Paint it black: Norway’s metal scene matures

Once notorious for church burnings, suicide, and even murder, black metal is growing up

Photo: David Burke Iranian black metal rocker Sina Winter at Midgardsblot 2015 extreme metal festival in Borre, Norway.

Photo: David Burke
Iranian black metal rocker Sina Winter at Midgardsblot 2015 extreme metal festival in Borre, Norway.

David Burke
Skoppum, Norway

Activities for the whole family? Not exactly what you expect at a heavy metal event, but that’s what’s planned for the second annual, three-day Midgardsblot extreme metal music festival in Borre, Norway, August 18-20, 2016.

Jackboots and black de rigueur prevailed at last year’s Midgardsblot, but the vibe was more genial than grim. Once angry misanthropes are now middle-aged parents. One young couple was seen pushing a baby stroller towards the din of electric guitars blasting from the main stage. Nearby, families could be seen playing traditional Viking games and listening to a storyteller in a tunic with long blond braids spin timeless fables.

What you’re for
“There are so many misconceptions about metal,” says Jonathan Selzer, a journalist from London-based Metal Hammer Magazine. “Anymore, it’s not so much about what you’re against, it’s about what you’re for.”

Selzer had attended a panel debate on black metal culture moderated by Norwegian music journalist Harald Fossberg at Midgard Historical Center, one of Norway’s premier Viking museums, located within the festival site. The discussion was part of Midgardblot’s agenda and exemplified both black metal’s philosophical depth and its tendency to evoke strong emotions.

Norwegian black metal is well represented at Midgardsblot. This year’s event features such iconic bands as Enslaved and Wardruna. Midgardsblot 2015 hosted such legends as 1349, Solefald, and Ihsahn. The festival grounds—once a thriving Viking settlement and burial place of kings—is an appropriate setting. Nordic black metal bands strongly identify with the Vikings, using runes in their logos and singing lyrics inspired by pagan Viking culture.

Photo: David Burke Barth Resch, bassist in Austrian metal band Our Survival Depends on Us, and his 12-year-old son, Alastair, drove 1,700 kilmeters from Salzburg to experience Midgardsblot 2015 and the land of the Vikings.

Photo: David Burke
Barth Resch, bassist in Austrian metal band Our Survival Depends on Us, and his 12-year-old son, Alastair, drove 1,700 kilmeters from Salzburg to experience Midgardsblot 2015 and the land of the Vikings.

Black metal’s international reach is evident by such globally diverse bands as Algerian/French folk metal band Acyl, whose high-energy performance at Midgardsblot 2015 merged Arabic instrumentation and melodies into metal guitar dirges.

Extremely heavy
Black metal is an extreme subculture of heavy metal music that emerged in the 1980s. Its distinct sound includes fast tempos, shrieking vocals, distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, and unconventional song structures. Artists in the past often adopted pseudonyms and appeared in corpse paint. Some have even smeared themselves in blood and fecal matter.

Norwegian bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Immortal, and Emperor led a new wave of black metal in the early 1990s and created a distinct genre. Norwegian-inspired black metal scenes subsequently emerged across Europe and North America.

Many black metal artists have traditionally expressed extreme anti-Christian and misanthropic attitudes, even advocating various forms of Satanism or ethnic paganism. Some Norwegian black metalists were convicted for church burnings, and even murder.

Some neo-Nazis later identified with the genre, but are publicly shunned by prominent black metal artists. Black metal has generally aspired to be inaccessible to the mainstream and those who are not committed. Today, black metal seeks wider acceptance.

Heart of the matter
The black metal genre’s global impact is perhaps best illustrated in the new film documentary, Blackhearts, produced by Norwegian filmmaker Christian Falch and directed by Fredrik Horn Akselsen.

Blackhearts is about the Norwegian black metal scene’s influence on individuals world wide and how they interpret the genre into their own cultural context,” Falch says.

The film had its world premiere at the Kosmorama International Film Festival in Trondheim, Norway, in March 2016, and will appear at various North American and European venues this spring and summer.

Blackhearts focuses especially on Iranian black metal composer and musician, Sina Winter, who can’t go home again to Teheran after performing at the Inferno extreme metal festival in Oslo in 2013. Blackhearts additionally looks at Giorgos Germenis, alias Kaiadas, the front-man for Athens black metal band Naer Mataron and a Greek parliament member representing the extreme right-wing nationalist party Golden Dawn. Another character in the film is Hector, a black metal musician in Bogota, Colombia, who claims to have sold his soul to the devil to get a visa to visit Norway.

Impressionable youth
Like many rebellious teenage Norwegians in the early 1990s, Falch was drawn to the raw unbridled nature of the black metal scene. “It was my muse,” he says.

Today, Falch is known for producing such films as The King and the Crook (Gulosten, in Norwegian), and Two Raging Grannies (in English and about two elderly political activists in the U.S.). His film production company, Gammaglimt, won a NOK 150,000 grant in September 2015 from Oslo-based Fritt Ord (The Freedom of Expression Foundation) for production of Blackhearts. Falch and Gammaglint have raised more than NOK 3.5 million to make the film.

Winter’s discontent
Backstage at Midgardsblot 2015, Winter offered me a bottle of Tuborg beer. He had just performed with his band, From the Vastland.

Born in Teheran after the 1979 revolution, Winter grew up listening to his parent’s Pink Floyd and Camel LPs. He later sought out his own artistic identity and gravitated towards black metal. Winter eventually perceived the intrinsic connection between ancient Norse and his own Persian culture’s mythologies.

“All Persian mythology revolves around the battle between light and darkness. I began to see that all mythology is essentially the same. Looking even more closely, I saw that the prevailing power in these stories comes from nature,” he says.

Freedom of speech
The tall, lanky Persian revealed himself as apolitical during our backstage chat. He’s simply an artist seeking freedom of expression. To his detriment, he chose a genre deemed satanic by the Iranian authorities.

Winter presently resides in Norway after being granted a visa due to likely persecution in Iran for his artistic pursuits. The visa technically expired at the end of 2015. He has applied for an extension but the outcome is still pending.

“We’re grateful for the support of the Norwegian Musician’s Union and their Safe Music Havens Initiative (SafeMUSE) for helping us secure refuge for Sina in Norway,” says Falch.

SafeMUSE offers persecuted musical artists a safe place to stay and work—in places with freedom of artistic expression. The organization upholds the Universal declaration of human rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Winter couldn’t agree more.

“If I return to Iran, maybe nothing happens, maybe I go to jail. I am not into politics. I don’t like to talk politics,” he says.

Winter is hopeful. He concurs with a comment made during the panel debate at Midgardsblot by journalist moderator, Fossberg, that despite the hype, when all is said and done, “the music always wins!”

• Follow developments about the film Blackhearts on Facebook:

• Link to Midgardsblot 2016:

• Read detailed review of Midgardsblot 2015 by Metal Exposure Magazine:

• Find out more about Midgard Historical Center:

This article originally appeared in the March 25, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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