True Norwegian Black Metal reviewed by Luc Rodgers

Book Reviews
True Norwegian Black Metal reviewed by Luc Rodgers
May 21, 2008, 20:37

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TRUE NORWEGIAN BLACK METAL by Peter Beste;  Vice Books, 2008

The job of the photographer is to capture what escapes the naked eye and ideally to expose what lies beneath the surface of the world as we know it. Peter Beste, known for his work with many's excellent music documentaries (including a riveting portrait of Gorgoroth's singer, Gaahl, by the same name, among many others) shares with us his fruits of over seven years spent with the most reclusive, dangerous, and interesting subjects in music today: Norwegian black metallers.

The subgenre gained notoriety through the mid-nineties with the slaying of Mayhem's Euronymous by his bandmate, Varg Vikernes (aka Count Grishnackh). The torching of area historical churches did nothing to quell the fire of controversy, as with the random killings by less-notorious black metal fans. It seemed that a dark force had overtaken Norway, but the persons involved told of a different story. With their ties to Odinism (Norway was one of the last Western countries to be Christened), driving Christianity out became their mission and they would stop at nothing to bring their homeland back to its roots. The black metal subculture grew stronger, driven by the ultra-fast and violent music, the camaraderie, and the dream of being able to act out what their music preached, namely violence and chaos. Thus, the latest wave of black metal was birthed. (The first mention of the term dates back to Venom's 1982 album, Black Metal.)

While it grew, thanks in part to the headlines and the temporary focus of the world, it seemed to also subside back from whence it came, the underground. Sure, black metal bands play rather large shows, have expansive tours, and even top the charts (Dimmu Borgir's In Sorte Diaboli peaked at #1 on the Norwegian charts, and #43 on the Billboard charts; they were the only other Norwegian band to make the top 200 in the United States since A-Ha.), but their subversive personas, extremely aggressive music, and run-ins with the law (everything from grave desecration to murder…and that is only the musicians) keeps the subgenre afloat.

This is where Peter Beste comes in. To get close enough (not physically but actually become ensconced in their daily lives) is a feat in and of itself, but coupled with the sheer beauty and eye that Beste has is a treat for anyone, metal fan or not. This wonderfully packaged book seemingly tells their story with no words.

As the forests rise from the snowy banks and far off lakes that never seem to freeze, the beauty and scope of a country is never as understood as it is here. The corpsepaint donned on black metal giants such as Abbath (Immortal), Kvitrafn (Wardruna), Frost (1349), and of course Gaahl (Gorgoroth) as they strikingly appear in the countryside are simply mesmerizing. The danger is absent, at least on the surface, as the reader flips from postcard to postcard. It is later, where images from Gorogoroth's now famous Krakow, Poland concert is seen, that the true unrest (familiar with fans of the music) is felt. One image, a guitar leaning on an amp next to a pile of actual sheep's heads, reminds one that these are not everyday fellows. These are the dudes banned from Poland. These are the strong-willed preachers of the ancient warriors. These are, simply, guys that you don't fuck with.

How does one capture this? It is not as easy as snapping pictures. It is as if they are wild animals to be tamed to eat from the hand of civilization. To be able to enter their world seems to be as impossible as to enter a groundhog's den…the fact remains that it is simply unreachable. Beste, though, has found the secret and the weapon to bring it to the forefront of what they actually are: individuals with beliefs, ideas, and a mission. To rid the world of Christianity seems unspeakable in this day and age of holy wars and political debates on morals and ideals (abortion, gay marriage, ad infinitum), but the positives are not unspeakable, but merely unspoken. Yes, to kill, burn, or torture is counterproductive to civilization in general but, subsequently, the goal of True Norwegian Black Metal. Should they really be faulted, then, if it does not ring true to one's own beliefs? The answer, of course, is no. There is a reason that the majority of black metallers live outside of civilization. They don't mix. They don't belong. They are like ghosts roaming in the hills. Stories are told and stories are forgotten, but pictures remain and it is only the pictures that will tell the story.

These are people, first and foremost, and their actions should be taken into consideration with their beliefs and environments. To ignore this could prove fatal and, after all, the world could only gain from learning from something they've never dipped their civilized toes into in the first place.

-Luc Rodgers


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