Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (2003)

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Soon to have a major motion picture coming out, figured I ought to read it!

I’ve been a fan of the largely underground strain of heavy metal known as “black metal” for around 17 years or so, but I fell in love with it for how it sounded rather than how it was created. In the late 90’s / early 2000’s black metal had, well there’s no better term, “sold out” and started to become mainstream, so it was largely distanced from the events that happened nearly a decade previous. The wall of sound, misanthropic minimalist themes, and the theatricality were all awesome to me, so I decided to do some research on some of the original black metal bands – whoops. The sort of music I enjoyed turned out to be comprised largely of extreme right-wing murderers and arsonists that had basically formed a nihilist cult and ran around committing crimes in a naïve quest to end Norwegian Christianity.

This book focuses on the culture surrounding the black metal scene in Norway between 1990 and 1993. This is a cautionary tale on how a group of impressionable kids fell into, what can only be described as, a cult and nearly brought Norway to its knees. The first few chapters give an outline of the progression of heavy metal from bands such as Black Sabbath, Coven and Black Widow to proto-black metal bands such as Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Venom, and finally to the early Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. Then about half of the book follows the exploits of Black Metal’s most famous record label Deathlike Silence Records, and the events leading up to the death of its owner, Øystein Aarseth, and the imprisonment of his murderer Varg Vikernes. Finally, the book chronicles the aftermath of the murders and church burnings and the media circus that ensued.

I have known about this book, Lords of Chaos, for years now, but have not read it until now. Luckily (for the most part) the book has been out long enough that a second edition was put together a number of years ago to delve into some newer information about its “protagonists” like Vikernes. Unfortunately, this allows the book to go in weird directions such as Vikernes’s descent into conspiracy theory, as he discusses, at length, about UFOs and how they influenced heathen religion. Some additions are great, but others like Varg’s tales of Atlantean Wars break the flow of the chapters up a bit too much and make me feel as if I’ve accidentally started reading a Zecharia Sitchin book. The authors try to stand back and let the subjects say whatever they please, they do make an effort to not let this book be a soap box for their political belief and are not scared to step in and contradict any falsehoods that may have been spoken in the interview process.

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One of my favorite parts of this book is a series of interviews that try to culturally place “satanism” into Norwegian society, and a conclusion seems to come up that paints this Norwegian strain of anti-Christianity as some kind of naive copy of the fictitious Satanic underground that was the boogeyman of America during its “Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s and 90’s. For those unaware, America and parts of Europe, were made into constant media zoos when people started coming out of the woodwork describing things like grave desecration, satanic ritual abuse, and ritualized murder by hooded members of a worldwide cult. This hysteria has been totally debunked at this point, and zero cases of any of this have every turned out to be true, but if you watched TV or read papers during that time – our world was a battlezone between Jesus and Satan 24/7. These kids, wanting to be Anti-Christian, may have taken this cartoonish “religion” and given it life.

I had read a few reviews of this book (on Amazon) prior to purchase and was worried because the general tone of the reviews was that this was some sort of Neo-Nazi book and that the author was somehow promoting the stuff said within. On the contrary, Moynihan’s neutrality towards the ideologies portrayed in the book means that they are not censored, but they are often directly criticized or it is often implied that they have the ideology of angsty children in editorial sections. In fact, this is written a lot like a newspaper article, most comments are left to stand on their own, and the author jumps in to tie everything together. I wonder of these reviewers have largely not read the book to be honest.

As a true crime book, I will admit that this book is not perfect. It meanders a bit, means little to those that are not in some way “into” metal music, and is written in a manner that is by no means top journalism. What this book does have is a treasure-trove of information, newspaper clippings, media reports, and images from a ten year period that has been infamous for many metal fans, and until a better book comes along this is the definitive history of this genre of music and all the baggage that comes with it. This is with Varg’s UFO tales and all.


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Mortis Mutilati – Mélopée Funèbre [2015]

“This sets the stage for an album that coveys a disturbing correlation between love and death – and a hint that perhaps they are not mutually exclusive”

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Cover – Credit Bandcamp

 

 

For my first review on Screams of the Forest, I wanted to immediately take myself out of my comfort zone and review a band I had never heard of. When I first decided to do this site, my intention was to help myself appreciate a lot of the digital music I’ve been listening to as of late, and hopefully share bands with other people that may not have heard of them. Granted, this blog is going to mainly be a blog devoted to bands that lie somewhere in the neighborhood of black metal, mostly atmospheric, folk, pagan, or depressive black metal, but I feel that we are in the midst of a new era for this genre, and there is plenty of variation out there to cover such a seemingly narrow topic. Being an unexperienced hack when it comes to music writing, I feel like this is a good way to hopefully allow myself to produce decent articles that are a bit out of the mainstream as well as avoiding the numerous clichés that I see most music writers doing.

With that out of the way, now for the topic at hand.

Aside from Gojira, I will admit that I am fairly oblivious to the French metal scene (feel free to recommend bands). One always hears about numerous European countries in most metal discussions, but rarely have I heard any talk about French musicians that aren’t pop singers. Many years ago, I was somewhat scared away from French music altogether under a somewhat unfortunate circumstance.

You see, I once had a roommate that listened to French Hip Hop 24/7, a genre that was simply not my cup of tea at all. This was made especially odd, considering the fact that I am not, not have I ever lived in France – I’m American and so was he. I actually tolerate rap and hip-hop in small doses, but there was something disingenuous about the French variety that completely killed it for me. Perhaps writing off an entire country due to my dislike for a narrow genre of music was somewhat immature, and I now see my mistake every time I travel to Bandcamp.

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Macabre – Credit – official Facebook Page

I stumbled upon Mortis Mutilati under a somewhat silly circumstance, in that I fell in love with the album art for Mélopée Funèbre, the very album we are going to discuss today. Despite the inherent shallowness of choosing to listen to a band based on either a cool logo or a cool cover, I immediately enjoyed what I heard. This was a band, that had a different sound than what I was used to when thinking about “standard black metal” if such a thing even exists. The man behind this aural funeral procession calls himself Macabre and has released three full length albums so far including 2012’s Sombre Neurasthénie [Dark Neurasthenia], 2013’s Nameless Here for Evermore and a handful of demos and splits.

The album starts with a somber acoustic piece entitled Mélopée Funèbre, the title track, which paints a melancholic tone with faded out guitars and haunting angelic voices. This sets the stage for an album that conveys a disturbing correlation between love and death – and a hint that perhaps they are not mutually exclusive. Other songs Such as Ophelia, and Eros and Thanatos continue this theme without a single musical note straying from the overall tone of the concept.

Rather than employing the often-muddy “wall of sound” artistic style found in a lot of black metal, Macabre paints a “dirgy” soundscape full of melodic guitar riffs peppered with aggressive drum beats. While I bet there are many other bands that sound far more similar, my mind immediately drew a connection to the way a Ukrainian band called Drudkh sounds most of the time, and their use of guitar and solos vs the harshness of other black metal bands. This harmony of sound styles somehow works in a way that conveys the theme of death and funerals without succumbing to the clichés of most depressive black metal – being angry for no reason, or too heavy to elicit the feelings that the genre is supposed to bring out. It also helps that Macabre, himself, pierces his music with a sorrowful set of vocals that really help convey the tone.

I mentioned the acoustic piece earlier, but there are a few more notable stylistic choices found on the album including piano pieces, and even a section found on the final track of the album (Fingers of Death) starting with a section that would most normally be heard in a drone metal album. This shows me that Macabre is not a slave to the tried and true “paint by numbers” approach to black metal, but this isn’t some sort of pretentious “experimentation for the sake of it” affair either.

All-in-all this was a solid listen and one of my favorite albums of 2015 – I highly recommend it.