Elevate Difference

True Norwegian Black Metal

Photographer Peter Beste spent seven years researching this book, including thirteen visits to Norway where he photographed and interviewed the musicians who are his subject. The result is a photojournalistic epic that looks and reads like crime fiction.

The meat of _True Norwegian Black Metal _is the pictures, mostly black and white. Band members dress like demons or corpses, splattering their faces with black and white stage makeup. They wear bullet belts, spiked armbands, and rags or leather gear designed to look like burial garb or battle armor. Inverted cross necklaces and medieval style weapons also abound. The overall effect is theatrical, but these are not publicity or promotional photos. One of the most striking is Nattefrost, front man for an eponymous band. He stands bare-chested in an alley, glaring at the camera, his face painted white with black stripes. A middle-aged woman stares at him with disapproval as she walks down the street, but Nattefrost is oblivious to her presence.

That picture, and others like it, sums up the message and appeal of black metal. The band members reject mainstream society. To the Norwegians, that society is embodied in the Christian religion. The musicians feel that Christianity has robbed them of their heritage, and so they embrace Odinism, Norse legends and symbols, and satanic or demonic images.

In the early 1990s, several infamous church burnings were linked to the black metal scene. Near the same time, a young singer who called himself Dead committed suicide. Dead was the lead singer for Mayhem, a prototypical black metal band. In addition, Varg Vikernes, founder of the band Burzum, was convicted and imprisoned for the murder of Euronymous, his friend and fellow musician.

These events and others caused controversy and attracted international attention for a time. Beste’s book does a good job of explaining these events without condemning or praising the participants. Instead Beste shows readers where the music came from and gives them an idea of why it became so popular so quickly in Norway. The pictures are the main focus, but there is plenty of good writing, too.

Metalion, founder of the underground magazine Slayer, wrote the introduction. This is important because Metalion was involved in the scene and knew the people first-hand. There is also a graphic timeline of black metal and its myriad influences. In the back of the book are magazine and newspaper clippings as well as hand written letters from members of the groups.

True Norwegian Black Metal is worth reading for the photos alone. The stories and reminiscences will help readers better understand this aggressive, insular, much maligned form of extreme metal. Peter Beste has crafted a book that will appeal as much to black metal fans as to those who are just curious.

Written by: Steve Watson, April 30th 2008

I like the unbiased style of your review. ^^ One mistake though, it is not Nattefrost from Carpathian Forest in the photo you were describing but Kvitrafn from Gorgoroth. I also thought, it was quite intense.

This is a great review! My partner, who is Danish, has a lot of mild-mannered friends who are nevertheless involved with the Scandinavian black metal scene, and this speaks to its history with a lot of accuracy and fairness (something that doesn't always happen). Nice job!