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

May 16, 2015 –

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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.

Wende – Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft

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Tagged as black metal and ambient, Wende is a one-man project that attempts to not only appropriate Burzum’s style, but also build on it, effectively using it to express something different.  In this release we find riffs that are not right out of early Burzum, but that one could easily associate with Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. But the approach is not smooth and layered as in that album. There is a diversity of expressions in Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft but it is presented as a series of pictures which are not necessarily strongly connected to each other in a musical way, requiring the listener to make somewhat of a leap and follow the song by maintaining the emotion and atmosphere in mind. In regards to this organization, this album is more similar to Filosofem, more ambient-oriented. It even has the long dungeon synth sections and songs.

Although the subtlety of Burzum is not lost on Wende, and patience is certainly not lacking in this release, the savant genius of Vikernes makes all the difference in the world. The strong link that one can find between Master Vikernes’ riffs and how his songs build up and flow is completely missing here. On the other hand, there are very good riffs that morph naturally over relatively long stretches of time. Riffcraft here is good, but evocative songcraft may fall a tad of the magical offering Varg made to the gods again and again.

The synth music in this release  is not allowed to sink into the listeners mind as Tomhet does, slowly extending only to fade away ever so gently. Wende integrated the synth ambient music as sections within metal instrumented songs and experimented with the possibilities this might open. The risks of this decision are not small and the strength of the final creation was visibly affected by it.

Props to Wende for not falling into the trap of being a clone of the band he admires. He took it and ran his own way, attached his own ideas, and made what he deemed were corrections of some sort to the weaknesses in Burzum’s music. The intention is worthy of praise, and the end result is interesting. The end result ofVorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft is not on par with the masterworks of the Norwegian sage, but it is an outstanding disciples’ effort worthy of attention.

 

Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll by Gavin Baddeley

March 19, 2015 –

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Among the many questions that journalists have struggled to answer, the fascination of some rock music and most heavy metal with Satan has ranked highly among them. Some take the pejorative view that it exists merely to offend, but others see in it the desire to create a counter-narrative or opposing philosophy to modern society itself.

Gavin Baddeley, a journalist who covers rock and populist metal alongside occult topics, delves into this project with a book that is both flawed and highly informative. Like a high school text, it begins with a history of Satanism and the occult with a focus on biographical fact and salacious detail more than philosophy. This gives us a vague view of Satanism that keeps the mystery alive, and nudges us toward the LaVeyian view. In this, the paradox of Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll reveals itself: it is a journalistic exploration of the surface, namely what people say about the phenomenon of Satanism in music, not an explanation of their motivations.

Witness for example this exchange with Bathory’s Quorthon:

How did the Satanism get into your music?

When we first started, we had no ambitions to make records or write songs — we just wanted to cover Motorhead songs, because that’s what we’d grown up with. We’d just left school, so while other bands sang about drinking beer, fucking women and riding motorcycles, we didn’t know anything about any of that because we were too young. But we did have an innate interest in the dark side of life. It wasn’t purely Satanic from the beginning, it just grew into that. It was a protest, revolt thing — we knew it would upset people one way or another. If you look at it today, it all seems so very innocent. The main inspiration came from a Swedish horror comic called Shock. It was just the blood and gore thing, with a tongue-in-cheek approach…I didn’t have much of an academic knowledge of Satanism, though that came later as I got deeper into it. I started reading into the Christian side of it, too, which is when I decided that it is all fake, so the Viking elements started coming into my work.

This book is paradoxical because while it explores Satanism as a phenomenon, it accidentally hits a lot of other interesting notes about rebellion in general and the dislike of modern society held by metalheads. Its strength lies in its interviews with many leading figures not just in heavy metal but in various forms of occult rock and populist shock-rock. Once the reader gets through the Wikipedia-level introduction to Satanism through famous people accused of being evil, the book runs through a competent history of evil rock music and heavy metal, touching on the important acts with an uncanny ability to find thought-leaders in this area.

As it ventures further into heavy metal, this volume provides a detailed exploration of the death metal and black metal years which recite the major facts, provide some new details, and avoid rampant speculation. At this point as a reader I found myself liking this book, despite having been annoyed by the first chapters of history, and found its insights were greater than one would expect from a journalist outside of underground metal. There are some missteps but sensibly Baddeley allows the book to essentially trail off into interviews with interesting people who are vaguely evil, and does not police forms of Satanism to enforce an agenda. Thus the paradox again: a surface view of Satanism, but many ideas are allowed to emerge to show us the background thought behind those drawn to this general direction, even if no coherent philosophy emerges and so most of it seems like a trash heap of comedic contradictions, bold assertions, mistaken and inverted Christian notions and the like.

Some moments are simply good humor, such as this interview with the legendary Paul Ledney of Havohej/Profanatica/Revenant/Incantation:

What do you think of love?

I don’t know — I love sodomy

Many of the interview questions are excruciatingly obvious and repeated, but this is how Baddeley breaks down his subjects and gets them to finally articulate the core of their thinking on an issue, much like frustrated people often give the best summaries of an idea after they have tried to express it repeatedly to others. This both provides some insight, and creates a lot of redundancy in the interviews which add to the confusion of the topic and the consequent tendency of the reader to zone out. Still there are some exceptions, like this cutting to the chase with Varg Vikernes of Burzum:

Why do you and Euronymous have such a great hatred of the Church of Satan?

Satanism is supposed to be something forbidden, something evil, something secret, something people don’t know anything of. You go to America and in the telephone directory you can see ‘Church of God,’ ‘Church of Jesus’ and ‘Church of Satan.’ You call, and a woman answers, ‘Church of Satan, may I help you?’ You think, ‘This isn’t Satanism! Some stupid fuck is trying to ruin everything.’ The superstitious part of it falls apart. The Church of Satan deny Satan, they say He doesn’t exist, yet they act as if He did, they rebel against God. They call themselves Satanists because He also rebelled against God, but they’re basically light- and life-worshipping individualists.

How interesting that he picked up on individualism as the dominant trait of mainstream Hollywood Satanism. It is as if the ultimate rebellion is to transcend all barriers, including the final one in the self. The interviews in this book are often like metal itself, half amateurish lazy drop-out and half insightful dissident looking for a way outside of the tenets of modern society. In that much of the value of this book emerges, not so much as a study of Satanism itself but as a look at the psychology of opposition, with Satanism as a helpful focus that covers for the real story, which is a revelation of discontent with the philosophies of our time. While Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll does not dig deeper than that, as a read-between-the-lines experience this book is worth its weight in gold and reveals far more than it could under its ostensible topic.

Varg Vikernes launches a D&D campaign

March 18, 2015 –

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Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) occupies a unique place in European and American consciousness. It attracted a specific type of person who was both nerdly and practical, yet geared toward the same futurism as those who read sci-fi and listen to 1970s space rock. D&D came out of the tail end of the hippie boom but embraced a number of ideals contrary to hippie-ness: it liked social hierarchy, expounded different ability by birth, glorified combat and loyalty to one’s kin and king.

These unorthodox tendencies made D&D, like metal, not acceptable for mainstream consumption even among the mainstream of nerds. While right-wing Christians protested it as somehow leading their children away from God (we’re still trying to figure that one out), the real herd quietly sidestepped it and sneered at it as nerdly fantasy suitable only for “perpetual virgins” who lived in basements and bathed monthly whether they needed it or not. And yet during the 1980s, D&D was also a flag for a certain type of nerd. Video-gaming had not yet created a hardcore audience despite being a fad, computers were ultra-nerdly but expensive and/or led to frequent arrests for illegal activity, and the “media nerd” Star Trek and Star Wars fans were still seen as just another type of celebrity-worship. But D&D crossed all those categories and attracted the type of kid who read sci-fi but also had a wider consciousness of the world than the true basement shut-ins.

Varg Vikernes probably played a lot of D&D in the 1980s. As in the US, most of his peers in Norway were probably delusional media zombies who repeated whatever the movies and the talking heads from the “intellectual” media told them. He wouldn’t fit in there. He might within the self-formed quasi-elite of those who both had the brains to understand and appreciate the nerdy bits of D&D, but also the historical and artistic consciousness to delight in its outright medievalism and sci-fi style post-civilizational thinking. Here’s Varg on D&D.

Burzum releases “how-to” videos for classic songs

September 3, 2014 –

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Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes has released instructional videos showing those out there in black metal fandom land how to play along with a selection of riffs from classic Burzum songs.

The videos, released via Vikernes’ ThuleanPerspective YouTube account, show him playing each riff and explaining its context and purpose in the corresponding song with an ear for atmosphere and emotion.

Varg Vikernes (Burzum) facing legal troubles in France and Russia

July 8, 2014 –

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Varg Vikernes founded Burzum and contributed heavily to the black metal movement before being jailed in Norway in 1993 for murder and possible church arson, then on his release in the 2000s began releasing the continuation of his prison-years ambient soundscape albums, most recently with Sôl austan, Mâni vestan and The Ways of Yore. Now he faces additional problems with both French and Russian governments.

Almost a year ago, Vikernes was arrested in France for suspicions of violating anti-discrimination and civil rights law there. His trial came up recently and a French court has convicted him and sentenced him to a six month suspended sentence and $10,000 in fines. In addition, Russian authorities seized his web site from June 18-23 because it found the Russian edition of his book Vargsmal violated Russian speech law as well.

While I can’t say that I agree with Vikernes — although I am fond of the first three and last two Burzum albums — in my view speech codes and goody-two-shoes laws are about the most un-metal thing there is. In the 1980s, the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) tried to prevent us from hearing music with lyrics containing gratuitous sexual or occult content, but now thirty years later, our governments are more worried about political speech. It tells us what threatens these governments that they are now just fine with our gratuitous sex and violence and occultism, but have turned their focus to ideas themselves. It’s an odd turn that I never could have foreseen.

For more information about Vikernes and his music, see our interview with Varg Vikernes from May of last year. For his beliefs, you can visit his blog and his website for his role playing game, movie and writings. There is also his official Burzum website and then, for a neutral viewpoint, the Burzum study group’s analysis of his music and beliefs. If you want to help with his burgeoning legal fees, there’s a donation page and his official merchandise page.

Burzum – The Ways of Yore

June 1, 2014 –

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Neoambient gains another stronghold. This genre — constructed of film soundtracks, Dead Can Dance style medievalism, neofolk and dark ambient with some structural ideas from black metal — rose out of the ashes of black metal, with bands like Beherit, Neptune Towers (Darkthrone), Lord Wind (Graveland), Danzig (Black Aria) and Burzum leading. On The Ways of Yore, Burzum integrates organic sounds like vocals and guitar into the cosmic ambient that defined the last album, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan.

The Ways of Yore creates within the same spectrum of music stretching between Dead Can Dance and Tangerine Dream that marked the previous album but with even more of an ambient feel. Songs rely on repetitive patterns with layers of instrumentation and song structures that shift to develop melody or make dramatic contrast enhance the imitation of their subjects. As in ancient Greek drama, poetry and music merge with sole musician Varg Vikernes‘ spoken and sung vocals guiding the progress of keyboard-sample-based music. Melodies refer to each other across the length of the album through similarity and evoke themes from past albums, culminating in “Emptiness” which previously made itself known as “Tomhet” on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, the album that ended black metal by raising the bar above what others could imitate.

Somber moods prevail throughout this work which mixes melancholy with a sense of reverence for the past. Hearing Varg sing and develop harmonies with his voice shows room for expansion by this creative musician who previously let the guitars do the talking. Guitars show up on later tracks, distorted in the shuddering but mid-tone texture that gave Filosofem its otherworldly sound. Even though songs begin with simple note clusters, they expand to full melodies which match to a cadence and regulate atmosphere. The result demands attention through its conquest of empty space with the barest of sounds but over time reaches an intensity of expectation that resembles a ritual.

What makes people love neoambient is that it obliterates the pace of modernity and replaces it with a reverent, transcendental atmosphere. Burzum takes an approach that aims at a sound older than medieval, a primeval cave-dwelling primitivism that strips away the pretenses of developed culture. Its striking Nordic imagery, including songs to Odinn and Freyja, add to this mystery and the Burzum mythos as a whole. Escaping black metal, while controversial, granted Vikernes a chance to explore the development of melody in silence, and the result serves to expand atmosphere beyond our age to something that is both ancient and futuristic.

Burzum announces release of The Ways of Yore on June 2, 2014

April 2, 2014 –

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Burzum, the sometimes black metal and sometimes ambient project of Norwegian-descended French national Varg Vikernes, announced the release of new album The Ways of Yore on Byelobog Productions/Plastic Head for June 2, 2014. No further information is given about whether the album will continue with the post-modern black metal style of Umskiptar or the folkish dark ambient style of Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which was one of our “Best of 2013″.

Emerging from the same locus of intensity in Norway that produced Immortal, Mayhem, Emperor and Ildjarn, Burzum began in the early 1990s as a complex riff-narrative style of black metal with unnerving vocals that combines a feral animality with emotional sensitivity. Early works attempted to integrate elements of ambient music and create a sense of ritual designed to “stimulate the fantasy of mortals.” This era ended with Filosofem and composer Varg Vikernes being jailed for the murder of Euronymous of Mayhem.

During the incarceration years, Burzum shifted direction to full ambient with Dauði Baldrs and Hliðskjálf. These albums allowed Vikernes to escape the monolithic sound of guitar/bass/drums and work with multiple instruments, culminating in the lush creative density of Hliðskjálf (which was revisited somewhat in Sôl austan, Mâni vestan).

After prison, Burzum entered a period of post-modern black metal influenced by droning indie-pop variants of NSBM such as Drudkh and other Eastern European bands. This music reflected pop song structures, a shoegaze-style approach to melody but with the longer phrasing — albeit recursive — of black metal like early Ancient, and extensive use of North mythology. It is unclear whether this period continues now with folkish dark ambient album Sôl austan, Mâni vestan in 2013 being a temporary detour, or whether Vikernes will launch Burzum into a fourth period with the more complex instrumentation and hence compositional density of that album and Hliðskjálf.

Interview: Varg Vikernes

May 26, 2013 –

varg_vikernes-sol_austan_mani_vestanAmong metal’s legions are many for whom society is not a fit. Society tries to find rules to make everyone get along; metalheads, who “think outside of the box,” tend to look toward what they see as right, not socially compatible. As a result there are many in metal who stand above the crowd and are impossibly iconic for their unique worldviews. One such man is Burzum’s Varg Vikernes.

After creating in the course of four early albums an impressive body of art that essentially ended black metal as it was by raising the bar beyond what others could easily participate in, Vikernes was imprisoned for sixteen years for his alleged role in church arson and murder. During the time he was in prison, he put out two more impressive keyboard-based albums and several books’ worth of writings before falling silent around the turn of the millennium.

Upon his release, he didn’t slack off, either, but pushed out two new albums influenced by the rising drone-NSBM trend from Eastern Europe, and has released a film, is currently working on a role-playing game, and continues to produce numerous writings and a new theory of history. Since he is an object of interest as well as such a strong personality that he cannot escape notice, he has continued to use interviews and other public talking points to advance his ideas.

Whether we agree or disagree with the man, it’s hard to argue that his back catalog is anything but on the whole impressive, or that he isn’t articulate and forceful about his beliefs. Recently, he released his first post-prison ambient album, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which in the words of our review is a “vivid journey from start to finish…Vikernes has returned, and has found his natural voice.”

Deathmetal.org was fortunate to catch Mr. Vikernes in a rare un-busy moment between his many projects, where he answered a few of our questions.

With Sôl austan, Mâni vestan you have left metal behind, and yet this work has as much identifiable personality as your earliest works. What do you think makes this style so adapted to where you are now, and what you want to express?

This type of music has always been a part of Burzum, from the very first album and all the way to Umskiptar, so I think those who appreciated the old non-metal music will perfectly well be able to appreciate this non-metal music as well. In a sense I keep making music in the same style, only I have left out the metal parts.

Can you tell us a little bit about the influences on this album? Were these influences instrumental to achieving this new sound?

I know where you want to go, but the truth is that I didn’t listen to any other music whilst making this whatsoever; I didn’t seek inspiration in any other music and I did not even think of any particular music whilst making this. However, upon completion I did think it reminded me a bit of a calm version of Tangerine Dream.

This album is made for the ForeBears film, and I guess it is correct to say that I was inspired by the concept of that film.

In your writing on Thulean Perspective called “Shadows of the Mind,” you mention how black metal can be a gateway to the Divine Light. What is the Divine Light?

That question is best answered with a link.

Your work seems to have been guided since its earliest forms by a sense of the “poetry” of existence, and a purpose to the human experience, while others were busy disclaiming this. What shaped your thoughts in this regard?

I think it is simply due to the fact that I knew instinctively that it was better before. I missed what once was. I longed for the past that I felt was better. I dreamt of things that had been but were no longer.

After Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, where do you see yourself going artistically? Will you continue to make albums in this ambient style, or re-invent music in another form?

I can dream of the past, but I never make artistic plans for the future. I just follow where my spirits takes me, so to speak.

What is the purpose of art? What habits or activities do you find most crucial to the spirit that drives your art?

It’s the spirit of the past trying to break free and influence the world we live in today. That’s the purpose and driving force too.

What do you think black metal had to contribute? Do you think your earlier aggressive work, and your newer more mellow work, come from the same place?

They do, and I think black metal is just a expression and (for fans) appreciation of the despair most men feel from living in a world that is not built for them. When you grow up, so to speak, or perhaps just grow wiser (many young men are wise too), you move on and instead of whining about the world we live in you do something about it instead. Black metal has woken up many good anti-Jewish Pagan Europeans and has thus lead them on the right course.

The lyrics to “Dunkelheit” suggest a natural mysticism to your work. Do you see this in the ancients as well? Do you think this knowledge changes people in such a way that they cannot be part of modern society? How do you see this as different from the Christian spirituality?

Christian spirituality? They have none.

I think the natural mysticism will wake up Europeans; the Pagan spirit is like embers waiting under the ashes. All it needs is some dry wood and it will turn into a flaming fire again, burning, warming and lighting up. Natural mysticism is, amongst other things, that dry wood.

Do you think history is cyclic, meaning that similar events lead to similar outcomes and thus, people eventually return to the same eternal truths? What do you imagine those would be? Is there a way to express such truths in art?

Yes, similar events lead to similar outcomes, and truth prevails in the end, always, so when they are blurred, distorted, hidden or spat upon they will always return to glory. There is no unversal truth in this context, becuase man is not universal, just like animals are not. I am part of the European species, and the eternal truth to us is Honour, and we will return to that for sure.

Is there a way to express such truths in art?

Yes, but it might not be understood by all.