Paranoid bigot, church burner, convicted murderer, prison escapist—Varg Vikernes is the most fascinating and controversial figure in black metal. No one else even comes close. But for all his ballyhooed misbehavior, what’s most enthralling about this native Norwegian is his musical legacy with Burzum, the genre-defining black-metal band of which he is the sole member. Burzum’s lumbering riffs and sprawling nightscapes brought a dire gravity to black metal's second wave. Yet Fallen, the follow-up to 2010’s Belus and the band's second album since Varg’s release from prison in 2009, is an uninspired collection of folkish black metal, offering listeners very little in the ways of the band’s signature darkness.
Fallen begins promisingly enough, with opener “Jeg Faller” hearkening back to early Emperor with its whirling harmonies and growled vocals. But “Valen,” the following track, is nine interchangeable minutes of annoying guitar wankery, and “Vanvidd” plods forward agonizingly, its mumbled clear-vocal chorus smacking strangely of reggae. From there, it’s more of the same. Both “Enhver til Sitt” and “Budstikken” drag on without direction, sorely lacking the punishing grandeur that made classic Burzum releases like Det Somn Engang Var and Filosofem so distinctive. There’s little intensity here, just a series a parts that sound a little too much like each other and aren’t much helped by Vikernes’ constant whispering. The creeping menace in acoustic closer “Til Hel og tilbake igjen” is fantastic, but only further accentuates the undiscovered potential of the previous five tracks.
It is impossible to separate Burzum from Varg Vikernes, and as such, Fallen is a disappointment. There was a time when the high quality of Burzum’s sonic diabolicisms at least somewhat made up for the madman who created them, but no longer—especially with bands like Krallice and Wolves In The Throne Room topping his recent output. If ol’ Count Grishnackh wants to continue being a crazy Nazi bastard and still get taken seriously, then he needs to do better than this. CHRIS KROVATIN