East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon sees Varg venturing back into his non-metal Skaldic influenced instrumental music for this his eleventh album. That statement alone may have had some of his earnest enthusiasts shaking heads and turning off but that would be their loss as he has proved himself in this form before and it does not mean that the atmosphere of his more extreme works cannot be presented in this alternative presentation. Vikernes has in the past on albums such as Daudi Baldrs (1997) been forced to work in this medium due to incarceration, perhaps he would have gone down this route even if such limitations were not enforced on him. Choosing to revisit things is now his own decision and the immediate noticeable thing is the recording itself, which is not in any way hampered by limited production techniques and sparkles and shines with every note clearly reverberating and making its mark. Apparently the music is from the film ForeBears made by Marie Cachet and husband Vikernes himself. Much of the Skaldic music apparently appears in it, in un-mastered form. Obviously with this in mind tracking down the film to find out a bit about it is essential. The IMDB may have drawn a blank but the official Burzum website proffers a ten minute clip which proved intriguing and gave a link to purchase the whole 100 minute feature of Vikernes spiritual journey of understanding and discovery, of forgotten bear cult rituals and their roots in all modern philosophies and religions.
Of course as far as the album itself is concerned you do not need to go into such details yourself and can quite easily just approach it on a listening level. Before you get to the music the cover art again is quite striking and is a Spanish painting by Ulpiano Checa entitled The Rape of Proserpina, I couldn’t help looking at it thematically and thinking of Dissection’s The Somberlain but obviously this is a lot more artistic, seriously dramatic and less gaudy.
The music itself is presented in almost an hours length and 11 tracks that reflect the journey undertaken by Varg in title from East Of The Sun through fire, caves, bears lairs, the darkness of death, through to the West of The Moon and sunrise. At first it is incredibly spacey with pulsating synths eerily and quite gorgeously tingeing things along with meditative and repetitive (dare I say) shamanic ritualistic trance inducing parts. It is all very dreamy and I am reminded a bit of Kraut Rock and the likes of Tangerine Dream if you really need any sort of reference point. The feel of ancient tradition is then reflected wonderfully on second number Runar munt bu finna (You shall find Secrets) and it is almost as though Iron Age man is tapping away at rocks with new found tools before a gorgeous acoustic melody joins in on the piece. The tracks have a lot of character and individualism about them and despite comments flying around the ether as soon as this was passed to journalists for review that it was elevator music and had sent many to sleep, it is as far as I am concerned a work that will give you what you are prepared to put into it and I have to admit I have found this beguiling, illuminating and even transcendental over repeated listens.
It is all very simply laid out and very easy to get into. Vikernes has always proved an adeptness at song writing by presenting repetitive harmonies to the listener and really allowing the music to flourish with them. This is no exception to that rule, the difference being perhaps that the songs are a lot shorter and the melodies linger within their own set-pieces before dying and perhaps being reborn again. The tinkling frosty cold key work of Fedrahellir (Forebear-Cave) completely entrances and gives off the vibe that you are walking into something that has been hidden away from sight for aeons and is discovered here with mesmerising awe. Lush strums and mystical sounding keyboards waft around the Solargudi (Sun-god) literally warming you as you bask in their glow. The swoosh of keyboards on Hid (Bear’s Lair) sees the album building to a dramatic height, it owes a lot to Space Rock perhaps but is very down to earth here. The maudlin and sorrowful melody of Heljarmyrkr (Death’s Darkness) is everything one would expect from such a title; ancient civilisations and traditions crushed to pieces by the progress of time. As Sunset rises with a quirky melody breathing life into a new day the journey is complete, it has been an invigorating one and a trip through the ages, one that has been quite a delight studying and following.
This is an album to listen to alone and in the right frame of mind, one that necessitates the listener being prepared to shut the outside world out completely and do so without any form of interruption being likely. It is far removed from the mobile phone technology obsessed world that we live in and that for me is its charm BUT it will be the complete opposite for many who will no doubt hate it and probably not understand where its composer is coming from in the slightest. I am sure he would shudder at the idea but perhaps Vikernes could try his hand at providing music for some TV documentaries with music like this, hell he could always be a Tony Robinson like character narrating them here and this is certainly an album that has none of his more questionable ideas spilling into it so you can enjoy in that sense without any feeling of guilt. I am going to be intrigued reading other reviews of this.
(8/10 Pete Woods)