night of the graveless souls

I can’t help but notice the number of people looking at my blog has spiked considerably since I got drunk and internet-yelled at Jessica Valenti. The key to blog success: alcohol! Not that I’m complaining.

Anyway: I’m going to see Until the Light Takes Us on Thursday. It’s a documentary about Norwegian black metal by Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites, who lived in Norway for several years, gradually gaining the trust of the musicians and filming lengthy interviews, notably with Fenriz (Darkthrone) and Varg Vikernes (Mayhem/Burzum).

If you’re not a metalhead and you’ve heard anything about black metal, you’ve probably heard about it in the context of murders (Vikernes killing his ex-bandmate Oystein “Euronymous” Aarseth; Emperor’s Bard “Faust” Eithun killing a gay man he met in a bar), church burnings (Vikernes again, and Emperor’s Samoth), and questionable politics (Vikernes is a neo-Nazi; Aarseth was a totalitarian Communist; Fenriz made several anti-Semitic remarks in the press in the early ’90s).

I am conflicted about how all that stuff should be addressed. While it definitely shouldn’t be ignored – you can hardly have a history of the Norwegian scene without it – I have been frustrated in the past with authors who have asserted that being a racist crazypants is somehow an integral part of being a black metal musician. A notable offender in this category is Didrik Soderlind and Michael Moynihan’s massively overrated Lords of Chaos. They spend a disproportionate amount of time talking with/about the most racist and most crazy musicians (Vikernes I understand, since he’s as influential musically as he is completely ba-zonkers personally, but…a whole chapter devoted to Hendrik Mobus/Absurd? Two demo tapes gets you a chapter? Don’t just lower that bar, boys, dig a hole in the ground and throw the bar in there), and attempt to make insinuations about bands that, to my knowledge, have never publicly espoused right-wing politics. Enslaved, for example, are heavily implied to be riding the Nazi train because of their use of Viking garb in their band photos. Uh, OK. I may not dress like a re-enactor but I am wearing a mjolnir and a replica of the Seeland-II-C bracteate right now. Strangely, I am not compelled to run around shouting about the Jews.

There are consistent themes across most black metal – images drawn from pagan mythology and nature (if I had a dime for every time a forest under a wintry moon was mentioned in a black metal song, I would be able to buy all the records I want), expressions of disdain for the modern world, usually some kind of disparaging of Christianity (my personal favorite being Enslaved’s “Slaget Om Lindisfarne,” about the sacking of the Holy Isle in 793, which is basically: fuck yeah, we pillaged you! VIKINGS RULE SAXONS DROOL). But are those necessarily attached to a particular set of politics? I don’t think so. The existence of lefty black-metal bands like Wolves In The Throne Room, Ludicra (who actually depart from the nature themes and focus on the filth and grime of the city instead, offering a whole new and equally compelling set of images), and Panopticon (a one-man “anarcho-pagan black metal” project) would seem to bear out my view. Anyway, saying that the politics of right-wing black metal folks sprang from that scene ignores other possible contributing factors. Vikernes, for example, was raised by a mother who he describes as “very race-conscious,” and was a skinhead before he ever donned corpse-paint.

There was a typically chuckle-worthy write-up of the film in the local free fishwrap. After asserting that black metal originated with Mayhem (that’ll be news to Celtic Frost and Bathory), the author frets about The Children: “Aites and Ewell give Varg carte blanche to espouse his speculations and extreme viewpoints through the film…you worry about the impact the film could have on modern teenagers; indeed, the black metal inspired a two-week rash of arson and petty crime in Florida in the mid-’90s, which goes undiscussed here…” OK, you wanna know why it goes undiscussed? BECAUSE IT WAS NOT CONNECTED WITH BLACK METAL IN ANY FUCKING WAY WHATSOEVER. The crimes he refers to here were committed by a group of teens calling themselves the Lords of Chaos. “Why, that’s the name of the book!” you might say. Yeah, and they’re only in the book because the authors thought their pompous written manifesto bore a resemblance to similar proclamations issued by members of the Norwegian bands. Oh, and they were racists. That’s it. I think the reason for their inclusion maybe starts with “o” and ends with “-ur editors thought the book should be longer.”

As far as Varg being free to unleash streams of Nazi word vomit (I can’t help but hear Dylan Moran’s voice in my head at this point, going “HitlerHitlerHitler…BRRRRRRRHITLER”) without explicit condemnation…I mean, does he need explicit condemnation? I think he does a pretty good job of condemning himself. I realize that you don’t go to the mall with no clothes on and everyone comes to the marketplace of ideas with certain preconcieved notions intact, but Vikernes is wacky even for a Nazi. I mean, according to him, I shouldn’t have kids because I might pass on my filthy brown eyes. Do people really need to be hit over the head with a “NAZI MURDERERS=BAD” message?

…Actually, maybe they do. I’m reminded a little of the controversy over Slayer’s “Angel of Death,” a song about Josef Mengele. which is sometimes taken to be a pro-Nazi song, presumably because the phrase “Nazis are evil” does not appear anywhere within. When guitarist Jeff Hanneman was asked about it, he responded that he didn’t feel that he should have to tell people explicitly that Mengele was a monster, since that was evident from the acts he was describing (the song goes into pretty hideous detail about Mengele’s “experiments”). Yet there are still white supremacists who like Slayer, who look at the Nazi imagery without thinking too much about it, or who think that the song is about how much of a badass Mengele was. You could argue that they’re just dumbasses, since they have also failed to notice that singer/bassist Tom Araya isn’t white. But it just goes to show that no matter how universal you think a reaction to a particular set of words is, there’s always going to be at least a few exceptions.

~ by Smellen on January 26, 2010.

4 Responses to “night of the graveless souls”

  1. I know a (nother zer0) book you might enjoy. In fact, they come rather handily in threes.

    As an aside, I do wonder how all the BM-heads who’ve more or less made their peace with Varg’s past craziness will feel about their collections of Burzum mp3s if he decides to emerge from his rural isolation and firebomb a couple of mosques.

    Always found the Nazi thing a bit off-putting with Slayer when I was a teenager, although now I’ve arrived at the point of finding Cannibal Corpse sort of tolerable (I mean, ugh, obviously; but they are terribly, terribly good at what they do) this seems in retrospect like misplaced scruple…

    • Oh, dang, between that and the Routledge catalog I got today I am so tempted to forget I even have a savings account. Also, Negarestani’s blurb reminds me that I need to read Cyclonopedia. I ignored it for a while because I read the introduction and thought it was hilariously bad (“oooh, I’m a twenty-year-old Suicide Girls model who is absolutely enthralled with this mystery fellow, who just happens to be the author of this book!”), but I’ve heard so many consistent raves about it I’m going to give it another go.

      Hopefully Varg stays in Telemark, and continues to write increasingly insane articles for his website. I LOVED his indignation at the Lords of Chaos movie. “OH MY GOD! IT WAS PROBABLY WRITTEN BY A JEW!” I can’t wait to see him played by one of fellows who played a sparkly vampire in Twilight. Hee!

      Cannibal Corpse is very good at what they do, musically at least, though my visceral disgust with dudes singing about sexual violence against women is too strong for me to listen to them regularly. I did find it rather amusing when they wrote “Orgasm Through Torture” (about a woman brutalizing and eventually castrating a fellow), supposedly as a nod to female fans who complained about their gender issues. Nice try, I guess?

      • Negarestani is co-editing a journal of commentaries, in the classical sense, on black metal. From what I’ve read of his other work he seems to focus on its relationship to rot and decay – see the Cold World bit again – rather than its more political aspects, but that’s the good part. He’s trying to define that relationship to rot as a political process.

        There seems to be a reciprocal relationship here, between coldness and decay and love and warmth, both of which are extremities the “blackening” situation of globalized capitalism does not permit.

  2. i am glad this blog exists

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