Burzum was a Norwegian music project founded by Varg Vikernes in 1991. Although Burzum never played live performances, it became a part of the early Norwegian black metal scene and is considered one of the most influential acts in black metal. The word "burzum" means "darkness" in black speech, a fictional language crafted by Lord of the Rings writer J. R. R. Tolkien.
Varg Vikernes began making music in 1988 with the band Kalashnikov. The following year, the name was changed to Uruk-Hai, after the creatures from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. In 1990 and 1991, Vikernes played guitar for the death metal band Old Funeral, which also consisted of members who would later form the band Immortal. He appears on the Old Funeral EP Devoured Carcass. Vikernes left Old Funeral in 1991 to concentrate on creating his own musical visions. He had a short lived project called Satanel, along Abbath Doom Occulta. He then began a solo project under the name Burzum. Soon after recording two demo tapes, he became part of the Norwegian black metal scene. With his demo tapes, he had attracted attention from Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth of Mayhem, who had just recently formed Deathlike Silence Productions. Aarseth then signed Burzum to the label, and shortly after, Vikernes ―under the pseudonym of Count Grishnackh―, began to record Burzum’s self-titled debut album. According to Vikernes' autobiography on his website, he had intended to record the album in the worst recording quality possible (due to this being a typical trademark of the early Norwegian black metal scene), while still making it sound acceptable. Burzum's eponymous debut album was released in 1992, being the second album released on Deathlike Silence Productions. The song "War" from this album had a guest appearance from Euronymous, playing a guitar solo "just for fun", according to Vikernes.
Vikernes has stated that he had never played any live shows with Burzum, though at one point was interested in it, so Samoth of Emperor accompanied him as a session bassist, though only appearing on the Aske EP. Additionally, Erik Lancelot was hired to be the band's drummer, though did not record on any Burzum material, and along with Samoth did not play a live show. Vikernes had by then lost his interest in playing live concerts, and stated that he "didn't even need session musicians anymore". Therefore, Samoth and Lancelot had parted ways with Burzum. Det som engang var was released as Burzum's second album in 1993, recorded in 1992.
May 1994 saw the release of Hvis lyset tar oss, a new album of previously recorded material from 1992. Burzum remained as a solo project until 1994, when Vikernes was arrested for the murder of Euronymous and the burnings of several churches in Norway. During his time in prison, Vikernes released his next album, titled Filosofem, on 1 January 1996. Recorded in March 1993, Filosofem was the last recording Vikernes made before his imprisonment. Burzum / Aske, a compilation comprising the Burzum album and Aske EP, was released in 1995. While imprisoned, Vikernes managed to record two other albums in a dark ambient style. They were released as Dauði Baldrs (1997) and Hliðskjálf (1999). Both of these albums were used with a synthesizer as Vikernes was prohibited from using any other instruments in prison.
In 1998, all Burzum albums released up to that point were re-released as vinyl picture discs in a special box set called 1992–1997; however the Filosofem album didn't contain "Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte" due to its length. The regular vinyl issue of Filosofem on Misanthropy had tracks 1–4 plus "Decrepitude II" on side 1 and "Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte" on side 2.
Soon after being released, Vikernes started writing new tracks (nine metal tracks and an ambient intro and outro) for an upcoming Burzum album. According to Vikernes' recounts, several record companies were interested in releasing his first album in eleven years. He stated about the new album, "I want to take my time, and make it the way I want it. It will be metal, and the fans can expect genuine Burzum."
The album was going to be originally titled Den hvite guden ("The White God"), but he later decided to change it to Belus, which was released by Byelobog Productions (byelobog is the transliteration of "белобог" in Slavic languages, meaning "white god") on 8 March 2010.
A second new album of original Burzum material, Fallen, was released on 7 March 2011, followed by a compilation album, From the Depths of Darkness, containing re-recordings of tracks from Burzum's self-titled album and Det Som Engang Var, on 28 November 2011. A third new studio album of original material, titled Umskiptar, was released in May 2012. Sôl austan, Mâni vestan ("East of the Sun, West of the Moon"), Burzum's first electronic album since 1999, was released in May 2013. On April 27, 2013, a song was posted on the official YouTube channel of Vikernes, titled "Back to the Shadows." In a blog post, Vikernes stated that "Back to the Shadows" will be the last metal track released by Burzum.
The album The Ways of Yore was released in June 2014.
In June 2018, on his YouTube channel, Vikernes made comments that " moved on ", saying "bye bye" to the project.
Burzum's music features characteristics common in black metal, including distorted, tremolo-picked guitar riffs, and harsh vocals. Earlier Burzum albums feature very low production quality, which has improved in albums created after Vikernes' release from prison.The low quality was on purpose because as Varg said, it was a rebellion against good production. Burzum's early music shows heavy Tolkien influence; for example, Vikernes' early moniker "Count Grishnackh" is taken from an orc character called Grishnákh in Tolkien's works. The choice of the name for the project reflects both this influence and the desire for anonymity: Burzum is a word of the Black Speech of Mordor meaning "darkness" (though Vikernes views what Christians consider "darkness" as "light"), and is one of those found on the Ring-inscription of the One Ring (the final part of the Ring inscription being "…agh burzum-ishi krimpatul", or "…and in the darkness bind them").
Musically, Burzum has progressed from black metal to classical-influenced ambient music characterised by minimalist tendencies and dark atmospheres. Vikernes' music is characterised by hypnotic repetition and simple song structures; this trademark sound has been present on Burzum's black metal and electronic albums alike. Vikernes has described Burzum as a kind of "spell" or recreation of an imaginary world tied in with Pagan history. Each album, he claims, was designed as a kind of "spell" in itself, with each beginning song intending to make the listener more susceptible to "magic", the following songs to inspire a "trance-like state of mind", and the last song to carry the listener into a "world of fantasy" (dreams, for the listener would fall asleep—Burzum was supposed to have been evening music). Vikernes claims the intent to create this fantasy world came from dissatisfaction with the real world. He has stated the "message" of Burzum can be found in the lyrics of the first song of the first album ("Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown").