As far as popular music goes right now, forget the Clipse and Narcocorrdio, it doesn’t get much more 4REAL than Varg Vikernes. The erstwhile Count Grisnacht became the poster boy for the Norwegian Black Metal insurgence of the Nineties, a movement that birthed Mayhem and Emperor, yes, but also left behind a pile of bodies and charred churches. In the end it was Varg, rightfully, who took the fall, in the form of a lengthy prison sentence for the murder of Mayhem’s Euronymous. All of this tends to obscure the fact that during all of this insanity pre-prison, Vikernes was prolifically pumping out album after brilliant album under his Burzum moniker that were just as rapidly changing the very DNA of black metal. And he was only in his early 20s! He did one album in prison, and then the word was that he was no longer interested in making music. With the release of Belus in 2010 and now The Fallen, it’s clear that Vikernes was deluding himself about giving up his art. It’s a strong piece of work, up there with his best. Opening track “Jeg Faller” begins with the kind of tense, trebley riffing that became a template for classic black metal, but he quickly pairs that with clean, gang-singing vocals that remind me of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, seguing from there into an ambient spoken section; the constant shifts keep you on your toes, nervy amidst the hypnotic riffs. “Valen” is mantric/krautrock thrash, the music slowed down to a steady wave, with guitars carefully interlocked and vocals that mix imperial dignity with goblin ferocity. The sprawling “Buddstikken” slows the tempo down to a more traditional 4/4th time and it’s just pure power metal fury, sometimes I hear snatches of Mercyful Fate, sometimes, I’m bowled over by the ferocity (and anxiety) of the instrumental attack. Closer “Til Hei Og Tilbeke Igjen” is like a gypsy musique concrete nightmare. True to past form, Vikernes is in no hurry to get where he’s going; most songs track in at around seven-minutes (or more), reaching a magisterial sprawl with “Buddstikken.” The songs are utterly hypnotic, but subtly shifting and shimmering throughout. That Vikernes accomplishes so much with an obvious set of self-imposed limitations and a very raw sound is all the more impressive. Vikernes may still have a lot to answer for as a man, but the music of Burzum is untouchable and pure.