Saturday, October 23, 2010


There's one 'round every corner.

Within any so-called creative network, there always proves to be a heady handful of left of field types. Outsiders, creepy sons-a-bitches or 'fringe' players plying their indifference to convention and wrecking havoc on the safe and serene. These are the artistic marks on the human race that serve to set things off balance every now and again through both behavioral traits and tangible output, be it sonic, photographic, drawn out on any given material, whatever. This is the shit and these are the folks that work under the skin and into the subconscious, raping away at what the common man may perceive as 'A-OK!'

Now, I have sworn allegiance to both the bent dementia of the artistic outcast and the non-fiction form in moving pictures. I've been devoting ample time to both subjects in this here column of mine ever since day one ('tis true, just go dig through some moldy back issues at the Appleton Library), thus it would prove second nature for me to fully embrace and digest the coming together of inventive, yet bent, humanity and ace documentation.

A case in point........

The majority of the people I know and tend to run with address the scrappy hard rock sub-sub-sub genre of Black Metal as some kind of guttural train wreck clown routine drenched in quasi-medieval posturings straight outta some random B-movie redressing of deep-rooted Scandinavian folklore. Any average fool need not look further than established brutes Immortal and the layout imagery for their seminal record 'Battles in the North' as impetus to, either, bug your eyes way out in disbelief or let forth a torrent of savage giggles. Two dudes in corpse paint, all stone serious and posing dire with their guitars in a pile of bright, white snow, there you have it, black metal in a nutshell.

Not so fast with such simple, easy judgments, time to scratch just below the surface. Take a more explicit sampling of the recordings and press (and fanboy) response on through the years (in great particular-'Lords of Chaos:The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground' by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind and photographer Peter Beste's tome 'True Norwegian Black Metal') and one can discover a brutal, convoluted soap opera of double crossings, deceit, copious church crisping, murder fantasies (and realities), homo/xenophobic and barely disguised fascist leanings.

All of these handy, highly melodramatic nuggets find themselves dredged up to the surface yet again via an intertwining of dialogs and cultural samplings that make for the bulk of the meat in the newly presented study on this Norwegian Black Metal scene titled 'Until The Light Takes Us'. This rather earnest little slab of immersive reportage attempts to distill the epic scale madness and confounding (to the uninitiated) level of addictive appeal to those among us who've actually taken the time to 'get it' to a manageable degree. The two names behind this project, Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, sought to gain unfiltered insight into the inner workings of this mini-phenom by uprooting themselves and moving to Norway to acclimate to the locals and generate trust and accessibility with many of the principles in the normally stand-offish Black Metal fraternity.

In the end, the pair have scaled their point of focus down to two primary voices. Gylve 'Fenriz' Nagell is a founding progenitor of the watershed genre outfit Darkthrone and Varg Vikernes established underground 'fame' via his hand in the notorious Mayhem and his own, one man, raw dog juggernaut Burzum. The choice of these fellas proves an apt one as they offer up sharply contrasting vibes as interviewees. Nagell resembles to me, the archetype death metal rat; skinny, disheveled, with stringy long hair and a mumbling, socially inept demeanor. Hardly an intimidating presence, Nagell is more reminiscent of the countless dudes in patch saturated black leather jackets I'm used to seeing skulking about at many a given metal gig. Vikernes, however, is as strong a persona as Nagell is shrug-shouldered and meek. Varg (sometimes known as 'Count Grishnackh' care, in part, of a predilection toward the works of Tolkien) is an alpha-male straight away, bold, articulate and unwavering in his apparent confidence as he attempts to address the depth of his pivotal role in black metal history from his pale, sterile cell in a maximum security joint in Trondheim.

You see folks, Varg was a very naughty lad, he was tried and convicted for the offing of one time band mate Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth (from Mayhem) by way of multiple knife wounds. Vikernes was also heavily suspected as a participant in the then rampant outbreak of area church burnings (a symbolic burden that the black metal scene would prove unable to fully divorce itself from that point on). Varg claims the Euronymous homicide as a 'kill-or-be-killed' situation in which he bested a man who was out to do him in.

The filmmakers chart all this tension and turmoil by bouncing the words of their primary talking heads off footage (both new and archival) of the scene itself, from raw early band formations and alterations (like the shotgun suicide of initial Mayhem frontman, er, 'Dead') to present day evidence of outside cultural encroachment (7-11 and McDonald's do not warrant much affection from these gents). They also manage to wrangle a solid supporting cast of scene players from such essential collectives as Satyricon, Ulver and Immortal (sans makeup, sadly) to augment the topics at large. We learn the whole disaffected youth scenario that led the lads to seek out the rawest possible outlet to vent against their oppressive 'perfect' culture (Norway is not known for poverty and strife, you see). The film goes for a sort of drifting pace that veers between Varg and Nargell, twisting their now very separate paths back around into their shared origins and back out towards the open possibilities that await both men and the now more renowned musical outlet they both, in a basic sense, still embrace.

If the film itself is not at all perfect, it does meander some from time to time as it were an awe struck, slightly stoned youth with a taste of ADD, it serves well enough to guide the clueless newcomer though the bare essentials of why some folks grow rather nerd obsessive over all this raspy and seemingly unpleasant noise-making. It's about stepping away from the constrictions of mainstream metal brands and styles and indulging in the unfiltered, raw power and aggression coming through the music. For the previously well schooled and 'total brutal' completest (the type who pointlessly boast over a rare vinyl 7" pressed in someones cellar in Austria or something), there is that extra shade of persona revealed in the occasionally rambling and less polished discussions at hand (especially in the case of the fidgety Nargell). Plus there comes a few unexpected asides like the sudden two-cents commentary provided by 'Gummo' mastermind Harmony Korine who gushes love for all things Black Metal over appropriately low grade footage of him in corpse paint geeking out solid in some unfortunate gallery. Sometimes, things just sound more fucked the further you attempt to explain them.

A smaller, Brooklyn based distributor, Factory 25, has stepped up to make the film available to one and all on both DVD and Blue-Ray formats. The film can be retrieved in both single and double disc packages. With that second disc, the willing viewer may witness an additional barrage of interview footage (which gives much needed expansion to the Immortal interview as well as a certain Kjetil 'Frost' Haraldstad of Satyricon who ends the film proper with a self-abusive performance piece that does little to dissuade the commonly held notion that this is, indeed, dangerous music). There is also several deleted scenes (on disc one), a theatrical trailer and a long winded lesson in the step by step evolution of the Black Metal scene from the expected Black Sabbath kick start on into the modern era delivered in mostly listless monotone by Mr. Nargell. In total, a worthy project well handled, but for the troublesome way the discs on the DVD version are encased (I damn near snapped both of mine in two trying to take them out...beware!)

Genuinely interested parties are greatly encouraged to stop here ( ) to satisfy any and all further steps that need be taken to make this baby theirs.

Enough pure crushing blackened hate for now, stay, uh, 'Evil' why don't you?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010