I have such reverence for this album that it feels like arrogant presumption to even talk about it and judging it seems to be blind hubris. One thing is for sure: Filosofem (“The Philosophy”) defined contemporary black metal by blatantly ignoring the rubrics, limitations and “rules” that had come before it and truly maturing the genre as a diverse artform. Before Filosofem most black metal sounded similar, explored similar lyrical motifs and avoided incorporating elements from other genres, after Filosofem black metal became a spirit rather than a rule-bound scene, a spirit which permeates every release but does not restrict the music technically. In essence Filosofem signaled the death knell of “true” black metal and gave birth to post-Black Metal.
Instead of having a fixed toolset to work with, Filosofem introduced the notion that the true black metal artist should use whatever he can to express the feeling of dread, isolation and misery he is overcome with – inspiring contemporary bands like Deathspell Omega, Diabolical Masquerade, Astrofaes, Leviathan, Xasthur and Blut Aus Nord to incorporate experimental, introspective movements within their work which during the time before Filosofem would have been considered pretentious at best, and at worst, a betrayal of the “true” meaning of black metal.
Filosofem ignored the restrictive boundaries and formula of prior black metal and presented a very personal, existential philosophy on life – expressed musically in a novel way. Here we see the introduction of the heavily distorted, maddened, desperate style of vocals, the complex layering of complicated guitar riffs to create the illusion of chaos, the slow heartbeat style of drumming used as a bassline to give a song an immediate contemplative effect, introspective melodies choked by dry, scratching riffing, the introduction of industrial instruments to accomplish emotional effects, highly personal stream of consciousness lyrics rather than punk inspired, macho, silly Satan worship, and finally, and perhaps most novel: completely throwing out formulaic song structures, constructing songs as to express a philosophy or idea rather than to merely “rock out” at a concert, constructing entire tracks around ambient noise and droning, austere, mind provoking, minimalistic melodies.
In essence Filosofem introduced the idea of a personal project that wasn’t meant to be played live, that wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone, that was created in a way that most clearly expresses a philosophy for means of meditation and reflection. Many “solo” black metal bands emerged after the advent of Filosofem as men found it an ideal method of expression without pretending to be a rock star, or suiting themselves to the puerile expectations of others. Today Varg Vikernes remains an especially aloof, erudite, thoughtful man who still holds to the notion that Burzum was created for his own good, not the entertainment of others, and especially not for purposes of fame or gold; at most the music is offered in hopes of sharing insights gained, in darkness and in hardship. Fame, roadies, intoxication and the whole “scene” which accompanies music is worthless for Varg, and he showed others soon to form solo projects that it was capable to express oneself honestly, and in whatever way is best (meaning: no limitations), without needing to feel shame. This sort of integrity is known only to good philosophers and the method to which Varg created his music is still imitated today as good philosophers still imitate the Socratic Method.
Filosofem is a profound, moving experience that is crucial listening for those seeking an examination of the human spirit.