April 01, 2010
FanManager founder Erik Koral decides to get close to his Norwegian roots
Norwegian Black metal is an institution, a solidified genre within a genre. Norwegian Black Metal began its conception as a radical entity of revolutionary attributes that has melted into a conservative mainstream genre. The pure genius of the music still lives on, but the effective ethos the scene once harnessed has long dispersed.
In the Beginning
With a stagnant Death Metal scene lumbering into the nineties, the emergence of Nordic Black Metal expanded upon its Deathly roots, regurgitating the creative elements of Celtic Frost and Bathory elements that were lacking in the more bland Death Metal formula.
To disentangle the history of Norwegian Black Metal is a task in itself, to place the bands in some order of notoriety is at first obvious, and then less so when faced with the wealth of material available. Bands that came and went in the blink of an eye become more tangible at second glance. Music that is buried becomes ever more significant. The aforementioned words be can likened to any genre and any scene of worth that is being dissected.
If we pinpoint the rise of Black Metal from the initial Mayhem/Burzum creative spark, in 1990-92, then we would be making a fatal error. In Norway during 1990, Death Metal influenced acts like Old Funeral, Cadaver, Thou Shalt Suffer, and Embryonic [to name a few] were tilting on the edge of something unknown in a stagnant metal world awaiting a spark to reinvigorate it. That spark was to be the well documented murder of Mayhem bassist, Euronymous, in 1993. Prior to this spark, the Black metal underground to which Mayhem and Burzum belonged reached far out of their Norwegian seclusion. There was a whole network of bands from across the globe awaiting ride the blood blenched wave of Black Metals rise to infamy. In 1990 Mayhems infamous Live in Leipzig was recorded, and this can be cited as one of the genuinely True Black Metal recordings of the imminent scenes awakening. At this time, the dark mutterings of Beherit [Fin], Samael, Tiamat [Swe], Profanatica [U.S.A], Blasphemy [Can], Mortuary Drape [It], and Root [Czech], to name a few, had demos circulating the underground, if not albums proper. In 1991, the likes of Marduk [Swe], Rotting Christ [It], Masters Hammer [Czech], Mystifier, and Acheron [U.S.A], were releasing albums. Here we find bands from across the globe, all displaying a dark Satanic/Anti-Christian musical ethos, that made the Black Metal phenomenon in the early nineties what it was. It was just, the Norwegians gave the whole movement its ignition, its impetus to become a formidable force in the extreme metal firmament.
There are certain main players, bit part players and the outer edge players. The enigmatic luminaries, Hellhammer [Jan Axel Blomberg], and Samoth [Thomas Thormodsaeter Haugen], for example, have contributed their talents no less than thirty Norwegian Black Metal bands since the scenes conception. Bands seem inter-related and all are tied together by one member or another. This brotherly strength has maintained the scenes longevity, creating a kinship unrivalled in other extreme genres.
The actual sound to the music is also at first obvious, then as the ripples of evolving styles spread out, less apparent. There are the icy drones of Darkthrone that manifest a primitive and raw monochrome sound. The symphonic beauty of early Emperor that signifies orchestral keyboards. The experimental surges of Ulver and Arcturus, that evokes electronica and a modern twist to the basic sound. Amongst these collective styles are Pagan/Viking inspired acts, orthodox thrash devotees, and more Deathly aspired outfits. All have one factor in common; they all adhere to/evolved from, a Black Metal nucleus that is the Norwegian Black Metal scene as a whole.
The History of the scene is well documented, with Mayhem being a pivotal force, paving the way and igniting the whole movement. The suicide of vocalist ‘Dead’, on April 8th 1991 served as a ripple compared to the forthcoming wave of hysteria generated by the media, when Burzum main man Varg Vikerenes murdered Mayhem guitarist, Euronymous in the stairwell of his apartment building on August 10th 1993. Hence, the movement was truly born. To put these events into perspective, we must be aware that none of the criminal acts were designed for public scrutiny; no premeditated media hype was constructed. The young teenagers responsible for the hysteria were indebted to a personal agenda that eventually became swallowed up in the media attention that ultimately followed.
Prior to this major spark, the only real bands of note were Burzum, Immortal, Dark Throne and the demo awakenings of, Thorns, Emperor, Enslaved and Carpathian Forest. The scene was as at that time an unknown entity and the music an exclusive underground movement. With the Death of Euronymous, the whole scene was dragged under a blaze of publicity securing the second wave to bolster the scenes already strong position. Gehenna, Kampfar, Ulver, Satyricon, Dimmu Borgir and the rest soon cemented the Norwegian genre as a scene incarnate.
One must not forget the original concept of the term ‘True Norwegian Black Metal’, A phrase etched onto the Darkthrone Transylvanian Hunger cd as Norsk Ǻrisk Black Metal. The very real connotations with Nordic pride, Aryanism, anti-Christian/Jewish themes and even Neo-Nazi affiliations cannot be ignored, although the quick back tracking by most of the bands when fame reared its persuasive head stifled these not so mainstream ideologies.
I have old letters/photos from both Shagrath and Mortis before they became artists of note. Mortis is scribing a swastika into a tree trunk and Shagrath signs his letter with a swastika. This is more teenage ignorance than blatant fascist idealism, but all the same it is a very real glimpse into the minds of the early band members, and their one dimensional ethos of Norse pride merging with Anti-Christian hatred. That, coupled with the pagan religion of the Vikings all go towards underpinning the Black Metal phenomena. One point that is often overlooked is that the Norway is a rich county, a clean country and although cold, extremely sparse in its population per sq mile. There are no immigration problems; the political climate is stable, and the standard of living high. So, unlike the fucked up rappers from downtown Brooklyn who can lay claim to gun violence as an impetus for their unruly behaviour, and foul mouthed lyrical content, or the high unemployment of the early punk scene in England that fuelled the whole punk movement, the Norwegian Black Metal scenes rise to infamy is based on a sequence of events that could well have happened in Finland or Germany given the same circumstances.
There is no doubt in my mind, had the early Finnish scene succumbed to murder, desecration and bizarre homosexual murders, the quality of bands already simmering under the surface would have had the same impetus to create a scene of equal strengths and ingenuity. As it happens, Norway is where it all happened, and no streetwise, hard done by, drug fuelled kids were to underline the events that would shape things to come. These kids, where breathing clean air, living in good homes and were well educated. Indeed, the teenagers who frequented the Helvete shop in 1991 were reasonably well behaved, well spoken and generally normal bored teenagers.
So 1993 was the year Norwegian Black Metal was truly born with the death of its founder so to speak. Church burnings [the first occurring in 1992], suicide, and murder all a contributing factor to the genre as a whole living entity. Norwegian Black Metal has become a byword for ‘True Black Metal’, a phrase much attributed to Mayhem and Darkthrone. The erosive atmosphere and basic recording quality of the early movement re-defined the very soul of what one perceived as Black metal and ignited the genre incarnate.
The fact that Norway has a climate reflective of darkness and evil, also helped to create the impetus for the scenes violent image elsewhere. One cannot envisage the same darkly solitude emanating from the southern hemisphere. The stark beauty of its landscapes, its brutal past and timeless visage has become synonymous with the Black metal born from its surface.