolkien themed black metal, but at the early forefront of the movement was Varg. While many of the other black metal bands had ‘cool’ ‘evil-sounding’ names in English, Burzum stood out. Meaning ‘Darkness’ in the Black Tongue of Mordor, Burzum was the brainchild of its sole member, ‘Count Grishnakh’, whose name was also an obscure lord of the rings reference. The project sprung out of an earlier effort, Uruk-hai, but beyond and apart from singing songs about elves and hobbits, as most metal bands are wont to do, Burzum explored the black and white morality presented in Tolkien’s world as it could be applied to the real world, viewing it through the lens of his own unique brand of Norse pagan nationalism.

Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a setting heavily influenced by old English and Scandinavian culture and mythology. However because he was a Christian writer essentially writing morality tales for a Christian audience, his cultures tended to be rather flat morally, which could be seen as a bowdlerization of the peoples from whom they were derived. His Orcs were uniformly evil, and his Men of the East were all barbarous, vile and amoral; a traditional view of less civilized pre-Christianized warrior societies and cultures.

For Varg, darkness represented the adventure to be had in the world, and when the light had purged that darkness, society would become decadent for that lack of adventure. Recall for a moment, how little of any import or interest happens in the 4th age; though it may be Middle Earth’s ‘happily ever after’, there is something sad about Sam all alone in his final days, looking to the west. In a more real-world sense, Varg explores the ideas of an ancient world that has been purged and homogenized by Christianity. The old ways and ancient culture is inevitably lost. It’s a recurring theme in fantasy, the departure of magic from the world. From the exodus of Dunsany’s Magician in the Charwoman’s Shadow to the last desperate attempt to stop the march of man’s progress by the Woodsy Lord in Thief, fantasy is filled with stories of a world diminished by the absence of these things. Man creates light to push back the darkness, because man fears the dark. But that is where the magic is.

Over his long career, he has recorded several albums that run quite the range of genre and style, never easy to peg down. His stuff gets lumped in with Black Metal because of the time in which Burzum was recording and individuals associated with him, though he has distanced himself from the movement and scene which he was never actively a part of.

This track from the album Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (If the Light Takes Us) is quintessential black metal, provided you like keyboards in your black metal:

This track from Filosofem is more along the lines of (oldschool) industrial metal:

This track from Daudi Baldrs (The Death of Baldr), which was recorded while in prison (for the slaying of Øystein Aarseth, who had concocted an elaborate plan to murder Vikernes, in self-defense), is something else entirely.

If I ever get around to playing Daggerfall again, I fully intend to go through with my plan to swap out the original sound files for the Daudi Baldrs album.  As a fellow fan of the Elder Scrolls, I think he might be able to appreciate that.

After being released from prison, he put out a pair of excellent metally albums, but has been on a much more experimental bent the last few years with Umskiptar (neo-folk with some heavier elements) and Sol Austan, Mani Vestan, which admittedly reminds me a lot of the stuff I was doing with Medicide before I had my mid-life crisis.

There are plenty of reasons you can find to not like Varg or to discount his body of work, but I won’t go into them here. You can do your homework and come to your own conclusions. As for me, I’ve found that despite any disagreement, qualms or whatnot, I’ve found his output incredibly enjoyable and excellent inspirational material for fantasy settings. Oh, yeah, and have I mentioned he’s working on an RPG? MYFAROG.org. You can find a lot of his thoughts on music, gaming and other things at Burzum.org.   He regularly blogs about religion and survivalism over at Thulean Perspective over on the blog-list there.

 

11 responses to “V – Varg Vikernes

    • As an addendum, I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed your acquaintance here on the wordpress. But I’m sure you knew.

      While you’re here, I was wondering; have you considered any reprintings or new editions of your books, particularly Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia? I’ve been wanting to get around to getting a copy, but unfortunately it’s going for rather large sums these days.

      • In the US, it’s being sold for well over $100 by most sellers. But I just thought to check Amazon France. Depending on how the shipping is, I might be able to afford one from there.

      • It’s something of a moot point now, as I just received a copy as a late birthday present. It’s a beautifully put together book and I’m excited to start it.

  1. I saw this post’s title and I was like, “Varg? The Varg from…”

    It sounds like he has had a very interesting life.

    I can only hope no one ever tries to kill me. :O

    –Dither

    • That danger (very slight as it may have been) is one of the few things I don’t miss about being a part of an extreme music scene. There was a guy, though, who had a potentially deadly blood-feud with the lead singer of the band I was in for awhile, but he never had a problem with me and eventually everyone hugged and made up and played a big messy show together.

      • My best friend of 10+ years has been in and out of the music industry at various points in his life (come to think of it, all of my closest friends have been, and that’s interesting considering my comparative music illiteracy).

        I can’t say that I have ever once envied him. It’s a chaotic place. Almost what I would call capital-C Chaotic. Almost like another plane of existence.

        –Dither

      • Yeah. I’ve seen my share of blood and guts. Lots of times I was thankful to be up on the stage because at least that meant I wasn’t in the thick of it. It’s like a whole different reality. These days I can hardly believe that I was ever a part of it.

      • The most surreal and nightmarish experience was probably the third show I ever played. I’d spliced together a bunch of really grim WW2 footage and burned it to a dvd. We were playing in a venue with no windows and no installed overhead lights. The only illumination while we played was a 20×30 image of the allies rolling into the camps being projected against us and the back wall. The room was packed solid, and when we started our first song, all hell broke loose and didn’t stop till we were finished. Afterward someone asked me to help his friend find his tooth. A few weeks later, the venue closed down (the guy who ran it had 0 business savy) and it’s been a daycare center for tater tots ever since. I had to kick a few people off my amp, knocking them back into the pit, but to this day, I am grateful that I was playing that show and not watching it.

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