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A Burzum Story: Part I - The Origin And Meaning

Since this is a Burzum website I believe I may expect You to have an interest in Burzum, so I will tell You some things about Burzum that has not been told before. All bands have an origin, a beginning and a reason they exist. So I will begin by telling You why Burzum came to be, and will also tell You why it turned out the way it did.

In 1988 or 1989, when I had played the guitar for a year or two, I formed a band called Kalashnikov with two other guys. We called the band Kalashnikov amongst other things because that was the name of my favourite assault rifle. I used to play RPGs (Role-Playing Games), and when we were playing games like "Twilight 2000", I always equipped my character with an AK-74 (Avtomat-Kalashnikov 74). I also played fantasy RPGs, though, like AD&D ("Advanced Dungeons And Dragons") and MERP ("Middle-Earth Role-Playing") with GM ("Game Master") rules, and was very much influenced by the fantastic world of Middle-Earth. One of our songs was because of that named "Uruk-Hai", and we soon changed the name of the whole band to Uruk-Hai. I don't remember the lyrics of that song, but I don't think it was very deep or particularly advanced (the chorus was: "Uruk-Hai! You will die", or something like that...). Now, "Uruk-Hai" is as most Burzum fans should know the name of the "High-Orcs" of Sauron, and it translates as "Orc-Race", from Black Speech, the language of Mordor.

In my teenage interpretation I pretty much saw the Hobbits as children or simply boring. The dwarves reminded me too much of greedy capitalist-pigs and they too were pretty boring. Their rules were cool and Moria was a wonderful place, but I disliked their greed vehemently - and who wants to be short anyhow? The elves were fascinating, beautiful and especially their immortality and closeness to nature was cool, but they were kind of dull and they fought for the wrong side. Instead I felt a natural attraction to Sauron, who was the person who gave the world adventure, adversity and challenges in the first place. His One Eye, the One Ring and the tower of Barad-Dur are all attributes similar to those of Óðinn. The One Eye was like Óðinn's eye, the One Ring was like Óðinn's ring, Draupnir ("Dripper"), and Barad-Dur was like the tower or throne of Óðinn, called Hliðskjálf ("Secret Ritual-Site"). His Uruk-Hai and Olog-Hai ("Troll-Race") were like Viking berserkers, the Warges were like Óðinnic werewolves, and so forth. I could easily identify with the fury of the "dark forces", and enjoyed their existence very much because they were making a boring and peaceful world dangerous and exciting.

I grew up reading the traditional Scandinavian fairy tales, where the Pagan gods are presented as "evil" creatures, as "trolls" and "goblins", and we all know how the inquisition turned Freyr (Cernunnos/Dionysus/Bacchus et cetera) into "Satan". Tolkien was no better. He had turned Óðinn into Sauron and my Pagan forefathers into the fighting Uruk-Hai. To me the "dark forces" attacking Gondor were like the Vikings attacking Charlemagne's Christian France, the "dark forces" attacking Rohan were like the Vikings attacking the Christian England. And I may add; the Vikings eventually lost their war as well, just like Sauron and the orcs did - and I didn't mind supporting the loosing part. I have always believed in doing what is right, regardless of the consequences, and if I was fighting for a lost cause it didn't matter. I would rather die fighting for what I believe in, than live for anything else.

However, he had not only used the Vikings and the Norse language to create the orcs and their language. The word "Orc" is actually the name of a tribe that in the ancient times lived in Scotland, on the Orkney Islands (also known as Orcadia). "Orc" is a Gaelic word that to my knowledge translates as "boar". The warrior cults of the native tribes on the British Isles probably used boars the same way as the Scandinavian warrior cults of the berserkers and werewolves used bears and wolves. The "Orcs" were a part of the group of tribes we know from the Roman era to the Viking Age as the Picts ("Painted Ones").

Now, it is no surprise that a Catholic Englishman like Tolkien used, amongst others, "mad, red-haired, claymore-wielding Scottish barbarians" and "furious, church-burning Scandinavian berserkers" as models for some of the bad guys, and because he did I felt more drawn to these bad guys than to the good guys. I had little in common with "Christian" characters like the "English" riders of Rohan or the "French" people of Gondor. I had little admiration for a "Saint" like Aragon. Even the elves were somewhat alien, as Tolkien used Finnish when he created their language - and used the Finns as a model when created them. They actually have a lot in common with the Elves too, as they live in what is basically a large forest (Finland) east of the Scandinavian mountains ("The Grey Mountains"). Earlier they lived in Northern Russia, in the vast ("Myrkwood"? [Darkwood]) forest just west of the Ural mountains. They are also a very fair (blonde) people, and like the elves they are somewhat silent, melancholic, special and distant. Mysterious, if You like. To me, the language of the elves sounded alien and incomprehensible - just like Finnish is incomprehensible - while Orcish and Black Speech obviously was based on the language of my forefathers. So Uruk-Hai as a band name was a logical choice.

The drummer and the bassist of Uruk-Hai were people I had met more or less by accident. I already knew the drummer from an earlier encounter, when we were (somewhere between) 12-15 years old, and he had placed a loaded .375 Magnum revolver in my forehead on New Year's Eve, because he believed I had called him "fatso" (a perfectly good excuse to point a gun to somebody's head, of course...). I had actually not called him, but his friend, a "fatso", and told him that - and that was it. "Ohm okay", he said, and he just left without any more trouble (ha ha). His interest in playing music was, I guess, the "normal" one - id est "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll". The other guy in Uruk-Hai was playing the bass solely because he wanted to get laid - he was in other words a stereotypical "rock'n'roller". Ideally he should have played the guitars, as guitarists are for some weird reason more popular with the girls, but he didn't even really know how to play the bass, so...

Then in 1989 I met the guys in Old Funeral, who were excellent and serious musicians, and we dropped the whole Uruk-Hai project. The two other Uruk-Hai members were already fighting over a girl, and we had stopped rehearsing, so it was not hard to put Uruk-Hai to rest. I played with Old Funeral for two years, and in that time Old Funeral had turned from a really cool Techno-Thrash band to a boring Death Metal band. It was not my fault, though, as they had already changed from Techno-Thrash to Death Metal when I joined them. This was the reason I eventually left Old Funeral, as I wanted to play my own type of music, a more original and personal type of music than the music we played in Old Funeral at the time (1989-1991).

(You might have noticed the silly name: Old Funeral. In their defense I must say that I think they were originally called just Funeral. Then they found out that another band was called Funeral too, but they had used that name before the other Funeral band, so they changed it to Old Funeral. They were in other words "the old Funeral", and not Old Funeral, so it is not as stupid as it first seems.)

Instead of starting up the Uruk-Hai project again, I changed the name and decided to do everything myself, although I used some riffs from Uruk-Hai. I did not want to play live and my motives for playing music was very different from the traditional "rock'n'roll" motivation. While playing in Old Funeral I had kept my interest for RPGs and was still heavily inspired by the magic of fantasy. I think I have said that Burzum had an occult concept, but it is more correct to say it was a magical concept, or a concept built on fantasy magic. Everything with Burzum was out-of-this-world, even the name.

Like I said, when the Christians called the gods of my forefathers "demons", "trolls", "goblins" and not least "evil", I naturally felt attracted to everything that was seen as "evil" by the Christians. This is a slightly immature reaction, perhaps, but I was only a teenager, so I have no problems with that. I still had this attitude in 1991, and Uruk-Hai was an excellent name, but I felt that I was starting all over again, so I needed a new name too. As most Tolkien fans should know "burzum" is one of the words that are written in Black Speech on the One Ring of Sauron. As far as I remember the last sentence is "ash nazg durbabatuluk agh burzum ishi krimpatul", meaning "one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them". The "darkness" of the Christians was of course my "light". So all in all it was natural for me to use the name Burzum.

Most bands (except Old Funeral of course :-|) had "cool" English names, like Immortal, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Destruction, Celtic Frost, Enslaved, Pestilence, Paradise Lost, Morbid Angel, Death, and so forth. I didn't want that, and that was one of the reasons I chose the Uruk-Hai and later Burzum name. At the time - before the release of "The Lord Of The Rings" films by Peter Jackson, I may add - its meaning was pretty much solis sacerdotibus. Only initiates, so to speak, knew what it meant. Only people who had a special interest in Tolkien's world would know, and that was kind of cool - or so I thought. It enabled the listeners to feel special and to feel that Burzum was made especially for them (and it was).

The idea with Burzum was not only to make original and personal music, but also to create something new - a "darkness" in a far too "light", safe and boring world. Unlike 99% of all musicians I didn't play music to become famous, earn money and get laid. I had no interest in neither fame nor money, and I had a very naïve and romantic view on women, an almost medieval (or rather fantsy world) view on women, so I had nothing but contempt for the brain-dead "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll" attitude of the other metal people. Instead my motivation was a wish to experiment with magic, and try to create an alternative reality by the use of "magic". If the spiritual power of many people could be "collected" in one vessel, or transferred through one magic item or entity (in Norse we call it fylgja ["follower", "guardian spirit"]), it could be used to create something real. This is purely magical thinking, and instead of being based on occultism it was based on fantasy magic - something that is kind of amusing to think about. Burzum was supposed to be the vessel, the magic weapon (or if You like; the magic ring), so to speak. I should stress (in case You think I had list my mind completely) that this was an experimental project that only took up some of my time, and I did other things in my life too (like prepare for partisan warfare in case of a US invasion of Norway... :-|).

If people knew that Burzum was just the band of some teenager that would sort of ruin the magic, I figured, and for that reason I felt that I needed to be anonymous. So I used a pseudonym, Count Grishnackh, and used a photo of me that didn't look like me at all, on the debut album, to make Burzum itself seem more out-of-this world, and to confuse people. I may add that the interview that created all the headlines in January 1993 was also done anonymously, and I never agreed to let any newspapers use my name or photos of me until later, when it was too late to stay anonymous anyhow. It was not my intention to become well-known (or "infamous"...) at all, and when they even used my real name at the time, Kristian (from Greek "Kristos", meaning "Christ") Vikernes, instead of the pseudonym, I was horrified - and this was the thing that actually tipped the scale and made me finally go and change my name legally. No way was I going to let the magic of Burzum be "ruined" by something like that...

When they ruined my anonymity I had to give up that idea, and I eventually stopped using a pseudonym. I wanted Burzum to be well-known, not me, but that obviously didn't work out the way I had planned.

As people involved with magic already know, magic is all about imagination, symbolism, visualization and willpower. If You imagine a thing happening in Your head, You will make it happen - that is if Your willpower is strong enough, or if You possess enough "spiritual power". If an object symbolizes a certain power, it becomes that power. That is why our forefathers carved runes into rocks and pieces of wood, because the runes symbolized certain powers. That is why winter and summer solstice and the equinoxes are so important, because they symbolize special events, that are described in our mythology. That is why we originally began to wear jewellery, because the different metals or stones symbolized different powers in the universe.

Burzum was supposed to be such a symbol. Burzum was an attempt to create (or "recreate" if You like) an imaginary past, a world of fantasy - that in turn was based on our Pagan past. Burzum in itself was a spell. The songs were spells and the albums were arranged in a special way, to make the spells work. Burzum was not intended for live-shows, but instead it was supposed to be listened to in the evening, when the sunbeams couldn't vaporize the power of the magic, and when the listener was alone - preferably in his or her bed, going to sleep. The two first albums are made for the LP format, meaning each side as a spell, so they don't work on CD unless you program the CD-player to only play the tracks of one side of the LP at the time. The later albums were created for CD, so they don't work as well on LP. The first track was supposed to calm down or rather "prepare" the listener, and make him or her more "susceptible" to the magic, the next song or songs were supposed to exhaust the listener and put him or her in a trancelike state of mind, and last track should "calm down" the listener and carry him or her into the "world of fantasy" - when he or she fell asleep. That was the spell, the magic that would make the imaginary past, the world of fantasy, real (in the mind of the listener). If You take a look at the Burzum albums and how they are built up You will see what I mean. The last track of the "spell" (LP side or CD) is always a calm (often synthesizer) track. Whether this works or not is of course another question, but that was the idea anyhow.

The artwork of the two first records are inspired by an AD&D (1st edition) module called "The Temple Of Elemental Evil", and the artwork on the third and fourth album is inspired by traditional Scandinavian fairy tales. I never read any books about the occult Satanism, so those who believe I was influenced by Satanism are simply and obviously wrong. I did call myself a Satanist in a short period in 1992, but I never was a Satanist. I just used the term to provoke and to underline my hostility towards Christianity - and to stress the need for "darkness" in the world (as too much "light" doesn't illuminate our paths and warm us, it only blinds and burns us - as stated clearly on the "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" and the "Filosofem" albums [If You wish to know more about that philosophy, I suggest You read my articles or books about Paganism]).

What inspired me to make the music itself is kind of weird too. When I was a teenager my RPG friends and I sometimes took some wooden clubs, spears and swords and went into the countryside to fight each other. We had no other purpose than to fight because it was fun, and we didn't try to hurt each other. We never tried to hit the head of our opponents or other "vulnerable" areas (where men's brain is located...), and we didn't use much force. We still sometimes hurt each other by accident, and the fighting never stopped until at least one of us was bleeding, most often from the fingers or knuckles, and one of us had had enough pain for the day.

We fought each other in mainly three different places. One was in the forest, near an old and isolated burial ground for either victims of leprosy, the Spanish influenza or the Black Death, I don't remember exactly. The forest was thick and the terrain rough, and we often fell, or rather rolled, down the sides of small hills, through the underbrush, falling on rotting tree trunks - while trying to avoid the strikes from our foes.

The other place was a forested hill with an ancient horg (a Pagan stone monument) five minutes north-east of where I grew up. It was a deciduous forest, so it was very different from the other (pine) forest we used to fight in, and it was a very atmospheric place. Of course bringing weapons to and fighting in a holy place is in theory not all okay, according to the ancient traditions, but the weapons were made of wood and weren't made to hurt others, so it wasn't that serious after all (they were more like the staffs of wizards than anything else).

The third "battleground" was the ruins of an old monastery three or four minutes south-west of where the guys in Immortal grew up. The monastery was burned down by Vikings in the VIIIth century, as far as I remember. It was the first monastery built in Norway, by the way - and not surprisingly its existence as a monastery was short. The (probably British) monks were cut down or thrown into a nearby bog to drown.

It was always very nice to return home for a warm shower after these fights; sweat, soaked, bruised, often bleeding and with pine needles or leaves in all the clothes (and hair for that sake). It felt like I came home from a real battlefield. Exhausted - and feeling alive.

Now, the locals naturally reacted a bit to our presence. One time I jumped our from the underbrush - after laying in wait to ambush the other guys - and surprised a family who was just taking a walk. I had long hair with bits of moss and pine needles in it, more dark grey or black clothes with grim Death Metal imagery and had a club in my hand, so they weren't too pleased to see me. Because of the risk of encountering "normal" people out enjoying the freedom of Mother Nature, we ended up fighting when the risk of running into "normal" people was minimal. In other words, we waited for the late evenings. We sometimes brought torches or built a bonfire, to be able to see in the darkness, and of course Scandinavian summer-nights are not dark anyhow, and we kept fighting.

I had initially began this game of fighting with some of the RPG-friends, but when I met the guys in Old Funeral (and Amputation) (later Immortal) we too began to do this. This was a social event to us, and during the breaks we talked music, the others planned live shows and we generally inspired each other - before we got home in the middle of the night and made music!

(I can add, that when I was arrested for slaying Euronymous these fights were described as "nocturnal Satanic rituals" by the media, to provide You with an example of just how ridicules and false the media accusations and rumours of "Satanism" are.)

The mood of the forest, the mood of the night, the mood of the ancient holy site, the pain from bruises and minor injures, the taste of pine needles, soil and blood, and the smell of burning wood. That was our (or at least my) inspiration. On my way home, after age 17, when I exchanged my noisy moped with a car, I played music loud on the car-stereo and often took long drives through deep valleys and forests in the night, and through the town or rural areas, before I finally went home. The monotonous sound of the car engine and the music playing loud on the car-stereo was mesmerizing, and of course I was influences by endorphins too, as my body was fighting the pain of the bruises and other injuries. This was some positive "darkness" in our world of "light" - and it inspired and made me feel alive.

In this early period of Burzum - 1991 and 1992 or August 1993 - I pretty much made all the music for all the albums. The "Dauði Baldrs" and "Hliðskjálf" albums were mostly reconstructions of forgotten riffs or synthesizer versions of old Burzum guitar riffs or even old unused songs, so they too were mostly made in this period. In a sense it was the Golden Age of Burzum - that had its natural end when I was imprisoned in August 1993.

When I started Burzum I hadn't even heard about Venom, so naturally Burzum is not - like some have claimed - influenced by Venom, in any way. When I drove home after "sword" fights, listening to music, I listened to a demo tape of Paradise Lost, released in 1989 or 1990 I think, Bathory's "Hammerheart" and "Blood. Fire. Death", the Old Funeral demo tape, called "Abduction Of Limbs" (...), Pestilence (a Dutch Death Metal band, as far as I remember) and some other underground Death Metal bands that I don't recall today, I listened to underground house and techno music (although only when I was alone, because metal people don't seem to like that kind of music) - and of course I listened to Burzum. The other guys liked Entombed and Morbid Angel, but I have never liked or listened to that. Nobody listened to Venom, by the way, but in late 1991 we began to listen to our old Celtic Frost, Destruction, early Kreator ("Pleasure To Kill" and "Endless Pain") and (the older) Bathory records as well, that we all saw as Thrash Metal, by the way. Entombed and other trendy Death Metal crap was forgotten by then. I know the guys in Emperor listened to Merciful Fate and King Diamond instead of, or perhaps in addition to, the bands I mentioned above, stuff they had listened to in the 1980ies, so there was no theory that You had to listen to this or that band. We listened to whatever we liked. In 1992 I (and at least one of the Emperor guys) also began to listen to Dead Can Dance, "Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun" and similar music. We were all simply tired of all the boring, trendy and unoriginal hordes of Death Metal bands that produced tons of crappy albums that all sounded the same, and we went back to what we had listened to before or found other music to listen to. Of course I also kept listening to the good Death Metal releases, like the Paradise Lost demo I mentioned above, and I know the others kept listening to Morbid Angel's "Altar Of Madness", and Deicide (when they released their debut album, in 1992 I think).

The message of Burzum is really all summed up in the lyrics of the first track ("Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown") on the first album. That was all I had to say really, and the rest of the Burzum lyrics are only like footnotes to this one. The last line in this lyric was "the hopeless soul keeps mating", and on the cover it was erroneously written "the hopeless soul keeps waiting", because of a mistake by Euronymous, who ran the record company (DSP) that first released it. Apparently my handwriting was heard to read. Also, the "Ea, Lord Of The Deeps" song is supposed to be named "Ea, Lord Of The Depths", but obviously Euronymous thought he knew better and changed it.

The magic was necessary only because I wasn't satisfied with the real world. There was no adventure, no fear or trolls, dragons or undead creatures. No magic. So I figured I had to create the magic myself. It was very sad to see that this magic was ruined or at least reduced in 1993, when the media started to write about it, and a lot of former country, rock and Death Metal bands in Norway suddenly dyed their hair black and started to wear corpse-paint and play Black Metal; to become famous, to make money and to get laid - and not to change the world. They didn't seem to think about magic, that is for sure, but in their defense I must say they weren't shown much magic either. The media twisted everything beyond recognition, like they always do. The new bands made Black Metal become a part of the modern world, rather than revolt against it, like they should have done. Maybe they felt attracted to it because the magic worked, because they felt attracted to something that was special. I don't know. I just know that I don't appreciate what it has turned into; just another unimaginative "sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll" subculture in and a part of the modern world. It has become part of the "bread and circus" of the oppressors - it has become a part of the problem.

My hope would be that Burzum could inspire people to wish for a new and better reality in the real world, and hopefully do something about it. Maybe revolt against the modern world, by refusing to participate in the rape of Mother Earth, by refusing to participate in the murder of our European race, by refusing to become a part of any of these artificial media-created "rock'n'roll" subcultures, and by building new and healthy communities, where the Pagan culture - and magic if You like - can be cultivated.

Thank You for Your interest in Burzum.

Varg Vikernes
December 2004



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