I'm not the first to make the observation, but it bears repeating - Varg Vikernes is now the black metal Robert Pollard. Since completing a stint in Norwegian federal prison for the murder of former Mayhem bandmate Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth in early 2010, Vikernes has already released three full-length studio albums under his longtime Burzum moniker, and he shows no sign of stopping. Also like Pollard's hyperactive solo career and myriad releases as a member of Guided By Voices, the increased frequency of Burzum recordings has begun to lead to some pretty serious diminishing returns.
Umskiptar follows last year's Fallen, which rivals pre-prison classics Filosofem and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss at the very peak of the Burzum canon. While this latest album pushes the project's sound in a few new sonic directions, it also lacks the magic that made Fallen feel so much like a culmination of everything Vikernes has been working for in his career. Umskiptar is good, but it doesn't really matter.
Despite black metal so often requiring a full-album experience, one song in particular on Umskiptar deserves to be mentioned among the high points of Vikernes' career. "Alfadanz" opens with a familiar but implacable melody played on a sparely produced piano - a Burzum first. The song ebbs and flows but tirelessly continues to add more and more sonic layers until, all at once, everything drops out but the piano and the melody returns. It's a piece of expert songwriting by a dude whose musical identity has always been tied to his ability to create atmosphere and never to his ability to construct a tune.
Even "Alfadanz" might not be remembered for long, though. By saturating the market with Burzum releases, Varg Vikernes is ensuring that none of them get the attention they deserve. If you're picking just one to hear, that's Fallen. Completists should find plenty to like about Umskiptar, but its brilliant centerpiece notwithstanding, it's a pretty unnecessary record.