We Heard Elvensong

“…and water that trickled. 

What once was is now
gone.
All the blood,
all the longing and pain that
ruled,
and the emotions that could be stirred,
are gone.
Forever.” –Det som engang var (“What Once Was”), Burzum, 1993

Several days ago my roommate had music playing on the TV in our apartment at around 11pm. It was playing popular music videos via YouTube. When one of the songs playing became insufferable, I cycled through the playlist rather than exiting. I found a more tolerable pop song and sat on the couch under the incandescent light. As I listened to the music I decided why I liked the song; something about it was dark. Though pop music as I understand it is made by using algorithms meant to satisfy the greatest number of people in the most efficient amount of time (not unlike movies) I’ve always found much of it passes over my senses. Music needs to be intense enough to reach me. Just as sounds with high frequencies can be heard by dogs and not us, music with no tragedy is as trivial as the ABC songs I’ve played in the classroom. The kids songs have a utility; they only exist to drill language patterns into the child’s mind. Pop songs have a utility as well in a sense; to serve as a pleasant addictive auditory substance. If the content that enters your mind has the power to change you, then pop songs are rather like the equivalent of cigarettes. They also (obviously) facilitate the breakdown of sexual mores, arguably the most fundamental basis for civilization. More than once I’ve heard pop music while doing some kind of workout, which I’ve always found unhelpful. If there’s one consistent message that kind of music wants you to here, it’s: “Give up. Give in. Let go. Don’t worry. Nothing matters.”

We are past the time when it was edgy, rebellious, and cool to reject religious, sexual, and hierarchical norms. That process occurred before I was born, and is still being played out. What is a young person supposed to rebel against now? The ways in which it is fashionable to rebel are so carefully planned out for the teenager, he ends up choosing this or that corner of the global market to purchase his identity.

All human beings die, and this means with absolute sincerity that we are all in a kind of war. Art manifests this war visually and musically. It yearns to be sufficiently tragic to reflect the world’s toughness, but inject into it some magic.

I Immaterialize
And Slowly Drift
Into the Unknown       [My Journey to the Stars]

Sometime in fall 2009 when I was seventeen, I came across this magic on the internet: the music of Norwegian musician Varg Vikernes. The context in which I found the music was a blog that praised the music heavily. This was crucial, because when I first listened to the music (the song “war”) it sounded simply awful. I didn’t just find it ugly, but poorly-recorded, with juvenile lyrics, poor-quality vocals, and poor execution. Perhaps I liked what it was trying to be, but not what I actually heard. Yet I continued reading positive opinions of the music.

This was one of the first times I experienced a process of reaching out and rewiring my tastes. I knew I was attracted to the whole aesthetic of this band; the dark album covers, the Nordic and Tolkien-inspired themes, the unapologetic elitism and traditionalism of the artist, and a rejection of those things I found in my teenage life to be rotten.

Every man wants to be the knight that charges heroically into the castle, slay the dragon and be rewarded with virgins. The modern American equivalent is the football player who scores the winning touchdown, is adored by his team and school, and dates Stacy the teenager who doesn’t really do much besides look pretty. A when a boy looks in the figurative mirror and sees a personality that he knows he can never achieve this, he seeks to climb the dominance hierarchy in other ways. This is what I think explains the emergence of teenage subcultures: they are alternative ways of achieving status. They are all proto-gangs meant to team up, prepare for war, attract women (other than Stacy) and form the nation-state. We all have biological imperatives, and thus we are all at war. This is why, until the sun burns out, history will never end.

And One Day
Will the Grave Be Unlocked
And the Soul
Must Return to His World
But This Time as
A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit
Doomed
To Haunt
Endlessly                         [A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit]

When you have no conceivable way of climbing the dominance hierarchy, it follows for many to tear down the entire thing. This is Communism. It is Anarchy. It’s Christianity.

The music of Burzum (which means “Darkness”) attracted me because it isn’t anti-hierarchical. It is elitist in a way that celebrates the mentality of the solitary man alone in his library, uncovering mysteries of the past. Its music is like a collection of stories from another time. Its ugliness was deliberate. Its screams are the screams of all the fallen dead who fought against the Christianization of Europe, who live in the blood of many people alive today. It is the work of a man who some might say doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality. I prefer to say that he made his imagination real.

In the fantastic documentary Until the Light Takes Us, Varg explains from his prison cell that one cannot just wake up and decide to find the truth. “You have to try and fail, and eventually you will weed out all the lies, and you will end up with something at least similar to the truth. The truth is hidden under grass, under some rocks, in a hidden trail, a forgotten trail in the forest. And when you try to find these trails, you will stumble, you’ll get some branches in your face. You’ll make mistakes, you know, before you finally find it.” This made a big impression on me, not to don a tinfoil hat and watch Alex Jones, but to start seeing the commercialized world around me as a system based on lies and a sin against nature. The capital-T Truth, I realized, is not revealed to us in simple statements from books. Struggle buys every piece of it.

Other planes lie beyond the reach
of normal sense and common roads
But they are no less real
than what we see or touch or feel      [Lost Wisdom]

I doubt many people hear Burzum and simply enjoy it. They need gateway drugs, more sugar-coated kinds of metal before they go deeper. They need to experiment with music that still has the typical veneer of masculine hyper-sexuality that they feel comfortable with. It’s like claiming a new moral code as your own; you have to wade in. How do you ban music that doesn’t have words? Much of Burzum is wordless, except for the names of the tracks. The teenager doesn’t know he (or she) can simply decide to embrace a new kind of music, or even a new morality. It takes a courage to take each step into this darker and uglier kind of music, before you find that you won’t be struck with lightning.

We are all products of this modern world, and if the barbarians of the past were here, they would be expressing themselves with music inspired by Burzum. The spirit of tragedy in music escaped like heat from other areas and metastasized onto black metal. Burzum is unmistakably music for the botched, angry, white male demographic. It is for pensive souls who look out the window and into other worlds.

Why did I come to this world of sorrow?

Why is this true?
Where is my dagger of sacrifice?

I will open the gates to Hell one day….          [Key to the Gate]

The artwork for two of Burzum’s albums is taken from the Norwegian children’s book writer and illustrator Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914). One depicts a women in old-fashioned garb on a grassy hillside by an old-style home blowing a horn. The other depicts a corpse on a trail in the forest nearby a conspiracy of ravens.

Burzum Filosofem

Varg’s music post-prison has been mostly ambient, and represents a more mature man. None of the Pagan spirit is gone, but he is now a married father living in the South of France. He frequently makes YouTube videos today, often using the catchphrase “let’s find out!” He had some trouble with the law in 2013, thanks to then-minister of the interior and all-around revolting politician Manuel Valls.

While working behind a cashier in summer 2010, I took the order of a heavyset middle-aged bearded man who wore a Burzum T-shirt. Judging by his appearance I didn’t think we had much in common. But music is one of the strongest bridges of identity. Your interests are largely going to be decided before you’re born, and the internet has a way of reducing the distance between like minds.

As I type this I’m listening to a recent ambient album, titled The Ways of Yore. It is not the dark music of an aggressive teenager, and sounds like it could fit nicely in a video game like Skyrim. We play games because we want to simulate struggle.

What once was is now gone. All the emotions that used to be stirred by blood-filled wars, and the longing and pain that accompanied them are over.

Burzum Hvis lyset tar oss

…yet still we must never give up. War!

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