Burzum – Thulêan Mysteries Review

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As Count Grishnackh himself puts this, no one saw another Burzum release in their future. Yet, in 2020, we have found ourselves faced with another product from the infamous arsonist/murderer/white supremacist/solo musician Kristian “Varg” Vikernes. Now I am wholeheartedly in support of separating the artist from the art unless the music itself spreads inflammatory and discriminatory messages. Fortunately, the music of this notorious icon writes about folklore and mythology rather than the alternative.

If you do not know the legacy of Vikernes’ escapades and life as a whole, I suggest you do some reading yourself, as that is truly the only way to find out every piece of lore that goes into this manic and almost unbelievable history. Additionally, the 2018 film Lords of Chaos does, in my opinion, a particularly comedic and disturbingly realistic take on not only Vikernes but of other players (with a particular focus on Mayhem) in the early 90s Norwegian black metal scene. Finally, if you want to know about the unfortunate disaster that is MYFAROG, or Vikernes’ personal RPG setting, I suggest you check out this article from MetalSucks writer Jeff Treppel, who analyzes the first edition of MYFAROG and dives deep into its shoddy gameplay and extremely racist features.

So back to Thulêan Mysteries. As a supposed companion to MYFAROG, this release is a genre known as dungeon synth, a subgenre of electronic devoted to evoking the feelings of fantasy and mythology and providing particularly good background music for roleplaying games of those sensibilities. This uses lots of synthesizers, folk and tribal instrumentation, and lots of ambience. As an avid RPG player myself, I use releases from groups like Mortiis, DIM, and Jääportit to provide engaging but also unobtrusive immersion for the players that I manage. Burzum has released five albums in this vein over the course of the group’s nearly 30-year career (the rest occupying the black metal vein that I usually prefer).

I will not sugarcoat it; this album is far too long for its own good. Standing at a massive hour and twenty-nine minutes, Thulêan Mysteries is without a doubt the longest dungeon synth album I have ever heard. While I am generally a fan of long-form music like this, this runtime is courtesy of its 23 tracks (which is a lot for this genre) and suffers from being horribly paced overall. Sure, it is basically a compilation of recorded tracks here and there, but even the way the tracks are arranged is poor. Tracks 7, “Jötunnheimr,” through 11, “The Land of Thulê,” are all shorter than two and a half minutes each, while the two tracks that follow those total twelve and a half minutes. In a genre like this one, if you aren’t putting the songs on loop while you slay monsters and solve traps in a dungeon, a listener needs breaks in the tracklist in order to stay engaged in the soundscapes that Vikernes is trying to create.

Another issue occasionally comes in the music itself, and those extremely short songs sound unfinished and end abruptly. And I don’t want to give too much credit to Vikernes’ songwriting, but the man knows how to write great music. While his black metal career has produced arguably the most influential and essential listening of the genre as a whole, I cannot say exactly the same about this genre. There are interesting songs here, and perhaps without the quick spoken vocal snippet at the beginning of the massive 15-minute long “The Password,” I would use this track for some of my tabletop RPGs. The same can be said for a few of the tracks here, like “The Forgotten Realm” and “The Road To Hel” which genuinely immerse me into the world of Thulê. Most of the short tracks, though, only serve the purpose of short interludes between these lengthy and drawn out tracks.

Unfortunately, I find myself unable to really describe this album other than simply, bland. The synths are overall underwhelming, the atmospheres thin, and vocal performances bland and occasionally unwanted. Much like Burzum‘s career, I found myself constantly wanting this album to end, and unfortunately not getting that. While some of the content is not bad, there is not enough real content within the massive runtime of this release and is yet another unfortunate stain on Vikernes’ image. I wouldn’t advise you to listen to this unless you really like dungeon synth (or are a white supremacist).

Final Rating: “Many shiverings and I am dead!”

Favorite Tracks: “The Password,” “The Forgotten Realm,” “The Road to Hel”

FFO: Mortiis, Depressive Silence, Pazuzu

Track List
1. “The Sacred Well”
2. “The Loss of A Hero”
3. “ForeBears”
4. “A Thulêan Perspective”
5. “Gathering of Herbs”
6. “Heill auk Sæll”
7. “Jötunnheimr”
8. “Spell-Lake Forest”
9. “The Ettin Stone Heart”
10. “The Great Sleep”
11. “The Land of Thulê”
12. “The Lord of the Dwarves”
13. “A Forgotten Realm”
14. “Heill Óðinn, Sire”
15. “The Ruins at Dwarfmount”
16. “The Road to Hel”
17. “Thulêan Sorceryl”
18. “Descent into Niflheimr”
19. “Skin Traveller”
20. “The Dream Land”
21. “Thulêan Mysteries”
22. “The Password”
23. “The Loss of Thulê”