Lo Down Magazine - Metal Spirit Resurrection
in the glare of burning churches
Chronicling the history and ideology of Norwegian Black Metal, a subculture which
is reflected in a unique musical and visual aesthetic, the long awaited documentary
“Until The Light Takes Us” explores every aspect of this controversial movement,
featuring interviews with the originators and including rare unseen footage from the
so called “Black Circle’s” earliest days, when suicide, church arson and murder
caused Norwegian Black Metal to rise to international prominence. “Norwegian”
has become a byword for true black metal, a term much attributed to the bands
Mayhem, Burzum and Darkthrone. A dark and erosive atmosphere as well as the
basic recording quality of the early movement re-defined the very soul of what one
perceived as black metal and ignited the genre incarnate.
Their use of misdirection and metaphor was sophisticated and a certain naivety
in some parts led to some spectacular results as well. Apparently, there is really
no other art, music or ideological movement like it and the fact that Norway has
a natural environment reflective of darkness, helped to create the impetus for the
scenes violent image elsewhere. The stark beauty of Norway’s landscapes and
timeless visage has become synonymous with Black Metal. With Mayhem being
a significant force, paving the way and igniting a whole movement, the suicide
of vocalist Per “Dead” Ohlin on April 8th 1991 was nothing compared to the
forthcoming wave of hysteria generated by the media worldwide, when Burzum´s
Varg Vikernes put Mayhem’s guitarist and mastermind Oystein “Euronymous”
Aarseth to death, stabbing him 23 times in a dispute on August 10th 1993. Thus,
the movement was truly born. Aarseth can be seen as the godfather of Norwegian
Black Metal, his very name evokes the acute reality of the scenes early ascension,
and Mayhem surmounts the impressive list of bands that make up the scene,
as true cult. Vikernes in contrast, shortly created a legend by killing the visionary
Euronymous. Burzum’s initial releases mark and define a genre for the member
that ravaged Mayhem, making him become one of the most important acts in the
BARD ”FAUST” EITHUN
Black Metal genre and this was followed by no lesser minimalistic albums until his
incarceration for murder and for the burning of three stave churches in Norway in
1994. Currently, Vikernes is serving a 21 year sentence for murder and is seeking
parole in April 2008, which first has been denied in 2006. The cover art for Burzum’s
“Aske” EP, which was originally released on Euronymous´ DSP-label, shows a
photo of the burnt Fantoft stave church that Varg once ignited. Altogether, the
“Inner Circle” claimed responsibility for inspiring probably over 50 arsons directed
on churches in Norway from 1992 to 1996; mostly buildings widely regarded as
important historical landmarks. Often quoted in combination with the bloody history
of Norwegian Black Metal, is Emperor’s former drummer Bard “Faust” Eithun,
who was convicted of murdering a homosexual man in Lillehammer on the 21st of
August, 1992. Eithun was released in 2003 after serving 9 years and 4 months of
an original 14 year sentence. To put all these events into perspective, none of the
criminal acts were designed for public scrutiny and no premeditated media hype
was constructed. The young teenagers responsible for the hysteria were indebted to
a personal agenda that eventually became swallowed up in the media attention that
The way the media treated them and portrayed what happened as well as the way
things are interpreted and re-interpreted as they’re filtered through different lenses
by artists, music journalists and the news media marks the focus of “Until The Light
Takes Us”, the first film about this movement. The feature-length documentary
directed and produced by the Brooklyn art couple Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites
is by no means just some kind of metal history lesson, it’s a personal and exciting
insight into a subculture that carried a rebellion against mainstream society, the
people behind it, what happened to them and their creation, and what’s still
Audrey, you already made your directing debut by co-producing the movie
“A Sign from God”, could you tell me a bit about that?
Hmm, that was a romantic comedy. I was basically forced into an acting role
in that as well, plus I was the production manager. That production got off to
a rocky start. I remember the first day of shooting, I got up at some ungodly
hour, and before I’d even had coffee I got a call from the assistant director. I was
expecting an update but I wasn’t prepared for the update to be that the entire
principle cast: the director, two sound guys and the D.P. had been in a car crash
and were in an ambulance on the way to the emergency room. Everyone was
fine (well one of the sound guys had actually wandered off with a concussion
and when I arrived at the scene the police were talking to the craft services guy,
who was somehow the most responsible person still there), but that’s just budget
filmmaking. I’m amazed we finished that one. But I think with film you’re always
amazed, they are so hard to make.
How have you been introduced to Norwegian Black Metal;
how did you develop the idea for the movie?
We were introduced to Black Metal by a friend, Andee Conners, who owns
Aquarius Records in San Francisco and who, despite our objections, knew that
it was something we were going to be into. And we did really get into it. It really
captivated both of us and we both really care about music. So, basically, we
wanted to see a good film on the subject, that’s really how it started. We were
looking for a good documentary on the subject and couldn’t find one. There
was this great mythos surrounding it, surrounding a movement made extreme
not by copious amounts of drug use or “bad” behaviour, but by really doing the
previously unthinkable and yet simultaneously enacting a sort of evil parody.
How did these things fit together? It was obvious from their music, lyrics and
aesthetic that there were intelligent people involved, humorous and even subtle
in many ways. A scene is comprised of individuals after all, and after researching
everything we could get our hands on, it was apparent that no other treatment
really dealt with that. There’s really no other movement like it. There may have
been similarities in the late 70’s Throbbing Gristle and satellite scene of Britain,
or the “terrorist chic” of Baader Meinhof, or even the countercultural music and
ideology elements of the American hippie music and nonviolence movement.
But then, the differences are obvious, so the film deals with that, but it’s equally
about people and ideas. I think the film and the characters are going to surprise
a lot of people. You absolutely will get the history of Norwegian Black Metal from
the mouths of the people that created it, but there’s a lot more to it than that. We
aren’t journalists, and journalism doesn’t interest either of us.
VARG ”COUNT GRISHNACKH” VIKERNES
Is it true that you spent several months just living there, becoming good
friends with everyone, before you actually started working on the movie?
That’s true. Getting the vibe of Norway, getting to know the people, it was
important that we get to know the people we were documenting before we
started filming. We didn’t want to get a superficial snapshot, that didn’t interest
us. And besides, one of the things that appealed to us about the project was
Norway itself. Getting a chance to experience what it was like to live in Norway
wasn’t only necessary for the film; it was a fringe benefit for us. We wanted
to live in Europe for a while; we also shot in Stockholm and Milan. It was very
isolating at times, but it was also nice to have a singular purpose and not to
have day jobs to contend with. So, we became friends with most of them on
some level: Gylve (“Fenriz” of Darkthrone) for example, we clicked with him
immediately; Aaron can talk music ‘til the sun comes up. We’re friends with a lot
of the other musicians as well: Infernus from Gorgoroth, Garm from Ulver and
Hellhammer from Mayhem in particular. We have a pretty good relationship with
everyone in the scene for the most part.
PER ”DEAD” OHLIN & OYSTEIN ”EURONYMOUS” AARSETH
UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US - 69
But how did you get in contact with Vikernes?
I can imagine it was very hard to get him to agree to it...
Yes, it was incredibly difficult. We spent eight months corresponding with him in
which time he must have said no 10 or 12 times. Finally he agreed to meet with
Aaron, and from there we were able to get his participation.
Do you think he is aware of himself still being a role model, and what do
you personally think about him turning to apparently extreme political and
I’m not sure if he really is. But to the extent that he is, I don’t think that he wants
to be. I mean, he no longer releases music, he doesn’t give interviews at all
anymore; he doesn’t release statements or court any kind of public attention
at all that I’m aware of. I think he just wants to fade from public view and live
his life when he’s released. I’d be shocked if he did otherwise. So, what’s
really important is that the film is told from the perspective of the musicians
themselves, there’s no narration and there are no experts. And while the notion
of objectivity is a perverse fallacy, we abstain from commenting on the subjects
of the film. We’re not overly political in our personal lives, we do think the world
is broken in many ways and we choose to engage the world in conversation
with media, rather than attend rallies or try to enact change through activism or
politics. Objectivity though, it’s a false idea. There’s no such thing. Perhaps a
robot could be objective, but even in our science fiction you see again and again
that as robots become more human, they lose their capacity for objectivity. So,
that was never of any particular concern to us. What was important was that we
get the right people to tell the story. And that obviously means the originators.
But of course our ideas are still present. They’re there in the juxtapositions, in the
people we chose, in the stories they tell. We weave a few timelines and stories;
the overlap is generally where the thematic elements are explored.
Were you friends with Harmony Korine before?
How come he´s involved in the project?
Well, he’s been into black metal for many years; he also used Burzum in the
Gummo soundtrack and has put up many Black Metal-related exhibitions in
several galleries. Basically, we just went about it the same way that we did with
everyone else in the movie: called him up and told him what we were doing,
asked if he wanted to be involved. We’re just very honest in what we’re doing
and what we want.
The Authors Audrey Ewell & Aaron Aites
Finally, can you name some special happenings during
the time of production?
Umm, well, didn’t the Norwegian women’s curling team win some kind of medal?
UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US: DOCUMENTARY: USA 2008: DIRECTED BY AUDREY EWELL & AARON AITES
WORDS: CHRISTOPH RAMBOW
STILLS FROM ”UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US”
70 - UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US