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Music at its bleakest and most frostbitten, black metal has always luxuriated in the darkest and more ghoulish recesses of society. Every so often, however, its midnight pageantry has spilled over into real life – transcending the absurdity and ripe contradiction of so many of the ideas at play, to stress that thinness of the veil between evil intent and real misdeed.
Flicking back through three decades of bloodshed, blasphemy and very real mayhem, we chart the moments guaranteed to still send chills down your spine. Please note this isn't an exhaustive list of every dark moment in black metal, the original version of this feature was simply too gruesome to publish.
Trigger warning: The following contains stories of self-harm, suicide and hate crimes.
There are many places where Gorgoroth’s 2004 blood-and-nudity strewn DVD recording would’ve caused something of a stir. Few moreso than Krakow, Poland: the staunchly Catholic birthplace of then Pope John Paul II and a place with actual laws against blasphemy. With the band's stage lined by ‘crucified’ nude models and a whole host of Satanic icons – not to mention the severed sheep’s heads and blood that contravened Polish animal rights law – Gorgoroth found themselves the target of a public prosecution. Fortunately for them, leniency was shown as the promoter had failed to flag any of these violations, or to stop the show once things had gotten going.
The most iconic of the black metal crimes, church burnings began in Norway in 1992 and by 1996 more than 50 had been burned to the ground. Wood-built and hundreds of years old, the country’s ancient stave churches were particularly vulnerable. The perpetrators – almost universally linked to the country’s burgeoning metal scene – contended that their actions were both part of a broader Satanic agenda, and a reprisal for Christianity having displaced indigenous Norse beliefs and culture. Ironically, they reduced some of the country’s most significant historical landmarks to ash. Perhaps the most famous attack was on the 1150 Fantoft Stave Church just outside Bergen. Although Burzum’s notorious Vark Vikernes was cleared of the attack, a photo of the burnt shell appeared on the cover of his 1993 EP Aske.
Fans of Swedish ‘depressive suicidal black metallers’ Shining (definitely not their sax-wielding Norwegian counterparts) will be well familiar with the disturbing behaviour of their infamous frontman Niklas Kvarforth, from self-harming onstage and encouraging audience members to taste his blood through a whole catalogue of potently misanthropic output that’s now 10 albums deep. His pièce de résistance came in 2006 when Kvarforth disappeared from public view and the rumour was circulated that he had died by suicide. On August 23, 2006 the band posted a statement on their website announcing that they would be continuing with new singer ‘Ghoul’, which Kvarforth had requested as one of his last wishes. At their February 3, 2007 return at Diezel in Halmstad, Sweden, ‘Ghoul’ was revealed to be Kvarforth himself.
Until its appearance in the recent cinematic adaptation of Lords Of Chaos, the murder of Magne Andreassen (a gay man) by Emperor drummer Faust, who fatally stabbed him in Norway on 21 August 1992, had been sidelined in black metal lore. Released in 2003 after serving nine years and four months, Faust has since re-entered the metal scene. Despite noting that he was drunk and the murder an act of impulse, such a blatant hate-crime remains a dark stain on the genre.
The conviction of then-Gorgoroth frontman Gaahl for the imprisonment and torture of another man at a party must be one of black metal’s most bizarre stories. It unfolded over the course of a court case where the singer was fined 158,000 NOK and sentenced to one year in prison without the possibility of parole for assaulting the 40-year-old victim, detaining him and progressively assaulting him over the course of the night. According to victim testimony, Gaahl apparently collected his blood in a cup and told him, "I'm going to sacrifice you, I'm going to drink your blood." The defence? That Gaahl had been acting solely in self-defence and had used the cup only to stop blood staining the carpet… Reports are that the frontman didn’t help matters by attending his trial dressed all in black and adorned with Satanic symbols. In 2006, he served another nine months (of a 14 month sentence) and was fined 190,000 NOK for torturing another man for six hours. Maximising the weirdness, Gaahl now runs his own fashion line.
Arguably the moment that began black metal’s downward spiral into a nightmare netherworld was the suicide of 22-year-old Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin – AKA ‘Dead’ – on 8 April 1991. Having long obsessed over death and even buried his stage-gear underground prior to performances, he was discovered by guitarist Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth in the upstairs room of the band's house with his wrists slit and a shotgun wound in his head. His suicide note read, “Excuse all the blood, cheers.” Rather than instantly reporting the death to police, Euronymous, perhaps in a state of shock, went to a nearby store and bought a disposable camera to photograph the corpse. One of these deeply disturbing photographs found its way into circulation and was eventually used as the cover of a bootleg live album entitled Dawn Of The Black Hearts. Stomach-churning stuff.
At the other end of the spiral of death and discontent around Mayhem is perhaps the most infamous night in all of black metal. Following Dead’s suicide, Bergen-based lone wolf Varg Vikernes had found his way into Oslo’s ‘Satanic Circle’, first having music released through Euronymous’ Deathlike Silence label and later joining Mayhem outright. The exact circumstances are heavily debated, but following Varg’s going public with his black metal agenda, a falling-out culminated with his visit from West Norway to Euronymous’ Oslo home on August 10, 1993, which ended with the guitarist being stabbed 23 times – two to the head, five to the neck, and 16 to the back. Although Varg has long claimed that the killing was in self-defence, he was convicted and sentenced to the maximum Norwegian prison term of 21 years. Varg’s evil grin the moment the verdict was read out lives on in metal infamy.
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