Monday, June 28, 2010

Until The Light Takes Us (2008)

The homely but homey, longhaired and black-leathered Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell of Darkthrone, one of the progenitors of Norway's indigenous, extreme-heavy-metal subgenre black metal, is a likeable, articulate, working-class musician. Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes of the one-man project Barzum and a founder of the seminal 1980s band Mayhem, is a clean-cut, goateed boy-next-door—who until his parole earlier this year was nearing his 16th year of a 21-year sentence for murder and multiple arsons. It would be stretching things to absurdity to call them the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X of the music, but between their two viewpoints lies the entirety of a niche whose influence outweighs its popularity. As Nagell says early on in the doc Until the Light Takes Us, he went further into the music and Vikernes further into the politics.

Those politics are the standard-issue leanings of a paranoid megalomaniac—he uses the former term specifically, and the latter just naturally arises from his talk of being god-like and having followers—and Vikernes' boyish mien recalls nothing so much as Timothy McVeigh or maybe Charlie Starkweather. Embodying the extreme of the black metal subculture, where the deliberately discordant, Goth/KISS, emo-on-amphetamine vibe takes a decided backseat, he champions an ultra-nationalism in which "Christianity, the U.S., NATO, Norwegian democracy" are all instinctively wrong.

Vikernes and a shocking number of others like him took this as license in the early 1990s to burn down churches—and worse. One interviewee, Olve "Abbath" Eikemo of the band Immortal, applauds a fellow black metaler's 1992 knife murder of "this fucking faggot back in Lillehammer." The Norwegian press made sensationalistic hay of such crimes, misinterpreting them as the work of musical Satanists rather than what they were: domestic terrorism by ultra-right-wing xenophobes. Like some deranged Idaho survivalist, Vikernes talks about having stockpiled weapons preparing for—hoping for—World War III, since "to build something new, you have to destroy the old first."

Vikernes speaks from the remarkably dorm-like Trondheim Prison, which he shrugs off as "a monastery" and from which he was released on May 24, 2009, despite being convicted of four church arsons and the knifing murder of influential band-mate Øystein "'Euronymous" Aarseth. (Another influential musician, Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve "Dead" Ohlin, pulled a Kurt Cobain; a photo of him with his brains blown out appears on the 1995 bootleg live album
Dawn of the Black, shown here.)

Throughout all this, the cautiously amiable Nagell tries to be an ambassador of sorts for the music itself, describing his influences and the impetus for black metal's creation as a deliberately depressing, starkly anti-commercial expression of Norwegian nihilism. Snippets of several songs reveal a sometimes hypnotic blend of 1970s Black Sabbath meets Windham Hill by way of John Cage. We see bits of concerts in which performers cut their arms and bleed profusely—knives seem to play a big role in Norway—and artist Bjarne Melgaard's black-metal-influence paintings.

Hearing from fans and music critics would have been nice, as would a videographer without apparent Parkinson's. But for all the amateurishness of San Francisco filmmakers Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, the Alice-Cooper-to-the-nth subculture they document has a lurid fascination that pulls you along.

1 comment:

  1. Hey just letting you know a few mistakes on this. im a HUGE BM fan since i was 11 and it was not Abbath that said about 'that fucking faggot' that was hellhammer of mayhem. and the album with Dead with his brains blown out is called 'dawn of the black hearts'