Going beyond scurrilous scandals, murder, and Satanism, and into the immense forests, mountains, and paganistic and folkloric traditions of Scandinavia, art zine Becoming the Forestplumbs the depths of black metal. Now on its second issue, the independent publication explores how the oft-misunderstood and maligned genre and culture (check out Thurson Moore's book, The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984-1994, for an historic portrait) channels the natural world into distinct audio, visual, and lyrical forms.
Becoming the Forest creators Lotte Brown and Una Hamilton Helle here gather prints, photographs, and poetry that reference black metal's dark hues, sharing equal space for interviews with black metal musicians as they do molecular biologists alike (Carl Gunnar Fossdal's essay on the evolutionary memory of Norway's iconic spruce trees is fascinating). Brown and Helle also commissioned Audrey Ewell, co-director of seminal black metal documentary Until the Light Takes Us, to write a remembrance of her partner and collaborator Aaron Aites, who passed away in 2016. It's fair to say that Becoming the Forest is as unexpectedly diverse as black metal's legions of creators, fans, and subgenres, and cuts across as many international borders as it does cultural ones.
Helle, who is originally from Norway but now based in London, tells Creators that Becoming the Forest is very much about investigating her native land, especially the realities and fantasies that abound. A longtime metal fan, she says that black metal was something always present growing up in Oslo, but it wasn't until she moved to London at 18 that she began to understand it as a means of reconnecting with her native country. These days Helle listens to black metal in order to occupy a certain mental space; exploring the genre and subculture through a zine, in which she can merge high and low, photography, poetry, and prose, holds great appeal.
"I started looking into black metal as a medium, as something to investigate things through, because of the place-making and its references to landscape," says Helle. "That is something I've always sort of done through my art: investigate how we're affected by our surroundings and how we create meaning where we are."
The first issue of Becoming the Forest arrived in 2015, when Helle was asked to contribute to the sound art gallery Le Bon Acceuil in Rennes, France for the Oodaqq Festival program. There, one of Brown's friends came across the zine and gave her a copy, which started the collaboration with Helle on the second issue.
Brown's own zine, the multi-disciplinary rooilijn, published in 2016 on Het Bos ("the forest" in Dutch), had a dark undertone that was inspired, in part, by Europe's refugee crisis. She thought Helle's Becoming the Forest was similarly substantial, though in a different way. Since rooilijn included many different voices contributing to the final product, the two decided to give an editorial angle onto the second issue of Becoming the Forest.
Brown and Helle say it was important to get voices outside of Oslo's insular black metal scene. "By broadening the voices and the thoughts about black metal, we were able to learn more about it and get other perspectives," says Brown. "Things evolve. Black metal from back then is not the black metal of now, and that is why we decided to get a scientific perspective into the zine, and the perspective of [Norwegian folklore illustrator] Theodor Kittelsen."
In the Kittelsen piece, written by Camilla Christensen, there is a quote from the illustrator about standing beside a lake, gazing at its surface and imagining a creature rising from its depths, which incites terror in his psyche. Brown and Helle parallel this scene with one recalled by Hord of the black metal band Occvlta, who felt the utmost fear when similarly staring at a lake in Scotland. Without Becoming the Forest, these scenes, separated by vast time and space, might not seem so interconnected.
"What we're trying to do with zine is show the variety of black metal without saying it's this or that," says Helle. "We didn't just want people to be musing about or intellectualizing something that other people create; it was important to us that the bands got to put a voice to that as well."
"It's better than just having one voice—it's more interesting," says Brown. "But, on the other hand, just surrendering is what makes black metal so great in the moment."