The man simultaneously known as Kristian "Varg" Vikernes, Count Grishnackh, and Burzum (this last being his virtually self-contained musical alias-as-band) released his second full-length opus, Det Som Engang Var ("What Once Was"), in August 1993, some 18 months after its recording and barely a year before his imprisonment for murdering Norwegian black metal inner circle rival, Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth. And in many ways, the album reflected all of the massive contradictions -- musical and emotional -- fighting for Grishnackh/Vikernes' soul, leaving authorities, critics, and fans alike understandably confused as to whether he was a heartless, cold-blooded killer or a desperate man wronged by Euronymous; a bona fide Satanic terrorist or the sort of delusional naïf who depicted one his favorite Dungeons & Dragons modules on this very album's cover. Musically, the evidence was no more conclusive, given Vikernes' conflicting interests in oftentimes avant-garde instrumental mood pieces as well as savage black metal captured in the lowest possible fidelity, yet clearly infused with a wealth of inventive ideas and downright sophisticated arrangements. Astounding variety reigns among the former, and the breadth of Vikernes' inspiration ranges from a surprisingly minimalist "Den Onde Kysten" to the quasi-industrial density of "Svarte Troner"; from the warm electronics of "Han Som Reiste" to the mournfully frozen guitar lines of "Naar Himmelen Klarner." And, among the latter, it's sheer versatility, as Varg mashes blastbeaten onslaughts with morbid doom grinds into mesmerizing repetitions on the likes of "Key to the Gate" and "Snu Mikrokosmos Tegn." Then he showcases his talent for layering guitar parts (and hysterical dying shrieks) into dour mini-symphonies such as the Tolkien-inspired "En Ring Til Aa Herske" ("One Ring to Rule Them") and career standout "Lost Wisdom," the latter a virtual template for many classics yet to come. Of course, Vikernes' claim to musical genius would soon be irreparably stained by his, shall we say, extra-curricular infamy, burying all of the fascinating contradictions inherent in his art under the brutally one-dimensional label of "murderer", and, by extension, forcing complicated feelings of guilt upon all those who would dare experience this otherwise compelling music.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia