1991: BLaCK meTaL

IN 1991 NOR­WAY BE­CAME A CRUCIBLE OF CRE­ATIV­ITY, SPARK­ING THE BLACK METAL SCENE AND CAUS­ING A CHAIN REACTION OF CON­TRO­VERSY

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: CHRIS CHANTLER

The birth of a genre. How Nor­way’s black metal bands pushed bound­aries and changed his­tory.

in 1991, ex­treme metal was in a vi­o­lent state of flux. Death metal had pol­ished it­self up and emerged from the tape-trad­ing un­der­ground as a se­ri­ous com­mer­cial force. Swe­den was a pro­lific strong­hold; scene lead­ers such as En­tombed, Dis­mem­ber, Grave and Un­leashed were sell­ing world­wide, and the in­ex­haustible tor­rent of new bands and demos con­tin­ued apace.

As the year be­gan, Nor­way’s mod­est scene was lan­guish­ing in the shadow of their more pop­u­lar, pro­fes­sional Scan­di­na­vian neigh­bours, but by De­cem­ber a Nor­we­gian revo­lu­tion had oc­curred, sharply di­vid­ing the un­der­ground and spawn­ing a set of dis­tinc­tive aes­thet­ics, har­row­ing at­mos­pheres and mer­ci­less philoso­phies, push­ing metal to dan­ger­ous, ab­stract new ex­tremes. This ap­proach would es­ca­late to ar­son, mur­der and last­ing in­famy for the black metal scene, but in 1991 that was all in the fu­ture.

“We didn’t have any am­bi­tions, we didn’t try to fit in or make prod­ucts that would be avail­able in a main­stream form,” says Ih­sahn, front­man with black metal fig­ure­heads Em­peror, who formed in 1991. “That’s the only state of mind where we could cre­ate some­thing unique enough to have that im­pact.”

the roots of Nor­we­gian black metal lay in the mid-80s. Since 1984, May­hem had stag­gered along that in­dis­tinct 1980s line be­tween thrash, punk, death and black metal, but by 1991 gui­tarist Eurony­mous was hard­en­ing a com­bat­ive elit­ist stance that quickly came to dom­i­nate the Nor­we­gian un­der­ground.

“Ninety-five per cent of the bands to­day are worth­less shit,” he an­nounced in is­sue 8 of Slayer zine. “There are just a few who man­age to cap­ture the bru­tal­ity and evil which the an­cient bands like Sodom, De­struc­tion, Bathory, Pos­sessed, Venom, Hell­ham­mer/ Celtic Frost and so on had. It’s very im­por­tant that the mu­sic is filled with dark moods and the mu­sic smells of de­struc­tion.” He spoke of his dream of a scene where bands in spikes and chain­mail played mu­sic that was “grue­some and evil, that nor­mal peo­ple fear.”

One per­son who read the in­ter­view was a teenager from the sleepy town of No­tod­den in south­ern Nor­way named Hår­vard Ellef­sen, who started 1991 fronting a Car­cass-in­spired ju­nior-DM band by the name of Rup­turence.

“IT WAS LIKE A CULT, BOUND TO END IN INSANITY” WHEN MORTIIS LEFT EM­PEROR, HE KNEW THEY WERE HEAD­ING FOR TROU­BLE

“The main rea­son the whole Nor­we­gian black metal scene got go­ing was prob­a­bly thanks to that May­hem in­ter­view,” he says to­day.

“It was [singer] Dead and Eurony­mous talk­ing about how the scene was dead and bor­ing. It in­flu­enced us a lot; we were like, ‘Fuck man, these guys are right!’” By the end of the year Har­vard would have adopted the name Mortiis and joined Em­peror as bassist and lyri­cist.

May­hem’s in­famy only grew when the in­tensely com­mit­ted Dead killed him­self in April 1991. It pre­cip­i­tated such a call-to-arms re­sponse from Nor­way’s un­der­ground that, within months, Eurony­mous’s dream had come true.

Dark­throne were the first to re­act. The trio had be­gun 1991 by re­leas­ing their highly cred­itable, if dis­tinctly Swedish-sound­ing, Soul­side Jour­ney de­but, but within months they were pub­licly re­pu­di­at­ing death metal, am­pli­fy­ing those mid-80s in­flu­ences cited by Eurony­mous and record­ing the genre-defin­ing clas­sic A Blaze In The North­ern Sky in Au­gust. Tellingly, it was “eter­nally ded­i­cated” to Eurony­mous, “the king of death/black metal un­der­ground”, who ce­mented this rep­u­ta­tion by open­ing Oslo record shop Hel­vete in sum­mer ’91. Mortiis re­mem­bers Hel­vete’s fetid breed­ing ground in its hey­day: “‘Ev­ery­body there in ’91 was ei­ther in a band or about to join one,” he re­calls.

Hel­vete be­came a cru­cial meet­ing place for Nor­way’s in­cip­i­ent ‘Black Metal In­ner Cir­cle’, which now ex­panded at an as­ton­ish­ing rate. Ber­gen gore­hounds Old Fu­neral re­leased the bru­tal De­voured Car­cass EP in June; by De­cem­ber their gui­tarist

Kris­tian Vik­ernes had be­come Count Gr­ish­nackh, formed Burzum and recorded two demos.

The dudes from Am­pu­ta­tion be­came Im­mor­tal. Eczema changed their name to Satyri­con, and mem­bers of Mortem set up Arc­turus. Pho­bia re­leased a thor­oughly death metal demo in July; by De­cem­ber, Pho­bia’s 13-year-old gui­tarist Ivar Bjørn­son and 17-year-old bassist/vo­cal­ist Grutle Kjell­son had put to­gether the Vik­ing-themed En­slaved, and re­leased a demo an­nounc­ing ‘The Death Metal Scene Is Dead. Greet The Age Of Black Metal!’

aside from May­hem and Dark­throne, the ear­li­est Nor­we­gian black metal in ’91 re­tained the over-ea­ger cack-hand­ed­ness of ten­ta­tive ju­ve­nilia, but two mu­si­cians straight­away loomed headand-shoul­ders over con­tem­po­rary din-mak­ers. Ve­gard ‘Ih­sahn’ Tvei­tan and To­mas ‘Samoth’

“WE WANTED TO CRE­ATE MU­SIC THAT WAS LARGER THAN LIFE” IH­SAHN EX­PLAINS HOW HE WANTED TO SOUND­TRACK THE

“MOST EPIC, VI­O­LENT, DARK MOVIE EVER”

Hau­gen had been mak­ing mu­sic to­gether since 1989; en­ter­ing 1991 in the ap­pro­pri­ately named DM band Em­bry­onic, the pair were al­ready im­press­ing their peers. “They were way ahead, we thought at the time,” re­mem­bers Mortiis.

Swiftly this dy­namic duo started an­other new band, Thou Shalt Suf­fer, record­ing two demos and an EP within six months. Al­though re­tain­ing cryptic deathly traces, early at­mos­pheres of frost­bit­ten grimnity and key­board­laced majesty were glimpsed in em­bryo, yet de­spite the prom­ise so ev­i­dent in these record­ings, Ygg and Samot

(as they then styled them­selves) had one more ace up their sleeve in this tur­bu­lent year: Em­peror.

“Em­peror re­ally started as a side-project to go back to ba­sics, more prim­i­tive, to­wards the old school,” af­firms Ih­sahn of the now-leg­endary band’s ear­li­est im­pulses. “The bor­ders were re­ally clear-cut, al­though

Eurony­mous, who aired his frus­tra­tions in an in­ter­view and kick­started a whole move­ment

Em­peror “started as a side-project to go back to ba­sics” in 1991

May­hem’s Eurony­mous, Ne­crobutcher and Dead

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