Black Norway: The history of a music genre


Black Norway – The history of a music genre


2018 is the year of release of one of the most anticipated films of the moment: “Lords of Chaos”, inspired by the homonymous book published in 1998 by journalists Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind.

The book (and consequently the film) speaks precisely about the events that took place in Norway between 1990 and 1993, which will be remembered as inextricably linked to the birth of Black Metal.

“Lords of Chaos” has been very successful because, beyond the fact that whether you like that kind of music or not, it is interesting to discover its history, dark and mysterious.

The film was directed by Jonas Åkerlund, a Swede transplanted in the USA, who for a year (from 1993 to 1994) was the drummer of Bathory, and became an acclaimed music videos director, beginning with the Candlemass, Swedish doom metal group; so it is expected (or at least we hope it can ) “Lords of Chaos” will  to be true to the facts that actually happened and not an unfortunate  cinematic distortion.

One of the most famous metal genres’ birth is linked to the facts of crime that do not make it only a macabre frame, but a fairly important part of the genre itself.

Black Metal’s is a story that is born in the basement of a record shop in Oslo, Helvete, from the flames of the many Christian churches that were burned by some protagonists of the genre and the blood of murder and suicide.

The Helvete (Hell), despite being closed for more than twenty years and what remains is a dark room with a “Black Metal” written on the wall, is still a place of pilgrimage for fans of the genre.

The shop was owned by Øystein Aarseth, founder and guitarist of the Black Metal band par excellence: Mayhem, and let’s say that (to simplify) everything is born from there.Here Øystein, better known as Euronymous, not only sold vinyls, but also attracted a large number of young people thanks to his charisma and his way as a professor to disseminate his ideas on Satanism (it is to be specified that it was not the rationalist satanism of LaVey, which more than a religion was a philosophy in which Satan was a symbol of the individualist power of man. The one “taught” by our affectionate was just the diabolical Satanism as the Christian Church means it).

In this way, Euronymous’ ideas seem to be only the stances of a fervent religious, but what lies behind him is actually his propensity for violence, his hatred for anyone who did not share his belief (and his musical tastes), in short, an excuse to carry out vandalism of various kinds and thus to vent what, more than religious fanaticism, was fanaticism and nothing else. The point is, however, that Øystein, at least according to his friends’ and fellow musicians’ tales, was “all smoke and no roast” and apart from some churches on fire, he has never been stained with particular crimes.

I say this not because burning churches is not a crime, but because Mr. Aarseth depicted himself as the fifth essence of evil, an evil creature that should be held by everyone and capable of anything; but reading “Lords of Chaos”, his story and all the comments of his friends, it comes out how Øystein was just an astute manipulator who pushed others to do what he wanted and how he had built a much more fearful aura of how he really was.

An example of how he took advantage of people is in the story surrounding the suicide of Per Yngve Ohlin, known as Dead, Mayhem singer and Øystein’s roommate at the time.

As was then highlighted by a more in-depth analysis of his behavior, Dead was a very depressed boy, obsessed with the idea of ​​death and probably suffering from Cotard’s syndrome, which convinced him that he was already dead.

This is why, perhaps, trying to resemble a newly deceased dead, he used to bury clothes to wear on stage for several days and paint his face with white wax and black circles around the eyes, to look like a skull (it seems that he was the first one to “invent” the “corpse painting”, that kind of black and white make-up that is very often used on stage by Black Metal musicians).

According to Dead’s fellow musicians, Euronymous knew his friend’s suicidal tendencies, and tried to push him to make that extreme gesture, in order to use it in some way as a “repertoire” of his misdeeds or to exploit it commercially.And that’s exactly what he did: when on April 8, 1991, Dead committed suicide by cutting his throat and wrists and shooting himself in the mouth, leaving a note to apologize for spilled blood, Euronymous’ first reaction was to run and buy a disposable camera to take pictures of the lifeless body of his friend.Later, not happy enough with the macabre immortalized picture, he collected pieces of skull and brain to make souvenirs to be sent as gifts to those friends whom he considered “worthy”.

Those photos then ended on the cover of an album containing the recording of a Mayhem concert: “Dawn of the black hearts”. Before being ousted from his throne of evil, Euronymous was happily running his vinyl shop, his record label “Deadlike Silence Productions” and his Black Metal band, Mayhem and proselytizing among the Norwegian boys, filling their head of ideas on Satanism  and Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism of the communist countries, creating what was called the “Inner Circle” (even if they denied the existence of this group).But then someone arrived more violent and more charismatic than him and it went wrong.



(The Helvete inside)                                                                                     (Dead and Euronymous)

In those years, Øystein had been contacted by a young musician from Bergen, who, interested in the “Deathlike Silence Records” and his charismatic owner, had sent him his musical material.Euronymous noticed his talent and invited him to Oslo, offering him a record contract; so in 1991 the eighteen years old Varg Vikernes, later become famous as Burzum, moved to the Norwegian capital, very excited to start playing under the label of who had already become his idol; he went to stand in the back of Helvete, which he shared with Tomas Haugen from Emperor.

With the arrival of Varg in the Inner Circle, a wave of crimes of various desecrating nature began for Norway: in the years between 1991 and 1992 over 50 Christian churches were burned and many cemeteries were desecrated and looted.All this, of course, was done in the name of that Satanism professed by some Black Metal musicians including Euronymous (even if, in many interviews, many of them denied being true followers of Satan and admitted that the one linked to Satanism was just a commercial and “artistic” gimmick).

We must think of this group of people as a horde of kids who enjoyed burning wooden churches and desecrating tombs to collect tibias and pieces of gravestones, animated rather than by a religious feeling, by a youthful anger fueled by raving theses without foundation and made insane by an excessive use of alcohol and drugs.To look carefully, in fact, these lost guys were filling the mouth with concepts that evidently had little clear in mind: and so it was a mixture of satanism, paganism (religions that in fact are mutually exclusive), thesis on the superiority Aryan race, Vikings traditions and various and more.

But there was a guy there who had very clear in his mind the concept of paganism: Varg, who at the time called himself Count Grishnack.Living in Oslo and taking part in the raids of Euronymous and his comrades, the young Vikernes realized that nothing of what his comrades did was actually supported by religious or political convictions.

Instead he truly believed in paganism and burned churches to eliminate what the Christians had built on the ashes of pagan temples; he knew well the myths of Norway and the legends of the Vikings and he also recognized in himself a legitimate descendant of this legacy.And as sometimes happens, in this case the student surpassed the teacher.


(Varg Vikernes)

Speaking of Varg Vikernes is not easy, given the complexity of the character, and in this article there is no desire to draw a complete profile of him, but only to define its role in Black Metal.But it should be emphasized that today he himself does not like to remember that period, distances himself from his musical project Burzum and does not like to be remembered as Count Grishnack.In his life there were not only these events, but much more; so, for further details, we recommend reading “Lords of Chaos” and numerous books and pamphlets written by Vikernes himself, who today has a YouTube channel (ThuleanPerspective) through which he tells about himself and his believes.


But let’s carry on with the story.

Vikernes’ debut album, “Burzum”, published in ’92 by his friend Euronymous’ label was so successful in the Black Metal environment and Varg became so popular for his church fires (the striking photo of one of those burning churches became the famous cover of the Burzum album, “Aske”, “Ashes”), that Øystein became jealous of that boy who was slowly stealing the scene from him.

It must be said, in fact, that Varg was much more charismatic than Euronymous, above all because his ideas of paganism (he was in no way Satanist) were well supported by a certain knowledge of the subject; and because he was the physical author of many of the fires.For his part, Varg had noticed his friend’s hypocritical and megalomaniac nature and he was beginning to see him no longer as a teacher, but as an arrogant manipulator.From now on a series of tensions was born between them (on which we will not dwell not to prolong the story too much), and it led to Varg Vikernes’ decision to assassinate Euronymous.

Here the story becomes confusing because the facts we know have never had tangible evidence, but what is known is that Varg, who had long since returned to live in Bergen, had received the news, from some fellow musicians , that Øystein was determined to torture and then kill him; the reason was that he had been “ousted” from the throne of lord of evil by what he once considered his disciple.

So, on the night of August 10, 1993, Varg decided to drive up to Oslo (apparently with the background music of Dead Can Dance) to ask for explanations to his possible tormentor, being accompanied by his friend Snorre Ruch.It is not known if he had gone there with the precise intention of killing his ex-friend, but the fact is that in the trunk of the car he had a small arsenal consisting of various knives and a bayonet (not exactly what you bring along for a picnic).

An intense discussion began between the two, but we will never know for sure who was the first to attack; Varg always maintained that it was Øystein who hit him first and that the murder was only a legitimate defense as a result of the murderous threats made by Euronymous.

However that night Øystein Aarseth was stabbed to death by Varg Vikernes, while Snorre waited for him outside the building, and then they flew towards Bergen.(A lot have been said about that night; for more info visit Varg Vikernes YouTube channel, but also take consideration that his tales might not be true).

From then on, all members of the alleged Inner Circle were questioned by the police.

Vikernes reached the maximum sentence in Norway, 21 years in prison and Snorre Ruch was condemned to 8 years for a murder contest (although he was never present in Euronymous’ place that night). Varg, in prison, kept working on his solo project “Burzum”, thanks to the help of the German Tiziana Stupia who founded for him the Misanthropy Records, and writing pamphlets with a political and mythological theme.


At this point you are wondering what Black Metal has to do with all this.

Well all this is Black Metal (or at least it was).Because after all, beyond drugs and fires, these guys were very active and prolific from the music production point of view.

In that old room where once was Helvete, there were dozens of guys talking about music and from there all the groups that made the history of the genre were born, starting from Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, Enslaved, Darkthrone and many others.Black Metal is a genre steeped in the Viking culture, myths and legends of the North, and all this could only find fertile ground in Scandinavia.

There are places in the world that more than others have an impact on those who live there, so it is not surprising that one of the darkest musical genres was born in Norway, a country where there are 6 months of darkness a year, a country in which nature prevails man with an almost prohibitive climate and that surrounds him with sublime landscapes.

We have to imagine this group of young people who, unlike today, had no use of social networks and other technological diversions.At the time there were no forums on the internet and to talk about music you had to meet in person and go to concerts, and all this in a pleasant setting made of thick woods, frozen lakes and landscapes that evoke legends of the past.

Exploring the woods around Bergen or the rocky fjords that plunge into a frozen sea, or those white valleys where you can hear nothing but the muffled sound of falling snow, you really get the feeling of being somewhere between the real and the fantastic.Those forests, which are often the background in Black Metal videos, where the roots that emerge from the rain-soaked terrain are the perfect scenario to evoke pagan heroes and legends of Nordic folklore.


Words by Federica Diaz Splendiani