Black metal is perhaps the most bizarre, esoteric movement in modern music. The subgenre, a predominantly Scandinavian phenomenon, skyrocketing from the dingy basements of Norway to worldwide notoriety on the back of a series of disturbing offenses in the early ’90s. The music itself is abrasive and relentless with its iconography, lyrics, and harsh instrumentals.
Surely some of this must be hyperbole? In some cases, yes. But in fact, the annals of black metal are filled with myriad creepy and bizarre things, like provoking distress with flying animal heads. It’s a rare instance of reality aligning with the imagery and culture projected by an art form, maybe because of which, black metal is experiencing something of a resurgence in the 2010s. With bands like Deafheaven gaining accolades from hipster taste makers such as Pitchfork and a 2019 feature film based on the book Lords of Chaos starring Sky Ferreira and Rory Culkin (described as Trainspotting for millennials), the subgenre is having a moment.
Parents are understandably concerned about the social implications of the genre’s hype. Scientists with Macquarie University’s music lab set out to discover if such apprehensions were warranted by conducting an experiment to test whether black metal desensitizes listeners to violence. Their theoryessentially states, “Death metal fans are nice people.” By contrasting Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” with Bloodbath’s “Eaten,” researchers found that “the dominant emotional response to [black metal] is joy and empowerment” and fans are not, in fact, desensitized to disaster. Bloodbath’s frontman, Nick Holmes, described his band as the music equivalent of an ’80s horror film. There are, however, exceptions to this rule.
Read on to learn about some of the most violent, infamous, and notorious crimes and figures in the history of black metal, and determine for yourself how deeply you want to delve into the dark forests of northern Europe.
“Excuse All the Blood”
Mayhem is the most notorious group in the annals of black metal, and rightfully so. Set to be the subject of the upcoming film Lords of Chaos, the band’s history is soaked in violence and extreme anti-social sentiment, an image the members of Mayhem cultivated for themselves in an effort to define what would eventually be known as True Norwegian Black Metal.
The wave of sordid violence involving Mayhem’s members kicked off in 1991, when lead singer Dead (real name Per Ohlin) slit his wrists and shot himself in the head with a shotgun. He left a very short suicide note: “Excuse all the blood.”
Mayhem’s Bassist Burned Churches And Murdered His Bandmate
Varg Vikernes, Mayhem bassist, sole member of one-man band Burzum, and the most notorious man in black metal, was convicted of murder and burning three churches. In 1994, he was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum sentence in Norway. He was released on parole in 2009, after serving 15 years.
The year before his conviction, a confrontation between Varg, also known as Count Grishnackh (because black metal names), and Mayhem guitarist Euronymous ended with Varg stabbing Euronymous 23 times; the wounds proved fatal, and Varg’s motive remains unclear to this day.
If you’re connecting dots here, Euronymous took photos of Dead after his suicide, and collected brain and skull matter, and was then killed by another member of his band two years later.
Satan’s Minister On Earth, Also A Rapist
Founding Gorgoroth guitarist Infernus considers himself Satan’s minister on earth. A theistic Satanist (for more see Things You Never Knew About Satanism), Infernus is nothing it not true to the diabolical reputation he cultivates for himself. In 2005, he was convicted of rape. In 2006, Infernus appealed the decision, claiming he was so drunk he didn’t remember raping anyone.
Good for you, buddy. His charge was changed from rape to aggravated sexual assault, gross negligent rape. So, still a rapist.
In the 2005 Canadian documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, then-Gorgoroth frontman Gaahl gave a very candid and bizarre interview that has since become the stuff of legend. He was immediately investigated by Norwegian police after the film premiered, as he advocated for more church burnings –
“Church burnings and all these things are, of course, things that I support 100 percent and it should have been done much more and will be done much more in the
Gaahl also imparted some extremely bizarre nuggets of wisdom during his interviews, and is known to leave uncomfortably long pauses in conversation, a habit as funny as it is creepy.
Gorgoroth Hosted An Illegal Black Mass In The Pope’s Birthplace
In 2004, Gorgoroth recorded a DVD at a show in Poland entitled Black Mass Krakow, and in the process, broke all kinds of laws. As it turns out, staunchly Catholic Poland, birthplace of the then-Pope, has laws against blasphemy (which has gotten Nergal, of Polish blackened death metal band Behemoth, in all kinds of trouble).
By including crucified nude models and countless Satanic icons in their show, Gorgoroth violated Poland’s anti-blasphemy laws. The use of severed sheep’s heads and about 20 gallons of sheep blood also violated Polish animal rights laws. However, because the band was unaware of these laws, and the show’s promoter neglected to mention them or to stop the show, they were cleared of all charges.
You can watch the entire show on Youtube.
The Saga Of Hendrik Möbus: Hatecore, Murder, and Nazis
n 1993, three members of German National Socialist (i.e., Nazi) black metal band Absurd murdered a 15-year-old boy. The band members were 17 years old at the time. In 2000, the band’s vocalist, Hendrik Möbus, one of those involved in the murder, was arrested in the United States for an outstanding warrant in Germany; he violated the terms of his parole by mocking the murder victim with a sieg heil salute (the salute itself is illegal in Germany).
If all that weren’t enough, upon his arrest, it was unveiled Möbus was in league with American Nazi William Pierce, hence his visit to the US. Together, they were internationally promoting a racist genre of music called hatecore, from which they made millions.
Varg Vikernes, Nazi Terrorist
In 2013, Burzum and Mayhem member Varg Vikernes was arrested in France on terrorist charges. Openly a right-wing extremist with strong anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim opinions, Vikernes, who objects to the term “Nazi,” was arrested on suspicion of planning a massacre. The arrest came four years after he was released from prison, having served 15 years of a 21-year sentence for murder a church burning.
Thai Black Metal Musician Avajee, Murdered For Tarnishing Satan
In January of 2014, Thai musician Avajee, bassist and vocalist for the band Surrender of Divinity, was found murdered in his home. In a detailed Facebook post, the murderer admitted to the crime, writing:
I have intended to end my life since I was 25. Because I’ll die eventually, I want to drag down those who tarnish Satanism with me. But I refrained from killing women and children. In my view, I have more respect for devoted Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims than those who call themselves Satanists without knowing anything about it. If I did not kill him, I’m sure he would be murdered by someone else later.
“Death Is The Orgasm Of Life”: The Suicide Of Jon Nödtveidt
In 2006, Dissection frontman Jon Nödtveidt committed suicide. It was a carefully orchestrated act; he was surrounded by candles, deliberately arranged, and left a suicide note, a will, and letters for his father and girlfriend. An open Satanic grimoire, or book of magic and incantations, found by his body.
Two years before killing himself, Nödtveidt was released from prison after serving a sentence for being an accessory to the murder of a gay man, which was deemed a hate crime. He felt great remorse about the crime, and spent his time in prison writing songs for a new Dissection album, Reinkaos, which, when released in 2005, was a huge success for the band.
Long before committing suicide, Nödtveidtwas quoted as saying, “The Satanist decides over his own life and death and prefers to go with a smile on his lips when he has reached his peak in life, when he has accomplished everything… Death is the orgasm of life!”
Emperor Drummer Faust Murderd A Gay Man In Blatant Hate Crime
In 2003, drummer Faust triumphantly rejoined Norwegian black metal legends Emperor after a 10-year absence. What was he doing in that time? He was in prison for murdering a gay man in what is clearly a hate crime. The book Lords of Chaos details the crime. Said Faust, “This man approached me—he was obviously drunk and obviously a faggot.”
Faust pretended to take the man up on his proposition for sex so he could take him to the woods and stab him to death. “It’s not a big deal, at least not in my opinion,” he claimed. Faust also apparently admitted to burning down a church not long after the murder. So maybe think twice before shelling out money on Emperor merch.
Bizarre Rumors Of Pig Hands And Ax Attacks
Bizarre rumors swirl around Nattramn, sole member of enigmatic the black metal project Silencer. In one creepy and obviously fictitious tale, Nattramn cut his hands off and sewed pig feet on his wrists (what was he sewing with if he didn’t have hands?). This rumor was fueled by a photo Nattramn released of himself, covered in bandages and blood, with pig’s feet instead of hands.
In another tale, Nattramn attacked a little girl in a park with an ax, driving an ax into her skull, nearly killing her. When police arrived on the scene, he begged them to kill him. In a distrubing twist, it turns out the latter crime was committed by Nattramn’s brother, who suffered from schizophrenia.
Mayhem’s Triumphant Return Was Thwarted By A Flying Sheep Head
After years of suicide, murder, and bizarre rumors of the band’s evil practices, Mayhem finally put its past in the past and got on with making and performing music. The band was in a good place in 2003, when vocalist Maniac, who replaced Dead, accidentally flung a dead sheep’s head into the audience during a macabre bit of performance art.
The projectile thwacked a concert goer’s noggin and landed him in the hospital. When interviewed about the incident, Per Kristian Hagen, the man who got head-bopped by the flying sheep skull, said “My relationship to sheep is a bit ambivalent now. I like them, but not when they come flying through the air. I have a headache now.”
The Church Burnings
Church burnings began in Norway in 1992. By 1996, more than 50 churches had been set on fire, and many of them were burned to the ground. Some of the churches were hundreds of years old, important cultural landmarks. In every instance, those convicted of church burnings in this period were connected to the black metal scene.
The act was commonly associated with Satanism, but began as a protest against the Christian culture forced on Norse people at the expense of their indigenous beliefs and culture.
Gaahl, Convicted Torturer, Invested In A Women’s Fashion Line
In 2008, Gorgoroth vocalist Gaahl spoke publicly about his sexuality—he is gay, and in a relationship with Dan DeVero, a Norwegian modeling agent. Together, the couple invested in Wynjo, a women’s fashion line designed by Sonia Wu of Bergen, Norway. Perhaps the strangest detail of all—wynjo means “happiness”.
The Lure Of The Forest
There’s something about the forest. Black metal bands can’t resist it. Be it a photo shoot or a music video, any occasion for imagery calls for a trip to the woods for a black metal band. This tendency has inspired some hilarious memes, as well as threads on sites like Reddit, where users ask questions like“Why is every [black metal] music video set in a forest?”
Choice responses include:
- How do they even get electricity?
- Because it’s free.
- Because forests are metal as f*ck.
What’s In A Name?
Apparently a lot, if the painstaking lengths black metal musicians go to name themselves are any indication. A short list of some of the more ridiculous aliases used by prominent members of the scene includes:
- Count Grishnackh
- Nocturno Culto (he’s Latin, apparently)
- Demonaz Doom Occulta (also apparently Latin)
- King ov Hell
- Lemarchand (French?)
- Kjetil-Vidar Haraldstad
Wait, no, that last one is an actual name.
It’s Tough Being In A Black Metal Band
Speaking with the Guardian in 2005, Mayhem bassist Necrobutcher admitted it’s difficult being in a black metal band. Between the suicides, murders, police investigations, arson charges, and Satanic rituals, there’s hardly time to play music. Of the violence swirling around the band, Necrobutcher said, “We couldn’t really buy better publicity. But every time we lost a member, we had to find somebody else to replace them and start the whole rehearsing process again. We suffered in that way as a band.”
The Black Metal Sheep
Given black metal’s tempestuous history with sheep, and in particular sheep decapitation, it seems strangely appropriate that, in 2014, a lamb was born with a corpse paint pattern on its face. Care to guess where it was born? Norway, of course.