Most genres of metal music have never exactly sought radio-friendliness. Sure, iconic bands like Metallica and Pantera may be firmly established in the public consciousness, but many metal bands play music aimed at alienating all but the most dedicated of listeners. Black metal is one of the most esoteric forms, with Gaahl from Gorgoroth insisting that the genre “was never intended to reach a mainstream audience.”
The term “black metal” was first coined in 1982, when Venom released their second album, Black Metal. The genre itself didn’t really take off until a few years later, when it was pioneered by bands like Mayhem, Burzum, and Bathory. Today, black metal is known for its morbid subject matter, shrieked vocals, DIY-production value, and use of black-and-white “corpse paint.” The over-the-top darkness of the genre lends itself to parody but has also resulted in a number of violent and controversial incidents.
Black metal has a very long history of being anti-Christian, and nothing symbolizes that more than the numerous arsons or attempted arsons of churches in Norway. Some prominent metal musicians have openly advocated the practice, including Gaahl of Gorgoroth and the infamous Varg Vikernes.
A lot of the anti-Christian sentiment from black metal musicians comes from nostalgia for Norway’s pagan past. Vikernes has said that he supports church burnings because Christians wrongfully invaded pagan lands centuries ago. Musicians from bands like Hades Almighty and Enslaved have also connected church burnings to the history of conflict between pagans and Christians.
Nonetheless, Christian black metal (sometimes referred to as “unblack metal” or “white metal”) is a growing genre, with bands like A Hill to Die Upon, Antestor, and Crimson Moonlight gaining a following despite facing a significant amount of backlash. For example, the members of Antestor reportedly received death threats from prominent metal musicians like Mayhem’s Euronymous, and it took several years for Encyclopaedia Metallum, the largest archive of metal bands on the Internet, to label such bands as black metal without using scare quotes. Christian black metal bands remain controversial but have found a dedicated niche audience.
9Using Animal Blood As A Prop
If there are two things black metal bands love, it’s putting on a killer show and offending the religious. Gorgoroth managed to do both during a memorable performance in Krakow, Poland. The show featured several naked models mock-crucified on stage, severed animal heads, and gallons of pig blood. In the resulting uproar, the band was threatened with criminal charges for blasphemy and animal cruelty but ultimately avoided prosecution. The live footage of the concert was eventually released under the title Black Mass Krakow 2004.
Another black metal band called Watain has also used actual animal blood during one of their live shows. Specifically, the lead vocalist poured a goat skull full of pig blood into the crowd, causing a mixture of cheering and disgust and prompting the Daily Mail to describe the band as “devil worshipers.” Surprisingly, the Mail wasn’t just making it up, since the band members have claimed to be theistic Satanists.
8The Bassist Murdered For Tarnishing Satanism
Samong Traisattha was the bassist and vocalist for Thai metal band Surrender of Divinity when he was murdered in early 2014. A Facebook user going by the name “Maleficent Meditation” took credit for the killing, posting pictures of Traisattha’s body along with a long rant about Satanism.
In the borderline unintelligible post, the crazed fan said that he was planning to commit suicide but wanted to take those who “tarnish Satanism” down with him. “In my view, I have more respect for devoted Buddhists, Christians and Muslims than those who call themselves Satanists without knowing anything about it,” he wrote. “If I did not kill him, I’m sure he would be murdered by someone else later.”
Traisattha’s wife, Jaruvan Surapol, confirmed that the fan had come to their house to have a drink. Surapol had left the room to put the couple’s children to bed, returning to find her husband stabbed over 30 times.
7Using Mental Patients To Record An Album
Some bands will go to any lengths to make sure that their work is as disturbing as possible. In one case, Stalaggh, now known as Gulaggh, decided that getting the screams of actual mental patients was a must for their album Projekt Misanthropia. That was easier than it sounds, since one of the members actually worked at a mental institution and was able to get the express permission of every patient used for the album. The band then gathered the patients in an abandoned chapel and asked them to scream for several hours.
Asked about the resulting controversy, the band said they were delighted. “We appreciate the fact that people consider us controversial, this makes them interested in listening to our projekts and this way we can penetrate their weak minds with pain and fear. We do not label our own projekts. The more people debate our projekts, the more our message and Audio-Terrror spreads, so we welcome it.”
It’s worth noting that the band don’t consider the album to be black metal, preferring to call it “Nihilistik Misanthropik Audio-Terrror.”
6Varg Vikernes And Anders Breivik
It’s impossible to talk about the darker side of black metal without mentioning Varg Vikernes (pictured above). The former Mayhem guitarist is often dubbed a neo-Nazi, although he rejects that label in favor of the self-invented term “Odalism.” Nonetheless, he holds some proudly racist views and has been charged with hate speech against Muslims and Jews.
He was also reportedly been one of the 530 “neo-Nazi sympathizers” who received a copy of Anders Breivik’s manifesto. The notorious terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway, Breivik was a fan of numerous European far-right figures, including Vikernes. For his part, Vikernes apparently wrote a letter to Breivik after the attack, condemning him for killing Norwegians, while mostly seeming upset that he wasn’t anti-Semitic enough. His letter reads:
To Breivik I can only say I hope you do kill yourself. You have killed more Norwegians than the entire Muslim population in Norway has done the last 40 years, and you claim to be a Norwegian nationalist and patriot fighting (alongside your Jewish masters) against Islam, to protect us against their crimes!? I am sorry to say so, but you have made a big mistake. Islam has been imported to Europe by Jews, so that guys like you would run to the Jews and fight for them like you did when you murdered future mothers of Norwegian children. Death to you and to all other ‘European’ Zionists out there as well! You are the main problem for Europe, because guys like you allow the Jews to run Europe into the ditch.
There is a very small group of black metal musicians who identify with neo-Nazism, making music that is often referred to as “National Socialist black metal.” They have been heavily criticized by a number of prominent figures in the mainstream black metal scene.
5The Murder Of Sandro Beyer
Speaking of National Socialist Black Metal, the story of Hendrik Mobus is one of the most infamous stories about the genre. Mobus, the founder of the black metal band Absurd, had several conflicts with the law as a teenager. But his most infamous crime came in 1993, when he and two of his bandmates murdered a younger kid named Sandro Beyer, apparently mostly because he was considered a nuisance. The band members lured Beyer to a cabin that Mobus’s father owned, tied him to a chair, and strangled him to death with an electrical cord. Mobus was just 17 at the time.
After being released from juvenile detention, he continued his involvement in National Socialist metal and denied feeling any remorse for the murder. In an interview with metal fanzine Mourning The Ancient, he expressed reverence for Hitler and other far-right figures:
I’m very much motivated and awe-inspired by the life and death of Adolf Hitler, who undoubtedly served the cause of the Aryan race in a manner I couldn’t even dream of emulating. I’m furthermore impressed by my contemporaries William Pierce, Varg Vikernes, and David Myatt; all of whom labor tremendously for the same cause that I do, and with whom I share the grand imperative of advancing evolution until the Aryan can reach out and colonize the stars.
While in prison, Mobus was in contact with Vikernes and recorded several albums. Mobus was later re-incarcerated for violating the terms of his release by giving a Hitler salute during a concert. He is currently free and has his own record label.
4Murders Of Gay Men
With far-right figures like Vikernes lurking around, it should be no surprise that homophobia isn’t unknown in the European metal scene. While many bands are supportive of gay rights, there have been at least two cases of prominent metal musicians murdering gay men.
The first instance occurred in 1992, when Bard Guldvik “Faust” Eithun of Emperor fame murdered a gay man named Magne Andreassen in Lillehammer, Norway. Faust stabbed Andreassen 37 times, supposedly in response to Andreassen making a pass at him. He was sentenced to 14 years for the killing, which he later described in an interview: “My adrenalin was working full time and the rage was something I have never felt before, nor later. I have said in earlier interviews that the act in itself was like standing outside myself, looking at one guy stabbing another.”
In 1997, Dissection front man Jon Nodtveidt was similarly charged as being an accessory to the murder of a gay man named Josef ben Meddour. Nodtveidt later expressed regret for the killing, which was labeled a hate crime by the police.
Nodtveidt ended up serving seven years in prison, where he composed music for Dissection’s third album, which was released in 2006. Unfortunately, that album would be their last as the group disbanded following Nodtveidt’s strangely ritualistic suicide.
On a more positive note, the metal community is generally quite welcoming to gays and lesbians. There are some opponents of same-sex marriage, such as Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, but many more metal musicians support gay rights. In fact, there are quite a few prominent gay metal artists, including Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Otep Shamaya from Otep, and Gaahl from Gorgoroth.
3Gaahl Tortured A Man
Speaking of Gaahl, Gorgoroth’s infamous front man was convicted of torturing a 41-year-old man in 2002. The unnamed victim was attending an after-party at Gaahl’s home when he got into an argument with the singer. In his own account, the man then tried to leave the party but was obstructed and knocked unconscious by a blow to the back of the head. In Gaahl’s version of events, the man attacked him first, prompting him to strike back in self-defense.
Following the initial attack, the victim claimed that he was held hostage for several hours of escalating violence. Gaahl supposedly told him that he was going to sacrifice him and drink his blood and even started collecting his dripping blood in a cup. In his defense, Gaahl said that he had only used the cup to stop the blood making a mess all over his house.
Meanwhile, Gaahl’s mother took the stand to testify that her son would never commit cannibalism, since he was a vegetarian, “very fussy about food,” and “eats absolutely no innards.” The defense might have helped a little, since the jury decided that Gaahl had threatened to drink the victim’s blood, but probably didn’t actually intend to do it. The singer was sentenced to a year and two months in jail.
When asked about the incident, Gaahl defended his actions: “Everything deals with respect. The way I think of it is that you have to punish, or teach anyone that crosses your borders so that they won’t do it again.”
2Mayhem Uses Their Vocalist’s Corpse As An Album Cover
One of the most famous and disturbing black metal stories involves the band Mayhem, who helped pioneer the genre and begin the trend of wearing corpse paint. Mayhem’s front man, Per “Dead” Ohlin, apparently believed he had already died (hence the name) and would bury his clothes in a cemetery before wearing them. He was also known to cut himself with razor blades and broken glass and inhale the scent of a dead bird he carried around with him. In 1991, he committed suicide by slashing his wrists and shooting himself with a shotgun. His suicide note simply read, “Excuse all the blood. Let the party begin.”
As if that wasn’t grim enough, the band decided to use a photograph of Dead’s corpse on the cover of their album Dawn Of The Black Hearts. The image of the young man lying on the floor with his brains blown out has become one of the most infamous metal images of all time, frequently ranked alongside such disturbing album covers as Cattle Decapitation’s Humanure, Cannibal Corpse’s Butchered At Birth, and Slayer’s Christ Illusion.
In an interview with Loudwire, Marduk guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Hakansson revealed that he owns two pieces of Dead’s skull and even parts of his brain. He said that about five people who were close to the band had received similar mementos but declined to reveal their names.
1The Murder Of Euronymous
But Dead’s suicide isn’t even the most disturbing story involving Mayhem. No list of black metal crimes would be complete without the most famously dark tale in the genre’s history: the murder of guitarist Oystein “Euronymous” Aarseth by his former bandmate, Varg Vikernes.
According to Vikernes, the feud between the two started in 1991 when Euronymous borrowed from Vikernes to support his record label and never paid him back. A second major rift occurred after Vikernes did an interview with a journalist in order to promote Euronymous’s record store. Vikernes ended up being arrested over his claims in the interview, but Euronymous closed his shop rather than taking advantage of the attention.
Vikernes further claimed that Euronymous was planning to kidnap and kill him, prompting a confrontation in which Vikernes stabbed him 23 times in self-defense. Of course, this is all Vikernes’ version of events and is probably not an accurate reflection of the feud. In particular, the self-defense aspect of the story is usually disbelieved, not least by the jury, who sentenced Vikernes to 21 years in prison for murder and stockpiling explosives.