In some music scenes around the globe, like the many detailed in our “Music + Travel Worldwide” guidebook, are bright and inviting, full of cheerful talented people who want nothing more than to share their songs with the world. In others, fans spend their spare time cutting themselves and burning down churches while musicians make soup out of each other’s brains. One such musician, Varg Vikernes of the Norwegian Black-Metal titans, Burzum, has just released his first album since completing a 16-year prison sentence for murdering a band mate just as a new documentary on the scene, fresh off the festival circuit, heads to the DVD market.
As Stereogum reports, Vikernes, sometimes known as Count Grishnackh, has just released his first album since 1999, marking his return to music after 11 years and his first chance to record with guitars since he was tried in 1994 for killing Mayhem bandmate Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth and complicity in the burning of several ancient stave churches in Western Norway (metal strings are not allowed in prison cells). In the 1990s, Vikernes was at the forefront of a hard-edged, theatrical metal scene whose members trafficked in crime, pyrotechnics on and off stage, physical violence, far-right politics, and worship of pagan gods. Later to be a victim of the brutal scene, Euronymous set the tone for the movement by claiming to have made a stew of the brains of the lead singer of Mayhem, named Dead, who had committed suicide at the band’s mountain retreat outside Oslo. The most ambitious and outrageous of the movement, Vikernes was noted not only for his guitar work and ability to draw a fiercely devoted crowd no matter which band he was in, but his fiery personality and politics. Amid claims that he was the mastermind behind a series of terrorist acts, Vikernes became as locally notorious as O.J. Simpson during his murder trial, drawing condemnation and support from his countrymen and attention from the global media.
In recent years, the scene has smoothed out around the edges as members have either died, retired, aged, or been replaced with a younger, less nationalistic group of musicians. Interest in Norway’s Black Metal movement remains high and it was only late last year that the festival circuit got a look at “Until The Light Takes Us” (trailer, above), a frightening documentary look at the best and worst of a time where music, murder, and mayhem went hand in hand. Now claiming to have left violence behind for the safety of his family’s farm, Vikernes is back to churning out dark, noisy dirges. Should we be expecting him to relight other fires as well?
For a safer, kinder guide to a planet of sound, pick up “Music + Travel Worldwide”.
Top (clockwise from left): Varg Vikernes in the 1990s, the remains of Fantoft Church, Vikernes in prison in “Until the Light Takes Us” (2009), courtesy of Variance Films.
Bottom: Image from “True Norwegian Black Metal” (2008), courtesy of powerHouse Books.