Black Metal is what probably comes to mind first when someone unfamiliar with the metal scene thinks about metal. Harsh vocals, distorted guitars and blast beats that sound, to an untrained ear, like a bunch of random noises and shrieking that doesn’t make much sense.  The music goes hand in hand with the stereotypical belief that all metalheads worship the devil and burn down churches. While, like all stereotypes, the origin of that kind thinking may be true, it is vastly exaggerated and skewed.

The history of the black metal scene in Norway was well documented – Mayhem being the dominating force in igniting the whole movement.  Mayhem was composed of movement leaders Hellhammer, Dead, Euronymous, and Varg Vikernes.

Fellow musicians often described Dead, the bands vocalist, as introverted and distant while off-stage, but his on-stage personality was much different. According to drummer Hellhammer, “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.” Dead was the first to wear the paint on his face,  called corpse paint, that the scene soon adopted. On 8 April 1991 Dead committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Guitarist Euronymous, who found Dead dead, first took a photo of the situation before calling the police. This image then went on to be the album art for Dawn of the Black Hearts.

The suicide of vocalist Dead paled in comparison to the forthcoming wave of hysteria generated by the media. Vikerenes, after a period of tension with Euronymous murdered him in the stairwell of his apartment building in 1993.  It needs to be noted that  none of these extreme acts, up to this point, were designed for public scrutiny. The teenagers responsible for the hysteria had their own personal agenda, mostly against each other and the destructive christian faith, that eventually became swallowed up in the media attention that ultimately followed.

Black Metal originally carried a very anti-Christian message. This was a result of the how the bands felt the Christian faith had decimated the history of cultures throughout Norway. In late 1992 there was a slew of church burnings, to which Vikerenes is typically credited. The media twisted the story to present the idea that these were a result of satanic rituals involving members of the black metal scene. However, in reality there was no satanic movement in Norway at all, but what emerged after the media-lies was a subculture consisting of rebellious teenagers who liked metal music and flirted with satanic symbolism to provoke the establishment.

While Black Metal may have an ugly past, it paved the way for an entire scene. USA’s Wolves In The Throne Room sing about radical ecology,creating a nature-based occult worldview and modern society’s lost connection with the natural world.

Mayhem (Norway)- Funeral Fog

Wolves In The Throne Room (USA) – Thuja Magus Imperium

For more information on the history of black metal check out Until The Light Takes Us and Lords of Chaos.