Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “Spooktober Edition” where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
In honor of Spooctober I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the old tales of Norway’s notorious black metal scene. Creepier than most Hollywood horror films because these stories are real life.
Before I continue I must warn you of the mature subject matter which may be triggering to some containing murder, suicide, desecration of animal corpses, self mutilation and church burnings. With that said, you have been warned. Happy Reading!
For many people, their knowledge of extreme metal mainly springs from the activities of a small group of Norwegian black metal musicians.
In the early 90s, Norway’s black metal scene turned into a satanic cult as musicians burned churches, self-harmed and killed. There was even a film, “Lords of Chaos” released about it.
In 1993, Varg Vikernes from the band Burzum was convicted of stabbing Euronymous, guitarist from rival band Mayhem to death 23 times. Euronymous was stabbed two to the head, five to the neck, and 16 to the back. Various other musicians associated with the scene were also implicated in murders, assaults and rapes, while others committed suicide. And, most notoriously of all, black metal musicians were involved in – and openly encouraged – the burning of churches, up to 20 of which were torched between 1992 and 1996. In terms of musicians walking it like they talked it, these were unprecedented acts, unmatched before or since.
Mayhem and the growing Norwegian black metal scene distinguished themselves by railing against religion. Myriad belief systems underpinned the movement, from paganism to Aarseth’s fervent communism, but Christianity was public enemy No 1. “Christianity never suited Norway,” says Dolk, founder of the band Kampfar. “It never belonged here. The black metal scene reacted to that. Norwegians are an introverted kind of people.” The starkness and coldness of Norway itself is embedded in the bones of Norwegian black metal.
Mayhem declared themselves satanists, not because they worshipped the devil, but because the creed promoted individualism, riled Christians – and got attention. They pioneered an unforgiving sound: demonic wails; hostile, pulsating riffs; a trance-inducing wall of noise. The more primitive the production, the better.
Looking for musical opportunities Dead contacted the members of Mayhem, sending them a package which contained a demo tape, a letter and a crucified mouse. Weeks later, in the spring of 1988, Dead moved to Norway and became the band’s vocalist. During his time with Mayhem, Dead’s mental state worsened considerably as he became more and more obsessed with death and dying. Reflecting his decaying mental health, Dead’s behavior degenerated as well, becoming more and more extreme, especially on stage.
Dead started wearing corpsepaint, a style of black and white makeup meant to make the wearer appear demonic and corpselike. While other musicians have utilized makeup before, like Alice Cooper and the members of KISS, Dead’s corpsepaint was different and original. According to Mayhem bassist Necrobutcher:
It wasn’t anything to do with the way KISS and Alice Cooper used makeup. Dead actually wanted to look like a corpse. He didn’t do it to look cool.”
Drummer Hellhammer claimed that Dead “was the first black metal musician to use corpsepaint”, thus being the originator of the most identifiable aspect of the black metal aesthetic.
To further shape his ghoulish image, before shows Dead began burying his clothes days or weeks before a live performance so that they could start to rot and get that grave scent. He was a corpse on a stage, only digging them up hours before the show. On one occasion he even asked his band mates to bury him alive before a concert so he can look more like a corpse while on stage. In the words of Hellhammer:
Dead also carried dead, decomposing birds with him while on tour, keeping them in plastic bags. Before a concert, he would inhale the rotting miasma so that he may perform “with the stench of death in his nostrils.” Morbid props, like mutilated pig heads impaled on pikes, adorned the stage for Mayhem performances and Dead made a habit of hurling pig heads at the crowd. He also began cutting himself, slashing his arms with hunting knives and broken bottles while singing. Dead explained in an interview that all this was meant to scare away the “posers”:
“We had some impaled pig heads, and I cut my arms with a weird knife and a crushed coke bottle. That wasn’t brutal enough! Most of the people in there were wimps and I don‘t want them to watch our gigs! Before we began to play there was a crowd of about 300 in there, but in the second song “Necro Lust” we began to throw around those pig heads. Only 50 were left, I liked that!”
“Dead didn’t see himself as human; he saw himself as a creature from another world. He said he had many visions that his blood has frozen in his veins, that he was dead. That is the reason he took that name. He knew he would die.”
In time, Dead became just as deranged off-stage as he was onstage during performances. He started to self-mutilate during rehearsals and even when he was just spending time with his band mates and friends. He kept rotting, dead birds and other small animals under his bed and barely left his room; he starved himself intentionally to become skinny and pale, to look like a corpse. Dead often told his friends that he is not human, that he is a creature from another world, that the blood in his veins is frozen or coagulated, and that he is dead.
Most of Dead’s friends were alarmed by his increasingly erratic behavior. Hellhammer described him as a “very strange personality” who suffered from crippling depression. Others, like Euronymous, the founder of Mayhem, thought Dead was insane:
” I honestly think Dead is mentally insane. Which other way can you describe a guy who does not eat, in order to get starving wounds? Or who has a t-shirt with funeral announcements on it?”
Years after Dead committed suicide, black metal drummer and convicted murderer Faust talked about Dead in an interview. Recollecting his memories, he said that:
“He wasn’t a guy you could know very well. I think even the other guys in Mayhem didn’t know him very well. He was hard to get close to. I met him two weeks before he died. I’d met him maybe six to eight times, in all. He had lots of weird ideas. I remember Aarseth (Euronymous) was talking about him and said he did not have any humor. He did, but it was very obscure. Honestly, I don’t think he was enjoying living in this world, which of course resulted in the suicide.”
Euronymous became fascinated with Dead’s suicidal tendencies and precarious mental health, and started encouraging him to end his life. Dead did so on April 8, 1991. At the time he was living together with Euronymous and Hellhammer in a house located in the woods near Kråkstad. When Hellhammer went to visit his parents, Euronymous deliberately left Dead alone in the house to kill himself.
Dead slit his throat and his wrists with a knife and then shot himself in the head with a shotgun. When Euronymous returned to the house he discovered a bloody mess, and Dead’s corpse with its brain leaking out of the shattered skull.
He left a note behind that read:
Please excuse the blood, but I have slit my wrists and neck. It was the intention that I would die in the woods so that it would take a few days before I was possibly found. I belong in the woods and have always done so. No one will understand the reason for this anyway. To give some semblance of an explanation I’m not a human, this is just a dream and soon I will awake. It was too cold and the blood was coagulating all the time, plus my new knife is too dull. If I don’t succeed dying to the knife I will blow all the shit out of my skull. Yet I do not know. I left all my lyrics by “Let the good times roll” — plus the rest of the money. Whoever finds it gets the fucking thing. As a last salutation may I present “Life Eternal”. Do whatever you want with the fucking thing. / Pelle.
Instead of calling the police, Euronymous rushed to town to buy a camera and take pictures of the gruesome scene. He even tampered with the potential forensic evidence by rearranging the weapons and other items in order to get a “better shot”. One of these pictures was later used as the cover for Mayhem’s bootleg live album Dawn of the Black Hearts, which was released in 1995 (two years after Euronymous was murdered by the infamous Varg Vikerners of Burzum). Euronymous also collected fragments of Dead’s skull and made necklaces out of them. He gave these necklaces to other black metal musicians whom he deemed “worthy”, such as Faust of Emperor and Evil of Marduk.
The 1993 murder of Norwegian black metal “inner circle” leader Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth by Mayhem band mate, Burzum’s Varg Vikernes, is one of the most notorious crimes in the history of metal.
The incident put the underground sub genre of black metal on the map.
Metal is already a hard sell for most people, given that it is a genre that likes to push boundaries. As the name suggests, in extreme metal, taking something as far as possible, further than before, whether sonically, lyrically or visually, is what musicians aspire to. Given that this can mean confronting some of society’s taboos head-on, extreme metal can seem threatening and frightening.
Why did Varg Vikernes kill Euronymous?
The whole thing is still a matter of controversy.
Many say it was after a woman, but the most believed fact is that Varg Vikernes had a kind of rivalry with Euronymous.
To clear this up, Euronymous was the pivotal figure in the Norwegian Black Metal. Around the late 80s, hell of a lot of Norwegian bands were playing the old school death metal, but Mayhem was one of the bands that was emerging as a brutal black metal band in the underground, the sound heavily influenced by Bathory and Celtic Frost.
Mayhem released Deathcrush in 1987, something I would describe as a horrible album depicting Hell at its finest. Horrible because the album was extremely poorly produced, and you could hardly understand what the vocalist was saying.
It was around 1991 that Euronymous basically ‘converted’ all the Norwegian death metal bands into black metal. Oslo’s Black Death, which had already released a full-length called Soulside Journey, became Darkthrone. Bergen’s Old Funeral became Immortal, and Old Funeral’s guitarist Kristian Vikernes formed his own project called Burzum.
Euronymous then took Vikernes, five years his junior under his wing.
But then Dead committed suicide in 1992, and Necrobutcher left Mayhem, so Euronymous decided to offer Vikernes the spot of the bassist. Attila Csihar joined Mayhem as the vocalist. Csihar, who was a vegetarian, was disgusted by Mayhem’s stage antics, because of all those pig heads and blood used in their gigs.
In the interviews printed in the 1998 book Lords of Chaos, Vikernes discusses his background and childhood. Lords of Chaos also includes an interview with his mother, Helene Bore (the book and a newspaper depicted there refer to her with the given name Lene, whereas Vikernes’ own website uses the name Helene. In a 2004 interview, Vikernes said his mother was “working in a large oil company”. His father is an electronics engineer, and his older brother is a civil engineer.
In the Lords of Chaos interview, Vikernes recalls that when he was 6 years old, the family moved for about a year to Baghdad, Iraq, because Vikernes’ “father was working for Saddam Hussein” developing a computer program. Since there were no places available in the English school in Baghdad, the young Vikernes went to an Iraqi elementary school during this time. According to his interview, Vikernes here became “aware of racial matters”. Corporal punishment was not uncommon in the school, and on one occasion, Vikernes had a “quarrel” with a teacher and called him “a monkey”. But as Vikernes perceived it the teachers “didn’t dare to hit me because I was white”. Vikernes’ mother also recalls how they “spent a year in Iraq” and that “the other children in his class would get slapped by their teachers; he would not”. She mentions that this created problems, but generally she “has no good explanation” of how Varg developed his views.
When asked about his father, Vikernes states that he “had a swastika flag at home.” However, Vikernes feels that his father was a hypocrite because he was worried about Vikernes “being a Nazi”, whereas he too was “pissed about all the colored people he saw in town”. About his mother, Vikernes states that she was “very race conscious”, in the sense that she was afraid that Vikernes “was going to come home with a black girl!” At the time of the 1995 Lords of Chaos interview, Vikernes still had a positive relationship with his mother but “very little contact” with his father. He also stated that his parents are divorced; Vikernes’ father is said to have “left about 10 years ago”, which would have been 1985, when Vikernes was 11 or 12.
The Encyclopedia of White Power and historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke have both alleged that Vikernes was part of the neo-Nazi skinhead culture as an adolescent. When asked in the Lords of Chaos interview whether he hung out with skinheads in Bergen, Vikernes said that: “there were no skinheads in Bergen.”
A fan of classical music as a child, Tchaikovsky in particular, Vikernes started listening to heavy metal at 12, citing Iron Maiden as his biggest inspiration. Later he discovered other metal bands whose sound would be influential on his own band, such as Kreator, Celtic Frost, Bathory, Destruction, Megadeth, Slayer, Pestilence, Deicide and Von. Although Venom are widely considered the primary influence on black metal, Vikernes has always denied to be influenced by them, as well as defining the band as “a joke”. He once wore a T-shirt of Venom’s Black Metal to promote the genre but stated he later regretted doing that.
Burzum released three albums from 1992 to 1994, but the problem was probably because Euronymous had delayed the release of the albums.
Plus, after Dead’s suicide, Euronymous had gone insane and was considering himself as a God figure. That was probably the reason why Vikernes was fed up of Euronymous’ antics.
In early 1993, animosity arose between Euronymous and Vikernes. After the Bergens Tidende episode, Euronymous decided to shut Helvete as it began to draw the attention of the police and media.
On the night of the murder, Vikernes and Snorre “Blackthorn” Ruch drove from Bergen to Euronymous’ apartment at Tøyengata in Oslo. Blackthorn allegedly stood in the stairwell smoking while Vikernes went to Euronymous’ apartment on the fourth floor. Vikernes said he met Euronymous at the door to hand him the signed contract, but when he stepped forward and confronted Euronymous, Euronymous “panicked” and kicked him in the chest. Vikernes claims Euronymous ran into the kitchen to fetch a knife. The two got into a struggle and Vikernes stabbed Euronymous to death. His body was found in the stairwell on the first floor with 23 stab wounds—two to the head, five to the neck, and 16 to the back. Vikernes claims his final stab to the skull was so powerful the knife remained stuck in Euronymous’ skull, but no physical evidence or bodily injuries support his claim. Vikernes contends that most of Euronymous’ wounds were caused by broken glass he had fallen on during the struggle. After the murder, Vikernes and Blackthorn drove back to Bergen. On the way, they stopped at a lake where Vikernes disposed of his bloodstained clothes. This claim of self-defense is doubted by Emperor drummer Faust, but Mayhem bassist Necrobutcher believes Vikernes killed Euronymous due to multiple death threats he received from him and the rest is history.
Varg Vikernes’ was sentenced to prison in 1994 for murder as well as the infamous Norwegian church-burnings. The fourth Burzum album, which was recorded in 1993, would be released in 1996. Varg recorded a couple dark ambient albums from prison before deciding to give up on music for a while and focus on his political views, which some would describe as “those of a Nazi sympathizer.” So before even listening to the music of Burzum, we have here an arsonist, murderer, neo-Nazi who spent his time recording abrasive lo-fi black metal albums. He was released from prison in 2009, after which he resumed his Burzum project by releasing more black metal albums and more dark ambient albums while living with his family in France. But don’t think he’s stayed out of trouble since then. He was arrested earlier for supposedly plotting a terrorist attack with his wife, who have both since been acquitted due to lack of evidence. Need I even say anything about his music, which does happen to be quite terrifying (especially if you’re unfamiliar with black metal)?