Black Metal: A Story Of Suicide, Church Burnings, And Murder

"Its a Black Metal Summer 04" by Robert Bejil Productions is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I love Metal. I’ve loved it ever since my a-hole step-dad moved in with us and brought his record collection along for the ride, which turned out to be the best part about him. It was the soundtrack to my confused teenage years and my wild twenties, and it has followed me into middle age where I now play it to my two young daughters, in the hope they will become the next generation to embrace wailing guitars, pounding drums, and screaming lyrics about wizards and Vikings.

I’ve collected records with a fever, followed bands around the country, and pretty much gone above and beyond the call of duty for a genre that has helped define me more than any other. I always thought that there was nothing I wouldn’t do for the music that has enhanced my life at every turn, but even my fandom has its limits. For example, I’d never burn down a church. Or commit murder. Unlike myself, or any other rational human being, this didn’t seem to be a problem for the Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early ’90s. At the heart of all this was a band called Mayhem and their founder and Chief Instigator, Euronymous.

A shot of graffiti in Euronymous basement. Black Metal is scrawled on the wall.
“black metal – graffity in euronymous’ basement” by mararie is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Euronymous was born Øystein Aarseth on March 22, 1968. Very little is known about his parents or his early life, but in 1984 he formed the band Mayhem alongside bassist Necrobutcher and drummer Kjetil Manheim. Outside of the fact that he changed his name to Euronymous and that Mayhem played very dark metal, there was no reason to suspect that they would ever be anything more than a footnote in music history—an underground sensation that was quite happy with that role. It wasn’t until they found a new frontman in Per ​Dead” Ohlin that the true nature of Euronymous would start to shine through.

Dead suffered from serious bouts of depression and would take to his bed for days on end. As his condition worsened, he became more and more obsessed with death and would quite calmly self-harm in front of his friends. This became a source of fascination with Euronymous, who encouraged his friend to kill himself, even sending him shotgun shells in the mail. According to Kjetil Manheim,

I don’t know if Øystein did it out of pure evil or if he was just fooling around.

From everything I’ve read on the man, it’s obvious to me that it was the former. Euronymous spent the vast majority of his time torturing Dead. There are stories of him forcing his friend out of the house by blaring synth music, something Dead hated, and when he sought refuge in the local woods, Euronymous followed and started firing a gun into the air to keep him awake all night. Add all this together with the constant attempts at convincing him to kill himself, and it would be clear to even the blindest fan that Euronymous was pure evil, plain and simple.

This would become glaringly obvious on April 8, 1991, when Dead finally took his own life. He first slit his wrists and his throat with a hunting knife, and when that wasn’t doing the job quickly enough, he shot himself in the forehead with a shotgun. Euronymous returned to the house that he was sharing with Dead and Manheim to find his friend’s corpse and instantly went to a local shop to buy a camera. On returning to the scene, he spent some time taking pictures of Dead’s body before taking some of the skull fragments that were laying around. He would later fashion these into pieces of jewelry that he handed out to other members of the scene he deemed true Black Metal. It was only after this morbid theft and photography were finished did he bother to phone the police. These were not the actions of a rational person, but they were the catalyst of things to come.

The inside of an abandonded church, shot in black and white. It is over grown and white dust falls in front of the camera.

Euronymous used Dead’s suicide for his own agenda, and soon the late Mayhem lead singer would become a martyr to the cause. His death was held up as an act of defiance against a genre that was too commercial, and it leads to Euronymous almost single handedly reforming the Norwegian Black Metal scene in his own image. His attitude drove a wedge between himself and some of his friends, mainly Necrobutcher, who was so disgusted by Euronymous’s attitude toward Dead before and after his suicide that he quit Mayhem.

But Euronymous couldn’t care less. He opened a record shop called Helvete and set about surrounding himself with people as he formed his own ‘Black Circle’ with himself at the head. Though others would deny that he was ever the leader of anything, it is clear to me that he was looking for total control over Norweigan Metal. His position within the movement was cemented when Helvete became the place to be and his inner circle was the hottest ticket in town, though one that was very difficult to get into. He would claim this band of brothers was a cult-like group of Militant Satanists, bent on causing death and destruction wherever they went. They even went so far as to denounce The Church Of Satan for being too soft, but what could’ve just been seen as hyperbole was soon backed up in horrific fashion.

Between 1992 and 1996, the “Black Circle” and their acolytes were responsible for more than 50 church burnings. This all started on May 23 when they attempted to set fire to the Storetveit Church in Bergen. Though they wouldn’t be successful the first time out, they would quickly learn from their mistakes and embark on a reign of terror aimed at striking fear into the hearts of the establishment and focusing on Christianity as the enemy. They weren’t subtle about their involvement, either, as Burzum’s EP Aske featured a photograph of the smoldering remains of the Fantoft Stave Church, a crime that the group’s only member, Varg Vikernes, was seen as responsible for, though nothing was ever proven. Time has split the Black Metal scene on just what this path of arson wanted to accomplish, if anything, with newer bands, such as Gorgoroth, claiming that

…there should have been more of them, and there will be more of them.

The founding members of Mayhem have said that it was all for show and just a way to gain acceptance from a very elitist sect. For myself, I feel that this was one of those times when you get a bunch of psychopaths all in the same place at the same time and all eager to buy into one man’s philosophy, no matter how dangerous, so they could have an excuse to behave in such a manner. Euronymous was the de facto leader, but like Charles Manson before him, he knew to surround himself with like-minded souls who just needed their touchpaper lit. Sadly, it wouldn’t end with burning churches to the ground as the ‘Black Circle’ felt the need to go that final step over the line into murder.

Varg Vikernes is being interviewed from pirson. His face has a goatee beard, he's wearing a white t-shirt and a camo baseball cap and is looking away from the camera as if he is thinking.
“File:Varg Vikernes.jpg” by Рустем Адагамов (Rustem Adagamov) (drugoi) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

On August 21, 1992, Faust, drummer with the band Emperor, was visiting relatives in Lillehammer when according to Faust himself he was approached by a very inebriated Magne Andreassen, who sexually propositioned him. Faust agreed and went with Andreassen to a local park. When they reached a wooded area, Faust stabbed Andreassen 37 times. He also repeatedly kicked the corpse in the head as it lay on the ground. When he was eventually arrested a year later, he claimed to feel no remorse. He also denied that it had anything to do with Satanism, fascism, or homophobia and said that it was just a spur of the moment act. One of his bandmates even seemed to corroborate this when they said that he

…had been very fascinated by serial killers for a long time, and I guess he wanted to know what it’s like to kill a person.

Though Faust and his associates denied this killing had anything to do with the Black Metal scene they were part of, it’s almost impossible for this writer to see it as anything other than the influence of Euronymous poisoning already damaged minds to the point they commit the ultimate sin. No matter where you look around the movement at this point in time, Euronymous’s fingerprints are all over everything, which makes what happened next the most delicious irony.

Euronymous and Varg Vikernes’s relationship had always been strained at best, but when an interview with the latter was published in Bergens Tidende, whatever good cheer there was still between them vanished in a puff of smoke. The article was meant to push the ‘Black Circle’ agenda. Instead, it brought them unwanted attention from the media and the police. This was down to the fact that Vikernes couldn’t keep his mouth shut and started bragging about the spate of church burnings, including giving details that only the arsonist could’ve known about as they weren’t public knowledge. He also claimed that he’d killed a man in Lillehammer, in reference to Faust’s act the year before. This forced Euronymous’s hand, and he quickly closed his record store to avoid all the unwanted attention it, and he, was now receiving. Feeling as if their leader had betrayed the cause once it had gotten too hot for him, as well as Euronymous’s record label owing Vikernes a large amount of money, Vikernes and Snorre ‘Blackthorn’ Ruch drove over to Euronymous’s apartment.

Depending on who you believe, what happened next was either a case of pre-meditated murder or self-defense. There are more than enough people who claim that Vikernes had planned to kill Euronymous due to the money he was owed and that he was making a move to take control of the ‘Black Circle.’ According to Vikernes, he’d been tipped off by a friend that Euronymous had planned to stun him with a shock baton, tie him up, and torture him to death while filming it. For me, that sounds like one of the worst alibis in the history of mankind, and I have no doubt that Vikernes paid his friend a visit that night with the singular intention of killing him, and kill him he did.

As with Magne Andreassen before him, Euronymous found himself on the wrong end of a very large knife and was stabbed 23 times. Euronymous was dead, and nine days later, Vikernes would be arrested and charged with his murder. At his trial, he showed little remorse for his actions, playing up for the cameras whenever they fell upon him. But this last show of defiance wouldn’t do him any good as he was sentenced to 21 years for a multitude of crimes, including the killing of his one-time cohort and a series of church burnings he was responsible for. He would serve 15 years, getting out on parole for good behavior in 2009.

The Black Metal scene is something that I’ve never really understood. I have friends that are heavily into it, but for me, it’s never appealed, and part of that reason is the ‘Black Circle.’ I cannot think of a group of nastier people, all congregating at the same time to bring about as much misery as they could, outside of the Nazis. And I know that if you bring up the Nazis, you’ve normally lost the argument, but let’s look at the facts here. They were fascist, homophobic, and racist. They saw anyone who didn’t subscribe to their way of thinking as inferior and would attack anything that they hated, which was pretty much anything that wasn’t Black Metal, with such violence that two bodies would be left in their wake with more than 60 stab wounds between them. Personally, I can’t think of a more perfect way for this movement to have ended with one of them in jail and the other dead, and though that may seem harsh, remember what Necrobutcher himself said about Euronymous after his murder:

…I thought maybe the cops would think it was me who did it because I had plans to kill him myself.

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