‘Before you know it, it’s not a big deal to kill a man’: Norwegian black metal’s murderous past

In the early 90s, Norways black metal scene turned into a satanic cult as musicians burned churches, self-harmed and killed. As the film Lords of Chaos is released, the real-life protagonists look back

That period of my life is a swampy lake with skeletons in it, says Rune Eriksen, AKA guitarist Blasphemer. This will probably be one of the very few moments Im willing to go back and talk about it.


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It has been 11 years since Eriksen left Mayhem, the worlds most aptly named band. He joined in 1994, rejuvenating the Norwegian black metal group after their guitarist ystein Aarseth, known as Euronymous, had been murdered by their former bassist Varg Vikernes, AKA Count Grishnackh. Three years before that, their singer Pelle Ohlin, also known as Dead, killed himself. Understandably, Eriksen has moved on.

Norwegian black metal, though, is inseparable from its history. This month sees the release of Lords of Chaos, director Jonas kerlunds intense dramatisation of events, focusing on the friendship and fatal rift between Aarseth (played by Rory Culkin) and Vikernes (Emory Cohen). It is bruising and brutal when it screened at the London film festival last November, a man vomited, a woman fainted and an ambulance was summoned.

kerlund wants the film to have an impact. A director of music videos for Beyonc, Madonna and Lady Gaga, among others, this is his fourth film, and his most personal. From 1983 to 1984, he was the drummer in the Swedish band Bathory, who were a major influence on Norwegian black metal, not that he takes any credit for that, heaping praise on the bands singer Quorthon. The sound we created was a mix of what we liked, says kerlund. And the whole punk thing, but playing it fast, which really wasnt what metal was about back then. That, along with Quorthons raspy wailing and satanic lyrics, threw down a gauntlet. Mayhem, formed in 1984 in Oslo, by Aarseth, bassist Jrn Stubberud (AKA Necrobutcher) and drummer Kjetil Manheim, set the gauntlet on fire.

Mayhem in the early 90s. Photograph: Publicity image from film company

Mayhem and the growing Norwegian black metal scene distinguished themselves by railing against religion. Myriad belief systems underpinned the movement, from paganism to Aarseths fervent communism, but Christianity was public enemy No 1. Christianity never suited Norway, says Dolk, founder of the band Kampfar. It never belonged here. The black metal scene reacted to that. We needed to have something to be opposite to. Eriksen says he was never political, but always kind of a lone wolf. Norwegians are an introverted kind of people. The starkness and coldness of Norway itself is embedded in the bones of Norwegian black metal.

Mayhem declared themselves satanists, not because they worshipped the devil, but because the creed promoted individualism, riled Christians and got attention. They pioneered an unforgiving sound: demonic wails; hostile, pulsating riffs; a trance-inducing wall of noise. The more primitive the production, the better. When Vikernes, as Burzum, made his debut album, he asked the producer to give him the worst microphone he had. Darkthrones album Transilvanian Hunger, recorded on a four-track tape recorder, was, frontman Fenriz said, intended to sound dead fuckin cold; it sounds alien.

Black metal is a wonderful subgenre with a very specific style, says author Jason Arnopp, whose 1993 cover story for Kerrang! brought the scene global attention. It sounds like evil, ranting demons laying waste to a snowy Scandinavian forest. Eriksen says black metal was atmospheric, with a deeper approach than what the death metal scene was doing. You could travel within it. Dolk says it was a way to express your inner demons.

The demons erupted in 1991. Four years earlier, Pelle Ohlin had arrived in Norway. Hearing Mayhem needed a singer, the Swedish vocalist had sent a cassette to their PO box, along with a dead mouse attached to a cross. Ohlin transformed the band. Obsessed with death, he buried his stage clothes for days, allowing them to rot before wearing them; he brought a dead crow to rehearsal; he wore face paint on stage, which he called corpse-paint. Aarseth followed suit with the paint, as did many others.


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On stage, Ohlin would self-harm severely. One of the most disturbing scenes in kerlunds film has Ohlin (played by Jack Kilmer) slashing his arm to ribbons, splattering the front-row faithful, as he did during an infamous Mayhem gig: by the end of the show, only true fans remained.

Holmenkollen chapel, which was burned down by Aarseth and Vikernes and Brd Eithun, after the latter had told them he had murdered a man. Photograph: Eeg, Jon/TT News Agency/Press Association Images

Ohlin had mental health problems. At a party, says Dolk, he started to cut himself. With a knife. We were so used to it, we put him in handcuffs, and left him lying in the corner. He didnt stop drinking. Later, we drove into town and left him in front of the police station, just to make sure that he didnt do more stupid stuff to himself, and went on partying.

In April 1991, Ohlin killed himself in his bedroom. He had slit his wrists and shot himself. Aarseth found him, then took photos of him, disgusting many of his colleagues, including Stubberud, who quit the band because of it. It isnt every day that you get to see a corpse, so you have to make the most out of it, Aarseth later reasoned in a radio interview. Many believe that this was a turning point for him, the band and the scene. Before the suicide, everything was playful, says kerlund. After, everything became darker. How could it not? Euronymous was so close to Pelle.

Aarseth started a record label, Deathlike Silence, and opened a record shop, Helvete (Hell). For disciples, the cryptlike store was the stuff of dreams: artists have talked of going in and having their musical horizons broadened by Aarseth, just as likely to recommend Tangerine Dream as he was black metal. Aarseth, though, was also becoming a victim of his own hype, making himself the focal point not just of Mayhem but the movement. He became too high on himself, like: Im the leader, says Dolk. He thought he could control the whole Norwegian metal scene. I know for a fact that there were a lot of people talking about getting ystein [Aarseth] out of the scene. And by that I mean getting rid of him. As in, killing him? Yeah.

Euronymous in his record store. Photograph: Knut Erik Knudsen/TT News Agency/Press Association Images

Things did get darker. On 6 June 1992, Fantoft stave church in Bergen was burned down. Vikernes, suspected of it but found not guilty in court, later explained that Fantoft was a Christian church built on top of a pagan holy site. And after Fantoft, more churches followed. kerlund believes the burnings were a case of escalating one-upmanship. I dont think they had a political agenda. I know that some of them are very extreme in their political agenda today, but they were young boys. I think they stopped thinking as individuals and started thinking more as a group, to impress each other, and to shock. They were in this bubble where, finally, you get immune: you take one step further, and then another, and before you know it, its not a big deal to kill a man.

On 21 August 1992, Brd Eithun, AKA Faust, the drummer from Emperor, was sexually propositioned by a man in Lillehammers Olympic Park. Eithun stabbed him 37 times, killing him. The next day he told Aarseth and Vikernes about it; the three of them then burned down Holmenkollen chapel. More arson followed; copycat burnings increased. And in January 1993, under his Count Grishnackh alias (named after an orc in Lord of the Rings), Vikernes gave an anonymous interview to the newspaper Bergens Tidende, claiming the black metal scene was behind it all. Our purpose is to spread fear and evil, he told them. The following day he was arrested.

Varg Vikernes during his time in prison for murder. Photograph: Mick Hutson/Redferns

These Norwegian kids were doing things that mainstream folk may have assumed metal musicians did all the time, says Arnopp of the burnings. To say the least, this was not a good look for rock music. The musicians soon discovered this first-hand. Ivar Bjrnson, guitarist for Enslaved, has said that after leaving a pub on his 16th birthday, a man shouted You fucking satanist and kicked him in the head, hospitalising him. The cops came to my parents place late at night, just to go through my room, says Eriksen. I was 17. They were trying to find something that connected me to something. They left empty-handed, but theyd found some strange imagery on CDs and were nodding to each other like: Jackpot.


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Meanwhile, the scenes figures were at war with each other. Dolk says there were different black metal sects, and deep threats were common. Aarseth and Vikernes relationship had fallen apart due to Aarseths growing cult of personality, and the fact that he owed Vikernes royalties. Aarseth had also told people he planned to kill Vikernes. Whether he meant it or not is debatable he also sent death threats, said Stubberud, to death metal bands who wore Hawaiian T-shirts. Still, at 3am on 10 August 1993, Vikernes arrived at Aarseths apartment and stabbed him 23 times. In May 1994, he was found guilty of murder and three church burnings, and sentenced to 21 years in prison. Norwegian black metal was no longer perceived as a musical genre, but a murderous cult.

kerlunds film has, of course, opened old wounds. Some of the musicians have been supportive; many are aggressively against it. Vikernes himself, who has never shown any remorse for the murder, has called the film slanderous garbage, objected to his portrayal (I have never participated in a threesome in my life) and since he is a virulent antisemite taken umbrage at being played by a Jewish actor.

Kampfar. Photograph: Sebastian Ludvigsen

The scene, though, has survived. Stubberud rejoined Mayhem, with Eriksen replacing Aarseth, making the music more extreme, winning them much acclaim. Eriksen says he lived a pretty harsh life in the early 2000s. Mayhem has death and destruction in its past. And you can let yourself become a part of that thing and ride the waves of it, seeking extremities. He left in 2008, forming a variety of bands, most recently his blackened death metal supergroup Vltimas.

Many of the bands are going strong; Dolks band Kampfar are about to release a new album that he says is his darkest yet. Outside of the music, though, things arent so dark. Today, we all find it kind of funny and sad at the same time, Dolk says of his troubled history. Take Ivar from Enslaved: back then, we were writing stuff to each other that was so ugly, we had to look over our shoulders all the time. But today were the best of friends and were really embarrassed about all that stuff. A couple of years ago Kampfar won a Norwegian Grammy, and we were sitting there at the same table with Enslaved. Were the same guys that back then sent death threats to each other. And were sitting there now in suits, drinking wine, eating fancy dinners. It was like: How crazy is this? Pretty crazy.

  • Lords of Chaos is in cinemas 29 March. Jason Arnopps novel The Last Days of Jack Sparks is out now, published by Orbit.

In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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