Blackhearts and the freedom to shock

A conversation with Sina and filmmakers Fredrik Horn Akselsen and Christian Falch

Photo courtesy of Blackhearts Sina in concert. For him, black metal is all about the music.

Photo courtesy of Blackhearts
Sina in concert. For him, black metal is all about the music.

Julia Andersen
New York

You might think that because he was born in Iran, Sina would be religious. You might think that because he is a black metal musician, Sina would be Satanist. But the charismatic metalhead, who is a subject of a new Norwegian documentary Blackhearts (due on video on demand and DVD in the end of 2016), told me neither is the case. “I didn’t grow up with any kind of religion. To me, it’s all about the music. I am not a believer. And when it comes to Satanism, to me it sounds religious,” he said. Sina and Blackhearts co-directors Fredrik Horn Akselsen and Christian Falch took time to answer my questions about their new documentary, Norwegian black metal, and its universal perception during a recent Skype interview. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Julia Andersen: What made you interested in black metal and why did you decide to make a documentary about it?

Christian Falch: I am a fan of black metal myself, not as big as guys in our film, but I always enjoyed listening to it. I’ve been traveling with metal bands on tours for filming, and I could see the contrast between how the phenomenon of black metal is in Norway and what people abroad think it is. I thought it was a fascinating contrast. This was the fourth documentary I have worked on with Fredrik, and I wanted to work with him again. Our ambition was to make a black metal documentary that was not only for the fans. We wanted to have a broad audience, and since Fredrik is not a black metal fan himself, I thought he would be the perfect director for this because he could add a different view to the phenomenon than the fans’ perspective.

JA: How did all of you meet?

Sina: It was in 2012 when Christian contacted me for the first time. He explained about his film and asked if I wanted to be a part of this. To me, as a black metal musician, it was a great opportunity to join the project. I just said: “I am in!” We met for the first time in 2012, and then we just continued to keep in touch, and finally I am here.

Photo courtesy of Blackhearts Christian Falch (left) and Fredrik Horm Akselsen (right), filmmakers.

Photo courtesy of Blackhearts
Christian Falch (left) and Fredrik Horm Akselsen (right), filmmakers.

JA: How has your life been since your move to Norway? Are you happier living there, or do you miss Tehran?

S: I am really happy that I am here. Naturally, sometimes I miss my family and friends, but that’s okay, you know. I came to Norway to continue my music works and to reach my dreams and now I am really happy because when it comes to music, I got actually almost all I wanted. I had dreamed for many many years to have this chance, to just release my albums and do my concerts, and now I have this opportunity. I have played a couple of shows, I released my album, and I am at the right place. We are talking about black metal in Norway! It’s a source of black metal. I am really happy about it.

JA: The documentary has a very interesting juxtaposition. On the one hand, it shows very laid-back black metal musicians, like Sina and Vegar Larsen. On the other hand, there is Hector, who deeply believes in Satan. Is it just about music for you, like it is for Sina, or do you sympathize with Hector’s beliefs?

Fredrik Horn Akselsen: I, for sure, sympathize with Sina. Hector is there to show the flip side of black metal and to show the most extreme kind of dedication to black metal. Sina is more of a freedom fighter to me, more of a person who fights for a freedom of speech, which I think is very important in the world, whereas Hector is more interested in something completely different.

Photo courtesy of Blackhearts Vegar Larsen, another of the documentary’s subjects, preparing for concert.

Photo courtesy of Blackhearts
Vegar Larsen, another of the documentary’s subjects, preparing for concert.

JA: Do you think Satanism for Hector is a way to speak against Christianity, or is it a different type of religion?

FHA: In Colombia probably 98% of people are Catholics, so you could say that Satanism is a way of rebellion, a way to a freedom of speech, but still it’s taken to quite an extreme degree. In Norway, it was used in the late 80s and early 90s as a way of rebellion, but now Norway has become very secular. Religion is not taught in schools in the same way it was taught in the late 80s and early 90s. Churches are empty in Norway, so in a way, there is not much to rebel against, so that serves as a reason Norwegian black metal is less Satanist in a way than it used to be.

CF: I remember in the early to mid 90s that these Norwegian bands singing about Satan used to be a scary thing. It used to be something extreme and controversial. But during the last 20 years so many things have happened in our society that I couldn’t even scare my own grandmother anymore! [laughter] It’s been changing so fast. As Fredrik said, Colombia is a very Catholic society, so being Satanist in Colombia is still a very shocking thing. It’s an extreme thing to have an inverted cross or pentagram on your t-shirt. So in the film we wanted to show the difference between the cultures, because as you could see it in Norway, black metal gets government support, we have mayors opening the festivals, it’s a very business-like thing. You see black metal exhibitions, while in Colombia it is still something very obscure.

JA: Sina, a lot of conversations in the film are about the fact that black metal is forbidden in Iran. How did you first hear the black metal music and were able to get your hands on Norwegian records in Iran?

S: I was familiar with rock music because of my parents. They were big fans of it. It was about 15-20 years ago that I heard black metal for the first time. I had a friend, at that time he was living in Austria. He came to Iran for his vacation, and he brought some tapes and one of the them was Burzum album, Filosofem (Philosophy), one of the early 90s black metal albums. I was a fan of trash metal at the time, but this was something completely different and new to me. I remember when I was listening to the album I couldn’t understand it. I had to listen five or six times in a row to just try to understand. It was really mysterious, the atmosphere was very dark. That was the first time. But then I couldn’t even listen to any other type of music! [laughter]

JA: Did you have any trouble filming in Iran?

CF: Shooting abroad is always difficult because of various reasons, cultural reasons and regulations. We couldn’t actually go to Iran ourselves to film. We did some extensive research on how to do it, but we couldn’t do it, because it would be too risky. You would need official filming permits from the government, and it goes without saying that we couldn’t have any government officials with us while filming Sina. What we did is that we found some Iranians who helped us out, who risked a lot to shoot this material without permission. For obvious reasons we kept their names out of end credits, and they would unfortunately have to remain anonymous. That’s the way we did it. It was pretty challenging to find someone in Iran who would actually risk and be willing to do this for us, but we were lucky enough to find someone who managed to pull it through. They put the material on a hard drive and Sina himself took a great risk, because he put the hard drive in his suitcase and he flew to Istanbul, Turkey, and met us there and gave us their material.

JA: Very brave of you, Sina!

CF: He is the toughest guy. He’s like from a James Bond movie or something. [Sina is laughing] They kept it 100% secret. Sina didn’t tell me they had done the shooting, they didn’t tell me they had shot it. Sina didn’t tell me he was going to bring me the material even, so everything was under the extreme security precautions, and that was quite an adventure. So yeah … that guy! [Laughter]

JA: What do you want viewers to take away from watching Blackhearts?

FHA: To me it would be important that the viewers don’t take something cultural or an artistic expression so seriously that you end up in jail or sell yourself to Satan. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic.

CF: Unlike most documentaries we make, we really don’t want to change the world, or make the world a better place with this film. [Laughter] We’d like to entertain people, to make them cry, to make them laugh, all those mixed feelings. Maybe even scare some people. We want to give the audience a look into fascinating world of black metal they probably have never seen before.

Julia Andersen is a freelance writer based in New York. She is a Columbia University graduate and has a particular affection for Scandinavian films.

This article originally appeared in the July 15, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.