Despite the tangled web of murder, church burnings and its association with torture and Satanism, the earth in which the original incarnation of black metal is buried remains largely unturned by the mainstream music media.
The origins of black metal unfortunately do not involve a tale about a giant evil egg ascended from the depths of hell to wipe out all hope and optimism on Earth (no that, my friends, was Kerry Katona’s birth) the story of black metal developed in the slightly less obvious surroundings of Norway.
On second thoughts the dark, cold, isolated landscapes of Scandinavia, its pagan heritage makes
Initially influenced by the heavier end of the metal spectrum, bands such as Bathory, Venom, Merciful Fate, you could say black metal was a response to the increasing accessibility of Death metal. Euronymous, the late founding member of BM veterans Mayhem often voiced his discontentment for the state of death metal; ‘It’s a big trend today to look totally normal with these goddamn jogging suits and sing about ‘important matters’, and call it Death metal. These people can die, they have betrayed the scene.’
One item of clothing black metal musicians aren’t renown for wearing is casual sportswear. The general uniform seems to consist of black, presumably in order to match the colour of the musicians souls (plus it’s slimming.) The other obvious staple being corpse paint, pioneered by the likes of KISS, King Diamond, and introduced into the scene in it’s ‘modern’ sense by Dead the late lead singer of Mayhem (yes that’s another ‘late’ member of Mayhem to add to our collection.)
‘Before the shows, Dead used to bury his clothes into the ground so that they could start to rot and get that "grave" scent. He was a "corpse" on a stage. Once he even asked us to bury him in the ground - he wanted his skin to become pale’.
Despite the rather ridiculous addition of spikes, PVC and witches hats (please check out this classic immortal video for help with obtaining the black metal ‘look’) black metal has a number of articulate and insightful renaissance men some might say…maybe not!
The scene arguably has developed and evolved in dark waves, the first wave included artists such as Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, and Burzum. Through media coverage and interviews with Varg Vikernes of Burzum and Euronymous parallels are easily drawn between Black metal and politics, although some refrain from becoming politicized altogether, influenced more by Norse mythology, H.P Lovecraft and Tolkein.
The creation of Helvete, Euronymous’ record shop and the strict social and aesthetic rules within the scene, reinstated elitism within musical genre, with which a black metal hierarchy was instantly created. The influx of right wing mentality within the scene has been known to attract vehement xenophobes neo Nazism (Varg Vikernes is one of the main artists attributed to this mentality) however the Aryan superiority witnessed in Paganism and Odinism has been referenced as far back as Led Zeppelin! It’s interesting if you were to source the music all the way back through to its original roots; metal, classic rock, soul, blues, slavery- the root of all ‘evil’ is black, much to the disappointment of National Socialist black metal bands the world over.
My personal interest in the music was certainly fuelled by the drama surrounding the genre, it was probably a number of Terrorizer articles and the whole of ‘Lords of Chaos’ before I had even begun to try and listen to the music itself. To the untrained listener not much distinguishes black metal from death, grindcore, trash, crust punk and infact every other sub genre of metal there is (there are of course hundreds) but there are certain characteristics which one must be familiarized with in order to associate a particular act or artist with black metal.
For one the music must sound as though the gates of hell have been opened and earth itself has been consumed by the subterranean underworld, as flames lick the mortal world, and with it an aural assault that sounds like an orchestra consisting of a chainsaw and some old garbage cans (excuse the American colloquialism) being attacked by a psychotic drunk, vocals come courtesy of an old lady riddled with tuberculosis coughs up a lung.
The varying musical styles of black metal range from traditional to industrial to symphonic to melodic to electronica to operatic and so on and so forth. The more experimental acts are of course the most interesting. Many artists that grace the Southern Lord roster, Striborg, Atilla Csihar’s work with sunn0))), Leviathan et al tread the avant garde side of the track.
The likes of Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth and Satyricon have gone on to find some mainstream success. Even if it is for using shock merchandising tactics (remember the COF ‘Jesus is a Cunt t-shirt with the masturbating nun…no me neither.) Personally these bands make me feel sick, but not in a good way.
Despite initial concentration in Norway and Europe, Black metal is also a global affair, hailing not just from Scandinavia, but far from the fjords in USA, Australia, Japan and South America (I’m yet to hear of any big names coming out of Africa.)
The search to find female input in black metal that isn’t confined to ‘operatic vocals’ and melodic choruses, is a chore in itself. After extensive research (badly done I must admit) I managed to conjure up two at least two well known acts with a substantial amount of Estrogen in them. Japanese black metal girl group Gallhammer and Runhilde Gammelsaeter formerly of doom metal band Thorrs Hammer, apparently she use to date Ihsahn from Emperor, see you just cannot detract from the misogynistic world of such masculine music, there just HAS to be sex involved! How true this is, I’m not so sure. Hopefully there are plenty of females within the genre perhaps they’re far too evil to rear their nocturnal heads into the limelight.
(DISCLAIMER AIMED AT BLACK METAL PEDANTS: In no way am I attempting to provide a complete of even accurate portrayal of Black metal, I am in no way an expert just very interested in the genre and the bands, please forgive any mistakes and misquotes and please don't burn me.)