A short history of black metal – suicide, blazing churches and murder
People that know me will know that music is not a big part of my life anymore, but like (nearly) everyone there was a period where it was a massive part of my life and who I was, who I was friends with and who I wanted people to think I was… gig after gig after gig. Ripping about Glasgow – King Tut’s, The Garage, The QMU, The Barrowlands, The O2 and, if you were unlucky enough, Hall 4 at that fucking SECC.
However, I never went to many black metal gigs, or ever really understood the draw of the genre. It just always seemed like a fucking awful noise – “here, mate – take a wee breather and slow down on the old drums”. Saying this, I was a mosher as a teenager and did have friends that moved on from Limp Bizkit, Korn and Pantera pretty quickly and started to listen to more extreme genres of metal – black, death, thrash metal were all within ear-shot but were all ‘too much’ for me if I am being honest i.e. “dug-shite“.
I did end up at The Berzerker at Strawberry Fields in Glasgow just before Christmas in 2002 – supported by some absolute no-marks; Insision, LabRat and Red Harvest (me neither) – with a friend who was a fan of deafening blasts of shit. The little club let you in as a 17-year-old and you could get a few pints, so along I went with my mate who was the fan, and another mate who was, like me, a fan of a pint. No spoke to Craig in many years. Might be dead – who knows?
It was an absolute earache, but we got drunk – a successful night in Glasgow as a teenager. The Berzerker’s drummer, Gary Thomas, didn’t even have any toms to hit – although he was a lovely fella. We sat speaking to this guy, having no idea who he was, until he said, “that’s me lads, cheers for the drink” and whipped on a mask. Our other mate (the fan) missed all of this as he was too busy doing some sort of “wall of death”, or some other overly-gimpish type of behaviour.
I do remember thinking, “never again” though and I stuck by my guns and never went to another industrial death metal gig again. I’d rather have put my cock in Nutri-Bullet, which back then hadn’t even been invented,
My musical “journey” – less then eclectic
I started to appreciate music at quite a young age – I don’t have any subjective data to back up that I was young – but, I do remember the first album I ever asked for was Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. And, I got it on tape for my Christmas in 1991 when I was 6-years-old. For the next four years, I don’t think I really listened to anyone else. I was right into Michaal Jackson, even though my granny spied him a mile away and used to say, “he’s a screwball, dancing about, grabbing his willy and shouting ‘ehh ehh'”. How right she was.
I started to expand my musical horizons at about 10-years-old with some Happy Hardcore (the Bonkers albums on tape) and, secretly, was properly into The Spice Girls after Wannabe and Girl Power took over the mid-90s. I was probably also so frantically tearing the head of it that, quite frankly, I don’t know how it didn’t look like it had been through an as yet un-invented blending machine.
Then, I’ll be honest, there’s a hole in my memory (probably from all the wanking) for a few years as to what I would have been listening to… until Sean Parker’s Napster launched. I didn’t have the internet in my house until I was 18 but my friend at the time did, and I would constantly stay there at weekends, just downloading all this “music” you would never have had access to otherwise.
Slipknot’s Wait and Bleed is the first song I remember hearing at 16 and thinking, “this is different – this is what I like now”. And, I never really grew out of the whole nu-metal thing – I still listen to Slipknot on the odd occasion I decide to stick some music on. From the ages of 16-19, that was it to be honest – nu-metal left, right and centre. Fred Durst was a modern-day poet, Jonathan Davies was cool as fuck in those Adidas tracksuit tops and Phil Anselmo was, in all probability, a horrible Nazi.
One night out at The Arches in Glasgow (Lashed with Lisa Lashes) changed everything and electronic music (hard-trance for a year or so, before techno took precedence) took over every weekend party, until I fell away from the scene – and music as a whole at about 26-years-old. I just couldn’t take any more ecstasy. Enough was enough.
But, enough personal nostalgia… I wanted to write and podcast a little bit about black metal. Although I never really immersed myself in the scene (because it was full of properly weird wee tadgers), I was always vaguely aware that there was something deeper, darker, and altogether more troubling behind its ‘origin story’. More than just fully grown men sticking on make-up to look all dead.
Black Metal – The Second Wave
This is not a full history of black metal and I’m going to focus on the bit I vaguely know about from hearing stories as a teenager – the suicides, the murder and the church burnings to be more specific. If I were to try and do the full story, I’d probably just end up killing myself like the guy coming up soon.
The second wave started in the early 1990s, featuring mostly Norwegian bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Emperor, Satyricon and Gorgoroth. Even the band names are just annoying as fuck – we get it guys, you’re heavy dark and all twisted. Never had a McDonalds because it’s too “commercial” and “tastes nice”. All the while going to Boots to get their eyeliner. This early Norwegian black metal scene was pretty distinct (pish) and inspired the black metal scenes in Europe and The USA.
Another term for the genre can be “satanic metal” and with it being the early 1990s and satanic panic still front and centre in some places (it isn’t that long after Richard Ramirez – The Night Stalker, and a self-proclaimed Satanist – has been jailed for life for a spree of killing in California) – the scene often caused controversy, due to the actions and ideologies associated with the genre. Some artists express misanthropic views, and others advocating various forms of extreme anti-Christian sentiment, Satanism, or ethnic paganism. Again, these wanks just being wanks, but covered in Max Factor.
The conventional history of black metal is that pioneers like Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer (that’s the worst so far) were part of a “first wave”, and that a “second wave” was begun by the early Norwegian scene, especially by Mayhem vocalist Dead (hahaha, give us peace) and Mayhem’s leader (leader?), Euronymous (a scary netherworld fairy that was right into corpses).
You have probably seen some of the bands, wearing lots of make-up to look like corpses – this was mainly influenced by the American 1970s rock band Kiss. You know, Gene Simmons, the guy that sold air guitar strings? The fact people bought them should tell you something.
The scene was exclusive and created boundaries around itself, incorporating only those who were “true” and attempting to expel all “poseurs”. Some members of the scene were responsible for a spate of church burnings and murder, which eventually drew attention to it and led to a number of dafties being stuck in the jail.
On 8 April 1991, Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin (who called himself “Dead”) died by suicide while alone in a house shared by the band. Fellow musicians described Dead as “odd, introverted and depressed”. Before going onstage he went to great lengths to make himself look like a corpse and would cut his arms while singing. Mayhem’s drummer, Hellhammer, said that Dead was the first to wear the distinctive corpse paint (make-up from the catalogue) that became widespread in the scene. He was found with slit wrists and a shotgun wound to the head. Dead’s suicide note began with “Excuse all the blood”, and apologized for firing the weapon indoors. Per was obviously unwell and it’s a shame that he got to the point in life where he thought his only choice was to end it. Depression is a cunt and maybe things could have been different for the guy.
Now this other bloke, Euronymous, really comes across like a proper dreggy little shit-stain on the pants of society. Before calling the police, he got a disposable camera and photographed the body, after rearranging some items. One of these photographs was later used as the cover of a bootleg live album, Dawn of the Black Hearts. A prick’s prick, this one. He also made necklaces with bits of Per’s skull and gave some to musicians he deemed worthy. Rumours also spread that he had made a stew with bits of his brain. Euronymous used Per’s suicide to foster Mayhem’s evil image and claimed he had killed himself because extreme metal had become trendy and commercialized. Another comment that just stinks from a man that I hope you are all starting to see is a massive throbber.
Two other members of the early Norwegian scene would later die by suicide: Erik ‘Grim’ Brødreskift (of Immortal, Borknagar, Gorgoroth) in 1999 and Espen ‘Storm’ Andersen (of Strid) in 2001. The scene appears to have been a very unhappy place for some – a real sin.
The church burnings
In 1992, members of the Norwegian black metal scene began a wave of arson attacks on Christian churches. By 1996, there had been at least 50 such attacks in Norway. The first to be burnt down was Norway’s Fantoft stave church.
Police believe Varg Vikernes of Burzum was responsible. The cover of Burzum’s EP Aske (“ashes”) is a photograph of the destroyed church. In May 1994, Vikernes was found guilty for burning down Holmenkollen Chapel, Skjold Church and Åsane Church. To coincide with the release of Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Vikernes and Euronymous had also allegedly plotted to bomb Nidaros Cathedral, which appears on the album cover. Terrorists, as well as complete bangers. The musicians Faust, Samoth, (both of Emperor) and Jørn Inge Tunsberg (of Hades Almighty) were also convicted for church arsons.
Those convicted for church burnings showed no remorse (or you just couldn’t see it under their clown face=paint) and described their actions as a symbolic “retaliation” against Christianity in Norway. Mayhem drummer Hellhammer said he had called for attacks on mosques and Hindu temples, on the basis that they were more foreign. Some extra racism thrown in for good measure here.
The murder of Euronymous
In early 1993, Euronymous and Vikernes had a little fall out… On the night of 10 August 1993, Varg Vikernes (of Burzum) and Snorre ‘Blackthorn’ Ruch (of Thorns) drove from Bergen to Euronymous’s apartment in Oslo. When they arrived a confrontation began and Vikernes stabbed Euronymous to death. His body was found outside the apartment with 23 cut wounds—two to the head, five to the neck, and sixteen to the back (find more true crime stories here). Now, murder is bad – but I don’t feel anything for this guy at all. Not an iota of sympathy from me – kick about with terrorists, arsonists and all round bad potatoes and these things happen.
It has been speculated that the murder was the result of either a power struggle, a financial dispute over Burzum records or an attempt at outdoing a stabbing in Lillehammer the year before by Faust. “Outdoing a stabbing” is a pharse that really holds no place anywhere really – “I’m going to stab him. But, better”.
Vikernes denies all of these, claiming that he attacked Euronymous in self-defence. He says that Euronymous had plotted to stun him with an electroshock weapon, tie him up and torture him to death while videotaping the event. I don’t know how much detail you go into with the person you are going to kidnap and torture before you grab them, if I’m being honest. But, he said Euronymous planned to use a meeting about an unsigned contract to ambush him.
Vikernes claims he intended to hand Euronymous the signed contract (nothing says ‘uncommercial’ like a contract) that night and “tell him to fuck off”, but that Euronymous panicked and attacked him first. For a man with a plan to stun gun a person, video it and then murder them, he sure does panic easy, eh? He also claims that most of the cuts were from broken glass Euronymous had fallen on during the struggle. The self-defence story is doubted by Faust, while Necrobutcher (this is worse than Hellhammer, much, much worse) confirmed that Vikernes killed Euronymous in self-defence due to the death threats he received from him.
Varg Vikernes is arrested for murder
Vikernes was apprehended on 19 August 1993, in Bergen. Many other members of the scene were taken in for questioning around the same time. Some of them confessed to their crimes and, shat the bed, and implicated others. In May 1994, Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison (Norway’s maximum penalty) for the murder of Euronymous, the arson of four churches, and for possession of 150 kg of explosives. However, he only confessed to the latter.
Two churches were burnt the day he was sentenced, “presumably as a statement of symbolic support” – or just angry, wee guys looking up to the wrong people. Vikernes smiled when his verdict was read and the picture was widely reprinted in the news media. Blackthorn was sentenced to eight years in prison for being an accomplice to the murder.
That month saw the release of Mayhem’s album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, which featured Euronymous on guitar and Vikernes on bass guitar. Euronymous’s family had asked Mayhem’s drummer, Hellhammer, to remove the bass tracks recorded by Vikernes, but Hellhammer said: “I thought it was appropriate that the murderer and victim were on the same record. I put word out that I was re-recording the bass parts. But I never did”. Too much of a shitebag to own up to it prior, so told a dead man’s family lies – another massive warmer.
In 2003, Vikernes failed to return to Tønsberg prison after being given a short leave. He was re-arrested shortly after while driving a stolen car with various weapons. Vikernes was released on parole in 2009.