Book Review – Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities (Ed. Troy Southgate)

Whenever I hear about the publication of a new book on the subject of Black Metal, I pounce and pre-order. When the tome arrives, I savour it, lapping up every word, sometimes putting it back down after one chapter, to return to it the following day, so as to make it last longer.

My first impression with this book was a good one. (Mar some of the fonts on the inside, which I felt clashed somewhat.) It’s nice, hefty and well put together, with an editor who doesn’t only have a passing interest in Black Metal, but an almost life-long dedication to it. Personally, I think it would be pretty much impossible to write a decent book about Black Metal without having been submerged in the lifestyle for at least fifteen, twenty years or more. Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities is a book which smashes through the surface skin, and deep into the inner workings of this most extreme of music genres.

There’s an eclectic mix of contributors, including Jeffrey ‘Mantas’ Dunn ( Yes, The Mantas), Gareth Giles a practising Odinist and founder of Hrafnblóð, Matthew Kay owner of Wodfreca Records and sole member of Anglo-Saxon metal project Æþelruna, Vijay Prozak the founder of Dark Legions Archive, Hendrick Mobus, Jarl Von Hagall and many others.

The book fires off with a solid introduction from Southgate in which he talks about Black Metal’s domination. From the snow-covered environs of Norway and secluded graveyards of England to the dark forests of Germany and remote woodlands of Poland and Ukraine, an unstoppable Black Metal beats has dominated the extreme end of the musical scale for more than two decades.

The first chapter, titled Black Metal: Conservative Revolution in Modern Popular Culture: Part 1 is written by Alex Kurtagic and provides a fascinating insight into the origins of Black Metal, going into depth about how Black Metal is one of the most significant popular culture phenomena of the last two decades. I particularly enjoyed the section in which Kurtagic discusses how Black Metal differs from Heavy Metal. Black Metal, on the other hand, is much darker and much more extreme, favouring a rawer, noisier, and much harsher guitar sound; unpredictable song structures; classically influenced melodies that suggest grimness, mysticism, sorrow and misanthropic hatred; and inhuman, demonic screeches for vocals, unintelligible and heavily reverberated. In addition, Black Metal lyrics tend to be serious and arcane, dealing with the occult, pre-Christian mythology, pagan pride, war, misanthropy, genocide and hatred of Christianity.

Nial Hiat’s chapter This is War! From the Mellifluous Abyss to the Light explores the impact Black Metal has had, and continues to have on his life. The chapter includes valuable insights from a variety of valued figure heads.  Where Black Metal fits in, is that it opened my eyes and ears to an otherwise unexplored avenue of spiritual development to a stage where, today, I am far more enlightened and deeply spiritual individual, which of course has benefited me in my personal life to a degree I could never have envisioned and one that I am eternally grateful.

It was interesting to read about his experiences in education, too. Never in the ‘cool’ crowd at school and somewhat feared by ‘metal-heads’ for my sinister ‘Satanic image’ (and rejection  of their music’s baselines and simplistic lyricism), even during these times of adolescence I had a 100% record attendance at school and was popular amongst the teachers.

 

Black Metal is more than music. It’s a listenable ideology, and thus much different than any other sort of “Metal” music that is supposed to be for entertainment first and foremost.

Defiance Magazine

If we have a positive relationship to our homeland, to our blood, to our race, to our religion and to our culture we will not destroy any of this with modern “civilization” (Id est capitalism, materialism, Judeo-Christianity, pollution, urbanization, race mixing, Americanization, socialism, globalization, etc). The “nazi ghost” has scared millions of Europeans from caring about their blood and homeland for sixty years now, and it is about time we banish this ghost and again start to think and care about the things that (whether we like it or not) are important to us.

Varg Vikernes

 

Mat Kay’s chapter Black Metal and my own Awakening is an insightful read, and Kay make’s an especially arresting statement about art. Art is what we create when we become so separate from nature that we must do something – anything – to try and express our connection to it. The further away we become, the more grotesque and abstract our arts become, imitating the world.

Charle’s G Hicks, in his chapter Black Metal: The Ends and Means about the Screams goes into depth about the links Black Metal has to folk music, much to my fascination. When we arrive at the content and specific features of the style in composition , we must mention the superb, traditional and unique sound and melodic richness of the Scandinavian – and particularly of the Norwegian – traditional folk music, with and including the traditional instruments. It is this sound, bought to the scene without imitation, but by the original folk of the land, that began to to create the black metal sound that became so significantly recognisable. The Norwegian sound and melodic influence of their traditional folk was – quite incredibly –morphed into the ferocious speed and aggressive volume of the guitars to create a new version of the folk music itself.

Hicks also talks about how Vikernes was one of the first artists to actively eradicate blues elements from his music. This was – quite simply – though controversially – because Vikernes wanted nothing to do with the musical history of the Negro – or the history of the African-American in general.

 

I told the producer, ‘Give me the worst microphone you have.’ The sound of the drums, we didn’t do anything to make the sound of the song special. Ten minutes and everything was ready. And he was asking, ‘Don’t you want to do anything, you know, you always have the adjust the sound.’ No! Because it was a rebellion against this ‘good production.’ We called it necro-sound, ‘corpse sound,’ because it was supposed to sound the worst possible. I ended up with a headset as a microphone, because that was the worst I could find. I used this tiny Marshall amplifier, you know this big, because that was the worst we could find.

-Varg Vikernes

 

Varg features quite heavily in Hick’s chapter, and with good reason. He talks in depth about the supremacy of the natural order and the dire consequences that currently face the human race due to our greed and mass over population. This spiritual void has become an even bigger problem due to the fact that there are six billion  people living on this planet, and almost all of them are doing their best to accumulate as much goods as they can possibly get their filthy hands on…Ironically, the only thing that can save mankind is a stream of pandemics, natural disasters and other human catastrophes, wiping out most of us.   

Hicks talks of how ‘In its most primitive formulation, metal is a worship of power and the beauty that can be found in darkness, as exemplified by its distorted cords strung together in melodies which rise from chaos to order. It is esoteric and occult in that it does not believe the world can be neatly divided into public categories of good and evil…’

It was remarkable to read how Bathory’s Quorthon was inspired by classical music, and used his interest to feed into his ‘musical awareness.’ I began to listen to classical music shortly after forming BATHORY, and from 1985-1986 it was all I would listen to. I had been playing various types of rock in various constellations since 1975, so picking up Wagner, Beethoven, Haydn and others really broadened my musical awareness extensively. The motif signature naturally comes from the world of opera.

Tony ‘Demolition Man’ Dolan in his chapter Metal Turned Black talks about when he heard the term Black Metal for the first time. Round about 1982 I heard the term, Black Metal for the first time. It was, of course, to the the title of an album by the band Venom and so it began. Back then we were all in a grim place in the North of England, mass unemployment and the Shipping industry (our foundation) was all but closing down of being sold off. This reflected in the music coming out of there…hard and heavy…a screaming testament to our frustrations. Venom chose the name for their album, Black Metal, to separate them from the rest of the ‘Heavy Metal’ pack at the time…

Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn talks in his chapter Black Metal: Thoughts & Observations about how he felt that Venom had nothing in common with the other metal bands at the time. We were always the outcasts, the bands in the North East at that period of time hated us…why?

BECAUSE WE WERE DIFFERENT!

For whatever reason the world went Venom crazy and there was a lot of underlying jealously from bands who, in all fairness, were harder working and superior musicians.

Jarl Von Hagall in his chapter Black Metal: The Aural Expression of Esoteric Racial Mysticism talks about ‘sell outs,’ and those who associate themselves with NSBM, retreating and denying connection as soon as conflict arises. There are also various examples of bands that used to be considered by the fans – or even call themselves – NSBM or Aryan Black/Pagan Metal, but they ended up writing apologising statements. Just flirting with the imagery and ideology is something very easy and harmless that everyone can do, but when things get really serious, then they deny any involvement with extreme and politically incorrect ideas and movements because they don’t want to have any bad consequences in their careers and personal lives.

In Hendrik Mobus’s chapter Is Black Metal a White Noise? A Brief Introduction to the Extremism Beyond the Music Vikernes is quoted defending his support for the church burnings back in the early 90’s. As for my motives for supporting the church burning…the Viking era began on the sixth of June, 793 A.D., when Vikings from Hordaland in Norway attacked a Monastery in England. It came as a response to the French King Charlemange’s conquest and Christianisation of the Saxons in 792 A.D., when he hacked down the Irminsul (a holy Tree, dedicated to Donar; Irminaz is a name for Donar, and Sul means Pillar). When this happened, Scandinavia was shocked, and we understood that we were next in line if we didn’t hit back soon. The attack on England is the first recorded attack, but of course it wasn’t the first, and in fact almost 80% of attacks were directed against France.

However, the sixth of June 793 is the historical date symbolizing the desperate struggle, and this should explain why Fantoft Stavechurch in Hordaland was burnt to the ground on the sixth of June 1992. It was the introduction of the second Viking era, when we claim back what is ours. The arsons marked a change in history…

I have mentioned but a few parts of Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities. I could go on with my review for a further ten or more pages, but I want to leave parts for you to discover yourself. I wish to salute Southgate. This book is a dense, focused work, one which has left me significantly wiser that I was when I first picked it up, and quietly empowered. The areas it covers are vast, and investigated by valued figureheads. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an active interest in Black Metal and its roots.

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