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(Credit: Moein Moradi / Dids)

Music

Exploring the real-life horror of '90s Norwegian black metal

For the whole month of October, here at Far Out, we will be diving into all things spooky and evil. For this entry of the Fear Club, we will be heading into the real-life horror that underpinned the most notorious music scene of all time, the early Norwegian black metal scene.  

The interesting thing about the early Norwegian black metal scene is the fact that it is widely credited with establishing the modern black metal genre and that consequently, it produced some of the most acclaimed and influential artists in both black and extreme metal. Mayhem, Emperor, Gorgoroth and Immortal are just a handful of icons that instantly spring to mind.

However, the scene was much more than music. Like with many other scenes, it was a subculture, a way of life. The scene was centred around the Oslo record shop, Helvete (Hell) and it had an ethos befitting of the name. The members, who called themselves the ‘The Black Circle’ or ‘Black Metal Inner Circle’, were primarily young men, who all shared a misanthropic and extreme anti-societal and anti-Christian outlook.

Many members of the scene claim to have operated in jest with a deeply sardonic take on society, arguing that many people took their jokes seriously. Furthermore, much reporting on the scene at the time was somewhat sensationalist, heightening its notoriety. But we forget the main thing, it was the actions of some of those in the scene that truly made it a force of darkness and this cannot be ignored.

It is remarkable that the music of a scene can be almost overshadowed by the non-musical events that happened. This is ironic, as, within the very insular scene, the bands placed music above everything and devoted themselves to what they saw as artistic integrity. This perception involved keeping the scene underground and uncorrupted by ‘trends’.

Through their efforts and media reporting, the scene cultivated an image of a cult-like group of militant Satanists who hated society and wanted to spread hate, evil and terror. Donning the now infamous “corpse paint” and often wielding medieval weaponry, the early Norwegian black metal scene managed to achieve what they always wanted, to create an image that struck terror into the heart of Norwegian society.

The irony is, this wholly misanthropic outlook and dedication to their loose doctrine was the very thing that tore the scene apart, and these days makes it seem as if they were just a set of bored, messed up and confused kids who eventually came to believe the horrific and imaginary and iconography they had made for themselves.

Blurring the line between fantasy and reality, like any form of ‘extremist’, this is what caused the horrors that occupied their collective mindset to be realised. 

The first real horror that occurred was the 1991 suicide of Mayhem frontman and lyricist Per Yngve Ohlin, who went by the name of ‘Dead’. He turned a shotgun on himself in the shared house that the band lived in. Widely thought to have been a depressed, introverted, and even ‘odd’, whilst performing live ‘Dead’ would dress like a corpse and commit graphic acts of self-harm. 

He was found by Mayhem guitarist ‘Euronymous’, whose subsequent actions were nothing but inhumane. Before calling the police, he photographed the body and re-arranged the grisly setting. One of the photographs was even used on the cover of the bootleg album Dawn of the Black Hearts. If you already feel sick, the worst is yet to come.

Then after the death of ‘Dead’, allegedly Euronymous used the gruesome event to consolidate Mayhem’s “evil” image and also claimed that his old friend had killed himself because the rot had set in within the scene. Euronymous claimed that ‘Dead’ felt black metal had become “trendy” and commercialised. He made necklaces with fragments that he claimed were from the late frontman’s skull and gave them to those in the scene he deemed ‘worthy’.

By all accounts, after the death of ‘Dead’ the scene took an even darker turn. It took on a wholly morbid essence, going far beyond the make-up and theatrics of its early days. It is said that Euronymous “went into a fantasy world” and tried to be as “extreme as he talked about”.

Many in the scene were in favour of totalitarianism, be it communism or fascism, and their take on Satanism was so extreme that they even attacked the Church of Satan for being an inversion of Christianity. This shows just how extreme their worldview really was. Then, later in 1992, the scene embarked on its most infamous wave of hate. 

They began a wave of arson attacks on the Churches of Norway, including the historic Holmenkollen Chapel, Skjold Church and Åsane Church. It is estimated that by 1996 there had been over 50 such attacks by both artists and fans. The hatred had immortalised itself within the visuals of the burning steeples, a clear representation of the scene’s intentions.

Another horrific event occurred in August 1992. Bård ‘Faust’ Eithun, the drummer of Emperor, killed Magne Andreassen, a gay man, in Lillehammer on the night of 21 August. Whilst ‘Faust’ was walking home at night it is said Andreassen made a sexual advance and that ‘Faust’ agreed to walk with him into the Olympic Park. Once they were in the woods and out of sight, ‘Faust’ stabbed Andreassen 47 times, and then kicked his head repeatedly as he lay on the ground bleeding out. 

The worst part about this horrific murder is that Faust showed no remorse at the time. He told Euronymous and Burzum’s Varg Vikernes, amongst others, about his crime. The day after the stabbing, he returned to Oslo and is said to have burnt down Holmenkollen Chapel alongside Vikernes and Euronymous. In 1994, he was finally sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.

In the background of all the church burnings and murderous rage, animosity between Euronymous and Vikernes had been bubbling away. Both had become deluded with their own idea of what the scene should be, with both of them becoming increasingly unhinged.

On the night of 10 August 1993, Vikernes and Snorre ‘Blackthorn’ Ruch drove from Bergen to Euronymous’ apartment in Oslo. A confrontation erupted and Vikernes stabbed Euronymous to death. The murder was incredibly brutal. The Mayhem guitarist was found outside his place with 23 cut wounds, 2 to the head, 5 to the neck and 16 to the back.

It remains unclear why the murder occurred, but all accounts are equally as grotesque. Some say it was the result of a power struggle, others that it was over a financial dispute of Burzum records, and another claims that it was an attempt at “outdoing” Andreassen’s murder. 

Vikernes denied all and claimed it was in self-defence, which seems highly unlikely given just how unmerciful Euronymous’ death was. Vikernes, who we might add, is openly a nazi, claimed that Euronymous had conspired to stun him with an electroshock weapon, tie him up and torture him to death all the while filming the event, using the guise of a meeting about an unsigned contract to snare him. 

Interestingly, the self-defence account is also doubted by ‘Faust’. Meanwhile, Mayhem bassist, ‘Necrobutcher’, believes that Euronymous was killed because of the death threats he was sending to Vikernes. Even more insanely, ‘Necrobutcher’ has also claimed that he also intended to murder Euronymous for unashamedly capitalising on the suicide of ‘Dead’.

Vikernes was arrested on 19 August 1993, and many other core members of the scene were also questioned around the same time. Many confessed to their crimes and implicated others, hampering its violent tsunami.

This was the end of this particularly grim chapter of the Norwegian black metal scene. Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison for murder, a spate of arsons and for the possession of 150 kg of explosives.

Showing just how pervasive the evil had become, two churches were burnt on the day that Vikernes was sentenced, and were taken as “symbolic support”. Although many of its founding members were behind bars, black metal lived to rage another day.

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