As a child, I had an unhealthy obsession with horror films.
From epic thrillers like The Shining, classics like Psycho, cult favorites like Evil Dead, the sequeled to death Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the Thirteenth, to slasher films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, anything that looked interesting at the video store, like Chopping Mall, and majorly controversial films like Cannibal Holocaust….you name it, I’d watch it. There was something about the thrill, the rush of being scared, the drama of it all, the danger, the dare.
It is through my interest in horror films that I explain my interest in Black Metal…it’s the horror genre of the music world. I’ll be the first to say that I’m by no means a hardcore Black Metal fan; what I listen to within the genre is pretty mainstream (Satyricon, Enslaved, Immortal, Gorgoroth, Mayhem, etc.). The allure for me has always been the culture and aesthetic surrounding it; while America’s metal bands were destroying hotel rooms, Norway’s were burning down churches.
So I dedicated part of my trip in Norway to understanding Black Metal on a different level.
First of all, Black Metal may be a huge export for Norway, but as I would soon learn, just like the other major exports- petrol, timber, and fish- they don’t exactly keep any of it for themselves. What I mean is that most Norwegians seem to be unaware of the popularity of Black Metal outside their borders.
Between a little online research, watching Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Until the Light Takes Us, and listening to a whole lot of music, I had a few sites in mind.
I started out going to one that anyone in their right mind would do: going to a bakery in a neighborhood next to the train station where in the basement used to be Helvete. It was a Black Metal record store / meeting place for ‘The Black Circle’ in the early ’90’s, run by Euronymous of Mayhem. It’s a sort of ground zero for Black Metal; the creative center of the culture. Long defunct (the store close in ’93 before Varg murdered Euronymous), the only piece of the past still existing is the words ‘BLACK METAL’ scrawled on a wall in the basement. To me, this seemed like the masthead of Black Metal culture; it was something I had to see for myself.
It was a sunny, yet still chilly day in Oslo. The walk to Schweigaards gate 56 took less time than I anticipated, and I arrived at about the most un-metal hour possible- 11am. I circled the block first to determine if I really wanted to do this. The building is now home to a popular neighborhood coffee shop and bakery that in no way capitalizes on the history of the space (no Immortal cappuccino?! Come on!). I walked up to the counter and ordered a cappuccino anyway. I stand there for a second wondering how exactly I’m going to ask this when I’m handed the drink.
“So….would it…..like….be possible…..for me to, like…..see the mural in the basement?”Jesus I sound like a dumb American girl!
“You know…like….this used to like…..be this record store….and stuff…..and like…..(whispers) the words Black Metal are on the wall?”
So I go sit down and drink what turned out to be a really yummy cappuccino, looking at this older couple sitting there having their coffee and wondering the usual….what am I doing? Why am I such a weirdo? They proceed to get up and leave and the girl steps around the counter, shakes her keys at me, beckons me to come over, and says, “Ok. Now.”
I walk behind the counter and see an older man standing there who smiles with his eyes as she unlocks a door that I wouldn’t even know was there if she hadn’t done so. I’m stepping over cleaning products and things to descend a flight of stairs, when my adrenaline starts pumping. The basement is cold and damp and cavernous; there’s a dust settled on everything and you can taste it when you breathe. There are all of these little rooms as we go through a curvy hallway…I’m having a look around when she gets on her phone and starts talking really loudly. Then we come to a door and it opens and front and center there it is:
A chill went through me as has happened only a few times in my life. I didn’t expect to be frightened of the place, but there was a negative energy in there that I’d expect most people to feel. I have this weird thing (disclaimer: I am not a hippie nor am I on drugs) that when you go places, you leave a piece of you with it and you take a piece of it with you. That’s why historical music venues have always been so important to me. There was something about being down there that was unlike any place I’ve ever been.
That, and the fact that at that moment, I realized that this is an awesome premise for a slasher film. I swallowed, wondering if the cappuccino was laced with something that was about to make me drop to the floor. I looked at my escort yapping on the phone….hmmm….I could take her.
But then I wised up and all that spiritual and horror film mumbo jumbo passed and I did what any normal person would do.
Actually, I just wanted one photo, but I got back my camera and the girl had shot about 10 photos of me and The Wall.
Ready to get out of there, I followed her back out, snapping a few photos along the way to attempt to capture just how creepy this space was. I thanked them and left immediately, as someone with a baby stroller entered the shop.
As I walked down the street, I felt the adrenaline subside and thought about how I had just created my own DIY Black Metal thrill ride.
From there, I walked towards the university to visit the other must-see Black Metal place in Oslo: Neseblod Records. I felt like I should pay admission, because this place is more like a museum than a record store. Amidst the music, patches, T-shirts, and pics, there are demo tapes from all the Black Metal bands, props from shows, artwork done by the musicians, letters, crazy zines, and other rarities that I gladly ogled. I spent about an hour and a half in there, the last half debating whether I should even enquire about how much the painting in blood cost for my weird little collection, and deciding not to. I ended up with a Gorgoroth shirt and two bizarre Black Metal zines.
From there I went over to Rock Merch, which is basically like a Hot Topic type thing, not really worthwhile unless you are looking for something super mainstream.
A couple days later, I boarded a train for Bergen. It was a beautiful 7 hour train ride that took us through the mountains, which had snow unlike I’ve ever seen before. As we passed through the town of Dale, I couldn’t help but think of Ice Dale!
Bergen is a beautiful town, and it is colder and much rainier than Oslo. Many of the Black Metal bands are from here, and when you look around the city, you can’t help but hear the music playing in the background. It makes sense that it inspired that type of music.
I decided to make the short trek out of town to see the infamous Fantoft Stave Church, which was supposedly burned down by Varg before he killed Euronymous. The Stave Churches are very iconic, and I hadn’t seen any in Oslo. Because cabs are excruciatingly expensive in Norway, I tried to take a bus out there. Well, after spending an hour waiting for the bus an information lady told me to take, I gave up and hired a taxi.
Damn good thing I did, because it is really kind of hidden and my driver basically functioned as a tour guide and photographer. As we were driving there, he pointed out different sites along the way, and told me about how he was from Bergen ‘like his father and his father’s father’. As we were driving, he asked if I knew the history of the church….I decided to say no (I mean really, was I supposed to say ‘yeah, I listen to the music involved in it being burned down’?) He told me about how the church was built far away in the 1100s, and how, in the 1800s, the town decided it was too small for them and were going to tear it down when a wealthy man decided to buy it and bring it to Bergen. It was very carefully disassembled and moved and resurrected in Fantoft. Then, in 1992, it was “burned down by a member of a Satanic cult”. Notice how he didn’t say black metal musician…I ran into that a few times and thought that it was an interesting way of branding the incident. He went on to say how this cult member killed his friend shortly after, which is how he was caught. He was given the maximum sentence allowed in Norway- 21 years- but when you have good behavior you are let out in 2/3 time, so he is now released, and the driver seemed to be ok with that. The church was rebuilt in ’99, and was done so very accurately due to the plans that had been taken down when the church was moved….so it’s kind of an interesting, fated story when taken altogether.
When we arrived at the church, I went to pay when he offered to escort me up there. It’s a little hike up a hill to the church, which is surrounded by a metal fence. The driver continues to point out things to me- how all of the points on the church are because back then people believed it wouldn’t allow demons to rest on the church. He showed me how you can see black stains, because tar was used to waterproof the roof, and when it rains it leaks down around the sides and stains the wood. I take out my camera to take a picture when he points to a rather rugged path where I can take a better picture.
So we’re climbing up this path to this eerie forest, and sure enough there is a brilliant view. He offers to take photos of me and the church (I refrain from doing anything too ‘metal’) and he keeps taking pictures. Turns out photography is his hobby, and when I get my camera back, along with shots with the church are a bunch of headshots and such. Before I can laugh I realize that, once again, this is an epic set up for a horror film where the American girl traveling alone gets chopped up into itty bitty pieces. At that moment, a hiker and some dogs roll into the frame, and we headed back down the hill and all was well.
My last piece of Black Metal Norway was to celebrate a successful journey thus far by purchasing some of Satyr from Satyricon’s wine for my collection. I easily found it in a wine shop….in fact, I expected this to be the hardest thing for me to find and it was by far the easiest. I bought one of each kind and an extra of the less expensive one to drink at some point. They are now nestled in the cellar between Maynard’s Caduceus and Manson’s Mansinthe 🙂