Interview with Varg Vikernes
"Terrorizer" Magazine (#194, March 2010), by James Minton

Terrorizer Magazine #194 March 2010It's been over a decade since Burzum has been what would be considered an "active" entity, aside from perhaps the obvious, why did you choose to resurrect it? Or is looking at this as resurrection or a return a misunderstanding of what Burzum represents?

Musical creativity was a part of me during the period of apparent inactivity as well, so what you see as a resurrection I see as a continuation, and I continue in public because I returned to a state, both mentally and physically, where I was able to do so.

What does Burzum represent? You tell me.

Given that the Burzum of a decade ago is quite removed on a base, surface level in terms of sound from even the Burzum of a decade and a half ago, the nature and length of your absence and the fact that you have already established a legacy that few bands will ever be able to match even half of, were you not tempted just to retreat and "retire" from Burzum?

Burzum is more like a scar than anything else, and I really don't know what to do with it. It was tempting to retreat and retire from Burzum, and make (the same) music under a different name instead, but I realised in the end that it would not serve any purpose. Burzum is a part of me that I cannot easily cast away, but I have long wanted to change the name. It used to be Uruk-Hai, it is Burzum now, but I hope at least for an opportunity in the future to change the name to something else without losing too much of my essence in the process, so to say.

You've explained that your choice of new font for "Belus" is both to reflect the fact Burzum does not have a logo, and to represent "a new beginning". Is this new beginning just a projection of a new beginning in your personal life, or should we now be viewing Varg Vikernes and Burzum separately? Was there a point where you would have left Burzum behind altogether to begin something entirely new?

Burzum is a projection of me, or at the very least a projection of a side of me, but you can of course view Burzum and Varg as separate entities, as you surely can like the first and dislike the other, or vice versa for that sake, but to me my music will always be a natural part of me. My new beginning is a new life. The new beginning of Burzum on the other hand is first and foremost an attempt to defeat the demons of the past; sloppy recordings, poor quality equipment, lack of quality control, disrespect for my own music, a vocal I never liked, and so forth.

It probably would be impossible for me to make music and not make it sound like Burzum. This is the music I make, and the only music I am able to make, so I have no other options musically. My other projects are not music projects, and are mere hobbies, and Burzum/music will probably always be my most important creative outlet.

You have distanced yourself from "Black Metal" many times over the years but with "Belus" are making an unequivocal return to a genre with which you still show a great deal of disdain, at what point did you decide you wanted to revisit it? Despite what has happened to the genre since, given your contributions to its foundations, do you still view it as your genre?

You must have misunderstood if you believe that I describe "Belus" as Black Metal. I make an unequivocal return to metal music, sure, but Black Metal is a term used to describe the parody of Norwegian Black Metal anno 1991, so I shun it like the Black Death, and would not belittle my work by using such a term to describe it.

Black Metal was a name given by Euronymous to the music of Darkthrone and Burzum, to describe our revolt against the trendy Death Metal scene in 1991, and he used it because he knew the term from a Venom album, a band he for some incomprehensible reason cared much for. The term quickly became popular, and after a while many bands used the term to describe their music – for all the wrong reasons, of course, and not knowing what it really was all about, but still. I don't care much for the term, at least not anymore. The copy-cat bands sort of stole it in 1992-1993, and they can have it and keep it for themselves for all I care. I flirted with the idea of making up some new name, like Elf Metal, Fantasy Metal, or something like that, to describe my own music, but I forgot all about it and now I don't really care. Uruk-Hai was a Thrash Metal band, so why not use that term for Burzum as well?

What is Black Metal today anyway? My disdain is for the Norwegian copy-cat and informer bands from 1992-1993, and I really know very little about the rest of the Black Metal scene of today.

Despite your incarceration you have remained extremely active in terms of communication, via burzum.org. Was having that voice/outlet something that became particularly important during your incarceration, or is it inconsequential as "coping mechanism" or "escape" or a means of contacting the "outside world" inconsquential, as it is something you would have been doing regardless of where you were or circumstances?

Communication via burzum.org began in late 2003, because of a positive initiative taken by the Russian administrator of the site. To me burzum.org was a way to talk back against all the lies and false rumours out there, by letting at least those interested in Burzum know the truth. I wanted to do this because even other Burzum and/or Varg Vikernes sites were spreading so much false information, and even the authorities in Norway used this information to make life hard for me. The website also became important as a coping mechanism in a situation where the prison authorities kept me very isolated for a very long time, and I wrote articles, of which only a very few were ever sent to burzum.org, by the way, to keep me sane.

Not sure what I would have done had I not been in prison.

You address the reader with "You"/"Your" etc. always capitalised, why is this?

Because of my complete disrespect for just about everything, including English grammar, and to protest against the inability of the English language to differentiate between a common and a polite form of speech, as well as English inability to clearly differentiate between singular and plural forms in some instances. French has "tu" and "Vous", German has "du" and "Sie", Norwegian has "du" and "De", and so forth, so what on Earth happened to English? You used to have these forms too! Did the vulgar masses take over, or what? You tell me...

Your recent comments when first announcing "The White God" weren't greeted particularly well based on a few parts, that you later took steps to clarify, however, given "Lords Of Chaos", your experience with the media over the years and the almost "celebrity hype" and pariah position that has been developed and given to you by said media, did you really not envisage the aforementioned comments being taken out of the context with which you intended them?

Well, I didn't think this would stir up so many emotions, considering all the other things I have said in the past that didn't. Why this reaction, and why now?

Similarly, given how often accusations of racism etc have been levelled at you over the years, did you not foresee problems arising from the original title, regardless of the fact that had you called the album "Belebog" or picked a concept and chosen "Black God" it's unlikely that people would have leapt upon any racial connotations?

I don't pay much attention to the politically correct sewer most of you live in, and I rarley take into consideration what the masses of this sewer might think of me or my work. Music is an artform, and I always though art was beyond censorship. I thought this was a common view. Apparently I was wrong.

What is your opinion on the "cult of celebrity" that has been developed around you over the years and has long since ceased to be concerned with Varg Vikernes the artist and is far more concerned with the tabloid pantomime villain? Did you ever imagine you would be in this position when you first began?

No, I did not imagine this. I don't think that I am well known, famous or infamous, because the Varg others know has so little to do with the real Varg. They "know" the fictional Varg, not me. They like or dislike the fictional Varg, not me. And of course; Varg the artist is not me either, it's just art. It's like a portrait of someone. It resembles that person a lot, but it is not that person. Thankfully...

How do you feel about the more recent surge in nationalist movements within Europe, that for example has seen UK members of the British National Party elected as MEPs? Do you feel that they are more than knee-jerk reactions to a poor economic climate and perceived failure in immigration policies? Do you see odalism and nationalism as separate given the ever moving boundaries of what certain words are interpreted as meaning in modern society?

To tell the truth I don't pay much attention to politics (anymore). I do vote, and naturally I vote for so-called extremist parties, the further to the right the better, but that's where my participation in politics ends. And I don't care much for talking about politics... not in public anyway. It is in any case not relevant in context with Burzum/"Belus". This is not a political band/album. I am not freakin Bono...

When it comes to how words are interpreted I think we should stop the movement and stick to the original meanings. It's not "languages changing", but a degeneration of languages. No change in any language has ever been anything but a step back, a simplification to satisfy the stupid and a people's inability to conserve what is good. (Hey, I do speak about politics in public after all...)

You seem to refer to Black Metal as a microcosmic genre limited to Norway in '91, but where do you see bands like Von or NME in this context? You call the current blanket use of the term a parody but many of the legions of Satan worshippers (not that that is something you yourself subscribed to) that would come after believe that they were/are following the "true" Black Metal, even to this day with the likes of Watain et al. What is the essence that they are missing? Could you not rightfully refer to your music now as Black Metal and simply dismiss the copycats, rather than abandon something whose very foundations you were part of? Or was it already too late by '92?

When I refer to Black Metal I do normally refer to the microcosmos of Norway anno 1991, because that's the origin of the genre. The name was older, Euronymous had it from an old Venom album, but what we did had nothing to do with Venom. To my knowledge Venom was even at the time they released the "Black Metal" album seen as a bad joke, and hardly anybody took them or their music serious, and to my knowledge nobody used the term Black Metal for any type of music. It was merely the name of another worthless Venom album. So, Black Metal as the name of a genre was invented by Euronymous in 1991, to describe the music of Darkthrone (he had heard the promo), Burzum (he had heard the demo) and Mayhem.

Black Metal was not as much a music style or an image as it was a focus on being different from the rest. Von appeared in 1992, a year later, so Von was not a foundation, an origin of Black Metal, but being different, original and very good Von was a Black Metal success. Von was tasty fruit of the Black Metal tree, but not one of the roots, so to speak. I have never even heard of NME, so I cannot say anything about them. Nor have I ever heard of Watain, so I cannot talk about them either. Considering the fact that I have not even heard of them though, I feel safe to say that they mattered no whit to the beginning of Black Metal. Finally, I must tell that I have never heard of any legions of Satan either, and when I did now it just made me laugh, 'cause that's just ridiculous.

“The essence they are missing? Well, they use "corpse paint" (I am now talking in general about Black Metal bands), but seem to have no idea what this was all about. They wear spikes and nails and seems to believe this is an important ingredients when playing Black Metal. They all look the same. They apparently all say the same (with the exception of the NSBM bands of course, who all say the same too, only they at least make some sense), and from what I have been told they all sound the same as well. In short; they appear to me and probably all else as well as a flock of followers, doing this or that only because someone else has done the same before them, and they believe or perhaps hope they become like this person because they do the same as him, look like him, sound like him. And so forth.

This person is the original, the rest are poor copies. And when I say today's Black Metal is a "parody" of Black Metal, that's exactly what it is, only that's not the intention of the bands, of course. Even Euronymous was horrified by the many "parodies" who entered his shop in 1992 an especially in 1993, one looking more silly than the other, but tolerated them because he had a shop and needed customers, badly. Today these same parodies walk around, still looking like tasteless clowns sponsored by the local hardware shop, and talk about their "friendship" with Euronymous, Gylve and others, as if there ever was any friendship between them, and how they were a part of the beginning of Black Metal. They were not. They were the end of Black Metal.

The essence they are missing is integrity, creative originality, opinions of their own, at least some good taste for sure, leader mentality, strength of character, at least some wisdom, a well developed intelligence, courage to enter the wilderness, so to speak, where no man has gone before, and so forth. This is what Black Metal was all about, and you know I am right when you look at Gylve of Darkthrone, the most important character of Black Metal. He is the quintessence of Black Metal, with all the qualities mentioned above and with all his other "peculiarities". Gylve in person is himself true Black Metal, as it was supposed to be!

Sure, I could have used the term for "Belus"/Burzum if I wanted to, but I really don't want to. I simply don't want to be associated with this genre, because it is but a parody of something that used to mean something; Black Metal as it was supposed to be. And I can dismiss the copy cat bands regardless...

Besides, Burzum is Burzum no matter what genre I place my music in. I never cared much for the term Black Metal anyway. Black was never my colour...

Despite how difficult and uncomfortable it must have been, how much has the isolation of prison strengthened your resolve and has it manifested itself in allowing you to better express such feelings musically?

The shells fired by the Norwegian prison system bounced off my armour, so to speak, so I don't think my time in prison has done too much to me. Time changed me. Prison did not. I spent the time on isolation reading books (and writing), as if I was in a normal study.

You talk of the "real" Varg and the "fictional" Varg. Is this "fictional" Varg something that started in the very early days of Burzum when you first began speaking publicly or has it developed over time? Why do you feel this "fictional" Varg has developed? Is it something you have now just allowed to develop as a means of dealing with the media/detractors, like some sort of ineffectual voodoo doll that you can easily ignore? Or has it at all times been something you see as totally out of your control? Does the "fictional" Varg stop the "real" Varg from finding closure with regards to your past? Is even referring to Varg "the artist" a means of protecting yourself?

I am speaking about the character invented by the media, in particular by the malicious "Bergens Tidende" article of January 1993 and the worthless "Kerrang!" articles in 1993-1994 and the even more malicious and worthless "Lords Of Chaos" book. The fictional Varg is the lie I have been trying to fight all this while. It was totally out of my control, because whenever I tried to tell the truth the journalists weren't interested. They just kept writing lies. They had invented their bugbear, and didn't want me to ruin things for them by not being the bugbear they wanted to write about. Their incompetence made the situation even worse, like when a journalist forgot (?) to print the word "not" when I told him, "My plan was not to kill (Euronymous)". So according to him my plan was to kill... When they work like that, how can I not call the Varg they are speaking about fictional? And how can I not end up being accused of self-contradictions?

Varg "the artist" is the Varg you – with "you" meaning "the public" – know. My music, my texts, my photos and any and all other public expressions by me. Referring to the artist is perhaps a means of protecting my privacy, and a way to let you know that you don't know me!

You express a disappointment at the censorship of your art, but were you not self-censoring in a way by relenting to the reactions and changing the title? Or was it just an acknowledgement of a necessary evil given the state of modern society, allowing you to spread your art regardless?

Well, Belus means "shining white", so I don't know how much "self-censoring" that is. I guess with this title it takes away the focus on the and makes it all about the music which is how it should be. Belus is the shining white solar deity; innocent, enlightening and pure. Why do we need to censor that, my friend?

Have you yet been consulted with regards to the "Lords Of Chaos" movie or been informed about it in any official capacity, is it still hiding under the protection of being "based on true events"? Have you taken any steps legally or have you just ceased to concern yourself with another depiction of a Varg you don't see yourself as?

A guy from another film company told me about this project in 2005 or 2006, but I have never heard anything from the producers, although I have written two letters to them telling them they have no right to use my name or story. Oh, and I wrote to them when I first heard about this and then one more time a few years later.

My guess is that this movie will never see the light of day. The main actor and the only reason normal human beings might have had to see this film, Jackson Rathbone, is out, and their script is widely known as being nonsense from "a" to "z". Anyone involved in this production must know that they are going to be rediculed and attacked for so openly trying to falsify (this tiny bit of) history. Further, all potential investors must know that Euronymous' family might sue (his father is a solisitor).

If this thing does see the light of day, and if it does not flop, it will contribute to the spreading of lies, but... I know who I am, and I am not sure if I really care what the rest of the world thinks. Besides, the more messed up the public image of Varg is, the less likely I am to be identified as being Varg in my normal life, and that I like. Being invisible in the crowd is something I cherish a lot! Anonymity is underrated for sure.

What was the origin/meaning behind the use of corpse paint? Were the gauntlets/spikes/chains/weapons etc. linked to the same idea or purely aesthetic?

The common thing to do is to follow the corpse paint thread back to Kiss and further all the way to Alice Cooper, and to most bands this is probably the correct thread to follow. When used the way it is commonly used, today and indeed before, I guess it's quite obvious as well, that Alice Cooper was the original.

When you look at it from a different, non-metal perspective though, you need to follow a completely different thread, and you need to follow it through the mist of time all the way back to Antiquity. Throughout Europe, in all the European cultures, it was custom to see the world as being one world for all beings; for man, for spirits and later for deities too. These different beings existed in the same world, the same realm, alongside each other. However, only the initiates could see the spirits and later the deities, and in order to do so they needed to put on a mask. We know this best from the Greek theatre, where all the actors wore masks to impersonate the deities, and to see them, but we also know this well from the older traditions; from sorcery. On certain festivals the sorcerer hung his clothes in the holy tree, so that it looked as if he had hanged himself. He then covered his entire naked body and face with ash from a sacred fire, to look like an elf (meaning "white", originally being a name for the spirits of the dead). When he did he was able to see them as well, and thus communicate and interact with them in all sorts of ways. The ash was the mask. The ash was the "corpse paint". There is much more to say about this, and of course I do in my book, "Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia", but this will do to explain the original use of "corpse paint".

The modern use of corpse paint in what is known as Black Metal is, from my perspective, originally meant to enable us to (in a romantic way) be able to better connect to our forebears, to be able to see a world long gone. Only the elves (with the original meaning of the word) are left of this long lost world, and we can connect to them mentally by putting on masks, like the sorcerers once did.

I have no right to tell anyone how this mask is supposed to look, or to tell anyone how to do this, but... I feel a need to point out that this is the original meaning of trying to look like a dead person.

For all I know Alice Cooper had this in mind too, when he started using a mask, but I don't think so. It takes a lot of knowledge about our culture to know this.

The face paint we see in modern Black Metal is perhaps nice as some sort of war paint, to scare the crap out of old women and little sensitive girls, but it is not corpse paint.

The primitive arms and armour could be related to the original use of corpse paint, because it too is an escape from reality, but I really don't see what spikes and bullet belts has to do with any of ths. Especially not when combined with axes and such. Really; bullet belts with blanks and no guns is just redicules.

Was the decision to remove three final tracks from the album a creative one?

Yes. I removed or replaced tracks continuously when working with the "Belus" album, because I make music all the time. The final modification (I exchanged one track with another) took place only one week before recording. I never removed any lyrics though. All the original texts are still on the album, and the album is actually longer with the eight tracks on the album than with the eleven tracks on the track list you know.

Although you have been musically active during your period of "inactivity", did you have any difficulty into returning to a "metal" Burzum?

Nah. All my music is made on the guitar. Has always been that way. Will probably always be like that. So, I never really had to return to anything. I only had to plug the guitar in and turn up the volume on my new Peavey amp.

On second thought, I think I made parts of "Hliðskjálf" on the keyboard...

Though it represents a new beginning, "Belus" is undoubtedly a Burzum sounding "metal" album that stylistically follows on perfectly from "Filosofem", do you see it as the album you would have made were it not for your incarceration, or would you have made "Dauði Baldrs" and "Hliðskjálf" regardless? Are all of the songs on the album "new" or are there old ideas/songs used (similar for example to "Burzum"/"Dunkelheit")? Is "Belus" tempered by your particular experience of the past decade or so, or simply a result of Varg Vikernes being an artist?

Well, "Dauði Baldrs" and "Hliðskjálf" were made because I had no access to a reording studio, and I think at least two of the tracks on "Dauði Baldrs" can be found as metal tracks on two other albums, meaning they were originally metal tracks. No, I would definitely not have made these albums had I not been incarcerated.

There are two old tracks on "Belus"; "Belus' Død" is the original metal version of "Dauði Baldrs", and "Sverddans" is the original "Uruk-Hai" track, from 1988-1989, only with new lyrics. The other tracks on "Belus" are made up from the material I have made between 1993 and 2009, and I made the intro in 2010. It's one big mess, really...

What was it was like to return to working with Pytten? Was it difficult to let someone back into your world/the world of Burzum after a prolonged period of isolation?

It went well. He was the same open-minded philanthrope he used to be (and I was the same narrow-minded misanthrope), so it was "back in business" right away. No problem. We got along just fine.

"Belus" retains the feel of early/"metal" Burzum in its somewhat primitive/raw feel and sound, how different was the recording this time around to your previous albums? Have you maintained any use of bad amps and headphones or have you incorporated modern techniques?

Well, my friend, I actually only used a bad amp for the début album, a shitty 10 Watts Marshall, and only for one of the guitars (and I do regret having done that), and of course my brother's stereo for the guitars on "Filosofem", but for all the rest of the pre-"Belus" guitar recordings I used an excellent 60 Watts Peavey amp. That's why I got myself a 120 Watts Peavey (6505) this time. The Peavey amps are perfect for my music.

The "Belus" album was recorded digitally, but "Filosofem" was too, so the change wasn't too big. There were some new techniques though, but aside from it taking much longer (!?) to record with new techniques, it really didn't change anything, and I got the sound I wanted. No amount of modern techniques can hide that fact that Burzum is primitive, you know... just like no amount of education can ever hide the fact that I am a savage.

You display a greater level of diversity both with your vocals and guitar work, is this merely incidental or did it arise from a conscious need to not just create, but improve? Or is it just the natural result of being a musician for so long?

Not sure if I can tell for sure, but I do believe it must be the natural result of me being a bard for too long. However, when I think about it I really wanted to do something new as well, and I did. Especially with the vocals.

Would you see the album as a kind of statement to the pretenders/copycats, consciously or not, in a sort of "This is how it's really done, gentlemen" kind of way (given the vast amount amount of bands playing "depressive" or "Burzumic" Black Metal attempting to recreate the raw recording and repetitive, atmospheric riffing) or are you far past that?

Not sure if I am far past that, but I honestly have no idea how modern Black Metal sounds like, so I wouldn't know if I make a statement with "Belus" or not. If anything I hope "Belus" make you realise that Burzum was something new and special in 1992 for a reason.

Will Burzum ever happen live (assuming you'll be allowed to play anywhere), or will you be maintaining the same attitude as Glyve re live performances?

Yeah, to Gylve not playing live is like a religion. That's the good old cross Gylve we all love...

When it comes to me, I really don't have the right motivation to play live. I'm being offered money to do so, but really; if money is my only motivation to do so I think I better not do it. Right now it is out of the question, but unlike Gylve I will never say never. Maybe I will play live if I can get Gylve to play the drums... (and that's my way of saying: "once in a blue moon").

Author: James Minton (© 2010 "Terrorizer" Magazine UK)

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