Slathered in a mixture of his own blood and the entrails oozing from an impaled cow's head, Mayhem's front man Maniac writhes around the stage wrapped in barbed wire. Dragging a Scandinavian surgical scalpel deep into his arm, he flings his head back as he barfs the lyrics to "Pure Fucking Armageddon." Black metal, the evilest music since Sy Snootles and the Rebo Band (Jabba the Hut's in-house orchestra), may still be as disgusting as ever.
Mayhem's recent North American tour has proven that, while the inherent misanthropy of the genre persists, the new Norwegian sound has more to do with hip hop beats and stark, ambient moodscapes than it does with lightning-fast, inhumanly complex speed metal riffs. In bringing the artform to a new apex of evil, black metal has become a ridiculous parody. The use of guitars is now frowned upon because it is, according to some of the movement's founders, a "Negro instrument." Founders, by the way, who are now either dead or serving life sentences.
Black metal made its only real ripple in mass-consciousness in the mid-90s when a series of filthy mcnasty deaths and suicides underwrote the burnings of dozens of churches in Norway, with every single person convicted having an established tie to the black metal scene. The morbidity was ubiquitous and even VICE's first feature story on the scene (way back in 1996) was later punctuated by the tragic suicide of the piece's writer, John Coinner.
BIRTH OF A VERMIN
For those still unfamiliar with the movement, Mayhem invented Norwegian black metal, the musical version of hell on Earth, in the mid-80s. They were inspired by groups like Venom (a proto-evil band that theatrically embraced Satanic shlock, giving birth to extreme metal) and Bathory (a Neo-Viking group who laid the foundations of Wagnerian epic metal and barbarian attire). The Mayhem clique made friends with a few other evil metal men and they started hanging out so much and being so negative and creepy together that it blossomed into a full-fledged musical movement.
Built on a foundation of pagan worship, Nazi genocide and Norse supremacy, the oft-maligned genre featured Satanists dressed up in baroque, barbaric Viking garb with spiked maces, chain-mail ensembles and theatrical corpse-paint invoking the amoral god of war, Odin. Disdainful of frauds like Venom, they decided that merely singing about evil wasn't enough, and set about backing up their lyrics with deeds. Murder, destruction, rape, famine and general malaise all followed suit. "It kinda accumulated into extreme bands becoming extreme people and eventually doing extreme things," says VICE fave Mortiis, a pivotal member of the black metal scene who currently plays Casio-fuelled electronic medieval merry-go-round shanties.
Before going solo, Mortiis played bass in Emperor, the other main force in the early black metal universe alongside Mayhem. After luring a Lillehammer man into the dark woods, Emperor's bass player Faust (Mortiis' predecessor) stabbed him 37 times and left him facedown in the snow. With absolutely no motive to work with, police were unable to solve the crime until Faust's boasting came full circle. Completely without remorse today, Faust sits fuming in his Oslo cell, arguing that the crime was instinctual and not pre-meditated.
"Ninety percent of the evil black metalers from back in the early 90s were all teenagers, including myself," reflects an older, more mature Mortiis, having undergone plastic surgery to transform himself into the insanely wrinkled and wizened old gnome (replete with witch nose and pointy elf ears) he is today. Why did he go under the knife? "Being generally fascinated by all things dark and dangerous, what else are you going to do?"
While the music has changed markedly, mutilation has always been a constant in the black metal microcosm. "Mutilation is much like being in a very genuine touch with life itself. I feel extremely alive when I do it," explains our old pal Maniac. "Life is the most potent drug in the world actually. I don't ever do drugs at all. I do a lot more natural weird stuff, like self-inflicted pain and stuff like that."
Despite barely surviving his latest botched suicide attempt a couple of months ago, Maniac sounds positively upbeat these days. "For me, it's just a question of seeing life from different perspectives. You see it from one view and you don't really enjoy it at all, and then you see it from another view and you really, really enjoy it. Now I hope to live till I'm about 150," he says bouncily.
Former Mayhem vocalist Dead didn't share Maniac's blithe optimism, unfortunately. Another mutilation aficionado, Dead ended up slitting both his wrists with a large butcher knife before blowing his brains onto the chesterfield. After finding his vocalist's dead body in the living room, bandmate Euronymous ended up making a stew out of his brain and crafting necklaces out of fragments of his skull.
Due to their utter preoccupation with death, a little murder between friends isn't that big a deal for black metallers. That's why Maniac doesn't resent the fact that Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes (bass player on Mayhem's masterpiece De Mysteriis Dom Sathana) killed Euronymous by stabbing him 23 times in the head and body, supposedly for shaming the scene by sporting a white sweater in public. "Varg? I'm not against him at all, even though he killed our guitarist," explains Maniac. "I wasn't very happy when Euronymous died, because he was one of my best friends, but in my eyes, Varg has released some very, very good, very strong albums."
THE FUTURE IS SO BRIGHT
VICE talked with Varg (his mother relays emails to him) from his Norwegian prison cell, where he composes synthesizer music for his one-man band Burzum and writes theoretical texts about the future of mankind. According to this excerpt from a piece entitled "Civilisation," the world of tomorrow sounds like fun:
The elite will live like elves far away from the others with their "magic" (technology), while the rest live like they did in the Middle-Ages, only with cloaks and some other (mostly natural) sciences. Writers like Tolkien actually never "made up" anything, they just wrote stories based on memories from the past (memories from the blood!). Not necessarily from our world, our planet, but from the last planet we lived on (in the system of Sirius), when we were Gods.
In this utopia several new races will be bred, from dwarves (for mining) to dragons and trolls (to keep the ordinary man in awe of nature and to keep him away from the elves' technological facilities in the forests and mountains). Whenever heroes or heroines from the ordinary human society show proof of extraordinary courage and intellect, their children will be kidnapped and raised amongst the "elves," so that the elite of humankind can be concentrated and bred in a few places. With time the "elves" will return to the stars, build their facilities on the Moon and other places in space, where they do not pollute the planet Earth. From there they will control the masses like Gods, prevent humans from destroying nature, from losing their respect for nature, etc.
When not writing prophecies, drawing unicorns and composing classical music, Renaissance man Varg makes primitive diagrams proving Aryan supremacy (p.51). "Varg claims that instruments like guitars and drums are for blacks so he can't use them," explains Maniac. Striving for legitimacy through their ambient synth music, Mortiis and Varg actually want to shed the black metal label. "I know a lot of newer black metal fans, especially younger ones, still expect and sometimes take it for granted that Norwegian metalers or whatever the fuck we're supposed to be called, still kill people, still burn churches and so on, and when they find out it's not really happening anymore they start slagging us off, which I find utterly pathetic," says Mortiis. "I'd like to ask those people, 'When everything went down over here, when the shit hit the fan, where the fuck were you?' A bunch of twelve year-old kids in blue, baggy jeans listening to God knows what washed out buttrock band was in at the time."
Although still content to operate under the auspices of black metal, Mayhem (who continue to use guitars) have distanced themselves from their epic past achievements with their new album Grand Declaration of War (Necropolis), a barren tundra of hip hop breakbeats, sterile production, and post-rockish electronic soundscapes. "This is the most clinical and ugly album that Mayhem has ever released," Maniac says in the album's defense. "If you listen to a lot of the old black metal bands, you find that if you strip away the fuzz and distortion, it's purely rock and roll riffs, actually." In place of layers of razor sharp riffing, they've opted for "disharmonies and stuff which is truly ugly." Not to mention downright boring. And where did the falsetto screaming go?
Outside of Scandinavia, black metal imitations are flourishing in Florida and the Southern US, but they aren't criminally insane like the Norwegians were. English black metal frauds Cradle Of Filth, despite their popularity, are as ersatz as Venom were twenty years ago. The brief window of insanity that existed in the early 90s between these bullshit bookends was absolutely real and totally evil.
Although the music sucks these days, there is still hope for more evil from the kings of metal tabloid insanity. "None of us for the time being have any explosives yet," says Maniac regarding the future of black metal criminal activity. "But we have been getting very much into weapons. There will be a breakdown soon. Mark my words."
The elf is online at www.mortiis.com and Varg's outlet is the Teutonic website www.heathen front.org. Varg recently shut down the site of his one-man band, www.burzum.com, when someone posted "Hail Satan!" on the message board whilst talking about Black Metal.