The sound of Satan
In the second half of the eighties a peculiar phenomenon appeared on the Norwegian music scene. Inspired by satanism, a few angry boys began playing a particularly fast, hard and dark kind of metal music, calling it Black Metal. Most people didn't take their flirtations with the dark forces very seriously - until churces began burning...

by Øyvind Ihlen


In an otherwise quiet country best known for its scenery, a few young people in the Black Metal scene have succeeded in making quite a noise - literally as well as metaphorically. Musically, Black Metal sits comfortably on the noisy side of the metal spectrum. However - the most important element of Black Metal is the satanic content of the lyrics. For added effect the musicians also rely on an extreme image with so-called "corpse-paint", spikes on their belts and jackets etc. Surely a laughable lot? As it turns out joy is not the emotion most commonly connected with this Norwegian scene.

Eight members of the Norwegian Black Metal scene have been given prison sentences, two of them for murder. One for the slaying of a former friend and "colleague", the other for repeatedly stabbing a homosexual that allegedly tried to pick him up. About 40 churches have burnt since 1992. Quite a few of them set on fire by more or less central figures in the Black Metal scene.

The activities of the Black Metallers have spurred hectic police investigation. A special police task-force of up to 12 policemen has been working on the cases. In the meantime, "Norwegian Black Metal" has become a well known term in international music media. Influential media like BBC, MTV, Spin, Kerrang and Metal Hammer have run features on the phenomenon.

In August 1996 the band Mayhem was supposed to play at Oslo Rock Festival. In an interview with a Norwegian daily the band members made certain offensive comments. Local politicians went furious, and threatened to withdraw financial support for Oslo Rock Festival. The organisers yielded to the pressure, and the Mayhem concert was canceled. Mayhem is considered to be the originators of the Black Metal trend in Norway, and this should have been their comeback after several years of silence.

In 1984 Øystein Aarseth and a friend got together under the name Mayhem. They recruited a drummer and started to rehearse in Langhus, a suburb outside Oslo. Inspired by the English band Venom they called their music Black Metal, and adopted artist names: Euronymous (Prince of Death) and Necro Butcher. In 1987 the album Deathcrush was released on the bands own label Posercorpse Music Ltd. The release marked the beginning of a new era in Norwegian Metal.

"We put our soul in the music. Those who don't like it can just fuck off", decleared Aarseth in a interview in 1985. Heavy, fast, noisy and evil were occurring characteristics of the music. To the darkness of the music was added a bizarre image. For the promotional photos "corpse-paint", weapons, flames, and a gory pig's head was used. But back then, their image as incarnations of pure evil was contrasted by the band member's friendly appearance off-stage.

For some time Mayhem struggled almost alone in the underground. Then another band called Darkthrone joined in. Darkthrone had strong connections to the growing international underground Black Metal scene and got signed by a label in England - Peaceville. The sales figures soon placed them in a position to claim the throne of the Norwegian Black Metal scene, but they chose not to. After the release of their second album in 1991 they withdrew from the public. Since then, the band has refused to do interviews, but main-man Fenriz none the less granted me a few words in 1993. He explained his project like this:
"The most important thing is to spread the religious message through the music."

The Black Metal scene had turned "serious". The humour they once had was gone. The Mayhem debut record had a picture of a cow on the inside cover - in 1993 Aarseth claimed he wouldn't cry if his girlfriend died. "... Instead I would fuck the corpse", he said with a satisfied chuckle. Was he fooling around, hiding a card of irony? No one's to know. A lot of ridicule and hilarious comments appeared in different media during this period, but Aarseth and his friends claimed to be serious. "Heavy Metal has always been a laughingstock because of all the clichés. When somebody actually lives the image in full, people are shocked. Black Metal is meant to be serious. This is religion. We're worshipping evil", Aarseth emphasized.

After the suicide of the Swedish Mayhem singer Pelle in 1991, the rest of the band moved to Oslo. Aarseth opened up a record shop - Helvete - Norwegian for Hell. The shop became the center of the Black Metal scene, and the leader of Mayhem established himself as a godfather. Doom was impending.

Enter Varg Vikernes. In the city of Bergen Vikernes started his own project called Burzum. In the small Norwegian Black Metal scene he soon positioned himself as an important figure under the name of Greven - "Count Grishnackh". Aarseth admiringly talked of Vikernes as a person with a somewhat aristocratic appearance.

In the beginning of 1993 Vikernes made the headlines in Norway. After comments to a Norwegian daily, the police took him into custody. Vikernes was questioned about the arson of the stave church in Fantoft in June 1992, and a series of 14 other unresolved church fires. When asked to comment on the case, other Black Metal musicians declined to condemn church arson. The rallying cry "War Against Christianity" was instead picked up by young people - wether satanists or people wanting to be involved in the scene. Exploiting a wave of public interest - and outcry - new bands popped up.

As more and more people got into the music and the imagery, even the rhetoric of Aarseth et al. was picked up and taken seriously by some. Øystein Aarseth spoke of an inner circle. This circle supposedly consisted of only a few diehard satanists in the Black Metal scene. Rumors had it that the newcomers to the scene would have to impress the inner circle ¬ hence the church fires. Others claimed this concept of an inner circle was just wishful thinking on behalf of the Mayhem guitarist. Nevertheless, in small communities all over Norway churches were segularly set on fire. In 1993 ten churches burnt.

Tension was building up inside the scene as well. A fall-out between the two leading figures - Aarseth and Vikernes - happened sometime during the period of intense focus on the Black Metal scene. In the summer of 1993 Aarseth was found stabbed to death outside his appartment. Vikernes confessed to killing him, but claimed it was a case of self-defense.

Shortly after, a member of the band Emperor was arrested for murder. The drummer Faust stabbed a man to death in the city of Lillehammer. The victim, Faust explained, was a homosexual who had aroused his anger by giving him invitations.

Both Vikernes and Faust were convicted for murder and church arson. While Faust was sentenced to 14 years in prison, Vikernes got the maximum penalty of 21 years. From his prison cell Vikernes has released more records, and declared a new program. Vikernes now calls himself a nationalist carrying on the traditions of the Vikings. Satanism is replaced by faith in ancient Norse Gods and neo-Nazi thoughts. Other bands like Darkthrone have also declared neo-Nazi sympathies.

People in the scene is divided. Some admire Vikernes. Others swear they will avenge their ally Aarseth. There's even been released a tribute album to him.

Henry Leirvoll runs the Web-site "Heksheim" - a site dedicated to all things Black Metal, except Burzum. Says Leirvoll:
"I can't give any direct answer (to whether Varg will be killed or not when he's released). But he has taken no chances. When he saw he didn't get any support from the Black Metal scene, he sought another scene. Now he has become an "übermensch"....!"

For now, the special police force earmarked for the Black Metal scene has been dissolved. Further crimes are investigated through the ordinary channels. Detective Inspector Knut Nysæter belonged to the group. When asked whether the Black Metal scene is dead, Nysæter replies:
"No, no. The scene has just returned to it's starting point - the music. Most of the criminal activity has ceased. The police's reaction has paid off. The prison sentences and claims for damages have had a preventive effect.

Henry Leirvoll gives the following diagnosis of the scene today:
"Bands wont call their music Black Metal anymore. They don't wish to be associated with those appearing in the media all the time. In addition to Black Metal, we have Dark Symphonic Vampyric Metal, Viking Metal, Evil Atmosphere and Dark Nationalistic Evil "Hulder" Metal" (sic!).

Bands like Darkthrone, Emperor and Immortal have been joined by a host of new groups. The best known is called Satyricon. The band has released four albums on its own label Moonfog. Leirvoll sees Satyricon as the natural heir to the Black Metal-throne, and he is absolutely sure the scene wont die:
"It just goes underground. As long as Norway is a Christian country the other side will roam against it. Lyrically, verbally, and yes... very physically."