Controversy! It seems to follow the black metal scene wherever it goes. Almost being the basis. Whether it’s the crimes committed by its most notorious members, the alleged ” satanic” undertones of the music, the general atmosphere of negativity and darkness that surrounds the scene, the Nazis, the numerous murders.. there always seems to be something for people to get upset about when it comes to black metal!
If they know about it.
But what is black metal, really? Is it just a bunch of angry weirdos in corpse paint banging their heads to cryptic-sounding music? Or is there something more to this oft-misunderstood genre?
I’ll get to that. But for for those who don’t know, black metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that emerged in the early 1980s. Its characterized by fast tempos, shrieked vocals, heavily distorted guitars and often extreme lyrical themes (such as Satanism, death and destruction). Black metal bands usually have a very DIY approach to their music and appearance, shunning mainstream success in favor of an underground existence. Some fans striving to achieve a one man band such as popular black metal artist, Burzum.
The controversy surrounding the genre led to a great deal of media attention being focused on the Norwegian black metal scene. So… what’s all the fuss about? Well, some people take issue with the violent and dark subject matter often explored in black metal lyrics. Others find fault with the way many black metal musicians present themselves onstage (wearing ghoulish makeup and spiked accessories) and in interviews (acting arrogant and nihilistic). And then there are those who simply can’t stand the sound of this type of music, finding it too chaotic and abrasive. That or the big Nazi wave.
In the early 1990s, Varg Vikernes, the notorious guy behind the one-man black metal band Burzum, became embroiled in a controversy that would forever change the course of black metal.
Vikernes was a passionate advocate of black metal’s satanic and anti-Christian ideology, and he and his fellow black metal musicians often engaged in activities designed to shock and offend mainstream society. One of the most infamous incidents involving Vikernes- was the burning of several historic churches in Norway. In 1993, Vikernes was arrested and convicted of arson in connection with the fire at the Fantoft stave church. He was also implicated in the burning of the Holmenkollen Chapel and the Åsane Church.
Another, more know event occured on August, 8th 1993. Vikernes stabbed and killed Euronymous inside his apartment in Oslo. Accounts differ as to the exact circumstances of the killing; according to one version, Vikernes attacked Euronymous with a knife after an argument over musical differences, while another suggests that he had been planning to kill him for some time. Regardless of the motive, Vikernes admitted to stabbing Euronymous multiple times before leaving his body on the stairs. The murder of Varg Vikernes is one of the most controversial and talked about incidents in black metal history. To this day, there are many who believe that Vikernes was justified in killing Euronymous due to perceived slights against him and others within the community. The case continues to fascinate those both inside and outside of the black metal scene more than two decades later.
On May 2nd, 1994 Vikernes’ trial began. He was charged for the murder of Øystein Aarseth (aka ‘Euronymous’) of Mayhem, a band he was also part of, the arson of three churches, an attempt arson of a fourth church, and for the theft and storage of 150 kg of explosives. 22-year-old Snorre Ruch of Thorns drove Vikernes to and from as well as waited outside during the murder. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison for being an accomplice. Vikernes claims “that Aarseth planned to kill him and that he was striking first in self-defense”. On the night of the murder, Vikernes claims he intended to hand Aarseth the signed contract and “tell him to f*ck off”, but that Aarseth attacked him first.
When Vikernes was convicted, it was possible to be released on parole after serving 12 years of a 21-year sentence, but in 2002, before he became qualified, the Norwegian Parliament increased this to 14 years. After severing 12 years, in 2002, Vikernes was denied parole by the Department of Criminal Justice for failing to return to his low-security prison in Tønsberg, Norway after being granted a short leave. His lawyer, John Christian Elden, has complained that the policy change is a form of retroactive legislation. Article 97 of the Norwegian constitution prohibits any law being given retroactive force.
Varg Vikernes was denied parole again in June 2008, but he was allowed to leave Tromsø Prison for a little bit to visit his family. His full sentence would go for another 7 years. However, in March 2009, Vikernes’ parole was announced. He had then served almost 16 years of his 21-year sentence.
While in prison, Vikernes became even more radicalized, and upon his release in 2009, he resumed his musical and ideological activities. In recent years, Vikernes has been involved in a number of controversies, including making racist and anti-Semitic comments, and advocating for the use of violence against immigrants and minorities. In 2016, Vikernes was arrested in France along with his wife, on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, but was released without charge. Despite his many controversies, Vikernes remains a highly influential figure in the black metal scene, and his music continues to be popular among fans of the genre.
So whatever your opinion on black metal is, you might as well be entertained with the drama.