To mark the release of 2012’s Umskiptar—Burzum’s fourth post-prison album—Varg Vikernes took to calling his music “scaldic metal,” a reference to the ancient bardic traditions of his native Norway. Though Vikernes’s intention was to distance himself from the black metal scene that he'd helped invent, “scaldic” is an apt term for the music on Umpskiptar, which is more focused on atmosphere and lyrics than any of Burzum’s previous works. Tracks like “Aera,” “Heidr,” and “Surtr Sunnan” are more like monologues set to music than traditional songs, as Varg adopts a stoic half-spoken rasp to illustrate excerpts from the 10th-century pagan poem “Völuspá,” one of the foundational sources of Norse mythology. For the most part, Varg here abandons the seething screams that made him famous—but that doesn’t mean the music is less intense. With squalls of uneasy guitars, “Joln,” “Alfadanz,” and “Hit Helga Tre” get to the essence of Burzum. Meanwhile, “Valgaldr" and “Gullaldr”—songs informed by ancient chants—push Burzum’s interest in pagan ritual to new realms of spookiness.

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