Black metal is perhaps the most sinister, bizarre, esoteric, violent movement in modern music. The subgenre, a predominantly Scandinavian phenomenon, exploded from the dingy basements of Norway to worldwide notoriety on the back of a series of disturbing crimes—murder, suicide, and arson—in the early '90s. The music itself is abrasive, sinister, and relentless; its iconography and lyrics steeped in blood, death, the occult, and strong anti-Christian sentiments.
But surely some of this must be hyperbole? In some cases, yes. But in fact, the annals of black metal are filled with myriad creepy, violent, and bizarre things, from torture to flying animal heads. It's a rare instance of reality aligning with the imagery and culture projected by an art form, maybe because of which, black metal is experiencing something of a resurgence in the 2010s. With bands like Deafheaven gaining accolades from hipster taste makers such as Pitchfork and a feature film based on the book Lords of Chaos on the way, starring Sky Ferreira and Rory Culkin (described as Trainspotting for millennials), the subgenre is having a moment.
Read on to learn about some of the most violent, infamous, and notorious crimes and figures in the history of black metal, and determine for yourself how deeply you want to delve into the dark forests of northern Europe.
"Excuse All the Blood"
Mayhem is the most notorious group in the annals of black metal, and rightfully so. Set to be the subject of the upcoming film Lords of Chaos, the band's history is soaked in violence and extreme anti-social sentiment, an image the members of Mayhem cultivated for themselves in an effort to define what would eventually be known as True Norwegian Black Metal. The wave of sordid violence involving Mayhem's members kicked off in 1991, when lead singer Dead (real name Per Ohlin) slit his wrists and shot himself in the head with a shotgun. He left a very short suicide note: "Excuse all the blood."
Mayhem's Guitarist Made a Necklace Out of His Bandmate's Skull
Mayhem guitarist Euronymous found the body of the group's vocalist, Dead, after his suicide. Before calling the police, Euronymous rearranged some items at the scene of the suicide and took a photo that ended up as the cover of Mayhem's Dawn of the Black Hearts, an official live bootleg.
Rumor has it Euronymous made a stew from Dead's brain and collected pieces of his skull, which he made into a necklace. He also sent pieces of the skull to other black metal musicians, as a sign of respect. The latter has been confirmed by Morgan "Evil" Steinmeyer Håkansson of the band Marduk, who claims to have not only a piece of Dead's skull, but also brain matter and some lead from the shot that killed him.
Gorogorth Vocalist Gaahl Was Convicted of Kidnapping and Torture Twice
Gaahl, vocalist for notorious Norwegian black metal outfit Gorgoroth, has twice been accused of assault. Both crimes involved kidnapping and some light torture. In 2002, he was sentenced to a year in prison for kidnapping and beating a man while threatening to sacrifice him and drink his blood (as one does). Four years later, he was sentenced to 14 months for basically doing the same thing again.
For a bit of fun, check out the Vice documentary on Gaahl, in which a chubby, preening hipster gets taken on a hike through the Norwegian winter wilderness with Gaahl, and spends the time whining incessantly about how cold he is. Um, if you're gonna hang with Gaahl, you better bring your A-game. And proper winter clothing.
Mayhem's Bassist Burned Down Churches and Murdered His Bandmate
Varg Vikernes, Mayhem bassist, sole member of one-man band Burzum, and the most notorious man in black metal, was convicted of murder and burning three churches. In 1994, he was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum sentence in Norway. He was released on parole in 2009, after serving 15 years.
The year before his conviction, a confrontation between Varg, also known as Count Grishnackh (because black metal names), and Mayhem guitarist Euronymous ended with Varg stabbing Euronymous 23 times; the wounds proved fatal, and Varg's motive remains unclear to this day. If you're connecting dots here, Euronymous took photos of Dead after his suicide, and collected brain and skull matter, and was then killed by another member of his band two years later.