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BURZUM INTERVIEW
by Dayal Patterson, 2020. 

This following interview is focussed upon the present of Burzum. 
Those interested in the band's complex past can find more information on the subject 
both online and within our own black metal publications.



(Photo: Ester Segarra) 

In recent times, Burzum has been an elusive and unpredictable beast. Having finally awoken from its forced slumber back in 2010, the outfit initially underwent a period of furious activity, with albums launched in quick succession on an unsuspecting – though mostly grateful – fanbase. In fact, sole creator Varg Vikernes seemed to be mirroring the extreme work ethic he had previously adopted in the early 90s, when he remarkably recorded Burzum’s four most famous albums (and one EP) in a span of less than two years.

His post-prison output was similarly overwhelming, with no less than six full-lengths released over five years. These albums captured a swift evolution from what would be described by most  – though not Varg – as ‘black metal’, through to a broader, somewhat folk-infused take on extreme metal and onward to a more minimal ambient sound.

Since 2014’s The Ways of Yore, however, there has been little activity to speak of. A few singles were made available in early 2015, and a couple of retrospective boxed set releases saw the light of day more recently, but new material has been notable only by its absence. The fact that Varg himself eventually suggested, in fairly unambiguous terms, that the 30 year entity known as Burzum was no longer active, appeared to be the final nail in the coffin.

It therefore came as quite the surprise when Thulêan Mysteries was announced in Autumn last year. And perhaps aptly, the epic 90 minute-long collection of material itself also proves somewhat unpredictable, with 23 tracks that are diverse in composition, atmosphere and delivery. One thing that is probably not a surprise is that the album, like its most recent predecessors, has very little to do with the world of metal. One could probably describe most of the music as ‘ambient’, but at the same time, it is not really comparable to either 2013’s Sôl austan, Mâni vestan or 2014’s The Ways of Yore – both of which were much more homogenous and cohesive works.

Thulêan Mysteries might actually be the strangest album released under the Burzum moniker. That’s probably because it isn’t an album as such, but rather a collection of compositions that have little connection stylistically. From rich dungeon synth landscapes and minimalist electronics to hypnotic droning pieces, earnest folk efforts and even simple bare-bone recordings, featuring only percussion, plaintive strings and vocals, the only obvious constant here is Varg’s unique songwriting, which shines through regardless of genre.

Musical traits aside, what they also have in common is the their apparent shared inspiration, namely the MYFAROG tabletop roleplaying game, also created, naturally, by Varg himself. As their creator states, “Thulêan Mysteries was made passively, in the sense that I never intended to make a new album; I just made music every now and then, and at one point realized that I actually had enough to release it all on an album”. Speaking with Varg, it soon becomes clear that, even by his own standards, he has little interest in attempting to market his newest musical work, and a request to introduce the album to those who have not heard it is met with a somewhat reluctant reply…

“Frankly, I was hoping I would not need to introduce it to anybody at all, but then my manager convinced me I should do an interview to promote the album, and here comes this question. Well, it would have been better to just let those interested get their own impression all by themselves, and those not interested fly by it without even a thought. If you are not interested, I will not try to change your mind.”

With the album coming to fruition in this fashion, was there a particular strategy you employed in terms of the track order? Was anything excluded from the release, and, if so, why?

“Everything I had not released on a CD before was included, with the exception of the tracks I had from some old rehearsal tape. The latter was not included because it was just too different and... just a rehearsal.

What I did was to put all the tracks on a track list and then play it on repeat. After some listens I had a good idea how to organize it. Voila.” 

Was there ever a point where you had the album in mind, and then recorded tracks specifically for the release?

“No. Never. All these tracks are old recordings, or at least rather old. Like a year or so minimum, and not older than five years tops.”

How do you tend to work when you’re composing? Is it a case of finding time here and there around looking after the children and doing other work, or do you set aside long periods of time exclusively to write?

“I guess a bit here and there is the most correct. And really, I tend not to work with music at all... I just ‘accidentally’ made this one the last few years.” 


What is your recording process currently in terms of instruments and recording equipment? Were these tracks all recorded at your home or did you enter an external studio?

“Currently? I have no recording process as all. I haven’t touched an instrument in a long time, other than to move it out of the way in order to get to what is stored behind it on the shelf or in the barn. It’s all just collecting dust.”

“The electronic music on this album is recorded on my wife’s ten year old Mini-Mac, using GarageBand, and I used a microphone that I got from Amazon for the vocals. The lyre playing was recorded in our VW van, in the driver’s seat, using a camera that I normally used to record YouTube videos on. It had a decent microphone, and it turned out quite well I think. The ‘drumming’ bit in one of them, ‘The Great Sleep’, is just me tapping my foot on the floor of the car. Yeah, a ‘Trve Kvlt BM drum kit’ for you right there...”

So if I understand you correctly, you haven’t played or made music for about a year? Is it a case of simply being too busy or not feeling inspired to do so?

“With the risk of sounding a bit direct here, I would say I simply have no interest in playing music. I guess my distaste for it has grown sufficiently for me to not even want to be inspired anymore. There are so many better and more useful things to do in life.”

You previously stated that, “Since my true passion has never been music, but actually tabletop role-playing games, I figured I should make this an album intended for that use; as background music for my own MYFAROG (Mythic Fantasy Role-playing Game).”

Could you therefore tell us about MYFAROG, in terms of concept and mechanics, particularly for readers who may only have a passing familiarity with roleplaying games?

“It’s a fantasy RPG based around our own pre-Christian heritage, in the semi-fictional land of Thule, where you can either just have fun playing a fantasy role-playing game or actually learn something about our old traditions, gods, symbols, values and purpose. That’s your choice. The mechanics are designed to make sense and to cover any thinkable and unthinkable situation the player characters might end up in. You cast three six-sided dice, add modifiers (like your character’s relevant skill proficiency) and check this up against a target number. Then you achieve a certain degree of success or failure, depending on the result, ranging from fumbles and critical failures, failures and semi-successes to successes and critical successes. That would be the basics.”

Since MYFAROG seems to be created with a lot of educational/historical considerations, did you ever think about making the game purely historical, ie. based in the real world, without the elves, trolls and other otherworldly beings? What made you decide to go the route you did?

“To me an RPG should be educative, but it must also be fun, and a fantastical world is more fun than reality. On the other hand, history as we know it, is also pure fantasy... the lies we agreed on, so to speak. But real lies are no fun.”

MYFAROG is now on its third edition, generally speaking, how would you say the reception to the game been? Do you have a sense of the audience playing the game?

“Those who actually read the rules and play the game seem to love it, but the whole entertainment industry is steeped in political correctness and leftist SJW mania, as we can see very clearly in the music industry as well, so of course the game has been attacked for not being pro-women warriors, anti-racist, pro-gay marriage and you name it. They don’t seem to be able to accept that any fantasy setting based on the Bronze Age and Iron Age can be allowed not to be exactly like the mongrelized Marxist extremist shit-holes we live in today. And they certainly don’t appreciate when a game designer ignores their SJW nonsense.”

“But, again, those who actually play tabletop RPGS and who have read the rules and played the game tell me they love it. They matter to me, the others don’t. Haters will be haters.”

The cover of 1993’s Det som engang var was of course inspired by the cover art of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons book The Temple of Elemental Evil and I remember in old Burzum interviews you mentioned playing RPGs – do you still find time to do this now? Is a lot of playing MYFAROG with family or friends necessary to tweak and evolve the rules of the game?



“Yeah, you learn about weaknesses from playing a game, and that’s the reason why I now have a version 3 of MYFAROG. It has been played for many years, and by now we see no flaws with the system and it works very well. Since it’s very modular, you can also make it less or more advanced as you will. A beginner can ignore even most of the rules. Thus the learning curve is not that steep. Yes, I play with my kids and also use it for home-schooling, almost every day of the week. It’s a great tool for home-schooling.”




To what degree did the concepts behind the game actively influence the music and lyrics themselves?

“Let’s settle on a ‘high’ degree, because I worked on the game at the same time as I made the music.”

How did you go about naming the tracks, particularly the many instrumentals?

“By listening to them on repeat, whilst thinking about Thule [smiles]”

Especially for those who haven’t heard the new release, how would you compare the new tracks to those on Sôl austan, Mâni vestan and The Ways Of Yore, compositionally speaking?

“It’s closer to the latter I would say, but... I don’t know. If they have an interest in it, can’t they just listen to it for free on YouTube or something and make up their own opinion? I don’t really think about such things. I just make music, or made music, and had no particular direction in mind. I just let the music take me where it wanted to go. The rest, how or why, is water under the bridge.”

After many years you returned to the timeless works of Theodor Kittelsen for this album’s cover art ­– was this in order to match the cover art with that used for the MYFAROG game? And if so, what made you choose to use Kittelsen for this?

“The cover art was chosen first for the game, because it fits very well with the concept and atmosphere of Thule. It shows a Nix lurking in the water, a creature you can find in Thule. Then I decided to release the music I had as an album, and as a soundtrack for MYFAROG, so I saw no reason not to use the same image for the album. It’s very... Burzumic, and reminiscent of the older albums.” 

There are hints of earlier days on the album and in particular you revisit an earlier instrumental composition from Det Som Engang Var with the track ‘Skin Traveller’, could you tell me about that?



“If I recall correctly, I tried to see if I could remember how to play the ‘Han som reiste’ track on my wife’s Mini-Mac, and... I did. And recorded it. The new title, ‘Skin Traveller’ is a loose translation of the Norse ‘hamingja’, from proto-Nordic ‘hema-gange’, meaning ‘skin-walking’. The original title, ‘Han som resite’, translates as ‘he who left’, in the meaning ‘he who passed on’, or ‘he who travelled’. 

This is in relation to the Norse concept of hamingja, luck, in form of a spirit follower if you like, and you gain or lose luck in life. However, since our forebears believed in reincarnation, this luck was of course not tied to your life, but to you, as you ‘travelled in different shapes (skins)’. Which means that you lived again and again, as you reincarnated after each death.

Since you live in the ‘multicultural’ UK, I guess you are more familiar with Asian terms such as ‘karma’ than you are with your own cultural heritage, that you have in common with us Norsemen, so I would explain hamingja to you as being very similar to the idea of karma. And it follows you to your next life, and you have [a lot] or little of it today, based on how much honour you gained in previous lives and in this life. And thus the track is called ‘Skin Traveller’... he who left, and came back.” 

Aside from your family, what is taking up most of your time these days if not music? Perhaps the RPG related works?

“Reading, working in the garden, maintaining buildings, maintaining cars, writing more Paganism Explained books, and yes, also occasionally RPG work.”

Out of interest, when you listen to music these days, what do you tend to choose?

“Electronic music mostly. Dub techno. And my own music. Sometimes I listen to old music, that I liked when I was younger. Bee Gees. Abba. Iron Maiden. The first few Kreator albums. Future Sounds of London. Jean-Michel Jarre. Software. Music I have memories attached to.”

What do you see as the future for Burzum? More ‘accidental’ albums such as this, made as and when? Could you envisage making another metal or electronic album created ‘as a whole’, in a more traditional manner?

“Burzum is dead to me, and it was before this album too. Like I said, I just ‘accidentally’ made another album. So I have no future visions for music by me. I have better things to do. Plant trees. Sow seeds in a soil that modern agriculture has turned into almost a desert. Help restore the forest that once covered our continent from East to West, North to South. Our natural habitat.”




(BURZUM IS FEATURED AT LENGTH
ALONG WITH ALMOST ALL THE OTHER PIONEERS OF THE GENRE,  
IN THE BOOK 
 'BLACK METAL: EVOLUTION OF THE CULT', AVAILABLE (signed by author)  HERE)