Satanic and Norse Black Metal: A Comparative Examination of Philosophy and Staying Power

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Trying to discern a coherent ideology or philosophy behind the Black Metal movement,even if we’re only considering bands from a specific time and location, is automatically something of a losing proposition. Each band has its own idiosyncrasies which often conflict with the principles of their peers; bands’ philosophical stances are often transmitted only through totally over-the-top, gonzo lyrics; and, in a lot of cases, the bands were just making shit up as they went along without really thinking through what they were espousing. That said, there are still themes, principles, and behaviors that are common to multiple artists within the genre, and it’s even possible to sketch out rough groupings from these shared characteristics. In this article, I’m going to explore one of the bigger divides stemming from the early Scandinavian black metal movement: Satanic black metal and Norse black metal. Based on the philosophies of these groups, I think it’s even possible to project the future trajectories of these genres as social movements.

One of the biggest philosophical distinctions in Black Metal is probably between Satanic Black Metal and Norse Black Metal. Here are the differences in really, really broad strokes:Satanic black metal developed first, and as time went on pagan themes were often incorporated into the work of Satanic Black Metal bands. The two schools ended up splitting, however; adherents of Norse |Black Metal (many of whom previously endorsed Satanic ideologies) openly disparaged Satanism as juvenile and went off to do their own thing. Satanic Black Metal musicians, to whom Black Metal was defined entirely by its devotion to Satan, viewed the bands singing about Vikings and Odin as heretics or traitors. In this article, I’ll first discuss Norse Black Metal and its prospects as a genre before moving onto Satanic Black Metal, which, I think, has a more fruitful future ahead of it.

Norse Black Metal (hence, N.B.M.) musicians profess a devotion to the mythology of the Germanic tribes who inhabited northern Europe during the first millennium CE. Like Satanic Black Metal, N.B.M. is hostile to the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity, which it considers an oppressive, invasive religion. N.B.M. musicians frequently lament the mass conversion of northern Europe to Christianity from roughly 800-1200 CE, and the destruction of pagan communities, art, and ways of life that this demographic shift brought with it. N.B.M.’s adherents see themselves as the only ones in their society who haven’t been brainwashed into giving up their true cultural heritage, and they fight to try to restore the old ways and kick the foreign religions out. Varg Vikernes, the musician behind Burzum and the murderer of , is a prolific author on the subject and is probably the single most prominent figure in both the musical movement and the related pan-European political arm, The Heathen Front.

N.B.M. musicians, strongly influenced by the unabashedly racist (or “racialist,” as he tends to call himself) Vikernes, often draw the lines between enemy and friend among ethnic and nationalist lines, which tends to make the genre insular, exclusive, and marginal. Ultimately, this is its greatest weakness: no matter how magnificent its music is (and don’t get me wrong, there is some great N.B.M. music out there), the N.B.M. ethos is perpetually preaching to the choir. By rooting its philosophy and social organization so deeply in considerations of ethnic and national divisions, rather than opening it to any like-minded individuals, N.B.M. has set a hard cap on its spread and influence within the wider global culture.

If you’re not a “Nordic, heterosexual [with] a Pagan ideology,” N.B.M. doesn’t really have much to offer you beyond the actual aesthetics of the music (and, to be fair, Vikernes has usually kept his political stances out of Burzum’s music; as he says, there isn’t anything in the music itself that would stop a “a Christian-born black gay feminist converted to Judaism… or worse; a Muslim” from enjoying one of his records, that certainly doesn’t apply to all N.B.M. bands). In terms of the philosophy espoused by N.B.M. musicians, if you’re not down with thinly-veiled racist and nationalist positions, you’ll probably not be able to stomach much N.B.M. rhetoric.

For this reason, it’s unlikely that N.B.M. will continue to grow much outside of its target demographic in northern Europe. Even the recent upswing of nationalist, xenophobic sentiment in Europe holds relatively little promise for N.B.M., given its radical opposition to the Christian values that most conservative European nationalists hold near and dear. Without a radical reorientation of N.B.M.’s priorities and inclusivity, it’s likely the genre will continue to grow more and more isolated and radical until it collapses into irrelevance.

Satanic Black Metal (“S.B.M.” or “Orthodox Black Metal,” as it’s sometimes been called) has, I think, a much more interesting future ahead of it. Drawing from the occult aesthetics of first-wave black metal bands like Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, and King Diamond, S.B.M. coalesced in Norway in the late 80’s, employing over-the-top, almost absurdly self-serious devotion to Satan and evil for evil’s sake. The Oslo-based S.B.M. band Mayhem is arguably most directly responsible for the rise of the movement, with founding member Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth and vocalist Per “Dead” Ohlin initially crystallizing the movement’s philosophy and aesthetics, respectively.

Euronymous was more or less solely responsible for developing the misanthropic, elitist, self-consciously ‘evil’ streak that came to characterize this genre. He saw himself as the de facto leader of the entire Norwegian black metal movement, and he established a record store, Helvete, and a record label, Deathlike Silence, around which much of the early Scandinavian scene revolved. Aarseth embraced the Euronymous persona, sporting a full-on Fu Manchu style mustache and portraying himself as some sort of snooty, mysterious, Satanic noble who determined who was and wasn’t “true” black metal.

Whereas first wave black metal bands could often be vaguely tongue-in-cheek in their invocations of Satanism, S.B.M. was apparently deadly earnest; Euronymous served as a kind of whip for the Scandinavian scene, enforcing strict self-seriousness upon the genre. A second-wave black metal musician could never break character, or they would be immediately branded as posers chasing the Black Metal trend and ostracized. Helvete’s status as a genre mecca afforded Euronymous a mechanism for creating an in- and out-group, thereby allowing him to enforce a certain amount of ideological orthodoxy within the early Black Metal scene.

While this level of loose ideological control was possible, it’s still hard to discuss the early S.B.M. bands’ actual ideologies, because most of their “philosophy” was essentially performative. A lot of what the musicians ended up saying in interviews was ad-libbed to further develop the reputation (and ultimately the myth) of the black metal scene. Whatever seemed “extreme” or “brutal” was adopted, which included everything from Dead’s self-mutilation during sets to mounting impaled pigs’ heads on stage to burning down historic medieval churches (it’s worth noting that Vikernes, who was Mayhem’s bassist at the time, is widely considered to be responsible for kicking off Black Metal’s arson campaign). The bands reveled in media attention and they wanted to portray themselves as mysterious, dangerous figures. As such, they were willing to say whatever seemed most likely to give that impression and keep them in the spotlight. Much of what was said in interviews was said primarily for shock value, with little or no belief behind it, and some things which were initially stated for shock value later became dogma.

To put it crassly, the individuals creating this music were kids cobbling shit together as they went along. I don’t say that to disparage their work (in fact, as a Satanist myself, I’ve been prompted to confront many interesting ideas through their music and actions), but rather to stress that any discussion of these bands’ ideas necessarily entails a certain amount of piecing together half-formed, sometimes contradictory ideas. There’s no authoritative Satanic Black Metal manifesto out to neatly enumerate the core tenets and principles of the genre. In fact, there isn’t even a canon of philosophical remarks; it falls to fans to extract, interpret, and build on the incomplete, scattered ideas found in S.B.M. works.

As for what I personally find compelling in Orthodox Black Metal philosophy, I think its emphasis on dogged, uncompromising contrarianism is underappreciated. Norway in the 80s and 90s was an incredibly socially homogenous society, and the Scandinavian Black Metal movement grew in opposition to that fact. It starkly inverted the values and moral beliefs of society, forging a bizarre, counter-intuitive way of life: whatever society has deemed “evil” was to be pursued by Black Metal musicians as the highest good. It wasn’t hedonism or objectivism or any sort of LaVeyan bullshit like that; it was literally evil for evil’s sake.

Considering the ubiquity of Abrahamic religion in the western world, Satan is a natural figurehead for such a movement. If society’s very concepts of good and evil are largely derived from Christian morality, embracing “evil” doesn’t necessarily entail immoral behavior, but rather a rejection of the moral codes imposed by conventional social and religious authority. This type of Satanism is radically individualist, and it encourages idiosyncratic moral reasoning, non-conformity, and rejection of blind deference to authority. If you strip away all of the incendiary shock tactics and cheap nihilism of the early Norwegian movement, this is, I think, the most potent philosophical strand conveyed through it.

It is, I think, largely due to this egalitarian, individualist tendency that S.B.M. has been proliferating in recent years. As education improves world-wide and individuals become more and more secularly oriented, this brand of Satanism becomes more attractive to a wider segment of the population, who have been frustrated and stymied by outdated, authoritarian religious sentiment. Satanism can serve as a unifying banner dedicated to checking the role of traditional religions in society and politics. The Satanic Temple, for instance, has organized numerous campaigns in the United States in recent years to promote progressive political action and minimize the religious right’s ability to legislate morality. Its lobbying efforts and lawsuits have helped stop attacks on women’s reproductive rights, efforts to sneak religion into public schools, and restrictions on same-sex marriage. Because they are defined in opposition to the strict, authoritarian morality of the Abrahamic religions which still plays an undue role in political and social affairs in nominally secular countries, Satanic movements like these are increasingly becoming attractive means of political and ideological organization, especially for those most directly affected by religion’s influence.

This streak of Satanic thought is not exclusive to secular, western society, though; in fact, it holds the most promise in less permissive, more theocratic countries. In recent years a small but growing number of musicians in the Middle East have begun to play Black Metal as a means of expressing individual freedom and attacking the oppressive religious society around them. Three years ago, a woman-fronted black metal band called Janaza, purportedly from Iraq, made news across the web for its track, “Burn The Pages of Quran.” While doubts about Janaza’s authenticity have surfaced, there are plenty of real Black Metal bands in strongly Islamic countries, and the principle behind them is still compelling: Islam is an Abrahamic religion closely related to Christianity, and in Middle-Eastern countries it plays an even greater social and political role than Christianity does in the west. It’s natural, then, for dissidents in these societies to employ Black Metal to oppose the repressive religious tendencies of their society in the same way, albeit with much higher stakes, given that members of these bands could face the death penalty for blasphemy if their identities were ever discovered. In an interview with Vice, Mephisto of the Saudi Arabian black metal band Al-Namrood (“Non-Believer”), expressed the appeal of black metal in predominantly Islamic countries:

Christianity nowadays is passive. The church doesn’t control the country. I think whatever rage that people have got against the church cannot be compared with Islamic regimes. You can criticize the church under freedom of speech in European countries, but you can’t do that in Middle Eastern countries. The system doesn’t allow it. Islam has inflicted more authority on the Middle East than any other place in the world. Every policy has to be aligned with sharia law, and this is happening right now in 2015. We know that, 400 years ago, brutality occurred in the name of the church, but the same is happening right now in this age with Islam.

Recent events like the Arab Spring have shown that there is a growing population in traditionally Islamic societies that wants to catch up with the rest of the world’s secularism and individual freedom. Since conventional means of dissidence are outlawed, Satanic Black Metal, as a marginal, outsider movement itself, seems to be the perfect outlet for this dissatisfaction. In fact, I wouldn’t be very surprised (or dissatisfied, for that matter) to read about a series of ultra-conservative mosque burnings in the near future. Whether it’s against conservative Christianity or radical Islam, free-thinking individualists worldwide can unite under the banner of Satanic Black Metal to work for a world free of theocracy and religious authoritarianism.

All in all, it’s an exciting time for Black Metal. With the rise of online distribution and music sharing, it’s never been easier to disseminate new albums and spread niche genres like Black Metal across the globe. While I don’t think Norse Black Metal is going to have much enduring appeal without opening itself up to the rest of the world, the Satanic Black Metal movement seems to be waxing, and I’m excited to see what comes out of it, both musically and socially.

33 thoughts on “Satanic and Norse Black Metal: A Comparative Examination of Philosophy and Staying Power”

  1. thewaters says:

    This is a well written article, but fundamentally it only goes to show the way in which Satanism is in fact a tool of decay. In fact, your Satanism just sounds like a form of Protestantism in many ways. Be careful that your SBM does not get hijacked and turned into a tool used to promote freedom, equality and womens rights….oh wait!

    1. I agree. But as a reflection of the reality of the modern black metal manifestation, it is true.

      It is not the same as the best black metal of old.

      Independently of your stance (He is a Satanist that probably sees something positive in it, you and I probably stand on the other side), this article’s value lies in the hindsight it provides.

  2. Timothy D White says:

    what’s the point of this article in 2015?

    1. What a superficial question.
      You might as well ask what is the point in us studying any history at all.

    2. Viranesir says:

      fucking idiot, type isis on google and look what it might be

  3. Bobby says:

    off topic but I think Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism should be required listening for anyone who thinks about joining a black metal band, like, it should be illegal and punishable by prison time to be in a “black metal” band having not heard it

    1. I second your motion!

      1. Dr Death says:

        I’ll happily oblige the enforcement of such a law.

    2. Anthony says:

      It’s probably the Immortal album I listen to the most after Battles in the North. I wish they’d kept up with the acoustic stuff, but the first Ancient album is a good Empire Strikes Back to Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism’s Star Wars.

  4. Rich or Dead says:

    Great article. Above comments are good as well. Group hug, everybody.

  5. Doug Killjoy says:

    Goddamn man, how many Encyclopaedia Metallum sjw’s did y’all recruit?

    1. hypocrite says:

      15

    2. Just leave a reply, tell him why he is wrong, instead of whining.

    3. Chris says:

      It only takes one to fuck it up.

  6. Personally, I think that the opinion expressed here regarding “Norse” Black Metal is rather shortsighted.

    I think the transcendental values at the core of NBM actually can be extrapolated and applied to human beings in general.
    The core is not the racism, but the rather the nature worship, which includes acknowledging and knowing of one’s own roots.

  7. BIG TASTY DELICIOUS COCK says:

    When I think of what made America the greatest country in human history and, if you were a kid before 1968, it’s easy to sense there was good in our society back in the day. The kind of good is worth dying for. If satanism is what this article suggests it is, then I reject it for two reasons: 1- I’m not a teenager anymore, 2- there is no sense of Vir in this kind of satanism. There is no good.

    Norwegian black metal on the other hand suggests a better path through cultural order, traditional values, ethnicity and masculinity. These exist in a human group when a civilization is at its peak. The good and beauty that results from it is worth preserving, it’s worth dying for. They justify war.

    Norwegian black metal is superior and universally applicable simply because it’s core belief tenets are eternal to all great civilizations and offers real world solutions to societies that are in decay but wish fix its problems. Problems are never new, they’re always the same and they’re cyclic.

    1. While I am not sure about the specific details here, I agree with this general stance.

      Your second paragraph is more of a claim than a fact.

      I agree with your last paragraph in its entirety.

    2. blackmetalkid says:

      But one of the things that allowed the construction of tje good american dream was christian faith. It held that society firmly strong through a culture with strong and highly refined morality. Now it’s all going to hell as the catholic church itself has become (in clerical reigns, at least) a satanic tool of cultural alteration. Christianity hasn’t been itself (saved by some exceptions in the form of truly faithful and intelligent “evil fighters” such as E. Michael Jones and Olavo de Carvalho) in a long time. Just more kumbaya and no self-sacrifice anymore. Just opinions and how important they are. The founders of America would be sad to see their dream go downhill after the baby-boomers decided to reject the moral values their ancestors had taught them (too stoned and drunk, still rebellious, pleasure seeking teenagers and from there things kept getting worse untill barbarism would finally take the culture down).

  8. Murph says:

    TLDR: Secular Humanist Satanist Black Metal is the future cuz it doesn’t exclude anybody like those meanies in Norse Black Metal.

    But in all seriousness, why is it desirable for black metal to be “more attractive to a wider segment of the population”? The whole reason black metal was a viable artistic movement was because it attracted the rejects, outcasts, sociopaths, and others from the fringes of society who saw the modern world was a fucked up place and expressed it in their music. As far as I’m concerned, anyone else is not qualified to make black metal. More charlatans making cookie-cutter albums does not strengthen metal, it kills it.

  9. Cynical says:

    This article’s thesis ends up being correct, but the logic behind it is entirely incorrect.

    Consider: is good music generally more political or religious? Why are “norse black metal” bands paying homage to a system of beliefs that they have no real connection to, other than “it was practiced on this land hundreds of years ago”?

    Meanwhile, the interpretation of “satanic black metal” as being compatible with individualism is utterly laughable. Go re-read the lyrics to “Hell Awaits” and “South of Heaven”, consider what “evil” means in the context of humanity, and then consider why Antaeus chose to adopt the alchemical symbol for “rot”.

  10. No Tolerance says:

    If nordic black metal is so uninfluential and devisive, then how do you explain all those nationalistic and pagan black metal bands that aren`t nordic? It goes even as far as Mexico (Xibalba anyone?). Also what is wrong with insularity and exclusivity when it produces quality? Tirades about Varg and his views are also overdone, nothing new or interesting there.

    As for Mayhem I think its neither here, or there. Especially during Deads influence, which is undeniably evil, but branding anything deemed evil as satanic is just simplistic.

    The notion of satanism actually becoming a viable political force amuses me slightly. Unfortunately it would probably be as gay as some fag satanists kissing each other on christian graves, they can`t even get grave desecration right.

    As far as Islam is concerned: beheadings are metal as fuck.

  11. Really Someone says:

    Just some thoughts.

    I didn’t read the article yet, but I read through the comments and now I see why the views on this site are funny to me. This site talks about how “modern” society was so good and they want to go back to that while listening to Metal, the only reason why “modern” society was so “good” back then was because EVERYONE was a hardcore christian sheep and if you deviated from that, you were screwed. Do you really want that? If that’s the case I think you are listening to the wrong music genre…

    Second of all, people talk about “Indivdualism” on here, the only reason why people embraced it was because the SAME PEOPLE who created your “good” christian society put Indivdualism out there. People on here act like they have answers and know what’s going on when you have no idea on how things really work in this world.

    Third, the Norse bands wanted to go back to the old pre-christian days, they didn’t want to go back to the so called “glory” days of “modern” society like this site is so obsessed with. They didn’t want “indivdualism” because back then people lived and died by OR-LOG (look that up) so you couldn’t have “individualism” at all…

    1. I think there is an oversimplification of things here. I think nobody here actually wants to “go back”. You are correct in accusing some people around here of oversimplification of what “the other side” is. But you should not incur in the same mistake.

      What is espoused in this website is the idea of immortal values whose upholding can lead to excellence no matter the time. This is the true longing below the “Norse” metal in general. Superficially, we may talk about tales of heroes or war, but it is the feeling of valour, the sacrifice, perhaps, and love and loyalty for kin or brother that is the point.

      1. Really Someone says:

        I know you just started editing on here, but really? This site is practically a political site, people on here seem to think that Metal should be used to save society or something, read the comments on here and the posts in the forum…I think that this site should focus on the things that you talked about in the last paragraph in your above response, because Only Death is Real and if that’s how it really is, then politics and society and all the “saving the world” jazz on here doesn’t mean anything. Life is about experience, not about “safety” and misguided nostalgia…

        1. Then you misunderstand “Only Death is Real”.
          It does not imply that everything else does not matter. It implies nihilism.
          Contrary to what is believed by simple people, nihilism does not involve
          not caring. It involves not believing in intrinsic value.
          What this gives you is a versatility, an understanding of reality where only
          hard facts, like death, and the cycle of life, is real.

          To that metal adds the very important aspects of hope, longing, search for excellence, etc
          Yes, life is about experience and not about safety or misguided nostalgia. But this
          does not change reality. Like I said, Only Death is Real points to one reality, not
          a multitude of “equal realities”.

          It’s a tricky topic, and I do not wish to make the conversation too political as metal is beyond that, but not completely unrelated (all human affairs are related). And the article itself made it a little political towards the end, with modern Satanism standing for liberalism.

  12. Really Someone says:

    Oh, and as far as Satan/Satanism goes, they are only useful as SYMBOLS. When you try and codify Satanism as a religion or something it fails, why? Because the concept of Satan in the bible was all piecemeal, there isn’t anything definite about Him so for as long as He’s been around anyone and everyone has put their own spin on Him. I do revere Satan but in all honesty He is a symbol to me which represents things to me just like he represents certain concepts in Metal, and I don’t go trying to tell people about it because it’s my own personal thing…

    1. Rich or Dead says:

      Your mistake is thinking that Satan only appeared as late as the Christian bible. There were many incarnations of generally adversarial deities or spirits well before the Mosaic religions established themselves.

      1. But they were not the same contradictory concept of Satan as Christians and the Semitic Jehova cult understood it.

        1. Rich or Dead says:

          But there were always purely adversarial “scapegoat” gods that were merely a mirror image of the “good” aspects of benevolent gods. They are Satanic in spirit. That spirit carries on, despite whatever name it takes. It’s just the shadow half of the divine. It’s always been around.

          1. This is a clearer way of puting it, I think.

  13. Doug Killjoy says:

    Apparently only a few people noticed it but speaking of sneaking things into places, he sure as hell snuck a few things into this article. And some of the well-architected coded language seems about as far to the left as one can possibly go. In fact the equality-loving white-male-hating is so overt in parts that one cannot shake the notion that it just has to be an elaborate joke (not saying that curveballs are unwelcome). The most shocking part of all is how the phrase “right side of history” is somehow absent from the text.

    We’re living in an age where each person must literally contort their personalities and censor their core beliefs in alignment with the the various paradigms of the age to have any shot at a relatively peaceful existence. It’s as if we’re collectively saying “yeah yeah yeah, our denial has reached a level that would be best described as comical, but I sure as hell can’t think of a better way and god knows I loves me breathing privileges so let’s just all get along and get this thing over with already.” The last thing we need right now is even more compassion for the “oppressed” in society.

    I will agree that a quality piece of music is a quality piece of music almost entirely independent of the artist’s various leanings. We’d really be missing out if we rejected every compositional piece by every fundamentally flawed musician, that’s fo sho. Maybe that’s why ideological debates are not (but probably should be) typical of music sites.

    1. No Tolerance says:

      “Maybe that’s why ideological debates are not (but probably should be) typical of music sites.”

      Unless its NSBM, or the like, then music becomes secondary to the ideology, overt or not.

      1. Richer Dead says:

        Are you saying that NSBM is usually judged by its musical dexterity before its ideological bent? Because if so, then you are thinking completely backward. But it should be judged musically before any ethical merits are considered.

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