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.
Satan's Minister on Earth, Also a Rapist
Founding Gorgoroth guitarist Infernus considers himself Satan's minister on earth. A theistic Satanist (for more see Things You Never Knew About Satanism), Infernus is nothing it not true to the diabolical reputation he cultivates for himself. In 2005, he was convicted of rape. In 2006, Infernus appealed the decision, claiming he was so drunk he didn't remember raping anyone. Good for you, buddy. His charge was changed from rape to aggravated sexual assault, gross negligent rape. So, still a rapist.
"Satanism Allows Men to Become Kings"
In the 2005 Canadian documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, then-Gorgoroth frontman Gaahl gave a very candid and bizarre interview that has since become the stuff of legend. He was immediately investigated by Norwegian police after the film premiered, as he advocated for more church burnings -
"Church burnings and all these things are, of course, things that I support 100 percent and it should have been done much more and will be done much more in the future. We have to remove every trace from what Christianity and the Semitic roots have to offer this world. Satanism is freedom for the individual to grow and to become Superman. Every man who is born to be king becomes king. Every man who is born to be a slave doesn't know Satan"
Gaahl also imparted some extremely bizarre nuggets of wisdom during his interviews, and is known to leave uncomfortably long pauses in conversation, a habit as funny as it is creepy.
Gorgoroth Hosted an Illegal Black Mass in the Pope's Birthplace
In 2004, Gorgoroth recorded a DVD at a show in Poland entitled Black Mass Krakow, and in the process, broke all kinds of laws. As it turns out, staunchly Catholic Poland, birthplace of the then-Pope, has laws against blasphemy (which has gotten Nergal, of Polish blackened death metal band Behemoth, in all kinds of trouble).
By including crucified nude models and countless Satanic icons in their show, Gorgoroth violated Poland's anti-blasphemy laws. The use of severed sheep's heads and about 20 gallons of sheep blood also violated Polish animal rights laws. However, because the band was unaware of these laws, and the show's promoter neglected to mention them or to stop the show, they were cleared of all charges.
You can watch the entire show on Youtube.
The Saga of Hendrik Möbus: Hatecore, Murder, and Nazis
In 1993, three members of German National Socialist (i.e., Nazi) black metal band Absurd murdered a 15-year-old boy. The band members were 17 years old at the time. In 2000, the band's vocalist, Hendrik Möbus, one of those involved in the murder, was arrested in the United States for an outstanding warrant in Germany; he violated the terms of his parole by mocking the murder victim with a sieg heil salute (the salute itself is illegal in Germany).
If all that weren't enough, upon his arrest, it was unveiled Möbus was in league with American Nazi William Pierce, hence his visit to the US. Together, they were internationally promoting a racist genre of music called hatecore, from which they made millions.