Monday, 27 September 2010

Until the Light Takes Us

"The truth is out is to be found, in a sea of lies". So says Burzum main man Varg Vikernes, interviewed from his prison cell where he was, during the making of this film, serving a 21-year sentence for killing fellow black metaler Øystein Aarseth, aka Euronymous, frontman of Mayhem. Until the Light Takes Us is a 2008 documentary exploring the phenomenon of Norwegian black metal, and how a few bands centered around a small record store in Oslo would make international headlines after a spate of church burnings, a suicide and two gruesome murders...

Unraveling this extraordinary story, the film features interviews with Varg Vikernes and Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell of Dark Throne, two pivotal figures in the origins of the black metal scene, as well as members of Mayhem, and Immortal. To their credit film makers Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell take a suitably cold detached view of the black metal scene, and treat their subject with intelligence and a refreshing lack of pretension. Don't expect long poetic tracking shots through the bleak Norwegian woodlands, this film identifies the banal conformism of Norwegian society and its slide into consumer globalization as the springboard for the extreme worldview and lifestyle (and propensity for self-destruction) shared by many of the bands at the center of the first wave of black metal.

Whether we emerge from the film with the truth about what really happened on the night of August 10th 1993 when Varg Vikernes plunged a knife into the skull of Øystein Aarseth, remains unclear. Certainly, the film makers absent voice throughout the film is felt most strongly here, and for all his intelligence, wit and sensitivity Vikernes' assertion that the killing was done in self-defense is somewhat hard to swallow considering he was busy stockpiling explosives and ammunition at his home, with the intention of destroying the head-quarters of an anti-fascist league in Oslo. Yet the film makers never question him on this point.

Criticisms aside, the film does a fine job of recounting the rise of this very insular underground scene before its colonization by the metal mainstream. There's some startling newsreel footage of medieval Norwegian churches burning to to the ground, and one particularly memorable sequence where Satyricon drummer "Frost" mutilates himself at a performance art installation. The film also features some rare clips of many of the black metal bands in their infancy (albeit mostly on unwatchable VHS footage) and the fine soundtrack, not only features black metal music but well chosen cuts from Boards of Canada, sunnO))) and Black Dice.

For metal fans (and anyone interested in transgressive culture), Until the Light Takes Us is highly recommended. The film makes its long awaited debut on DVD and Blu-Ray in the US on October 19.


  1. excellent review. excellent subject. hopefully finds its way to a much broader audience than expected.

  2. Many thanks for the comments Stonerphonic - was checking out yr blog earlier - lots of great stuff over there, and plenty of laughs too!

  3. Wow - this whole subject was completely off my radar until just now - but the story sounds fascinating and I want to track this one down!