“Belus” was the first BURZUM studio album to be released following Varg’s release from prison in 2009. After an almost 11-year long break, this would be the seventh full-length release from BURZUM. Although many understandably shy away from BURZUM due to their aversion to the pro-White beliefs that Vikernes holds, the band offers some of the most awesome atmospheres Black Metal has to offer. Political motivations aside, BURZUM has delivered some of the most distinctive, melancholic Black Metal to date and therefore it was with much trepidation that I first listened to “Belus”. With no doubt, this was going to be a difficult album in terms of the criticism it could face as it not only had to live up to the ghosts of majestic past releases (in particular the first three albums), but also a great deal of suspense and expectation had built following all the years Varg spent in prison.
The release is presented beautifully by Byelobog Productions, aesthetically speaking continuing the traditions of the past, depicting simple but mysterious nature photography and Gothic script. The title “Belus” referring to the archaic name for the the Norse life / rebirth deity Baldr and continuing the inspiration drawn from Mythology that has become integral to BURZUM releases. These elements suggest that BURZUM was to continue what had started so many years before, however, the music itself does not quite live up to previous efforts. The release was intended as a conceptual journey of Belus through his death, passing through the underworld and finally his return to life. This story is told through both instrumental and Metal compositions that are successful in creating those magical atmospheres that are so recognisable for BURZUM. However, although this is positive and essentially “Belus” comprises of well-written songs, the release is severely let down by the vocal delivery. One of the things that always made BURZUM so haunting and eerie was the inhuman high-pitched screams present. These vocals have now been replaced with a lower, more guttural shriek that really is nothing special and is devoid of any real character. At times there are parts sung in a clean voice and though these parts compliment the tracks, they do little to take the attention away from the main vocals. This is not to say that this is a poor release, far from it, however it would be fair to say that the vocals on “Belus” make this an average release when it had the potential to be outstanding.
Overall there are many positive elements despite the vocal criticism; the hypnotic melodies, sincere approach, effective old school lo-fi production and dark esoteric undertones. “Belus” should be commended for its loyalty to the sensibilities of times past and keeping the flames of nostalgia very much alive.